Monday, June 30, 2008

Arctic Flora

Here are a few shots of some of the unique plant life from a short hike I took back at the beginning of the month.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Double Standard

Even though I am far away in both time and space from it, the North is still very much on my mind. One thing I've given much thought too the past little while is the incredible amount of negativity I sometimes run into about the North. I just find some of the comment threads I sometimes read on Northern news stories interesting. What I mean is this - when I returned to the town I grew up in in southern Ontario it was to hear of a very recent murder in a small town a short drive away from where I grew up. A place about the same size as Arctic Bay. What made this shocking was the age of the alleged murderer. As I understand the story, a 14-year-old boy got into an arguement with his step-mother, stabbed her to death and then with the help of his father, buried her in the back yard.

Funny that if this were to happen in Nunavut, the talk around the country would doubtless be "Oh my, what a horrible place to live. So violent. Young kids out of control." Funny how I haven't heard much of a peep nationally on what a horrible place Warkworth or Trent Hills is a horrible place to live, so violent, with kids out of control. Granted I am out of the country at the moment but I believe I am not far off the mark here. I suppose what I am trying to express is the glaring double standard that often exists when passing value judgements on different regions of the country. Its frustrating to see and hear. I'm not sure how well I've done at explaining this though I'm sure fellow Northerners will have a sense of what I mean. Thanks for listening.

Friday, June 27, 2008


I left the big city behind me this morning and caught an early train to Gyor, an important industrial city that seems to produce a lot of trucks and cars. I was able to catch a few glimpses of Slovakia as the train paralleled the Danube for a few kilometres. I'm not sure if I'll make it over there this summer or not...but there are plenty more summers for that. At any rate, I've found Gyor's old town to be pleasantly small and walkable and compared to Budapest, devoid of throngs of tourists...the benefit of getting here before the tourist season starts in earnest. I plan to be here over the weekend.

My hotel is a 300-year-old former Carmelite convent close to all the sights I hope to visit. Although I'm not huge into Roman history, I did take time to see the lapidarium here in the casemates of the old town walls with a great deal of stone tablets and fragments spanning back to Roman times. There is also an abbey a few kilmetres south of here that I hope to take in before I leave. Hungary is turning out to be a very nice place to visit. It doesn't quite have the large castles like I saw last year in the Czech Republic as most of them here were destroyed by the Ottomans or the Habsburgs but there are certainly enough gemms to keep me interested.

I just like the fact that my movements are for the most part spur of the moment, though I do have a general plan. Other than that, its just relax at the hotel with a nice book to save myself from the heat, though it looks like some relief is on the way over the next few days. Early next week its off to probably Sopron...but who really long as I catch the UEFA Final...and no, I won't say who I'm rooting for..when I do cheer for a team, they've tended to lose.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Szervusz Budapest!

So far so good. I bid my aunt Janice, Uncle Kai and cousin Lucas farewell and set off for my great adventure. I caught my night train Monday and arrived yesterday morning without a hitch. I found a hotel, crashed for 16 hours and was up and ready to go this morning. Highlights included Varosliget (the city park), the Museum of Fine Art, The Terror House (former headquarters of the secret police and a stark reminder of how easy my generation has it)and the St. Stephen Bascilica - a gorgeous piece of architecture. Of course, being in Europe my plan for tonight is to watch the UEFA 2008 semi-final on tv.....go Germany!

I have to say that though it is boiling hot here compared to what I'm used to, the people have been incredibly friendly. I was a bit apprehensive on the train when a group of school kids got on the train in Austria. But you'd never know it. They were very quiet, polite and respectful. A couple boys were play fighting in the aisle but as soon as I squeezed by to get some water they immediately clammed up and gave me room to get by. I was a bit embarrassed acutally by how deferrential they were toward me.....a lone Canadian on a train. Inadvertently, I picked up a few words and pronounciations just by listening. It was a nice touch and pleasant introduction to the culture.

