Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Signs of Spring

Signs of spring are everywhere now inspite of the overcast skies and snow (yes snow) we've been getting the past couple days - mud, restless students, slowly dwindling attendance, mud, slushy sea ice and number of birds I haven't seen in months, mud. I even saw my first purple saxifrage this afternoon during a walk up around the surrounding hills. I've even seen a few things I did not expect to see at such a northerly latitude, including a spider, a caterpillar and even a bumble bee while I was out at the fishing derby. I saw something yesterday which instantly reminded me of small acorns which I remember from down in Ontario growing up - except these acorns looked a little different. Just as I was about to bend down to pick one for a closer inspection, a student dispelled my confusion. "Those aren't acorns. That's rabbit poop."

Growing up in a small town and spending my university years in a large city, I was largely divorced from the wonders of our natural world. Having the opportunity to experience nature, without the hand of man or silly romanticism, is one of my favorite things about Arctic Bay.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ignorance, Stupidity and Superstition

http://www.nunatsiaq.com/news/nunavik/60526_01.html

As an educator I felt compelled to express my views regarding a recent story out of Nunavik (the northern region of Quebec). Seems a teacher there has received a reprimand for discussing the evil theory of evolution. Now, thankfully, this does not seem to have become an issue here in Nunavut (although I can see that it might, given the strength of right wing fanatical evangelicalism).

Now I could be wrong here, but I always felt that part of a well-rounded education was approaching the world with an open mind and challenging your beliefs by investigating other points of view. People may disagree with a certain view, but simply ignoring it or saying it should not be discussed in a classroom is nonsense. I say let evolution be investigated and taught. Right wing religious nuts seriously need to relax. If God is really all-powerful, I'm sure he can stand up for himself and doesn't need help.

In one of my grade 11 classes I spoke of the writer Voltaire who wrote that organized religion bred only ignorance, stupidity and superstition. Enough said.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

And The Winner Is

Some days ago, I mentioned the Nunavut Quest dog team race which was being run between Arctic Bay and the community of Igloolik. The race finished up close to a month ago. I had been meaning to follow its progress but soon got sidetracked with other things. At any rate, the race finished (or at least the winner did) on April 28. An Igloolik racer captured the $10 000 prize and as the race finished in Igloolik, the best part for him was not having to worry about getting all his dogs home.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sometimes You Wish You'd Just Stayed In Bed

This weekend certainly gave new meaning to the words "long weekend". It was very tough on me in many ways. There were times I will remember for many years to come and other times I'd sooner forget. I learned the importance of teamwork and what happens when you have people on your team that don't pull their own weight. Pulling a qamutik on a 160km round trip over rough ice and large cracks (a short trip by Inuit standards) is not something for the weak - this much I know. I believe that moments of adversity are the times when a person learns the most about him/herself and this definitely fit into that category.

We ended up bringing the kids back a day early as many from the Toronto group couldn't handle the situation. I am very proud of how a few of the local students handled themselves though. I learned a lot just from watching them and I know that having survived this test I will do well on future land trips. I'm sure if I can handle helping take care of 10-12 kids that a smaller group where everyone actually knows what they're doing will be less stressful.

Alas, my poor skidoo didn't survive the trip intact. Apparently a rope from a qamutik got wrapped around or stuck on the handle bar (I wasn't there to see it happen) and ripped it off. So, that was the last thing I really wanted to see when I got back to town. I know I muttered a few grey words under my breath as I walked off the ice. I'm not proud of that but that is what I did.

Earlier in the day today, I chatted with a local hunter who told me of being out on the ice and seeing a skidoo and fully-loaded qamutik crashing through straight to the bottom. So the sting of the weekend remains but I also understand that lost and damaged equipment is sometimes the price you pay.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Fishing Derby

The town will clear out over this long weekend as I expect many people will head out for the annual fishing derby. Most will head for Ikpikittuarjuk Bay, a few hours south of the community for a few days. I had been asked many times over the past couple weeks whether or not I was planning to go. I was expecting to spend a quiet weekend in town skidooing and working on a couple of courses at the school.

I was asked today if I wanted to head out with the Toronto exchange students to Ikpikittuarjuk as they needed one more skidoo to pull a qamutik. Would I be interested? Of course. A long skidoo trip like this is something I haven't yet had the opportunity to do so when asked I responded with a large smiling nod. I had been hoping to get down to Ikpikittuarjuk but at this time in the school year I figured I'd have to wait until next school year for my chance. A few colleagues from the school had traveled down there back in February for a winter camp during our school's Professional Improvement Week and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So I spent this afternoon getting ready. Luckily I don't have to worry much about food and fuel as this will be taken care of through the students' exchange program. I'll have an opportunity to use some of my camping gear which I haven't made much use of lately. In my enthusiastic state I pulled out my never-used flashlight and dashed off to the Northern Store where I bought 2 'C' batteries for a hefty $11.49. Of course when I got home the question dawned on me of why I would need a flashlight in 24 daylight. Now, where is that receipt for those batteries?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

