Wrigley

Never Cry Wolf

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I recently finished reading Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. I bought it at a used book store, and the copyright in my book says 1963, 1973 and 1993, but it must be out of print now. I’m pretty sure my parents hid this book from me when I was growing up. They must have known the effect it would have on me, and they probably didn’t wish to lose their daughter to the wilds of northern Canada for years at a time. Well, they weren’t able to avoid that altogether, but at least I have the technology to keep in touch with them.

Since living in Wrigley, my curiosity about wolves has been piqued. They are often talked about, because they are never very far away. At the airport, which is about 2 km from Wrigley, the wolves were coming onto the runway on the weekends and chewing on the wires going to some of the runway edge lights. When it’s particularly cold in winter, they come closer to town and sometimes attack and eat the local dogs. In December, wolves killed the alpha dog in town — dogs there run in packs and are not very far removed from wild, wolfish behaviour. In fact, some of what Farley Mowat talks about has helped me relate to dogs better, such as reading their facial expressions and understanding that they live by their own, non-human code. They have their own reasons for doing things, because of their canine culture.

I can see why this book is considered a classic! It is an excellent read. Farley is a phenomenal storyteller, and his story is a fantastic one. He is dropped off by a kamikaze bush pilot at an unknown frozen lake somewhere off the map in Northern Manitoba. His mission is to study wolves, their feeding habits and appetite for caribou. He plans to live among the wolves. Does that mean he crawls in their dens? Only once, and his reaction to what he finds within shakes him to the core. He adapts himself to the wolves’ ways — he learns to take wolf-naps so that he can observe them for long periods of time continuously without getting tired. And when the caribou return from their wintering grounds, he discovers, contrary to what the government has been told, that wolves are not responsible for the decline in caribou population.

Fast forward 50+ years, to this year, 2013. What is on the cover of the news/north newspaper this week?

news north newspaper

Fifty years have gone by and the problem remains! Farley Mowat correctly identified the cause of the caribou slaughter when he found a field of caribou bones near a trapper’s shack — the trapper was killing hundreds of caribou a year to feed his sled dogs. Back then, they used nearly the whole animal, but now, killing for the sake of killing makes me ill. Trigger happy people should go to a gun range and shoot paper targets, not beautiful, majestic creatures. And there are a lot of trigger happy people in the North, and they think they can get away with it, and they think they have a right to kill what they want, and they do it because their twisted sense of humanity thinks it is fun. That newspaper article speaks of 50+ animals killed with only very small portions being taken for food, a practice very much against what the elders teach. (Wolves, by contrast, kill very few caribou, and only the weak and elderly ones, and, of course, eat it all.)

Part of me desperately hopes they find out who did it all (the carcasses were found in 12 different sites, so it was probably lots of different people), and part of me knows it won’t help. Not unless the local people — the people from that community — decide it is definitely wrong and their internal culture changes. Part of me thinks that if no witnesses will come forward — and who would want to rat on their friends and family? — then the whole community should lose its caribou hunting rights. They have a grocery store; let them buy their meat there. But, that’s our ugly friend colonialism back for a visit, telling native populations what to do and disciplining them like they are children. No, the government needs to stop interfering and the people who live there need to start acting like responsible, life-respecting adults. Own up to what you have done. Admit you feel bad about it (if you do, don’t lie if you don’t). Stop killing just because you can.

I would love to ask one of these trigger happy people “what will you do when all the caribou are gone? Elsewhere in Canada, when the native animals were killed off, domestic animals were brought in. Beef replaced buffalo, pigs in place of antelope. Are you going to become farmers? That will be challenging with the wolves and bears and so much wilderness. Will you cut down all the trees to make fields? Will you grow crops to feed your cows?”

It would be infinitely better if those who live among the caribou could learn to appreciate what they have in them — an amazing, healthy food source — and protect the caribou population, to prevent their extinction. I am a stranger in a strange land; I am not from here. I wasn’t raised among the caribou, among the wolves. I was raised on a farm (which you may have already guessed), so if I want to be an activist, I should do so in the realm where my heritage is — agriculture in Canada. To be an activist here makes me judgmental, as so many environmental activists who go far from home to make a stand are. And I do have some thoughts about agriculture in Canada… but they will have to wait for another day.

Weekend Fun!

