Day Three: Saturday, September 25, 2010
The light in the sky is dull. It is just early afternoon. In just a month or so it will be dark all day long. This is the way it is in the high Arctic during the early winter months, when winter is always dark and summer is constant light. Today, before the solar orb sinks behind the hills of shale, we hope to see a couple of local sites and review our gear for the final leg of our trip to the North Pole tomorrow morning.
Meghan kindly is driving us along the Arctic Ocean coast towards a local historic site in Resolute Bay to see remains of a thousand-year-old Inuit village. We drive along the gravel, winding road as dust and flakes of snow powder the sides of her bulky grey van. We are warm, for now, accompanied by my friends Sunanda and Satish and my husband Rishi. Rishi, with video camera in hand, captures the stark beauty of the passing scenery and the discussion among us.
There is something comforting in these darker days, where we must learn to feel the earth more fully. With less light, we are challenged to find the spark of illumination within. What brings each one of us joy? What lights us up? Without question, there is crucial need in these frigid temperatures for people to work together, just to survive. Light brings hope and is needed for survival. Yet the moon and stars have guided hunters and boatsmen of all races around the globe for thousands of years. The reflected light from the sun that we can see in the moon and the stars allows us to reflect more within. There is something in the dark that inspires wisdom to grow, inspiration to listen with greater acuity to that which is unseen.
We roll along the road just past a cloud of smoke. In the distance I can see remains of construction material and household wares being burned as garbage. It looks like a funeral pyre in the midst of an Arctic desert. This, Meghan explains, is the local dump. As I look at the array of modern debris, I cannot help but wonder what these pieces of forgotten, current building materials are doing cast out on this venerable, innocent and harsh land. They rise in smoke that is almost as dark as the night to come.
To my surprise, only a few hundred meters away, we arrive at the Resolute Bay memorial, a large stone marker, which commemorates the site where the first inhabitants in Resolute came to shore. Subject to the plans of government sovereignty, these Inuit people from Northern Quebec (and later Pond Inlet, Nunavut) first arrived on this desert shore like pawns in a political game. I cannot help but notice the irony in the community garbage dump being so close to this government memorial for people who were left here to make do, removed from their natural birth homes and familiar environment.
We get out of the heated van to face the harsh Arctic winds and begin to climb up the hill away from the ocean. At the top, the icy winds wrap my down coat, trying to find a way in. I look across the rolling landscape and see dots of enormous bones buried into the ground, then sprouting up to the sky. Upright and proud, these whalebone archways mark what once were roofs of an ancient Inuit village, previously covered in animal skins. There seems to be about six historic homes. I walk closer to see.
Each shelter nestles into the hill, like a child would climb into its mother for protection from the cold. I think of the ancient ones who called this home. I am speechless when I see the size of the homes, no more than a couple meters squared. A tiny crawl space is the entrance, small enough to keep out as much cold as possible, and large enough, barely, for a human body to slide through. I step into the shelter and sit down on one of the flat stones that is the ancient floor. I feel my being inwardly shift, present in this space. I imagine for a moment what life would have been like for these brave people. I look out to the ocean, immense, vast and fierce, and think of the shelter the great whale is now giving me. I would be eating its meat, living in a house built from its generous body. I'd be huddled for warmth with my husband and children in this tiny space, my body and house covered in animal skins, my home nestled into the earth for shelter. Despite the sharp winds that blow on my facial skin and cut through my coat, I could dream here for hours. There is something honest about this place, a clarity and connectivity that seems forgotten in our modern world.
Meghan signals it is time to go. We need to move quickly as the light is fading. We also need some daylight to set up our tent and test our gear for the last leg of our trip tomorrow morning to the top of the world. We must get back to the inn. We pile into the van and all feel grateful for the heat. As we wind our way along the road back to town, we are all silent. There is something that is happening in the quiet, a kind of digestion and integration of the potency of what we have seen.
We soon arrive back at Resolute Bay, where the houses look like aliens on this humble land. They are warm, yes, but are they ‘listening’? The Inuit traditional homes arose from the Earth to greet the day, working with the land to build structures that lasted over a thousand years. Those homes speak of a society that needed to listen and respect the force of nature in order to survive. These modern homes instead reflect to me our disconnection with nature, transplanted cultures that landed on the shore some sixty years ago, a bureaucratic idea, a paper push from someone in a suit with a combed-over hairstyle. There is no question that I feel so grateful for the down duvet I will crawl into tonight and the heated water that will wash me clean from the day. I just wonder how we could have come so far from listening to nature and what we are doing to reconnect. As with any conversation in any relationship, not listening comes at a heavy cost.