I'm hoping to do the castle area tomorrow if the heat cooperates and plan to catch a Friday morning train to Gyor. I'm acutally doing my trip in reverse of what was orginally planned but so far so good.....if it works in one direction I'm sure it will work in the other direction. Actually this saves me having to take a bus to Veszprem since the bus station will be too much of a hike for me in this heat. Better to take a train to Gyor since the Keleti station is within easy distance from the hotel. The best laid plans....blah.....blah....blah. I'm sure they will change many times along the way. Of course this is the best part of vacations of these sorts.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Die Rheinfall

Today's highlight was the Rheinfall at Schaffhausen. Aunt Janice and Uncle Kai drove me up there today to view the falls and take some pictures. Die Rheinfall is Europe's highest waterfall - a staggering 23m. Still though, the sheer volume of water passing over it is impressive and by following a path you can get pretty close to the falls. It makes for a dramatic sight. I'll be sure to get some pictures up once I return to Canada. For now, my riveting commentary will have to do. The rest of the day was spent exploring Schaffhausen's Old Town.

A second highlight was finally having an opportunity to see the Rhine during daylight. I passed over it twice last year on a train in the middle of the night. Due to a quirk of geography, we had to pass through a small piece of Germany and then back into Switzerland so I was able to get a Swiss stamp in my passport. Apparently, I didn't get one when I landed at Flughafen Airport because even though they scanned my passport through some sort of computer device you still have to ask for an actual stamp if you want one and I wasn't aware of this at the time.

I'm almost over my jet lag now. I was woken up briefly last night around 2:30am by exuberant car-honking soccer fanatics celebrating Turkey's shocking win over Croatia. I watched the entire game last night and have to say Croatia was robbed. Having seen many crazy fans in the short time I've been here, part of me wondered how good last night's referee's life insurance policy is. Still, the last 10 minutes or so made for an exciting game.

I'm not sure what's on the go for tomorrow. I may just take it easy and relax a bit (a vacation from a vacation?) Handling jet lag is no big deal for me but after 10 months of sub-zero weather, I found today's 31C high no small adjustment.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bonjour La Suisse!

I find myself at my aunt's in Zurich today having successfully navigated through two airports and a bus route. I found it much easier than expected and certainly easier than navigating this Swiss keyboard I find myself using at the moment. (So much for learning to touch type when they move some of the letters around on you.) So this will be a very short posting.

Later on today I'm going to see a little bit more of the city before I catch my train to Budapest on Monday evening.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer Adventure

I am now down in the heat and humidity that is southern Ontario. Tomorrow I catch my flight to Zurich for a little summer adventure. Speaking of adventures, getting to my parents' almost turned into one.

For the first time ever, I was actually paged in an airport. I was moments from boarding my flight out of Iqaluit when I was called over to the First Air desk. "They" had pulled off my little black suitcase (now how suspicious can that be?) and told me they wanted a closer look. I was a bit taken aback since I had never had this happen to me before. It's not like there was anything important inside. Just a sweater, my travel books for the summer...basically all the overflow I couldn't stuff into my MEC backpack. Turns out I had tossed in a 10-pack of AA batteries and sandwiched the way they were between a couple of thick guide books they looked a tad bomb-like going through the x-ray machine.

So, I breathed a sigh of relief as I went back through security. The only glitch now was that the plane was about 40-minutes late taking off. I found myself hoping this was just typical incompetence on the part of First Air and had nothing to do with my little packing oversight. Maybe I made the plane late.....ha....finally, I was one of THOSE people. My worry was that I would arrive in Ottawa too late to catch my train to Belleville. I had about a 90-minute cushion which was now starting to slowly deflate.

I found myself sprinting off the plane and through Ottawa airport to the baggage claim. Lady Fortune smiled on me and my bags were pretty much the first ones off. Out of breath, I hailed a cab and told the driver I was under the gun for getting to the VIA Rail station. He said he'd do his best but couldn't make any promises. Fair enough, I told him. That's all I could ask. Anyhow, I ended up getting to the train station just in the nick of time. I sprinted through the train station, setting some sort of land speed record in the process, I'm sure, down an escalator, through a dark corridor and then up some stairs to the platform. A man beckoned me impatiently and I just managed to jump on board seconds before the door was closed.