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Whew, I had a fun weekend here in Wrigley! Yup, I am back in the little community at the end of the all-season road, and from my very first night here, the fun began. A friend of mine here ended up house sitting, except with one surprise — there was also a 10-year old girl there! So, it was house/baby-sitting. I decided to go over and see how it was going for him.

When I got to the house, he wasn’t there. I figured he must have gone out snowmobiling, so I decided to go for a walk and check back later. Sure enough, he pulled up in a few minutes and I hopped on! It’s been years since I was on a skidoo and man, was it ever fun! Woo hoo! I screamed, I squealed (yes, like a girl), I shrieked, I leaned, I bonked heads (gently) with the girl, and then got into a minor giggle fit! We blasted our way all over Wrigley, which is basically mecca for snowmobilers — treed trails, hills, the river valley, and a labyrinth of paths all over the community. It’s totally acceptable to cut across anyone and everyone’s yard in winter with a skidoo (usually going mach 3, often in the middle of the night)! We had such a blast!

We went back to the house, and I decided to stay over. I was partly feeling sorry for my friend who had this job sort of dropped on him, and partly to spend time with the girl, who is a pretty cool 10-year-old. It wasn’t a terribly late night, but I was ill-at-ease due to the TV being on. I am so deconditioned to it, it makes me feel quite strange. The next day, I went to work and in the evening, it was the girl’s birthday, so we had a great birthday party for her — chicken dinner with a chocolate birthday cake, icing, candles and everything. I mention this, because you can’t buy birthday candles anywhere in Wrigley, but I had bought them in Fort Simpson a couple of weeks ago for my friend’s birthday! So we celebrated both birthdays and had a great time. Not surprisingly, the local kids found out about the cake, so they had some too. It was coffee cake, so you can imagine the effect! The whole gang left shortly after a couple of our adult friends came over — another party was in the works!

I stayed with the adults for a bit, but decided to go see if my friend needed back-up with all the kids hopped-up on coffee-cake having a sleep over. Yup, he did. Yikes! They were wild. A major pillow fight was underway when I arrived — I took my glasses off to make sure they wouldn’t get broken! Crazy! Eventually, they calmed down a bit and a couple went upstairs to play video games and a couple slept. I claimed the love seat, got comfortable and slept okay until one of the kids turned the TV on. Ugh. Anyhoo, that was the end of Friday.

snowshoesSaturday I really wanted to go snowshoeing! I was getting ready to go when, you guessed it, a few kids came over to see what we were up to. I had three little shadows as I went, and it was hard going. I thought I would be slow compared to them (this time, it was Pepsi!), but in the deep snow and crazy ice on the river, the snowshoes really shone. They are so amazing! So, I had to slow down and help the kids and they didn’t last long. One little boy kept trying to stand on the back of my snowshoes (a big no-no, for those who don’t know!) so I finally offered to carry him on my back. Wow, never done that before! Not easy! I really wanted to cross the river that afternoon, so the kids went back to town and I did my thing on the river. It was amazing. It’s about 1.2 km across, and I made my way there and back. A couple of the older girls had followed me after all, and they were cheering for me to go all the way. They fared a little better in the deep snow, but it still took a while to slowly pick our way back. I let each of them try the snowshoes, and they did really well. These shoes are about 54″ long (137 cm), by the way.

partofthetrailOn Sunday, we ended up all going for a nice hike down to Hodgson Creek, the creek that never freezes in winter. Actually, that’s not true — where we were, farther upstream, it had nice thick ice on it, but at some point a little ways downstream, as far as we know, there must be a little hot spring. The result is pleasant gurgling water all year round! :) We had fun, walking, playing, making a fire, and roasting apples over the fire! Delish! You have to cook them slowly and let the skin totally burn. They, scrape the skin off and enjoy the yummy baked apple! :)

Walking back to the village, we invented a new game. It involved kicking trees to get all the snow the fall off on you. We have some serious snow up here — I shovelled for an hour on Friday afternoon at work — and it sticks to the trees wonderfully. Then, a little play wrestling in the snow and we eventually made our way home. One little girl asked me three times if she could come over, but I had to say no. It isn’t easy, since I know she doesn’t want to go home and spending time with me is far more fun, but I just have to keep some boundaries. I can’t take every kid home or let every kid in who wants to. It’s a strange world, where kids play in the streets all by themselves, where parents aren’t too fussy about where they are, where the outdoors is their playground, but they still have satellite TV (some of them) and video games. They like to be outside (and they know how to bundle up), but they are afraid to go into the woods alone. There are wolves around, so their parents have instilled a hearty fear into them. I sometimes feel it’s too bad, but on the other hand, it’s a safety thing and they will probably grow out of it when they are older and go into the bush on their own (or at least the boys might).

