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