Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Open Letter

Dear Old Man Winter,

Apparently, I have upset you.

It would seem that seconds after I posted my blog on Monday evening about how you bring people together up here - and made a dig about your beloved Packers - you thought it necessary to prove that you are not a cuddly old grandfatherly type, by plunging all of Yellowknife into a blackout. Nicely played, good sir.

And even after the lights went back on, you thought it further necessary to demonstrate to me, personally, that you are a force to be reckoned with by freezing the pipes in my trailer and forcing me to go water-less for a few days. I am sure that you roared with amusement as you watched me burst through the doors to the men’s change room at the gym before work this morning in a tip-toed sprint, barely making it in enough time to conduct my ritualistic morning business. Touche, old man.

Still, though, you didn’t think I’d learned my lesson, and have now revoked my functioning furnace privileges. I am water-less and heat-less and throwing myself at your mercy. You win, jack ass.

I should not have described Monday night’s blackout as “part of the adventure” of being up here, nor should I have called my girlfriend so that she could share in the excitement with me from afar. I was wrong to shrug off being water-less and point out how it was all good since I live so close to the gym. I did not show you the proper respect, and for that I am deeply sorry, as you have now ratcheted up your assault.

Allow me to stand corrected: You do not encourage people to come together in the Wintertime, as I previously suggested. Rather, you marginally permit it. You are not a kindly, aged Friendly Giant figure, but are more akin to a hung over and sexually frustrated Mr. Burns. You make the Grinch look like the love child of Sharon, Lois and Bram. You are a ruthless son of a bitch. One night in your Northern grip makes the “cold” Ottawa winters I used to boast about seem like a four-month tropical love-in of a birthday party with an open bar, hosted by the Rockettes.

I was wrong to underestimate you and I feel that you have proven your point. If you could please have the heat working in the trailer again by the time I get back from work this afternoon, I would really appreciate it. I’m even violating my strict “one blog post per week” policy so that the seven people will know what a self-righteous vigilante you really are.

I thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Hugs and Kisses,


Monday, January 28, 2008

Finding Warmth

Winter is damn cold.

No, I mean, it is really, really cold (pushing -40 before the wind chill and has been below -50 with it, for those who are wondering). Up until the past few days, I’ve been quite comfortable playing outside with sufficient winter clothing on, but the mercury has dropped in the past couple of days to the point where the cold has become a Trojan Horse of sorts, finding new and clever ways to blast through my previously impregnable defensive shield of goose down, merino wool and facial hair. It’s not so much that my skin is cold, although the few exposed bits I had definitely felt the burn as I meandered across Great Slave Lake to a friend’s houseboat for breakfast yesterday. Rather, it’s more of an inside-out cold. Each of my trips into the elements in the past couple of days has started off by old man winter (who I’m convinced, by his unapologetic disposition of late, must be a disgruntled Packers fan) simultaneously punching me in the stomach and vacuuming the air out of my lungs. Indeed, this sort of weather will put hair on a man’s chest, which is completely unnecessary in my case (as any impressionable and horrified young visitor to Camp Sheldrake during the summers of 2001 - 2003 will be able to tell you).

And while the weather's been so gnarly of late that even the locals have been complaining (which has become my rather reliable thermometer), the subarctic chill is something I’ve embraced for what it does to the people up here. Here's the thing: the two realities of life during the Yellowknife winter are that, 1. The days are cold, and 2. The nights are long (and also cold). Sure, one could isolate oneself from the outside world for the close to seven months of winter a year and wait things out under the comforter, but that would get mighty lonely mighty quickly. Instead, people seem to take that extra step to enjoy each other's company. There's something to be said for making the winter a solo mission that you tackle head-on, but there's a camaraderie I've seen in the few weeks I've been here that I think is mandated by the mutual understanding that we're all in this unforgiving environment together for the next little while, so we might as well eat, drink and be merry while the storm passes.

I blew out birthday candles in the past week, and my evening of celebrating sums up what I think the nature of winter in Yellowknife is all about. For an hour or so after work I borrowed my roommate’s husky dog and went snowshoeing across the lake for an “under the full moon” experience that was idyllic almost to the point of being over-the-top (see the self-portrait below). After a sufficient workout (and when my beard was well caked in ice), I went home, showered, thawed and then met some new friends for a couple of hours of merriment. Upon thanking some of them for coming out to help the “new guy” celebrate his birthday, I was told with utmost sincerity, “Hey, you’re not the new guy anymore, you’re a friend of ours." I can't help but think that the warmth they shared with me wouldn't have felt quite so fuzzy inside were it not so damned prickly outside.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two Weeks In (Part Two)

Perhaps the question I was most commonly asked when I told people that I was coming up here was about the length of daylight hours, and whether it would be dark for 24-hours a day. Fortunately, Yellowknife is far enough South that it's never in 24-hours of darkness, though the days get mighty short in December. This time of year, we're looking at about six hours of daylight at a stretch, which does mean walking to work in the dark (which I have so artistically illustrated below: that's 8:20 a.m.), but the days are only getting longer.