So that was my busy, fun, crazy weekend! :) Hope you are having a great winter too!

snowshoes

Seven Years in Tibet (or Six Weeks in Wrigley)

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I should start off by saying I haven’t seen the movie or read the book Seven Years in Tibet. It was just a joke my husband and I made the evening I got back from up North. Six weeks in Wrigley felt like six years in Tibet! In total, I have been away from home for nine weeks, and it felt so weird to be back.

My home felt like a hotel I visit once in a while — comfortable, but not familiar. It was amazing to see Darren again — I burst into tears when we first hugged! I’m not one to cry easily, so I was kind of surprised by that, but I just let it happen. I think I was just tired from the drive and had been “keeping it together” for several hours, including about an hour of bad driving, in snow and poor visibility. It was also amazing to see my sweet, fluffy cat again… but it seemed he didn’t remember me! That just added to my feelings of living in a hotel on my way to somewhere else.

The “somewhere else” I’m headed is home — to yet another one — for Christmas. How many homes do I have? I had been joking with people that I had three homes: one in High Level, one in Fort Simpson, and one in Wrigley. Now, the original home felt less like home and the least likely one, the most homey. Home-ish. Like a home. High Level just felt like a place, and when I was first driving the streets, a thought popped into my head: my heart just isn’t here any more. Strange thing to pop into one’s head minutes before arriving home after two months away.

So where is my heart, and is it true “home is where the heart is?” Or is that just a shallow cliché? I think for me, home is where I feel comfortable, safe, and where I stash my yarn. Home is where my sweet pet greets me and I can put my feet up and take a load off. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that this didn’t feel like home quite yet, again, whatever. I have been traveling, but in my wandering, I have found and made other homes… because they felt right. They felt peaceful. This place could be peaceful too, but the bustle and materialism of Christmas is trying to cut its way in.

Tiny crescent moon over the Camsell rangeLiving in Wrigley was so simple. Life had been distilled down to the basics: eat, sleep, talk with friends, work, go for walks. For a full four weeks, I was almost completely untouched and unconnected with the outside world. I knew there would be some adjustments when I came South, but I didn’t think that not feeling “at home” at home would be one of them. I thought that traffic, busyness, so many other people and errands would be most challenging, and they are. I survived a short shopping spree (an errand for a friend) but wasn’t very comfortable doing it. Having been away from stores for so long — somehow, the Northern Store doesn’t count — commercialism is like a sour taste in my mouth. I have connected with spruce trees, felt the energy of the pines… sales and gift-buying is like milk gone bad — nauseating and repugnant.

I feel like I vehemently don’t want to buy anything, yet the reality is, I need some things — new wooly socks, for example. I have decided that as much as possible, I’d like to get the things I need from second-hand stores, so most of my shopping will have to wait for Edmonton. I wonder how I will adjust to that particular craziness? I have already decided I will need to go for a long walk each day, preferably in the river valley… then I think I will be okay.

It’s been over 24 hours now, and I am feeling more at home. A nice long walk cleared my mind after the shopping trip. I plugged in my electric piano and played some songs, something I haven’t done in ages. I rummaged through some old boxes, looking for music, and came across some mementos. I drank hot lemon and watered the plants. Darren was out of the house all day, having been called away on a top-priority job; I had a long lunch with a friend and visited another friend after supper. Darren is home, and Eddie (my cat) seems to purr quicker when I pet him. Now that I am writing, I feel even better — I think my “seven years in Tibet” have shown me that I need to write (and walk) to feel like myself. Perhaps that’s another key to “where home is” for me. Life could be good here… That’s the next big decision I have to make, but not today.

Mackenzie Highway

Finally, Some Photos of Wrigley!