First Skidoo Rides

Today the visiting Toronto students spent some time out at Uluksan Point which lies at the mouth of Arctic Bay. It is a traditional camp site and contains the remnants of ancient Inuit dwellings. I volunteered to ferry a few students out there from town which was just fine with me since the kids were bringing along a qamutik (a traditional Inuit sled) and I had never pulled one behind my skidoo before. So off we went bumping along the sea ice. Out at the point, the students had pitched a couple tents and were enjoying the wonderful blue sky and warm weather.....I'm tempted to use the word "hot" here. I joined the group for a little while before I had to head back to the school. Many of the Toronto kids had never been on a snowmobile or a qamutik before and our students spent a great deal of their time there taking their twins out for short skidoo rides. A few of the Toronto kids asked me where my helmet was since they needed to wear one before getting on a skidoo for safety reasons. They seemed a bit surprised when I told them I didn't own one. I remember when I first came north I found it a bit strange that people drove around without a helmet. Now that I'm in Rome ........... Of course the way I drive at times perhaps the kids were on to something.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Welcome to Arctic Bay, Toronto Exchange Group.....from the Blog Guy

About 6 weeks ago a group of students from the school traveled down to Toronto as part of a student exchange. Yesterday the Toronto group of students arrived in the community to complete the exchange. I found out today that the group had come across my humble blog while doing some pre-trip research and they have been reading up on it to get an idea of what to expect. As soon as I was introduced as "Darcy, the high school social studies teacher", a girl exclaimed "Hey you're the blog guy!" So it looks like I will pick up a nickname for this week.

While they are here, the group has plans to learn about the local culture, take an Inuktitut language lesson, climb King George V Mountain and participate in the community's fishing derby to be held the upcoming long weekend.

I think exchanges like this are wonderful opportunities to get to know different people and cultures. Afterall, we all bleed the same colour and we all must share this planet together. Sometimes you discover different people have more in common than you initially think.

Anyhow, as my students might say, "Darcy you're rambling....too many words."
Enjoy guys.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Teacher's Revenge

I've certainly had my fair share of crazy encounters with parents over the years. I've found the majority to be productive, however as you might imagine, its the meetings with the most fireworks that stand out best in my mind. Sometimes parents are more than happy to come in to the school to resolve issues and sometimes not.
Usually when the latter happens, I find myself on the receiving end of quite a barrage. There was one time however, where the aftermath was just too funny to forget.

One time I had an irate father come in to the office who was a little upset that I had the audacity to suggest that if his daughter did not soon start completing assignments she would be in danger of not getting the credit for the course and would have to re-do it the following year. He also had it in his head that either I or my principal had made unflattering remarks to students in class. I found this revelation rather amusing actually. The man had obviously been drinking and just trying to understand what he was saying was a challenge.

I found out later that his wife, an employee at the school, had shown up late for work quite a few times and was getting docked pay because of it, so he had come in to blow off some steam. I think a record was set in that meeting for the number of times I was threatened to be fired, arrested, jailed etc.

By this time, I had taken as much verbal abuse as I could stand and suggested that the best way to get me fired would be to call the superintendent or the Education Minister - "So the superintendent's number, I believe, is posted up in the office. If you give me a minute, I can get the Education Minister's number. I'll have to look it up in the phone book." Alas, before he would accept my assistance toward my own professional demise, the man stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

I figured that would be the end of it. He'd disappear and cool off and I wouldn't see him for a few days until the brouhaha had calmed down. The end of this tale had a little twist to it though. Later that night, I was over playing cards with some colleagues when the rang. It was the RCMP and they wished to speak to me. Would I be interested in coming over to the station to do a little guarding? (I had been working that year as a guard at the detachment, mostly as a back-up when the members could not get hold of anyone else.)

What the heck, I figured. The detachment is only across the road and I'm a pretty lousy card player anyhow. Now I relayed my little tale with the parent earlier in the evening to an amused and sympathetic audience and I recall someone asking me wouldn't it be funny if the person I was to guard was this same parent that I had had the encounter with. Well you guessed it. That's what happened. When the RCMP member told me the parent was comatose in the drunk tank I had to bite my lip to keep a straight face.

The shift went pretty smoothly as buddy boy slept his binge off the whole night through. I left the station the next morning with a smile on my face and the parent was none the wiser.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Big Thaw

Tonight I see something which I haven't seen in many months - a steady rainfall. The mercury has been flirting with the freezing mark over the past several days, which has slowly turned the ground into a slushy, muddy soup. I think I was a couple inches taller by the time I arrived at the school this morning on account of the mud that collected on the bottom of my boots. I've watched this week as the snow line has been slowly retreating from the hills behind the house. The bay will remain covered with ice for awhile still but getting around the community by snowmobile is becoming more of a challenge as the roads in town are pretty much bare by now. My skidoo plows through the mud and rock like a small tank but I've had to lift it out of the mud a few times this week.

On the up side, I was finally able to ditch my big winter parka yesterday on the walk to work. There is a myth that the arctic is frigid all the time but this time of year with 24 hour sun coupled with no trees and heat reflected off the roads and buildings can make you work up a bit of sweat walking outside.

