Archive for the ‘travel’ Tag

Christmas in Iqaluit – going home

The snow danced this morning, a whirling sparkle of sun-drenched white. The 60km/h wind whipped the loose flakes off the ground and into the air meters high, transforming the town below and the bay beyond into a frozen Sahara, turning tundra into dunes.

And the sun, the sun, the glorious sun, shone.

I’ve been here twice now, at opposite times of the year, when either the day or the night lasts just 4 hours. Whether the slanting light is around for many hours or just a few, it is never, never taken for granted.

In a place with no trees, there is so much sky. And you begin to resent the houses getting in the way of your view. The city seems like such an intrusion upon the great, vast land. The Land. (Which is always capitalized in my head, requiring reverence.) Until the wind picks up. And suddenly, the houses become something else. Warmth. Shelter. Safety. Tonight, the wind gusts and rumbles, and the houses and people in them tremble. Outside is fierceness. And you are suddenly grateful that there aren’t any trees to be tossed about.

Tomorrow we’ll be home. Home to seat belts and car seats and strollers. Home to sharp knives and good cutting boards and counter space. Home to Costco. Home to walking trails and indoor malls and gyms and aquafit. Home to things-to-do. Home to routine. Home to not worrying about using too many paper towels, and tissues, and toilet paper that are too expensive and won’t be replaced until the July barge order comes in. Home to fresh herbs and fresh bread and affordable nuts and shelf items that aren’t expired. Home to milk and bread being available at all at the store each and every time you go, no matter the cost or expiry. Home to gelato and lattes. Home to Netflix. We’ll bring the usual mess and noise and chaos with us, of course, but it will be our mess and noise and chaos. Choking hazards will stay out of reach when they’re put there. Naps might last more than 30 minutes. Hibou won’t know what to do with all the peace and quiet, but I will. Oh, I will.


On the plane, Iqaluit is nothing more than a few unwavering lights. A half hour into the flight and already the sky is brighter. We are heading toward a strip of light, with afternoon on the other side of it rather than night.

There is a blizzard coming to Iqaluit tomorrow, with roof-ripping winds of more than 120km/h anticipated. Ottawa promises freezing rain instead – a trade which I’m happy to make. After 3 days of fever and 5 of migraine, with Bonhomme, Hibou and Dearest starting just as I’m ending, we’re all chafing to have this Christmas over and done. Hibou’s bringing home 2 new teeth, 3 new signs, 4 items of clothing that no longer fit, and 5 new words; Bonhomme stories of spear-throwing and igloo-making and playing outside without any adults at all. Dearest’s stories are of frozen pipes and grocery prices, socioeconomic policy challenges and old family baggage. I am coming home with a sense of the vastness of Canada, the value of baby-proofing, and the pleasure of routine.

Outside the airplane window the clouds mirror the hills beneath them, long rolling ridges of dusty blue. The sun outlines the far-off edges of the cloudbank and the sunset lasts all the way home.


Sitting in my livingroom drinking coffee, it is light out a full 2 hours earlier than I’m used to. Traffic and dirty grey slush surround, instead of mountains. The snow in Iqaluit had never been anything but pure white, and blown into drifts. Here it is grey and brown and speckled, and shoveled and plowed into mounds. I stare at a guy standing still at the corner, texting with his bare hands. Dearest and I laughed at the “life-threatening” windchill warning while Bonhomme whined about the need for snowpants.

Christmas is over at long last, and I find myself glad to be a Southener.

Happy adventurous New Year to you.


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.

Miles still to go

So, we went to Toronto for the weekend.

Partly to celebrate our umpteenth anniversary, partly to practice traveling with a baby again (prior to our upcoming trip to Iqaluit for Christmas, where pharmacies and Tim Hortons’ are not just around the corner), and partly to get Bonhomme up the CN Tower.

We’ve come back aged.

How is it that our 6-and-a-half-year-old was at least 3 times harder than our 8-month-old? With the baby, we had disrupted naps to contend with, strange hotel sounds at night, a playpen that barely got slept in, hunting for solid foods that she could eat, hours stuck in a car seat, poopy bums, soaked bibs and constant overstimulation. And yet, she was easy. Our angel child. Happy to go with the flow, smiling at every stranger she met, ready for anything. With the big kid, everything was a battle. He’d argue over whether or not he needed to blow his nose.

Bonhomme couldn’t, and can’t, listen to a single instruction or thoughtfully worded request without questioning it, complaining about it, redefining it, arguing about it, whining about it, interrupting AND then either forgetting or ignoring to actually do it. Like going potty before leaving the hotel room. Washing his hands after going potty. Washing his face after getting half his meal all over it. Putting his socks on. Picking up his towel. Not letting go of the stroller. Not getting into an elevator without a parent. Holding hands on unfamiliar streets. Telling us he had to go potty when we were in the car BEFORE it became an emergency. Using his quiet voice in restaurants. When playing in the pool, he had to dictate, and then control every aspect of his complicated little game – plain old tag would never do. Everything was to be discussed, denied, explained, described, by Bonhomme. Out. Loud.