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Okay, it’s been a long time coming, I know, but I am finally able to post some pictures of Wrigley, NWT. :-) (click on pic for larger version)

About to take off in the Cessna 172 from the Fort Simpson Island airstrip
About to take off in the Cessna 172 from the Fort Simpson Island airstrip
Airborne! Check out the houses along the runway...
Airborne! Check out the houses along the runway…
No wonder the ferry was pulled out... quite a bit of ice on the Mackenzie (Nov 1)
No wonder the ferry was pulled out… quite a bit of ice on the Mackenzie (Nov 1)
Weather improving along the way!
Weather improving along the way!
Not sure which river this is... The Mackenzie is much farther to the left.
Not sure which river this is… The Mackenzie is much farther to the left.
The view out my main kitchen window. The river bank is right there!
The view out my main kitchen window. The river bank is right there!
View out the other kitchen window.
View out the other kitchen window.
Sun is settin' like molasses in the sky... over the Mackenzie River
Sun is settin’ like molasses in the sky… over the Mackenzie River
The view back towards my house
The view back towards my house
Steps going down to the river
Steps going down to the river
Sunrise at the airport
Sunrise at the airport
Hodgson Creek. It is unusual because it doesn't freeze all winter long. What a gorgeous day!
Hodgson Creek. It is unusual because it doesn’t freeze all winter long. What a gorgeous day!
Hodgson Creek looking NW. See the mountains?
Hodgson Creek looking NW. See the mountains?
Hodgson Creek as it gets closer to the Mackenzie
Hodgson Creek as it gets closer to the Mackenzie
Such lovely mountains!
Such lovely mountains!
A couple of planes at the airport
A couple of planes at the airport
One of my favourite dogs here, Pickle. Such a cutie!
One of my favourite dogs here, Pickle. Such a cutie!

Sorry the pictures are kinda small, but there are so many, I didn’t want the page to take forever to load. :)

Beyond Civilization

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Besides living in an unconnected house, I am also living in a community beyond civilization. We have no Starbucks or Tim Horton’s — the thought of it kind of makes me giggle. We are so far beyond franchises and entertainment, shopping and dining. Wrigley has the following amenities:
– band office (not the musical kind of band), which contains
– post office
– phone/fax service for those who need it
– gymnasium
– coordination centre for things like water delivery, sewage pumping, etc.
– various helpful people like the band manager who can help you get things you need
– school (two teachers, grade 1 – 9)
– band office store (which I haven’t visited lately, but has basic groceries)
– a privately-owned store (a tiny cabin which I haven’t visited yet)
– fuel pumps (not really a “gas station,” but you can get gas and diesel there. They are only open 11-12, 1-2 and 5-6 pm)
– nursing station (which includes the nurse’s residence)
– camp-style hotel (which occasionally has a restaurant open to the public — good “pub food!”)
– power generating station
– water treatment plant
– fire hall (but no active fire department)

As you may have noticed, there is no police station (there is a house for them when they are in town), doctor, bank, ATM or other things commonly considered “essential.” The health centre is only staffed three days a month, except during freeze-up and break-up, when it is staffed 24/7.

So how does one keep busy in a place with no “civilization?” It’s not too hard if you like the outdoors. There are skidoo and walking trails all over, and an awesome snowboarding hill (part of the river bank). Last year, my roommate, Jamie, taught a bunch of the kids how to snowboard and then they got to take a school trip to the mountains (Jasper, I think) to go snowboarding, and they were all very well-prepared for the slopes. I really enjoy going for a walk/slide down the river bank, walking along the river, climbing the bank elsewhere and then walking back home along a trail somewhere. One time, Jamie and I went scrambling along a creek bank, bush-whacking and wading through knee-deep snow. Two creeks around here don’t freeze over in winter — we suspect there are hot springs along them — so it’s kind of neat to see flowing, gurgling water when everything else is frozen solid. There are lots of rosehips to eat and I’ve also tried Labrador tea leaves and spruce gum.

At home, we sometimes watch TV series I have on my computer/DVD or movies, or just listen to music. I do a little knitting, but honestly, I do more of that on slow days at work. I have never been one to be bored, and if I think I might get bored, I just take up a new hobby. The other day, I cut a section off a tree that was on the ground, started de-limbing it, and I think I might take up wood carving next — with a hatchet! :) If I wanted to, I could also take up snowboarding (which I may do yet) or snowmobiling, and if I am here again in January, I will be bringing my snowshoes and cross-country skis. I think as long as you can entertain yourself, Wrigley is great!

Unconnected

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I have been living for a month with no home phone, internet or TV. Perhaps you think I am barely surviving, but in fact, it’s been enjoyable and I have learned a lot from the experience of being unconnected to the rest of the world.

I am still working, so I have use of the phone there and can make the calls I need to. The internet there is dial-up, and is set up for a specific sending procedure, so I can’t go online at work at all (I tried going to Google’s homepage and it wouldn’t load at all). Since I have no connectivity at home — I forgot to mention, there is no cell service either — when I leave work for the day, I am leaving a lot behind.

