Journey to the Floe Edge, Baffin Island, Nunavut
The north always exceeds my expectations and this trip did not disappoint. From June 10-17th, I traveled with ten intrepid adventurers to a land that few people see. I walked in places that may never have felt a footprint or heard a human sound. I walked in places that now, a week later, no longer exist.
Canada is a vast land and great hunks of it are inaccessible by usual means. Those hearty souls who choose to live in its recesses live a life apart or on the fringe of our society. Current communications allow the south to infiltrate their lives. Trucks and all terrain vehicles, now cell phones, wifi and hockey rinks have arrived. Everything comes by plane or ship and may or may not be in good supply or working order depending on the time of the year. The ability to survive on the land is slipping away at an alarming pace. The residents of Pond Inlet and other northern communities seem to live in a world that is in a space between. It is a place that creates social problems and that is filled with hardship and stunning beauty.
Flying to Pond Inlet from Ottawa was the way to get to my destination….a plot of ice 80km off shore more or less a little to the north and east of Bylot Island and Sirmilik National Park. To be warden here is a true mix of getting the short straw or the longest one ever!
Of course getting there is not direct. Ottawa to Iqaluit and then on to Iglulik and finally Pond. When it isn’t in-climate, it is a jewel at this time of year with turquoise ponds and white snow patches strewn across the bay from the town beach to the blackish brown mountains of clouded Bylot Island. Last fall a Greenlandic Iceberg grounded in Eclipse Sound just off the main beach and it looks like a sentinel protecting the village.
My goal in making this journey was to experience more of my country, while sharing time with like-minded individuals and capturing more images of this stunning land.
As always, I got more than I expected and this time it included information that deepened my compassion for those who live in the “wealth” and the “poverty” of this part of Canada.
I saw junk laden yards and pristine icebergs. I heard the sounds of bearded seals, belugas and narwhals in the sea beneath my feet. I walked in the steps of the Thule people and gazed down on the frozen sea from the shores of Bylot Island. Thousands of kittiwakes formed clouds in the sky and Eider Ducks flew past in platoons. I felt the air pressure from their wings and saw the sea ice rise and fall under my feet as it was lifted by the surge from the sea.
At the floe edge the speedy flap of murre wings reflected in the mirror finish of the water as narwhals and belugas slid by. I gazed down from a kayak through the still water to see the blues and turquoises of the depths of the ocean.
Fog came and went whiting out everything. Six inches of fresh snow meant it was time to build snowmen. I stayed in a Christmas card campsite with two towering icebergs and yellow “Arctic Oven” tents.
In this white world of the midnight sun, I sat on a blue camp stool and watched the sea as ice pans broke off and headed for Greenland. My experiences impacted my mind, my body and my soul.
One day on the way to the floe edge, our skidoo driver yelled polar bear, turned on a ninety-degree angle and in a flash, five of us were strewn across the snow with camera gear bouncing to a halt beside us. At one-thirty in the morning, heading back to camp, the cry went out again and our train of qamutiqs stopped on a dime only to be disengaged from the skidoos in an instant so that the drivers could chase a terrorized bear through the sea ice in defiance and disregard of our shouts of “Stop!, Stop!”.
But the greatest learning came with the approach of the inquisitive polar bear that entered the water a little ways off our day camp at the floe edge. We had been sitting for several hours in anticipation that more whales would appear. The bear slipped, without a sound into the water and headed our way. Lifting her head, straining her neck, and sniffing, she edged towards us. Power drives on cameras began to smoke. Mike, our guide, spoke softly to us and asked us to move slowly and be quiet. The Inuit guides disregarded his instructions. The bear turned and looked towards us. She kept coming. She turned and began to drag her heavy body, dripping with the frigid water, up onto the ice. She was twenty feet away. Mike spoke to her. He then fired a blank into the air. The bear retreated and then turned came back. Still her look was inquisitive. She sniffed Lisa’s jacket, perhaps thinking it was a seal and pawed the camera case. She turned towards us again. A second shot rang out. She turned and headed towards the sea ice. She turned. She looked at us. A red stain was growing on her haunch. She looked back at us. Her face said “Why?” I asked the same question of myself.
This did not end well for any of us. The bear had to be put down. Two more shots rang out. Then the air was filled with silence and sadness.
I learned again that life can change in a moment and I am put on alert to experience the “now” attending to it and wringing every morsel of experience from it.
For more information on my journey to the flow edge watch my webpage for “Where Narwhals Dream- An Arctic Journal.” Coming this fall and available as an ebook.