Tomorrow, I'm due to fly to my aunt in Switzerland before hopping yet another train to Budapest. Here's hoping things go much smoother as my legs have surpassed their summer quote for medium-distance sprints. So far it's looking rather straightforward, as long as I can negotiate Montreal's Dorval airport. I should be fine. My cost of entry into Switzerland is two bottles of Zesty Italian salad dressing which are apparently hard to come by in Zurich (They're ready and on the way, Janice!)

Time to go and pack. I'm taking plenty of batteries for my trusty little digital. I'll be sure to pack them so they don't cause me any unexpected hassles this time.

Bon voyage!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

School Is Out For Summer

Another school year has come to an end and I am off to recharge the batteries. Much of my time will be spent over in Hungary preceded by a short stopover in Switzerland to visit relatives. My little Bohemian (or in this case perhaps I could say Pannonian) adventure is bookended by a few days at my parents. I won't be taking my laptop with me while I am gone so my little blog will be a little quieter than it has been in recent months. I'm hoping to write the odd post while I am across the pond and I have also put together a few posts that will publish over the course of the summer months just for those who need their daily fix of Waywayup (all 6 of you).

My little trip has been in the planning stages for over a year now so I delight in bringing it to fruition. I also plan to delight in goulash, Kekfrankos, Habsburg-era architecture and possibly the odd thermal pool. In the meantime rest assured that Waywayup will soon return before you know it.

Enjoy your summer everyone. (I know I will!)


Monday, June 09, 2008

Its Not Nice To Poke Fun At Mother Nature

Apparently, I made a little faux pas last night when I poked fun at the scary bit of fog we had. It actually wasn't that much since it slowly evaporated once it made its way down a certain altitude coming over the cliffs. Anyhow, we are now getting a mix of cloud, fog, snow, sleet and rain - a veritable cornucopia of weather elements folks. I remember looking at the online forecast with amazement last night and seeing Cape Dorset under a winter weather warning where 10-15cm of snow was called for. Of course at this latitude snow is not that unusual for the month of June.

Luckily for Cape Dorseters it apparently didn't happen. The system just decided to show up outside my front door. We may pick up a couple centimetres of the white stuff over night. Most certainly I expect to see some in the morning at the higher elevations. Now how exactly did Mother Nature know I was supposed to catch a flight down to Ottawa tomorrow? Sigh....Mother Nature is one cruel, cruel, woman.

Attack Of The Killer Fog

A wee bit of fog rolled into town shortly after midnight.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Scenes From Childhood

One of the first LPs I remember owning back in the day was a recording of Robert Schumann's "Kinderszenen" (Scenes from Childhood), a set of 13 miniatures performed by a young (at the time) Argentinian pianist named Daniel Barenboim. I learned a couple out of this set years back. They look simple on paper, yet they are pretty complex both harmonically and technically. Schumann was born today in 1810. Thanks Robert for this wonderful set of miniatures. They certainly bring back wonderful childhood memories for me sitting at an old piano.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Great Search

Unlike past years, its seems the end of this school year has really snuck up on me. So much so, that I'm slightly paranoid about having left too many things to the last minute. Things like, say, packing. Well, how hard can that be? I figured. I've only done it a bazillion times. There was only one hitch. Unlike the past few times I've packed my backpack, I have to include actual pairs of shorts this time. Now, where the heck did I put them last August?

What I thought would be relatively simple turned into a bit of an Easter Egg Hunt. Isn't it funny that when you aren't looking for a particular item you see it all the time and then once you actually need it you can't find the darn thing? That was my dilemma with the shorts. The drawer where I swear I saw them last was empty this time. Then I vaguely recalled moving them out of that drawer and putting them.........somewhere. Wonderful.

I searched through every place I figured they would be and came up empty. My gut feeling was to forget about it and pick up some news ones when I got to my parents. Afterall, the 3 pairs of shorts I do own are quite worn and a bit ratty. Truth be told, I'm pretty sure I had the one pair when I was still in high school. But why buy something you'll only wear a few short weeks out of the year? After a great deal of searching through boxes, moving stuff around, a little sweating and perhaps the odd expletive, I finally found them....naturally in the last box I looked through at the bottom of the stack. Ah sweet success!