Stopping to get a small snack to tide us over until dinnertime was a scene. Tossing a ball about was a disaster. Waiting for ANYTHING was torture.

With Hibou, everything is simple. With Bonhomme, nothing is.

I am becoming resigned to simply waiting until age 6 is over. Maximizing our son’s time spent with other people, activities outside of home, away from we parents – since we have somehow, mysteriously, become The Enemy. Nasty, boring, endlessly repetitive Enforcers Of Doom.

This morning, chatting with Grampa about his weekend, Bonhomme excitedly described how the wind almost pushed him over at the almost top of the CN Tower, and then gleefully explained that he hadn’t gone higher to do the Edge Walk harnessed like a rock climber hundreds of meters above the ground because his dad was too scared.

Was it worth it? Will he remember the whining, and the yelling, and the crying? Or playing with gravity at the Science Center? The nagging, or the endless watersliding at the hotel? Will he remember the dozens of train tracks and the skyscrapers, or just that his little sister chewed on his stuffed penguin?

As I puzzle over why I feel not just exhausted and disappointed, but saddened by our adventurous weekend, I realize that it’s that my daughter makes me feel so competent, and my son makes me feel so incompetent, and I fear that it will always be so.

We’ve proven that we can travel with a baby just fine. It’s the big kids you have to watch out for – and each other, when your kids have eaten, and eaten, and eaten away at you. When we are not our best selves as parents, we are most definitely not our best selves as spouses.

This is why we celebrate anniversaries (although preferably without the children along). Not to acknowledge where we are, but to acknowledge where we’ve come from. Years and years of living life together.

We’ll remember the whining. And the cost. And the traffic, and the emergency potty breaks, and the poor sleep. But I’ll also remember my first cup of hot, strong coffee at the breakfast buffet, and the sight of Hibou bonelessly passed out on the bed as we pack later that morning, and both Dearest and I nauseated as both kids sprawled on their stomachs looking down through the glass floor of the CN Tower. This is certainly one anniversary we won’t forget. One more reason to toast “We did it!”.

Today, the morning after the anniversary trip, home, sitting in a cozy chair sipping tea and listening to CBC Radio while the rest of my family is either napping, at school or at work, I can appreciate this. I can appreciate the years that have come and gone, and the years that await. Like Hibou, who cooed in delight in rediscovering HER toys, and HER high chair, and HER change table and kitchen floor and crib, I too can most appreciate the presence of familiarity, of home, from its absence. Memories are always better when you’re not in the midst of making them.

I’m left with a small bit of hard-earned wisdom from this grueling weekend: when going on a road trip, like it or not, the whining comes with you.

One Midsummer Night

The evening drinks the sun down,
a slow, smooth swallow
lingering on the tongue.
The light caresses the wildflowers,
stretches shadows for me to follow.
The sky is one long brushstroke.
I am so lucky.

The noble cows watch me roll past with indifference,
The lily pads wave me on.
This is the Ottawa Valley,
lush, well-worn, warmly welcoming.
I am on my way home from camping with Bonhomme,
a scant day and a half of splendour.
Hours of lugging and tugging,
planning and packing,
setting up and taking down,
all for a mere overnight stay.
I made this happen.

I remind myself of the delight on his face as he held a 6-foot grey ratsnake in his hands, courtesy of the park ranger,
as I make my eighth trip into the house carrying in gear,
weighing the cost of a precious vacation day from work.
There were blue-finned sunfish in the water this morning,
as the geese ate their breakfast of lawn nearby.
We kayaked over the same fish in the afternoon, Bonhomme proclaiming himself an expert paddler.
We discovered frogs the size of thumbnails,
saw centipedes curl and fireflies wink,
I remember as I resist the call of my lullaby tires.
We learned the four calls of the loon.
There was quiet colouring,
and noisy tent peg hammering,
hooting and tooting while walking in the middle of the carefee road.
It was worth it.

The half moon applauds me with its full belly
(knowing full well that I’ve been up before the sun),
for making memories,
for teaching one small boy how big it feels to be free.

Home, sweet home.

