Archive for December, 2013|Monthly archive page

Christmas in Iqaluit – past the halfway mark

Sleep is a battle here, just as it is in Ottawa, with her fussing herself to sleep way too late and him fussing himself awake way too early. It’s made worse, of course, from being so very much off routine – there’s no school bus to get ready for, no extra door between us and a crying baby, no regular anything, really. Everyone (except Bonhomme) sleeps in later though, thank goodness – the dark mornings certainly contributing. Hooray, and hooray, for tablets.
Outside my window, as I cuddle with Hibou in hopes of a nap, beyond the tiny strip of town lies Frobisher Bay. An arctic tip of Atlantic Ocean, licking along Baffin Island. They tell me that Iqaluit is not very far north, as such things go – certainly for Nunavut, Iqaluit is considered southern. It reminds me of a fishing village more than anything; what I imagine Newfoundland might be like (without forests). A frozen fishing village. Apparently folks go icefishing, using auger extensions to drill down deep enough to get through the ice.
In the black and white of winter, the mountain ridge of worn-down Canadian Shield across the bay doesn’t look very different from Gatineau, as seen from the top of Blair Road in Beaconhill North in Ottawa. Except for the utter lack of lights. The complete, and total, lack of lights. The city stretches out a kilometer, perhaps two, in haphazard blips of lightbulbs, and then the human intrusion is no more.
Saturday afternoon at the library, I’m swarmed by half a dozen unknown children as I make paper airplanes and read stories with Bonhomme and my nieces. They peer over my shoulder, cuddle my knees, and peek ahead at the next page’s pictures. No shyness here. We come home with an orange to eat, since some kind stranger’s little brother is allergic – and I couldn’t think how to say no.
The in-laws argue politics in the living room between commercials, and then turn to dissecting home reno shows on the TV while Hibou plans her escape to the kitchen between the couch cushions.
Saturday night poker, and I manage to not be the first one out – just. Losing’s a good way to learn, apparently. To be honest, the lost sleep means more to me than the lost cash, with two small early risers awaiting me in the morning.
A dozen black enormous ravens feast by the roadside on a leftover seal carcass the next-door neighbours brought back from a hunt. They scatter, begrudgingly, as we cross the street, watching us from the rooftops to make sure we don’t make off with the goods. I’ve never seen so many bird tracks imprinted in the snow.
Today, the big outing will be some family hot chocolate, since it’s a balmy -16C, warm enough for walking to the coffee shop.
This is Christmas in Iqaluit.


Christmas in Iqaluit – a week in

Sometimes it feels so much like a city here. Traffic slowdowns at the stop signs (with only two four-ways in the whole of Iqaluit), no parking spots at the NorthMart, porchlights shining in and breaking up the night. And then, between the houses, you see tundra, and rocks, snow and mountains, pack ice, and sky and sky and sky. And you know, in the depth of your bones, that it is thus – The Land – all the way to Ottawa. Where the houses stop, they stop, and there aren’t any more. There is just The Land.
It seems as if the sun sets horizontally in Iqaluit. Long layers of light, uncurling.
I went for a walk, Hibou tucked into the sling. We didn’t make a block, Hibou thrilled with the outdoors but not with the -42C windchill.
Yesterday, the kids built an igloo in the backyard, sawing snow into blocks. “Quick, let’s get out there while we’ve still got some daylight left!” At 1:30 in the afternoon, that was a real threat. Darkness is total by 3pm.
The winter solstice lasted 19 and a half or so hours. Now, each day will see noticeable seconds more of sunlight, until by the time we leave in a couple of weeks, the days will last minutes longer.
The sun actually rising and setting here isn’t what’s important – it’s how long the sky emits light. A raven silhouetted against the indigo sky, waves of dark and darker clouds punctuating, is a wonder.
Imagine the morning sky in Ottawa, before 7am, when the shadows cross the street and sun barely peeks around the corner of buildings, and then multiply those fifteen minutes by about ten. At the end of that will be about the time the sun will then begin to set here, for another couple of hours.
Walking again today, solo this time, I stopped at a street corner and saw a rocky cairn of tundra at one end, and vastly rolling mountains of it at the other. Until my glasses fogged up – and then froze over. All the way back home I saw nothing but a Christmas ball of sun, refracting through the frost. I knew it was time to go in based on how much of my legs I could no longer feel.
I saw the Northern Lights last night, for my very first time. They weren’t at all like I was expecting. A large green smoky ghost curling all along the Big Dipper. I stared, and stared, and then shivered back into the house, wishing I could see them from inside the warmth, wrapped in a cozy blanket.
Christmas baking later, with two babies, three in-laws, a husband, and three kids all hopped-up on almost-but-not-yet-present-opening-time in the kitchen.
This is Christmas in Iqaluit.

