We land at Iqaluit’s small airport, the exterior of the main building beaming a cheerful bright canary yellow. We walk off the plane and directly onto the runway. Immediately the wind fiercely blows and cuts through my winter coat. I pull my hood over my head and pinch the edges of my collar to stop the wind from flowing down my chest. Rishi walks in front of me with his video camera, taking in what he sees. I feel a certain thrill at being here. I feel a rush of humility, awe and wonder at the thought of now being on Inuit land.
As we enter the small building, there is no one at the welcome desk to direct us to our connecting flight. I notice above the desk, a sign in beautiful geometric block letters that I presume make up the Inuit alphabet. Painted pictures on the walls depict traditional Inuit cultural scenes, whale and caribou hunts, life in igloos, children wrapped in animal skins and fur playing in the snow.
A few people, mostly Inuit, faces carved by the wind and time, come and go out the airport’s only front doors that go off into the city. I see an elderly woman and a younger attendant walking arm in arm and speaking Inuktitut. The language sounds percussive, both round and hollow, reminding me of a melodic drum. Immediately I wonder about this old woman’s life, how she grew up, what stories she carries within her of the land and her ancient culture.
There is a slower rhythm here, almost viscous, that seems simultaneously aerial and spacious and massively heavy. I consider how people are an expression of their landscape. With my first glimpse of the Inuit people, there is something here that feels more solid. Perhaps they are like the rock that make up the Earth here, carved by the icy wind. I feel a deep connection to this land and a familiarity with these people that I cannot explain.
I think of the dreams I have been having that lead me on this journey, the voice within that is calling me to the top of the world. This is the voice of our mother, the Earth. This too is the Inuit mother. She is the mother of all that is on the planet. Somehow the Inuit seem to embody that knowing perhaps more so than most people I see in cities all over the world. I suddenly think that the concrete I usually experience below my feet is more like shrink-wrapping sealing the planet than rock of which the concrete is made. Here, despite my oversized snow mobile boots and the polished floor beneath me now, I feel that in Iqaluit, in the land of the Inuit, my toes could dig more easily into the ground and connect with the Earth.
I think of the dreams I have had over the years, taught through the unseen world about the ancient Earth ways of healing by a female shaman that I thought was Mongolian. I wonder if she was Inuit. I wonder too if I was that shaman and if I was Inuit. Maybe those dreams are parallel lives, being lived simultaneously. I wonder what time really means and question the illusion of its solidity. I feel a connection between the people of Mongolia, Tuva, Northern Tibet and the Inuit. I slip into a half dream-like state, where what I am seeing in front of me seems to be covered with a thin, milky film and yet I feel my body/being expand to see much more fully, not just with my physical eyes. Layers of images flood my being of times gone by when the ice was thick, when we listened to the land and when we respected our mother. I taste for a moment what these people have lived through, the coming of the white people, the proselytization of Christianity, the forced silencing of their beliefs, political pawns in Canada’s sovereignty game. Within me, I begin to understand a disconnect I feel exists here and what richness lies behind the pain.
The shrill, laughing shriek of two children playing near me pulls me back to my physical surroundings. A small blond girl and boy of perhaps two or three, are playing hide and seek around the immense body of what seems to be their father. Dressed in a modern remake of traditional Inuit clothes, they seem comfortable here. I wonder if they were born in Iqaluit. What would that be like for a fair child? What would my life had been if I were born and raised here?
I look around me for my travel companions, Sunanda and Rishi. I realize that while I was taking in all of these new sights and sounds, Sunanda had gone to deal with our practical affairs. I feel so grateful that she is here. She lights up like a firefly when she takes charge, feels on top of things and gets tasks done. It is because of her dedicated, selfless work on this project, that we have hotels and meetings booked, that I have a costume to wear in -20C at the top of the world. She is ever willing to pitch in wherever there is a need. She can think outside the box for new ideas and options in a pinch. True to form, amidst the airport chaos, disorganization and absence of staff people, she has found a clerk who can help us collect our luggage, which we must do before we take our next flight to Resolute Bay. I see in the distance that Rishi is already at the baggage conveyer belt, using his muscle to gather our belongings, while Sunanda inquires about our two pieces of fragile luggage, the wig and boom box.
Sunanda walks towards me, looking confused. She tells me that the boom box and wig did not make it to Iqaluit, through Ottawa from Toronto. She is unsettled, taking little comfort in the idea that Air Canada and First Air assure her that our performance items will be sent on the next flight to Resolute Bay, which is not until two days from now. We pause for a moment and consider our need for these pieces, how we would make due in the next two days without them. We decide to move on, and trust that with Grace, they will follow us by the time we get to the North Pole.