Off and on, I dealt with bouts of anger and frustration at not having my phone hooked up yet. The phone company that serves this area — there is only one — is appalling. With no competition, they have really let their maintenance department slide. Suffice it to say, the delays and excuses have been astounding. Yesterday, I decided that I wasn’t going to be mad about it any more. Everything else about my life is great; I don’t want to let that one thing mess up the rest. So, I am feeling happier and more at-ease about that.

The atmosphere at my unconnected place is interesting. Pleasant. Peaceful. There are no interruptions and no outside influences that my roommate and I don’t specifically invite in. We listen to the radio a fair bit; there are only two stations up here, and we usually listen to CBC North. We also listen to music, and enjoy introducing each other to our favourite artists and songs. We were both in bands of our own in the past, and it’s fun to relate our own experiences with music and performing. Last night, we sat for a couple of hours on the couch, relaxed, just chatting about music. There is no TV to invade our intentions, no internet to distract or phones to demand our attention. Sure, there are lots of times every day that I wish I could look up this or that online, or websites I miss visiting.

I thought I would miss connecting with my family and friends more, but I think that although we all need connection, but it doesn’t have to be with who we think. I am quite happy connecting with my roommie, and I have also made some new and unlikely friends here who I connect with, too. We make eye contact, we shake hands or hug, we have real conversations and a real connection. Having all the technology in the world doesn’t help us connect; it can help, but it can also be a huge distraction. Most tech is meant to help us connect over long distances, but we desperately need in-person connections, too. Without them, we wither and feel depressed.

Keep in mind, I am a natural introvert — I am not someone who “needs people,” yet I have found that I do. I am a thriving so much more this time in Wrigley than when I came in spring and didn’t have a roommate, neighbours or any after-work interactions. I didn’t have any tech connectivity then either, so I was completely alone after 4:30 pm each day. For safety reasons, I checked in using my SPOT device — one-way communication — with my boss and husband each night and morning. And I was fine, but I wasn’t exactly thriving. Luckily, I only lived that way for two weeks — I’m not sure what the long-term results of that experiment in isolation would have been. I blogged about my first impressions of Wrigley back in May here.

I wonder how different the world would be if everyone made one non-friend connection each day. Chatting with a stranger on the bus. Making eye contact with another person in line at the grocery store. Smiling at an acquaintance for no reason. Patting a coworker on the arm. I think that we might not be as dependent on our spouses and closest friends to provide our every need when it comes to connection. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that connecting with our loved ones makes us happy; we individually make ourselves happy. It’s not up to anyone else — or technology — to do it for us.

What is a Tough Woman?

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I am a guest blogger on aMINDmedia.com today! Go check out my article here. I hope you enjoy it!

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In other news, I am still up in Wrigley, enjoying my northern experience! Each weekend, my roommate and I go out for a hike. Last week, we walked along the river towards the airport and then climbed the high bank up to the plateau. It was pretty steep, but fun. The forest was so beautiful, with the trees all covered in snow, standing like sentinels, guarding the Earth. Very cool. The scenery was almost black-and-white, except for muted pinks and purples as the sun sank down and the pale green of old man’s beard hanging on the trees.

Food Mail

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Life is so different — simple — for me right now. It is partly because I have no phone or internet at home — oh dear, did some of you just faint? — so I work, eat, go for walks, talk with my roommate, listen to music or the radio (CBC North is it), or perhaps watch something on my computer. And write, of course! :) Oh, perhaps it goes without saying (or not), that I don’t have TV either. Uh oh, I just heard more people hit the floor!

When I flew up here to Wrigley a little over two weeks ago, I came with a few boxes of groceries so I’d have something to eat. Although there is a small store operated by the band (native government), there isn’t much there, so it’s understood that one has to bring groceries from Fort Simpson. I’m very lucky because the company I work for is paying for them, so I can shop and get whatever I need on its tab. I had a pile of produce, a few canned items and several frozen things, but when I arrived here, there was a problem.