Christmas in Iqaluit – The first few days

The cold took my breath away.
Two steps onto the tarmac and I was frozen.
It had been pretty chilly in Ottawa in the morning, branches covered in a frosty coating, the river steaming.
But here in Iqaluit, on the edge of Frobisher Bay, the edge of the Arctic Circle, it’s a different kind of cold.
It’s the kind where you put a boiling pot of water out onto the back porch to cool for making baby formula with, and you have to wear oven mitts to protect your hands from the frozen metal handle when you pick it up again just minutes later.
It’s the little things that tell me I’m not in Ottawa anymore. Like my nieces waving “See ya later!” as they clomp outside to wait for the school bus, on their own. “Where are they gonna go?” their mom asks me calmly. “Besides, the speed limit’s 30km – and that’s mostly on the straight, paved stretches.”
Or it’s throwing everything in the garbage – there’s no recycling here, let alone composting (not that the permafrost allows for vegetable gardens, anyway).
Or the way none of the dishes, or cutlery, or linens match – form always follows function here. And then there’s the shipping costs to think of.
The smell of exhaust greets you outside, since everyone warms the car up for fifteen minutes before leaving the house. A remote starter’s more a necessity than a luxury when it’s 40C below for months on end.
The winter solstice is in two days, after which the days will get visibly longer every single day. The moment the sky begins to lighten in the morning is like the release of a pent-up breath, a sigh of relief. The moon rises higher than the sun does. But there is light, more than I expected. But evening strikes quickly – it is nighttime dark by 3pm.
Windows are crucial. Beyond the short stretch of city lights, there is nothing but view.
Great rolling hills of snow, undulating and barely distinguishable from sea or sky.
A couple of days in, and I’m getting used to the cold. Hats and mitts go on before turning the door handle. Snowpants are a fashion statement. Snow squeaks underfoot, and tires rumble and shush.
Inside is warmth, and family, and cooking. Outside is logistics of getting to the next inside.
The sky through the window this morning is every shade of white.
This is Christmas in Iqaluit.

The bus, the girl, and me

I caught myself feeling a sharp pang of jealousy yesterday – at a young woman getting off of a bus.

She was alone. Intent on her errand, her destination. Independently. No children to bring along to the store with her, none to drop off at daycare before work, no enormous shopping cart filled with diapers and milk to maneuver through the snow to her car, and especially, especially, no whining, crying, or interruptions. She had earphones in her ears, a small fashionable purse on her shoulder, and a purpose in her stride as she stepped off the bus, head up. She wasn’t looking for and counting heads, holding mittened hands, or speaking a constant stream of instructions, reminders and chastisement. She was quiet. Calm. Happy. She was on her way to somewhere, or someone. Alone.

I told myself that she might be off to do a dull and underpaid shift at a dead-end job, with an empty apartment the only thing waiting at the end of it, wishing for all the world for the lovely family and home and life that I have.

It didn’t help. I was overwhelmingly, shockingly, endlessly jealous. Oh, to have a day to myself! To be able to pop in to a store, to meander, to browse! Oh, to not have a baby on my back, or a diaper bag on my shoulder, or a pattering of questions and lecturing on nuclear bombs and jetpacks to tune out! Oh, to read world politics, and think about them, and then discuss them! Oh, to feel like I have any expertise, or just plain interests, of my own!

Oh, to not have to cook dinner again.

Oh, to not be constantly aware of the clock, measuring the next naptime, the next load of laundry, the defrosting chicken, the school day.

Oh, to miss my family. To have a break, and to be happy to come back to them.

Oh, to not be jealous of a random stranger getting off a bus at the local Walmart.

And then, my daughter does something irresistibly cute. Babbling, making friends of strangers at the coffee shop, crawling to my outstretched arms. And I feel so guilty for wanting to miss even a single moment of this fleeting time.

And yet, then we’re taking beloved stuffed animals away from my son in a bid to improve increasingly disruptive behavior at school, and Dearest and I spend a daily hour tearing our hair out wondering what is wrong with our son, with us, with the school system. Wondering if there’s anything at all we can do to help our impulsive, inattentive, expressive, bright little boy who seems to only be getting harder with time. Never knowing what, or when, the next battle will be.

Oh, to not have to come home to crying, or to have crying come home to me.

To just get on a bus. And off again, somewhere else. Nowhere special. Alone. For an afternoon. With dinner warm and waiting, unmade by me, happy children, an unstressed spouse, a clean house without a single laundry basket in the livingroom. Oh, to just look out the window. And dream.

I pushed the stroller on, past the bus, through the snow, towards home. I stroked my daughter’s darling, sleeping head, shrugged my shoulders and stretched my legs, and decided on chicken parmesean for dinner.