I missed the sound of cicadas.
I missed the crickets, the seagulls, the songbirds.
Wind rustling the leaves.
The sound of traffic – not so much.
I missed the smell of grass.
I missed dropping Bonhomme off at martial arts class and getting a half-hour to myself.
I missed blue boxes and black boxes and green bins. I never knew I took recycling so much for granted. But after two weeks of fighting how utterly wrong it feels to throw tin cans and cereal boxes into the garbage, I will never take the ability to not have to do so lightly ever again.
The Ottawa summer colour is a feast.
I didn’t miss shopping at Walmart, with the florescent lights and loudspeaker announcements and advertising as far as the eye can see, but I did miss the prices.
I am back in the land of plentiful food and convenient conveniences.
Like a decent cup of coffee that I didn’t have to make myself.
Bonhomme has forgotten how to behave in restaurants and stores. We’re learning about the difference between Iqaluit rules and Ottawa rules.
Cars don’t stop for pedestrians here; not everyone has young children or appreciate their range of noises; it’s not a given that you can just run outside and play.
But we can go out without four layers of clothing here – man, I missed my Birkenstocks.
“Momma, I missed the birds!”
“Me too, Buddy, me too.”
I miss the Iqaluit air, though, my chest heaving on my first few gulps of Ottawa summer humidity and pollen.
“Look, Momma! A butterfly!”
“Look – a store! And you know what, Mom? You know what they sell here? Shoes! It’s a whole store just for shoes! Whoa-ee, I think you’re gonna like this store, Mom.”
“And look at all the trees! And flowers! I think you’re gonna be really happy here, Momma.”
“And check out all this pavement too, Bud. Nice and smooth. No boulders.”
“And the cars can go really fast here, Mom! Even side by side!”
“Momma, I’m glad to be back in our world.”
“Me too, Love. Me too.”

A Breath of Northern Air

A summer coat of fog clings skin-tight to Iqaluit’s waking wintry body.
The wind’s out on an early¬†smoke break, allowing the lighthouse a rare glimpse of its reflection.
Frobisher Bay licks at the mud flats, slowly carving stone.
Sultry mounds of Canadian Shield beckon.

Place of Many Fish

The North is poetry for the eyes.
Beauty defying description, long pauses, deep breaths.
The rhythym and meter are different here.
Friendships are many-stranded, tightly woven.
Folk just step in to say hi, stop by for a chat on the way to and from the grocery store (where milk is $13.75 for a 4L bag).
With three growing kids in the house, that’s a lot of chats.
It’s been three days of non-stop sunshine and t-shirt weather.
It’d be heaven, but for the bugs.
Mosquitos, the curse of the land. The sun mocks us with its siren call, a lure for uncovered skin.
The bugs feast in swarms, at least a few vying for every square inch.
Every time we close the car doors, we spend a vigorous minute “dying” the bugs (as my nieces like to say).
Black smears of victory streak the windows on the inside, rivulets of dust on the outside.
Today, we saw a truck watering the road with saltwater: roadside dust control.
Child-rearing is different here too, an unspoken community pact of loving neglect.
Laisser-faire parenting.
With a 30Km speed limit and no traffic lights, every truck tire loudly crunching the dirt and dust, no yard fences or sidewalks or curbs, and an unquestioning pride in children being the most important resource there is, kids here roam as freely as the ravens.
Games of pick-up tag at the park. Making your own fun with whatever’s at hand. An assumption that kids should just play; no scheduled playdates, no after-school martial arts or swimming lessons to get to on time, no focused one-on-one teachable moments.
There may be something to it.
Then again, I’ve never met kids more starving for attention than the ones here. Hangers-on at every park, endless look-at-mes, class-clown behaviour everywhere.
A mother with her infant cuddling her back, arms around her neck, tucked into her traditional garb hood – while driving an SUV.
There may be something to my bureaucratic, citified, scheduled, over-stimulated world too.
But walking the tundra on the way to the playground with the kids, I relish every quiet, uneven, rocky, unplanned, squishy step.
Last molded by glaciers, rucked and tucked, I am adding my imprint to unfathomable history.
Timeless time.
There is a connection here, renewed with every glance out the window, every footstep.
A reminder that we don’t shape the land, even with our intentional and unintentional alterations; it shapes us.

A Living Canvas

I wonder what Monet would have thought of this light.

It’s Nova Scotian fishing village meets the Hindu Kush foothills here in Iqaluit, Nunavut, where Bonhomme and I are spending our summer vacation.
The sun starts setting here around dinnertime, and stays there, singing a long lingering lullaby, for about five more hours. By the time I go to bed, it’s dusk. Night lasts about four hours in midsummer this far North.
“Momma, it’s morning! The sun’s up!”
“No, Love, I assure you that 4:20am is not morning, no matter what the sun says. Go back to sleep.”

A trawler points to the Atlantic Ocean where this morning sea and sky blended into one wet blanket pulled all the way up to shore.
Rocks are everywhere.
Rock lawns. Rock parks. Everything feels like a half-built construction site, but no. The builders, not the boulders, are what’s uprooted.
Most driveways have more skidoos than trucks.
Tradition nestles up to technology – survival comes first. The best tool for the job wins. Wolverine-fur-trimmed hoods; skidoo-pulled wooden sleds; high-powered crossbow arrows.
No patios, no store fronts. Interior space trumps exterior, and maximized for view.

Tundra is squishy, it turns out. A springy carpet beneath my feet, stitched and painted, woven and splattered.
My hand aches for a paintbrush.