The plus side about heading to work in the dark - if you are lucky enough to have an East-facing office and work in the Northwest Territories - is that you can have the privilege of watching the sun creep up over the horizon for over an hour in the morning. The shots below don't nearly do what I saw this morning justice, but you get the idea. NWT sunrises might just be a better time-waster than Facebook.

I probably have been given an office with such a stellar view because of the prestige attached with my official title. It's rare for a co-op student to be given a ministerial portfolio, but I proved myself worthy within a couple of days of being up here:

As for the work itself, it's been a largely positive experience so far, with the usual lamentations about life in an office thrown in for good measure. This being the first desk job I've ever had, it takes some getting used to. It's a far cry from canoeing along the Bartibog River or selling camping gear to tourists, but I'm settling in nicely. Those of you who are familiar with the brilliance that is Office Space will relate to the strong paternal instinct I felt when I discovered a red Swingline stapler in my office this afternoon.

I'm going to make Milton proud and guard that little wonder with my life.

I hope they don't ask me to go ahead and take care of the cockroach problem.



Two Weeks In (Part One)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I touched down up here, and the camera is up and running, so I figured it was time for a substantive update (not to be confused with a substantial update, which would require more effort than this big shot civil servant is willing to put in when not on the taxpayer’s dime). I’m going to divvy this one into two entries because it’s a little beefy.

Saturday night saw my first night out in Yellowknife – an event I would call a raging success. Walking into the notorious Gold Range (aka the “Strange Range”) late on Saturday afternoon gave me the feeling of being in a double-vortex time machine that simultaneously sent me ahead in time by about eight hours, and back in time by about eighteen years. The revelry and debauchery that was well underway was of the ilk that I would expect to see after midnight, rather than the time of day when the 65-and-up crowd are usually coming in looking for a prime rib special. The d├ęcor, music and general atmosphere, however, gave off the impression of a frontier town bar during the era just after KISS took off their make-up, but just before they started their farewell tours (think halfway through the Reagan administration). Rather than play the role of the curious law student in town for a few months, I decided to try and blend in, going incognito as just another random dude who was looking to tip a few back while watching locals two-step the night (er, afternoon) away.

My afternoon at the Range also found me in a situation where I was clearly in the minority, racially (culturally?) speaking. I wasn’t especially taken aback by this situation, but it did give me occasion to reflect on the cultural backdrop against which months up here will be set. I’ll be honest: seeing people drunk early in the day is something that I normally find really freakin’ funny (sometimes to the point where I feel compelled to join in), and this was certainly true of my knee-jerk reaction when I sauntered into the Range. Thinking, however, about the cultural conflict that continues to play itself out in Canada’s North (and throughout much of the rest of the country), and a continuing struggle for identity and recognition, I wondered if the laughing frat-boy part of me was possibly reinforcing the roles that have been engrained in European-Canadians since Contact. But does even entertaining those thoughts have me engaging a culturally superior line of thinking? Am I being a pretentious and superficial Ontarian by reading too much into a bunch of people looking to unwind on a Saturday afternoon? I looked for the answer to these and other questions at the bottom of numerous bottles of Pilsner. I didn’t find any, but ended up with a nice warm buzz and the start to what turned out to be a great night of bowling and a house party with some rad new friends.

As a post-script, I have to hand it to the fellow reveler who managed to turn “Hey Hart, do you want to go halves on a twelve-pack?” into “Hey Hart, thanks for buying me that case of beer” within a period of about seven minutes, without me saying so much as three words in the process. I might have been a little annoyed, but mostly I was just impressed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Greetings From the North

For the next few months I anticipate A Harty Meal being largely used as a tool to recount my experiences (see #1, below) in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, where I am living and working until the end of April (pictures to follow when I sort out a technical glitch). The reasons cited in the previous post notwithstanding, I don't see my blogging from up here as an exercise undertaken for its own sake. Rather, I'll be sharing my stories of the North because I feel that the North is to be shared. The four months I have up here will allow me little more than surface-scratching when it comes to engaging with the people and the land, but what I have seen so far could provide the introductory chapter for any number of adventure narratives, nature documentaries or Danielle Steele novels (I only know what those are because I worked in a bookstore). I have no delusions of Mowat-esque literarly grandeur, and anticipate a healthy dose of the mundane in my day-to-day comings and goings, but both of these are beside the point. Seven days into my time in Yellowknife I have seen the Aurora dance at midnight, broken bread around a fire with kind-hearted locals and gone running in the afternoon sun across a frozen lake. If the first week is any indication, it will be all I can do to keep up with this city over the next four months. It would be a pleasure to have you join me.

Three Reasons I Started a Blog

1. Self-indulgence has long been a hobby of mine.

2. I am growing weary of near-daily e-mails from my mother asking me if I have read the most recent entry on the Yarn Harlot's blog. Having a blog of my own will now allow me to respond with "No, because she hasn't read mine."

3. My friends* Peter and Zoe each have blogs and are both quite cool. I think there might be some causation here, so I'm willing to to give it a shot.

Welcome aboard. Please stay tuned.

*Peter and Zoe are friends of mine both on Facebook and in real life.