Having gathered our bags, Rishi interviews an Inuit hunter about the environmental conditions here, the effect of the melting ice, while Sunanda and I check in our luggage for our next flight. Then we go looking for some food, but can’t look far, as the one, small waiting room is without provisions. We have an hour to wait, but are still unsure where to go for our connecting plane. I was glad that Rishi, who is often hungry, had packed snacks. We sit down to consume bag of potato chips, which for our hungry bellies becomes a feast. We still have several hours of travel before we arrive in Resolute Bay, where hopefully we will have a full meal.
IQALUIT TO NANISIVIK
Like a replay of this morning in Toronto’s airport, soon our names are called over the intercom. Dusting potato chip crumbs from our fingers, we quickly grab our bags, realizing that we are almost late again. Two female flight attendants in uniform standing by a small door wave us over and show us where to go to board our next plane. They tell us that our carry on bags cannot come onto the plane and should have been checked, since the plane is too small to have bags in the cabin. Knowing it is too late to do anything about bags and that we need to be on this plane, we manage to slip through, past the attendants, and carry our bags on board anyway. This plane is very small, seating perhaps twelve, so as warned, we struggle to find places for our so-called carry on bags. The plane is full with Inuit people as well as others who seem to have traveled in the North before, and also with provisions and cargo for the Arctic communities.
Once in the air, I am mesmerized by the breathtaking landscape below. Sheets of blue grey ice begin to grow over stretches of charcoal water. The gravel roads of Iqaluit turn into dark grey fjords and sloping, rocky mountains of brown, orange and red. We are scheduled to land and refuel in Nanisivik airport, an abandoned mining town about 30km from Arctic Bay, though I am told we may not be able to land there today, weather pending. With the rising temperatures in the Arctic, there has been a big problem with fog, causing poor flight visibility and many plane crashes. I look outside the window and take comfort in the sunny, clear day.
Once at Nanisivik, we step off the plane onto the runway. Our plane is the only plane in sight. As I inhale, my lungs expand with immense relief. The air feels so much clearer here than in Toronto. There is a weightlessness in the atmosphere. Without wireless internet and the electrical 60Hz hum of cities or the psychic noise I continually sense in built up areas, the openness here feels freeing and refreshing. The land is huge, immense and vast. I can see beyond and then beyond still. In the distance, rolling red-brown, snow-covered mountains encompass a large body of steely, crisp blue water that is sprinkled with floating white icebergs.
Inspired, I am drawn towards the scenery. I begin to move away from the plane, out to explore the area, but am quickly told that I must go into the tiny office building. Once in the one-room waiting area, Rishi and I find a back door and exit into this immense land. If there are many words in Inuktitut for snow, then there must be many words for rock, as it seems the Arctic is built upon a wide variety of slate, shale, gravel, rocks of differing textures, colours and sizes. As I move out into a wide, open area, I suddenly stand motionless, feet anchored to the ground, torso swaying only by the push, pull of the chilling Arctic wind that wraps around my long down coat and hood. I am in humbled awe at the varied splendour of our rough, wild and fierce planet stretched out majestically before me. Despite the dry cold, my lips gently curl at each side of my mouth. A quiet and expansive understanding moves through my chest as I see more clearly than ever the error of our human folly, the arrogance of thinking that we could ever control Nature. She is completely beyond.
On board the plane again for the last time in this day’s thirteen-hour journey, destination to Resolute Bay, I meet nurse Jackie from Barrie. Sunanda had met air traffic controller Greg from Ottawa in the waiting room in Nanisivik, while I was out exploring the landscape. Both Jackie and Greg are going to Resolute Bay to work. Jackie fills me in on the ways of that small town. She tells me about the Inuit culture, the layers of wounds, some of the history. I learn that this nurse and one other nurse provide the primary medical care for the town. They have a well supplied health station, where they deal with almost everyone’s health needs. Occasionally, people are flown to Iqaluit, in more complicated medical cases.
To learn more about the people, I ask Jackie what the main disease is for the Inuit. She tells me that traditionally the Inuit used to suffer mostly from lung disease because of the contained smoke inside their igloos. But now, it is colon cancer. I suggest that the shift in health perhaps is due to the radical change from a traditional diet to one based on flown in goods. She concurs. She goes on to say that because the prices are so high in Resolute for provisions, locals will often prefer buying pop over milk. I find out that a bag of corn chips costs $14.95. As we get close to our destination, Jackie kindly invites me to visit her for a tour of the nursing station. I let her know that I will be in Resolute for a couple of days and will stop by.
We arrive Resolute Bay’s one-main-room airport, greeted by Meghan, the innkeeper from Qausittuq Inn and Satish Sikha, our friend the Indo-Canadian environmental activist who initially suggested I go to the North Pole to perform. Satish is in Resolute Bay to showcase at the Arctic ocean his eco-silk message that he collected from dignitaries all over the world for the past two and a half years. With bounding delight, Satish openly welcomes us to Resolute Bay. We happily make our way to Meghan’s van. I quickly realize that the tiny town has no taxis so this van will likely be our transportation while we are here.
