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