The main freezer doesn’t work, so we have to store frozen food in the small above-fridge freezer. Since Mother Nature is a very effective freezer these days — I have often wondered why we northerners even use freezers in winter! — all we had to do was figure out how to store it. My roommate found a large pink plastic bin with a locking lid so we were in business! We put most of the frozen food in it, put the lid on and then had to figure out where to put it outside. We didn’t want it to attract the local dogs (there are many) or the local kids (who are quite curious). We decided to put it under our front steps, and cleverly concealed with a brown blanket, it was completely invisible. Woo hoo! Good to go.

Twenty-four hours went by with no incident, but on the second day, we noticed one of the locking handles looked a little ajar. We didn’t do anything about it just then, since we were on our way down to the Mackenzie River for a nice long walk. A few hours later we returned, and as we approached, we saw an abnormally large number of ravens in the front yard… oh no! The bin had been opened and mayhem had ensued, we could tell, as dogs and ravens fought for our precious frozen foods! We wandered around the front yard picking up garbage, and were surprised that there was anything left to salvage — there were 4 or 5 things that hadn’t been touched. We kicked ourselves repeatedly for not fixing the lid, dammit, but in the end, we decided to just be happy the bacon survived!

So, each week on Tuesday or Wednesday, I start a list of foods I need — I am slowly replacing the stuff I lost as well as ordering fresh produce — and I fax it in to the store so they can shop for me. The Northern Store has my order ready by 10 am on Thursday so that one of the pilots from Simpson Air can pick it up and fly it to Wrigley with the mail. Canada Post has an ongoing charter to fly the mail on Tuesdays and Thursdays and when it arrives, the band office takes it and people can get their mail there. What fun, eh? I get my food in the mail!

This week, I forgot to order more lemons (for hot lemon) and last week, I forgot to order lettuce. So, there you go…. slowly, I am making a list of foods I like, including the brand names and the sizes of the containers so that I can get what I want. Last week, I ordered “2 pieces of frozen haddock (or another white fish)” and I got Highliner pan fry fish, which was not the kind I wanted. So, next time, I will be more specific: “1 pkg of 2 pieces of plain haddock, or another white fish, in vacuum packaging.” That should get me what I want! :) I’m just glad I lived there long enough to know what foods they stock so I can order wisely. They have most things I like, so it works out quite well, and so far nothing has frozen enroute, so even better! The mail plane is a little old Cessna 172 with minimal interior heat (think of an old Chevette on wings).

I can’t seem to get maple syrup in Fort Simpson, so if you have any to send, just address it to “Wrigley CARS” and I’ll get it on the mail plane! :) Take care everybody!

Living in the North

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I’ve never been so happy to see green hose in my life. You see, I didn’t have any water running at the airport where I work, due to the sewage tank being full — as a sensible precaution, all power to the water pump is turned off when the sewer tank is full to prevent overflowing. So, sewage full, no water. Everyone in Wrigley, NWT, where I am living right now, has water and sewage tanks, which can cause some inconvenience at times. Yesterday, I ran out of water, because I left the toilet on, and it runs… which means, clean water runs directly into the sewage tank, performing a double-whammy — water tank empty, sewage tank full. This is my life!

I love living in the North. I really feel like I can say I’m “in the North now,” being north of 60. Northern Alberta, especially High Level, is pretty far north, but it still has essentially all the services and conveniences of a bigger city. Here, we wait for services and don’t even remember what conveniences are! Everything is more challenging because we can’t just run out and buy what we need from a store in 30 minutes or less and the buffer of distance separates us from the outside world.

People are closer here, in part because we need to rely on each other. The realities of living are harder here, and it is not uncommon to share things with and borrow things from your neighbour when you need to. Yes, it is cold, snowy and dark; but these facts are nothing to complain about — everyone simply adapts. We bundle up against the cold, play in the snow and manage without much sun.

I feel as though life is more precious here. People value each other more because we are scarce — there is so much wilderness between settlements, we appreciate seeing one another. In cities, I find everyone is frustrated with all the people around them (but perhaps this is only my impression). Life isn’t precious because there is so much of it — it’s everywhere. Just as with any other type of scarcity, when there’s less of something around, we value it more, and I see that in how quick people are to chat with total strangers, how interested they are in your life and how they make eye contact, shake hands and always nod “hello.”

My dad once said I had the unique gift to be able to talk to anybody. I guess he’s right; I can chat with a lawyer or professional as easily as a teenage kid or native elder. This gift is coming in handy here, as I often get visitors to the airport asking when the next plane will be in because they need to send something out or pick someone up off the plane. It’s nice to chat with them, and get to know them a little.