Now, for my next challenge - getting some sunshine on these pasty white legs of mine.


1. I have to admit to being pretty slothful today. I don't have too much to finish up with before I head off to visit my parents early in the coming week. The students last school day was Thursday. My duties officially end on Monday afternoon. I just have a few odds and ends chores to take care of and I'll try to get ready for next August as much as I can before the day ends.

2. I took a closer look at the old piano in the staff room yesterday. A colleague at the school told me the thing pre-dated the mining days out at Nanisivik. Apparently it was the school's first piano and if I'm not mistaken the oldest parts of our current school were built in 1967. Anyhow, I opened up its lid, took off the soundboard cover, removed 4 crayons from inside and an old crumpled photograph that had found its way inside somehow. What I discovered was not too surprising given the instrument's age but unfortunate because it is beyond my ability to fix. For one, I found a couple strings missing from their tuning pegs. Most piano notes actually have 3 strings to them and 2 of them were missing from a note smack dab in the middle of the keyboard. You can still play this note. It just sounds a lot thinner than the adjacent ones. The other problem I have yet to solve is that when you play a few notes in octave just above Middle C, something in the mechanism which operates the individual hammers is either loose or rubbing against the adjacent hammers because pretty much every note I played in that octave caused 5-6 notes to play at the same time.....5-6 very out of tune notes too, I might add. So, its not looking good for this old girl. I'm pinning my hopes to the piano in my classroom. Its a Yamaha just like the ones I'd practice on in university. Sure, they're no Steinway but they are sturdy, with a good sound and, (as this particular instrument is a good example of) built to last.

3. The mercury is steadily creeping up, hitting +7C yesterday. Its refreshing to only need a t-shirt and windbreaker when I head outside. I usually don't worry too much about the weather back South. I figure that since I'm not there, there's not much sense in checking it out. I only allow myself to do this in the few days before I am due to fly out only so that I have an idea of what to expect. I really need a couple days to adjust to the heat and humidity and its always nice to have at least one cooler day in Ottawa before the hot stuff hits to allow my body to adapt. Last I checked the fore casted temperature for my flight day was +20C which should make for an easy transition.

4. Of course, I better adjust to this temperature difference soon as I fly over to Europe on June 19. Last summer, it got brutally hot during the second half of my trip. Thankfully, Hungary has fewer hills than the Czech Republic does. I've decided to pry myself away from my travel books. I'm only planning to take a couple with me while I'm over there. I find if I spend too much time pouring over them, I get in the habit of trying to cram too many things into my trip. I came close to doing this last year. There is just too much to see really and try as I might I know I'll never see it all in the time I have. I find myself fascinated with castles and architecture so like last summer, that's likely what I'll be focusing most of attention on (aside from the odd musical performance, of course.) I'm also tempted to stay at a couple fancy hotels while I'm there. Just to say I did it. The exchange rate of forints to Canadian dollars is a bit lower than it was last summer but it is still quite favorable. I can live without the luxury of a 5-star hotel. In some ways, its just not me. Too many old men and suits and elderly matrons walking yappy little dogs for my taste. But I figure, a few nights in a grand hotel in at least one of the places on my list to visit is in order. I can't go there for 6-7 weeks and not do it at last for one night. After all, you only live once.

5. Oh yeah, I changed my blog header. Its a view across Arctic Bay from last November, just as the bay was starting to freeze over.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Politicians Spring To Mind...

...for some odd reason.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tune Your Own Piano

I now have a new little project set up for myself when I return in August courtesy of our high school English teacher. She wanted a piano moved out of her classroom to make a little extra room and I decided to stick it in my class. I got a couple high school students to haul it over to my class on a trolley this afternoon. I'm not sure exactly how old it is but considering how remote we are, its in pretty good shape. Its not the most northern upright on the planet but I know its definitely high up on the list. I gave it a quick inspection. The cabinetry is sound despite a few scuff marks, the sound board looks good, the felts and hammers looked in remarkably good shape considering how much wear and tear I know school pianos can suffer.

