Fri March 11
Finally, the last leg of the journey, a 40 minute flight to Lake Harbour. There are 8 of passengers plus 2 pilots on the Twin Otter…the front seats of the plane removed and stuffed with cargo, the webbed net straining to hold goods back from ending up in our faces.
It’s an exhilarating flight as the plane skims just above the ground, first crossing Iqaluit Harbour before tracing down the Soper River valley (which in coming year will become a territorial park). The vast starkness is mind numbing light (snow, ice, glaring sun reflections) or dark (bare rock). To my uneducated eye, it’s a frozen wasteland below. After yesterday’s small taste of winter, I’m glad to be snug inside this tin can of a plane! How different the land appears to summer when greens, browns and blues soften the landscape. Yet life exists on those icy plains, and snow mobile tracks criss cross the valley floor.
The tiny dots which mark Lake Harbour take shape, boxes tucked between rocky outcroppings, facing a tongue of frozen ocean. The plane circles twice before dropping sharply to the gravel strip. Colourful houses dot the slopes, white vapour plums, streaming from furnaces, add to the snug feeling. There are about 320 residents, including about 10 white folk. It’s a picturesque community with roads, telephone lines and modern looking houses, nestled under a clear blue sky.
Pascal’s house is typical: a neat three bedroom bungalow with flat roof, heated by oil/electric furnace. There is a large living/dining room with white kitchen cabinets, laundry and large pantry. I’m interested that the bathroom floor is raised – why? Must be a heating, insulation thing. There is no infrastructure system for water and sewer – each dwelling is self contained, water delivered by a truck and sewage pumped out and hauled away by another truck.
After lunch, and Pascal has returned to the classroom, we set out to explore town. A man, sitting outside (its – 25C) in the wind shelter of his workshop, is carving a sea monster out of pale green stone. I’m amazed to see the electric hand tools, like Dremel drill and polisher! Somehow, I was under the obviously false impression that Inuit carving was done with chisels, saws, drills, other abrasives. The brilliant blue sky and warm sun beats down on the fur ruff that guards his face from winds. Perhaps he was inspired by the harbour views for his work in progress, ‘Sedna’. Further down the road, Simeonie is outside, busy building a 20’ komatik (Inuit sled on runners) – he tells me that tomorrow he’s off walrus hunting and intends to have the sled finished by then.
There are great views of town from outside the RCMP building, perched high on a knoll. There is not much snow cover on the slopes, and the wind has packed what little there is into the consistency of set concrete. The airport road winds past a frozen lake, the source of town water. Water pipes poke up through the ice, waiting to be connected to water trucks. A simple but effective method.
By 6pm, the light is starting to dim. Dinner is a yummy caribou stew with chocolate dipped strawberries (carefully carried up in hand luggage) for desert. I like the stew better, the sweet meat more flavourful than California berries in March.
One of Pascals students, Koochi, drops by for a visit and offers to take me out for a snowmobile tour. At night? I wonder, having never been on a snow mobile before! He’s astonished to hear this but too polite to say much other than ‘its cold at night’. After bundling up (in what I hope is sufficient clothing), we head out to the dark starry night.
It’s absolutely beautiful…green northern lights flicker and wave, mixing with a million pinpricks of distant light that fill the sky. My familiar southern constellations are in different positions: after a while I forget about trying to find these known place markers and sink into the unfamiliarity of the unknown. Frozen Soper Lake glows with unearthly luminescence below…I’m amazed that despite the moonless night how much light bounces off the land, silhouetting shoulders and slopes of land crests.
Back at Pascal’s house, people keep dropping by to inspect the teachers friends…it’s a steady parade of kids, all ages and sizes. Some enterprising artists bring their work around, showing off tiny earrings of seals, caribou, inukshuks, made from black whale baleen, bleached bone or antler. I’m pooped and relieved when Pascal finally shoos out the last giggling guest so we can retire to bed. What a full wonderful day!