I really truly like it here, and if you’ve heard horror stories about Wrigley, think again. It is a nice place, and although it may have a rougher side, I haven’t really seen it. Maybe this is just more proof that you get what you think about, see what you go looking for, and manifest what you expect. My latest mantra/affirmation is “all my interactions with people are positive and uplifting,” so how can life be any other way? :)

First Impressions of Wrigley, NWT

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I arrived in Wrigley yesterday afternoon and loved it immediately! I don’t think it had anything to do with the last twenty minutes of the flight being turbulent and my boss and I being gently tossed like la salad-du-jour. We chartered at Cessna 172 to fly us from Fort Simpson to Wrigley, a total flight time of about an hour for a plane of that type, depending on the wind. Yesterday, it was a tail wind for us, but it still tossed us around plenty as we came over the ridge, very much as our pilot, Serge, predicted it would. He let me fly for a while in the middle of the flight, and I had a tiny bit of turbulence, which was fun! We had the plane loaded pretty heavily, although not at its capacity, Serge assured us. I told him as we started to taxi, “if you think we are overweight, say so now and we’ll stop!” But no, he assured me, we were alright. My boss and I are both pretty slim, plus I had packed light — heck, I didn’t even really take all that much to Fort Simpson in the first place — but as it was, I had overestimated the size of a Cessna 172. It had room for 2 in the front, 2 behind, and then a “trunk” space about the size of the foot-well in my car. Serge, however, was not new to this game and really knew how to get the most out of the plane’s overall volume. We had to leave a total of 5 items behind, one being my bag of knitting stuff and another being my cooler, filled with frozen meat.

There is no store in Wrigley. Well, that isn’t entirely true. There is a very small store with limited stock, open for limited hours in the middle of the day (while I am at work). It may or may not only take cash — leave your plastic at home. You can leave your cell at home too, because the nearest cell service is about 120 km away, as the crow flies. I had wondered if there might be a tiny pocket of cell service, from perhaps a single tower, but no. That is the case for Fort Simpson, a village of about 1200 people, so a mini-village of 170 or so doesn’t even have a chance. Cell towers aren’t cheap, so no cell company would put one up in a place where they’d never make that money back. But I digress.

Wrigley, NT (NWT) Terminal buildingI absolutely fell in love with the terminal building the moment I saw it. It is so cute, well-maintained, and the CARS station is raised above ground level. It’s like the world’s smallest air traffic control tower, and I love it! The station itself was neat, tidy, sunny and warm. It had a nice, cheerful feeling to it, and I took to the place like a fish to water. My boss and I only had about an hour to spend before our ride came to get us, so we went through some of the paperwork left out, exclaiming how great it was that the keys we had brought worked perfectly and everything was coming together so smoothly. I didn’t tell him that things always go smoothly for me (but I think he is starting to see that)! I started checking out the radio equipment, wind instruments and altimeter. I was so excited!

The main reason I was there, and indeed the reason we had to fly in, was because the ice road had closed due to spring break up. As I mentioned in my last post, this doesn’t mean the ice was dramatically moving, but simply unsafe for crossing. So, Wrigley became a strictly fly-in community, and as such, it was more important than usual to have someone working in the CARS station to provide current weather observations and information for pilots inbound. The next day, just after I sent my second weather observation out on the internet, the phone rang.

“Wrigley Airport Radio,” I answered the phone. Man, it’s going to take me awhile to get used to saying that.
“Awesome!”
“You saw my weather, did you?”
Yeah, it’s awesome!” It was a man at Simpson Air, clearly tickled pink.
“Well, I’m glad you appreciate it”
“Oh, Teresa you have no idea!”