Most schools have at least one old upright piano and we are no exception. For the most part, the piano languished in the English classroom, to be played on by a few students with basic keyboard skills. I've tried my hand at it myself when I have a free moment. (Boy, I need to work on my technique.) I pulled out one of my old piano books at the end of the day and tickled the ivories for a few minutes. Sadly, I don't get the opportunity to play as much as I'd like and this lack of practice really showed. I majored in piano in university but in the past 5-6 years my chances to sit down and bang out a few tunes have become fewer and far between.

I hope to change this next year now that I have the piano in my class. One of the first things that struck me was how out of tune the poor thing is. I'm betting that piano hasn't been tuned since the day it moved into the school. It may be a refugee from the former community out at Nanisivik. I have no idea. All I know for certain is that when 2 adjacent notes in the upper register produce pretty much the same sound, you know you have a problem. So I pontificated a bit about it when I got home from work. What to do? What to do? Occasionally in the past, when staff hear I used to play the piano I get the old, "Maybe you can tune it and whip it into shape" spiel. I always took a pass at this. I am somewhat tone deaf and really, I always figured tuning it myself without the proper equipment to do so would be an exercise in futility.

Hiring a professional tuner would be out of the question since just getting some one up here to do the work would run a good $3000 at least just to fly the person up here. Obviously this is no solution. I've dealt with many out of tune pianos over the years. I've just accepted it as a part of life. There is something sadly nostalgic about an old out of tune piano. It reminds me of my old piano growing up (a refugee from the hockey arena that my stepfather brought home in the early 1980's).

I played a little Beethoven on that old piano this afternoon (portions of his Sonata in G, opus 49, no. 2, for the curious). As I butchered my way through it I couldn't help wondering if I could fix up the sound. I did a quick on-line search once I got home which led to a site where you can purchase piano tuning kits and I decided to bite. I figured spending $130USD out of pocket and having a chance for a better sound was better than blissfully hoping my employer would fork out a good $4000. And so, I now have a tuning kit that should be here when I return in August. I'm interested to see what I can accomplish. I don't think it will take me too long to fix the tuning on this piano, a weekend or two perhaps. We have a second piano in the staff room in much worse shape (and which at the moment serves as a repository for plants, books and coats.....grrr) I'd like to resuscitate as well.

So if you find yourself in Arctic Bay on a cold winters night and hear wisps of Beethoven or Bach carried over the'll know I fared not too badly.....maybe the start of a second career here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sigh...No Miracle On Ice This Year Girls And Boys

Another NHL season has come to again and once again the team I rooted for came up second. I didn't really follow hockey as closely this year as in the past and I can't say Pittsburgh is MY team but really, I just didn't care to see the Red Wings win Lord Stanley's Cup. Mostly this is because I spent 7 years of my life across the river from Detroit in Windsor, Ontario attending university and all I ever heard about in the media there was the Detroit Red Wings. (Maple Leaf fans in Windsor seemed to keep a low profile.) So forgive me if I'm a bit fatigued about hearing of "Detroit" and "hockey town" etc.

I was never really enthralled by Detroit. Aside from the Renaissance Center and the Joe Louis Arena, the downtown area always left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed on the few occasions I found it necessary to venture over there. Seriously, there are areas there that could actually benefit from the friendly bombs that Clare recently mentioned in a post.

I suppose a highly segregated city with a soaring crime rate needs something to feel proud about though...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I'm No Edmund Hillary...

A few pictures from our hike up King George V today with a group of older students. I was just happy there wasn't quite as much mud as last year. The summit is about 1800 feet and I made it up there in about 2 hours, which pleasantly surprised me considering how little hiking I've done in the past year. The weather cooperated and gave us a good day. Now, if only these blisters will heal quickly...

UPDATE -Ironically, I learn that Sir Edmund was the same age as me when he completed his famous 1953 climb.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Mary River - part II

Here are a few extra pictures I couldn't get loaded on earlier in the evening. Perhaps in a future post I'll delve a little more into the proposed benefits and concerns regarding this mega-project but for now, enjoy the pretty pictures.

This wall map shows the proposed mining development around Deposit 1. Click on the photo to see it in more detail.