We arrive to the Inn, our hotel, tired after a very long day of travel. We are however not jetlagged. It is now 8pm, which is only 9pm in Toronto, as we have traveled almost due North. We meet Chris, Meghan’s partner and hotel cook, who kindly has dinner waiting. Meghan and Chris, I soon find out, are from Kingston, Ontario, which is comparatively close to home, only 3 hours east of Toronto. A year ago they fell in love with the Arctic and decided to call it home. Managing the Inn is now their full time job and also where they live.
Meghan sat with us for dinner to connect and make us feel welcome. Sunanda, Rishi, Satish and I are the only guests at the inn. In this cold climate, I can see that human company keeps people feeling inwardly warm. I instantly like Meghan. In her twenties, she seems intelligent and receptive, kind and caring. Soon I find myself candidly sharing some of the dreams that have been calling me on this healing journey. I ask her if she knows any local elders and healers who may still remember the traditional, ancient ways of the Inuit, in particular, anyone who may know about shamanism. She pauses for a moment in reflection and runs her hand through her golden curly hair. She looks at me with her green, almond shaped eyes that seem to look deeply out of her round face. She says she believes her Inuit friend Lisa would likely be open to meeting me and perhaps would bring her mentor, a local elder, Louisa. Meghan offers to set up a meeting for tomorrow night. I feel very pleased.
We enjoy our home cooked meal and make our way up to our rooms. As I walk up the one flight of stairs from the kitchen to the guest rooms, I notice the hollow sound my feet make on the stairs. I think how often new-buildings have the same, fast built, empty feeling. To me there is something soulless, void of artistry, about building only with short-term practicality in mind. Architecture can poetically express an essential link between humans and our environment, creating a vital bridge between landscape and the people that live within it. Despite these thoughts, I feel so grateful to be here, warm, out of the cold and with kind people around me. I think back to the sugar cube buildings I saw from the air in Iqaluit, how foreign they looked on the land. The off white outer walls of this inn blend more naturally with its surroundings. Though the fifty or so buildings that dot the ground to create Resolute Bay, population 220, are similar neutral colours to exterior walls of this hotel, there is something about this town that seems like people and buildings were quickly dropped here and expected to call it home.
We are happy to catch up with our friend Satish, who arrived the day before. We speak about his need to showcase his fabric tomorrow, which Rishi will document, and the trip Rishi, Sunanda and I will take to the North Pole. Ironically, it was Satish who first planted the idea in our heads to go to the North Pole. But after we decided to go, we found out that Satish had never intended to go to the actual North Pole, but had wanted to showcase his fabric at the Arctic Ocean. When I realized that a misunderstanding had been spawned, I asked what he meant when he suggested I go with him to the North Pole, if he had not intended to go there. It was simple. As he traveled over the last two and a half years collecting signatures for his eco-silk message, few people knew the Arctic Ocean. So he began to say that he was going to the Arctic Ocean/North Pole. It simply became a habit to say the two names together. Life works in wondrous ways, so however the spark came to me that ignited the light for the trip we were now on, I feel grateful.
When we found out three weeks ago that Satish would go only as far as Resolute Bay, the Earth Team and I created our soil-less garden to lay the ground energetically for the healing work I was going to do at the top of the world. Over these weeks, we have had much inward testing, stirring up deep stuff, to spiritually prepare and cleanse us for this journey. Though Rishi and Sunanda are the only two member of the Earth Team who are physically with me, energetically the entire group has formed a pact and bond to support our healing intention on this mission. Though the three of us are physically going, we feel we are all going. During our discussion with Satish it feels both touching and awkward that he mentions that he would now like to come with us to the North Pole after all we have been through. If he had told us sooner... The four of us enter into a deep discussion about the meaning of the trip, the inner call for me to do healing at the magnetic North Pole, and what this means to us. I am haunted by my vision of the plane crash and again hold back from saying anything specific about that to the others. Instead, we openly discuss the dangers of the trip and how we must go being prepared to die. Still Satish is unwaveringly keen. He has been through much over the past few years with his personal project and is open to more adventure.
It is clear that Sunanda, Rishi and I need to make a tough decision about whether or not we include our friend on the next leg of our journey. Based on how the conversation is going, it seems we generally feel that it would be wonderful if he could join us, but there is a much bigger picture here that we have been called to implement, something bigger than any one of us. Something has been set in motion over the past three weeks, both in the seen and unseen world, and the three of us must go. We are not the doers, but instruments for something beyond our ego or will.
Still not quite at a place of peace and group cohesion, we decide to sleep on the question as to whether Satish will come with us to the North Pole, and opt to talk when refreshed in the morning. Tomorrow we wake up here, in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, at the edge of the Arctic Ocean, still about 1000 km from our final destination. Tonight, I am ready to rest, and rest deeply, feeling open to any dreams and guidance I will get from the unseen on this journey of faith to the North Pole.