Stepping Off the Flat Earth

Posted On March 17, 2008

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The following are some photos of Kuujjuarapik-Whapmagoostui and its inhabitants. I wish I could have captured more… the children being towed to school and the store on homemade wooden box sleds behind snowmobiles, the babies carried in a special coat designed for mothers which has a pouch built into the back, the little kids playing ice hockey in the street, on skates!

tipi.png This is a tipi used for smoking meat and tanning hides.

garry_popper_400x300.png This is Garry Popper, the Research Center’s dog.

dogsatplay_400x300.png Here is Garry playing with a friend.

hockey_022308.png A local hockey tournament.

hockey_fans_3.png hockey_fans_1.png hockey_fans_2.png hockey_fans_15.png Hockey fans.

And budding skaters. skating_girls.png

Here is Gilbert Bear, the puppy we found, with his new owner, a young Inuit woman. I ran into them on the street last week and how Gilbert has grown! She clearly loves him, but only spoke enough English to tell me the following (several times): “His name is Bru.” (“Brown”, in Inuktitut) “We walk all day today.” And, “See, I got him a collar.” (Dogs roam the streets here and sometimes the ones without collars are killed.) So there is no doubt, Gilbert Bear has a VERY good home. girl_w_bear.png

I’ll leave you now with this excerpt from a book I read immediately before arriving here. Yukon Alone, by John Balzar, is about the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race which takes place in the Yukon in February and covers 1023 miles. This passage about Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, Alaska really spoke to me when I read it … and does now more than ever.

“Aliy now lets her mind drift to another subject. She was supposed to accomplish something out here in addition to finishing the Quest. This was going to be her chance, alone and without interruption, to ponder her future and settle things in her life. Should she keep her kennel and race again? The question implies so much more. A kennel is a way of life, not a pastime. Is that what she wants for herself: Aliy Zirkle, dog musher? What about her career as a biologist? So many of the people at Fish and Wildlife throw themselves at their work. She has felt this pull of ambition, if only faintly. Is now the time for her to buckle down as a scientist? Get the fever? But, man wouldn’t it be nice to have some money first. She could hustle up some construction work come summer and stash away a good chunk of cash. That is, if she worked her ass off and didn’t spend it all partying. And then her personal life… So complicated…

She had intended to resolve all these questions. So why can’t she bear down on them now? All she has to do is weight the options and devise a plan, she tells herself. Why can’t she just do it?

Back home, the imposition of telephones, the proximity of friends and family, the schedule of responsibilities, the old nagging doubts that keep you looking over your shoulder, those handy pints of ale – all of these things distract you. Weeks, months, and, finally, years spin by. You move by inertia and seem to have lost the ability, or the resolve, to choose your direction. Sometimes with aching clarity you flash on the thought that you need some time alone, quality time. Then you can sort things out. Just what is important? And how do you go after it? How do you fill those empty spaces in your life?

She tells herself that she’ll go out on the Quest trail, where there are no distractions and life is elemental. She’ll settle things out there.

But the Quest trail has different lessons to teach. Try as she may, she can’t cling to the what-ifs of the future. They come and go, as wispy as tendrils of ground fog, and they slip right through the fingers. Each time you bring out the mental checklist of pending questions, your mind loses the train of thought and doubles back to the immediate present – the ice and the dogs, the quiet and beguiling beauty of a landscape so sharp that it seems to have come right out of the mold. Yes, there is space out here for the mind to walk. But it doesn’t want to walk far. Liberated from the statis interference of modern life, where does one seek repose? In the wonder of the here and now.

Aliy feels the balance return to her life. Not by settling matters of tomorrow, but by escaping the incessant demands to settle anything. Like her ancestors long ago, she builds a campfire and stares into the embers, not because she’s searching for something but because it wraps her comfortably in the moment and fills her with contentment.

To all those looming decisions she was going to make, Aliy says, “Well, ha.””

 (copyright 1999 by John Balzar, published by Henry Holt and Company, NY)


Well, ha.

And finally … Special thanks to my Mother and Stepfather, Jeanne and Jack Thomson, for making this all possible by taking care of my son, Theo, and our dog, Sarah, while I was here in the Arctic.


2 Responses to “Stepping Off the Flat Earth”

  1. Mama Bear Thomson

    You’re more than welcome. Next time, take me with you.

  2. Sis

    Haiku for Kuujjuarapik-Whapmagoostui

    Mindful, and without-
    thought: two are peacably one
    in the zen of ice.

    Awaiting your future adventures and thrilling stories…


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