This second map shows the port facilities to be developed at Steensby Inlet about 200km south of Mary River if I recall correctly. Four trains a day will bring the mined ore to the port will it will then be loaded on ships for Europe.

The mother lode. This mountain is where the first open pit mine at the site will be dug. Deposit 1 is actually just to the north on the other side of this peak.

Here a small sample of the ore I was allowed to take with me. Alas, no gold.

I forget the name of this large machine here but it is used for all the heavy lifting on site.

The site currently uses 4 helicopters for transporting workers and equipment since the roads to the drill site are undergoing much-needed repair. They rent for $180/hour. Someone is having a good day. At those prices you really want to make sure you don't forget anything when you lift off.

Mary River Mine

After waiting for a taxi that was an hour late and then running out of gas on the way to the airport, our planned excursion finally boarded our little King Air 200 for a tour of the Mary River Mine.

This lake by the campsite lies in the middle of a major fault zone, spanning the top end of Baffin Island. These fault zones, according to the project's senior geologist, helped create the iron ore deposit at Mary River. This lake provides all the water needed by the camp. Currently there about 80 workers on site. Once operational, the mine is projected to employ around 250 workers at this one site.

Here, the senior geologist shows us some samples and explains to the students how the deposit came to be. Core samples are due to be taken to testing facilities in Germany during the 2008 season for testing and feedback. According to mine officials samples are 66%-70% pure. Apparently this is considered very high and bodes well for a productive and economically viable mine.

Some of the camp buildings. Nothing spectacular yet but with 4 deposits in the area with a total life span projected to be around 100 years, expect major changes in the future.

Fancy digs. Here is the camp's recreation room. I loved the leather furniture. This far north you want to be entertained.

The camp cafeteria. Did I mention that we were quite well fed?

I have a few more pictures to add later. (My laptop just decided to take its sweet time and try my patience.) The camp supervisor had hoped to take us out to the deposit where core samples are drilled but a heavy snow melt had done considerable damage to the access road.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

My First Class - Revisited

The past few days have been a rather interesting personal journey for me. Due to the wonders of Facebook I've gotten in touch with a few former students of mine from my first year of teaching in Fort Smith, NWT. I'm not sure where this touch of nostalgia came from. Perhaps its just one of those natural things that happens at the end of a school year. ( I was teaching primarily junior high school classes back then.) Truth be told I hadn't given much thought to my first year. It was tough. June 2001 rolled around and I just wanted to forget things and move on. Looking back, now 8 years on, I can see that time with a certain amount of clarity that I was incapable of then. I made my fair share of mistakes. I was way too impatient, took any little slight personally and wasted too much time trying to make my class fit into my own preconceived notions of what I thought a class should be. Since then I've been able to take the lessons learned from that year, (both the good and the bad) and apply them. And I am a much more confident and competent person as a result.

My students from that first year (which seems a life time ago) are all now in their early 20's. Many of them have gone on to college and university and I'm very proud of each and every one of them. They are all fine individuals in my books and all have their own unique stories to tell. As luck would have it, I bumped into one former student a couple years ago down in Iqaluit. He holds the distinction of being the first student I ever had suspended. What a difference a few years can make. He told me he had dropped out of school for awhile but was now back and determined to finish. He was working part-time, dressed to the 9's - a very sociable and easy-going young man. (If I could have gone back in time to the fall of 2000 and told myself that 7 years later I'd be standing with the guy and having a rational and relaxed conversation I would have thought I should be immediately committed.) Another young man from that year is now gainfully employed in the mining industry over in the NWT. A young girl I once taught is now working toward becoming a nurse. One boy from my grade 9 homeroom (young man now, I should say) is in the Canadian Armed Forces and due to serve as part of Canada's current mission in Afghanistan. Another very quiet student I had in a grade 7 class wrote to tell me how she dropped out several times in high school but recently returned to finish her education, doing two years worth of requirements in one school year.

To all of you who have shared your stories, I thank you. Thank you for the hope and inspiration you have given me to continue in my profession. Truly it is people like you that motivate me to try to give back to my current students a small iota of what you have given me. Thank you for your trust. If perchance any of you are reading this, I can tell you as an honest man I have been blessed and enriched immeasurably by you.