That made me smile, on the inside and the outside. I’m not sure I can describe how happy I feel being here. I will be staffing a one-person station. I have full run of the place, can do my own thing, keep the place exactly as I want, and enjoy its cozy, sunny view. The station faces the Mackenzie River, which is down the bank from the flat the airport is on, only about a quarter of a mile away. The runway is really just along the river! The river itself isn’t visible, due to being down the bank, but one day I plan to walk to the edge and enjoy the view. Across the river there is a lovely mountain range, starting about 4 miles away with Table Mountain and stretching off to the southwest to a distance of about 35 miles. The hills are high enough to be bare rock (and snow) at the top, and their white tops make me smile too! I have always enjoyed topography, perhaps because I grew up on the prairies, so mountains and foothills still hold a romantic attraction for me. They speak to my adventurous spirit, and they are so beautiful, my heart can’t help but smile when I see them. So, I am in a lovely spot, pretty close to the middle of nowhere, at 63 degrees North, and I love it. There is a second mountain range to the east as well, and foothills that are only about a mile away. Around my home and the airport, there is a healthy mixed forest, with two types of spruce (from what I can tell) and poplar. Some of the evergreens are so windblown, they have a swoopy look to them at the top. I haven’t seen any birch, but maybe they are there somewhere.
Camsell Range, the edge of the Rocky Mountains, Wrigley, NT
My living quarters are about 3 km south of the airport, which is itself about 1 km south of the village. We flew over the village as we were on approach to land, and wow, it sure is small. Wrigley doesn’t look like many towns and villages where the early settlers cut down every tree to build their house or burn for firewood — they have lots of trees standing. No roads are paved up here, and Wrigley is actually the end of the all-season road that is the Mackenzie Highway. Farther on from Wrigley, winter roads are built to Tulita and Norman Wells, but these have been closed for several weeks. (From Fort Simpson on, the Mackenzie Highway is all gravel, I believe. From the Highway 3 turnoff (to Yellowknife) the road is mostly paved with gravel sections. I think. When I came up, it was basically compact snow, and from what others told me, I have no right complaining about it (remember 2 posts ago?) because it only got worse once it warmed up.) I know, it doesn’t seem like a gravel road should be called a highway, but it is! It’s wider than a typical country road, but yup, it’s gravel.

I have a house trailer all to myself to live in! It is not particularly new, but it’s in very good repair. The last people to stay here, apparently, were women, so when we walked in, it was spic and span! What a nice sight to see! There were only a few coffee cups left in the sink to wash. The kitchen is quite well-supplied — I was worried there wouldn’t be any frying pans or dishes — and I have everything I need. I bought a Brita to filter the water, which is, like so many northern places, stored in a tank in the porch. There is a pump to keep the line pressure up, and the tub faucet leaks a little, so the pump goes on for about a second about every 3 minutes or so. It’s easy to just turn it off at night, though, and then it’s very peaceful here. This morning, my boss ran out of water twice — once because the breaker for the pump kicked off, and once because the pump overheated. So, I skipped the shower. I had one tonight and had the pump kick off right as I was starting to rinse my hair! Gads! But, before I could get out, all soapy and naked and run to the breaker panel, the pump came back on so I knew it had only overheated. Yay! It cut out once more and I had to wait a minute or so, but I managed to rinse off and finish the shower. I think tomorrow, I will try closing opening the window near the pump to vent it better and hopefully it won’t overheat. The furnace and all appliances work good, and the fridge was even spotless! No sticky gross stuff in the bottom of the crisper drawers! I am so impressed.

I live in what the locals call “the highways camp.” It is a fenced-in area where the NWT government keeps the snowplow, grader, a shop and various other equipment. There are three house trailers in the yard, one of which is empty, and then I have one and Albert has one. He is the highway and airport maintainer — the man who runs the grader to keep the road in good shape. As far as I can tell, he does an excellent job! I met him yesterday and he seems very nice. The yard sort of reminds me of home, as it’s a bit like a farm yard with tractors, tires, piles of wood, etc, scattered about. Apparently, there are quite a few bears around, but when my boss and I went for a walk along the highway last night, we didn’t see any. I have bear spray which I will not go walking without. Albert has a dog, too, so I might ask if I can take it with me. :) It looks quite cute but a bit forlorn, so I think it would love to go on a walk. Not tonight, though. It is almost bed time and although I slept awesomely well — it is a talent to be able to sleep almost anywhere? — I am ready for bed. Maybe it’s the Micheal Logozar album I am listening to, getting me all relaxed! It could also be that I’ve been on day shifts for 5 days now, so I’m used to getting up early and going to bed early. Which brings me to my last point, and one thing that makes working in Wrigley so great. It is strictly day shifts, no nights, and it is a short 8 hours, compared to 12 in Fort Simpson. Can you believe it?!? I feel like I have won the lottery! A cozy, sunny place to work, with a great view, in the North, and I don’t even have to work shift work. Monday to Friday, 8 to 4. Wow, I am in heaven!

Oh geez. I thought it was mildly funny that I was going to be saying “Wrigley Airport Radio.” But man, what is someone from Wrigley called? A Wrigley-ite? A Wriglean? A Wrigler? LOL :)