It has been very quiet around the school this week as attendance really drops off in the spring. I can't blame students entirely for the cabin fever. Afterall, I get a little antsy myself after being cooped up inside through a long winter. I do find it a bit frustrating though, seeing students fail simply because they don't attend classes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Movie Stars and Arctic Foxes

This morning I saw my first movie star in Nunavut - Neeve Irngaut, an Igloolik actor who played one of the main roles in "Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner". This movie, released back in 2001, gained international attention at the Cannes Film Festival (Camera D'or for Best First Feature Film) and put the fledgling Nunavut film industry firmly on the map.

She is in town with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which has been having meetings in our school gym this week. The QIA is one of a number of Inuit organizations which represents Inuit and strives to better their lives. Anyhow, I thought she looked familiar but I couldn't figure out why until a student cleared up my confusion by mentioning her work in the movie to me.

I also saw my first arctic fox while out skidooing after work. They are actually much smaller than foxes I'm used to seeing back home, but still plenty fast. I resisted the urge to chase after it on my skidoo for a closer look. The creature was simply going about its business and I was a loud enough interloper as it was.

Monday, May 08, 2006

D-Day

D-Day has now come and gone for applying for the co-principal position here at the school. I was expecting to hear back today regarding a hoped-for interview but a last glitch (which I probably shouldn't mention) has stretched the waiting out a bit longer. At any rate, teaching has turned me into a (reasonably) patient man so I will take it all in stride. I'm pretty confident of at least getting an interview at this point which was my original goal, so anything else I'll count as a bonus. (Afterall, I would only have 6 years of classroom teaching under my belt heading into this position.)

Crunch time with year-end review and exams right around the corner next week. At our school here, we offer these Career and Technology Studies courses (using the Alberta high school curriculum) which are basically one-credit mini-courses of which students need 5 to graduate. Because we have only 3 full-time high school teachers here, we finish up with exams a bit earlier and then offer these little courses. (Fitting these in to the regular schedule is a scheduling head-ache and then of course finding the actual curriculum resources for these courses is another headache).

Anyhow, I had to pick a couple of options to offer and I've decided to do some music with my trumpet and some work outside with GPS. I'm hoping to perhaps do some treasure hunting or some geo-caching so it looks like I will have to brush up on my navigational skills this coming week.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Gas Can Malfunction

We are now up to 24 hours of daylight here and it is difficult to stay inside after a long winter. A few students I talked to on Friday mentioned heading out on the land for hunting a fishing trips. How I'd love to join them if I weren't married to my job at the moment. I have been able to spend much of the past two days out on my skidoo however and I am definitely enjoy the long sunny days. Now is the time to get out and explore before all the snow melts off the roads.

While filling up my skidoo this afternoon, the nozzle came off my gerry can, spilling gas over both my skidoo and myself. After searching on the ground around my skidoo for the nozzle, I realized it had fallen into my fuel tank. I was told by an Inuit colleague (after a good chuckle) that this was no big deal. I will simply have to ride around and burn off the gas and then hopefully I will be able to fish the thing out. Funny how little events like this always decide to happen to your snowmobile shortly after you get finished making your last payment.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sleeping Can Be Hard Work

I've been asked by folks back home which I have found more difficult to deal with - the 24-hour dark or the 24-hour light. For me, it has always been the 24-hour daylight. Though initially I do find it refreshing after a winter period of low light, the novelty of it slowly fades as my body and brain cannot adjust fast enough to the rapidly lengthening light.

24-darkness is great for sleeping, especially on weekends(!) and since I spend most of my time working indoors I do get some exposure to light, though admittedly it is artificial light.

Once April and May arrive, I find it very difficult to keep my body regulated to a 24 hour day. At times, if it wasn't for my watch, I would have no concept of the time of day. Only the positioning of the sun gives me any idea of the time though the light level remains more or less the same whether the sun is in the north, south, east or west.

On more than one occasion, I've woken up in a panic, having forgotten to set my alarm clock and thinking I was late for work as the sky was so bright, only to discover that it was 5 or 6am. I quickly solved the problem of trying to fall asleep at "night" by covering my windows with tinfoil. My roommate swears by the use of cardboard which does the trick for him.

Recently, I've gotten into the habit of taking a short nap after work which helps me to sleep longer at "night". By closing the door and blocking my window with tinfoil, plus a blanket and a set of blinds, I manage create a level of darkness conducive to sleep.

When I think about the lengths I've gone through to get a good sleep during the light season, I end up laughing to myself. I just finished with getting through 3 months of darkness, and here I am doing my level best to block out all the light from my room.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The End is Near

Slowly, incrementally, it seems like the school year is winding down here. It's been pretty quiet around the high school end especially as many students are still down in Iglulik for the dog team races. I heard today that there has been a winner, a man from Iglulik, though I don't know any more details. Unlike racers from other communities, he won't have to worry about getting his team home from there.

Exams are also just around the corner, adding the feeling of finishing up. Both my roommates are moving out at the end of the school year so it looks as though I will have a nice 3 bedroom house to myself for the fall. I count myself fortunate to have the extra space as I know not many families in town can say that. I reminded myself of this fact earlier in the day as I began worrying about the extra rent costs. Hey there, you've got it pretty good.