Wednesday, April 30, 2008

World's Largest Ice Tennis Court



Admittedly, its not the best of pictures as I was fighting a lot of glare from the sun this morning. Sometime yesterday afternoon a large patch of bay ice was scraped clear of snow, creating a giant tennis court (or possibly a volleyball court), complete with net. I only noticed after work the other day as I happened to glance out during a staff meeting. Think of it as the North's version of a crop circle, perhaps. Actually, the spot was being cleared off in preparation for next week's events at the conclusion of the Nunavut Quest dog team race that is just now underway from Igloolik. It should be a fun week coming up.

(I still have to admit though, the little kid in me wants to run out there and climb that snow bank, dive off and take a flying, leaping slide across that ice patch!)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Old Man Versus The Iceberg



Well, maybe not that old yet though it sure did get the heart rate up!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Darcy Has A Blond Moment.....and I Know We've All Been There





Oooooooh! Blue sea ice!

Actually these pictures have nothing to do with this post other than serving as a feeble attempt to distract my readers from the little blond moment I had Saturday out at the cliffs. Now, having lived here for almost 3 years, most people recognize me pretty quickly (social butterfly that I am). I, on the other hand, still find myself stumbling over a few names here and there even if I do recognize a person by sight. This, however, tends to get a bit tricky in the cold season, when people are lot more bundled up. Toques, balaclavas and skidoo goggles....they all get in your way. I suppose most people would then go by voice but I was a piano major in university and everyone knows pianists are prone to tone deafness.

Anyhow, where am I going with all this? I was set to start my walk back to town from the cliffs yesterday when a gentleman pulled up on a skidoo. After he shut off the engine and I fumbled to pull the ear buds for my Ipod out of my ears , he asked if I was out taking some pictures for my blog. After I confirmed that I was, he then offered me a ride back into town. The thing is, I was racking my little brain trying to figure out the identity of my benefactor. Initially I thought it was the father of one of my students until I remembered that he was out of the community at Mary's River (where, it looks like an iron ore mine will be on the go in the future.) I briefly toyed with the idea of throwing out a random name, thinking he wold correct my mistake and then the mystery skidooer's identity would be revealed. But I was a bit too embarrassed at getting the name wrong when I felt I should really know it, so I hesitated. (Come on now, we've all been there. Admit it.) Black skidoo, red parka, sun glasses......his voice sounded familiar.......uhm....ok, he mentioned my blog....still nothing. Come on Darcy, you're the Social Studies teacher here, so you should be social and know these things. Anyhow, I hopped on the back for the short trip into town and I remember sitting there trying to figure out the man's identity.

We stopped at the bottom of the hill in town and my driver asked me if that was a good enough place to let me off. Sure, I said, no worries. I thanked him for the lift and headed to the shore, then up the hill and home. All the while racking my peanut and still feeling a tad embarrassed with myself for the brain freeze on my ride's name. It was one of those things that was just on the tip of my tongue that I knew I would probably remember once I was well up the hill and too far away to turn around and thank the man by his proper name.

Fast forward to this evening. I'm checking through some of my favorite blogs and I come across Clare's post on a short gyrfalcon excursion on Saturday. He also got some good pictures. He also picked up a wayward passenger on his way back to town. Me.

Oops!

Wait...think blue sea ice. Heh...I knew that wouldn't work.

Nunavut Quest

At noon today the annual Nunavut Quest dog team race sets off from Igloolik. Think of it as Nunavut's version of Yukon's Iditerod. What began as a festivity to celebrate the creation of Nunavut in 1999 is now into its 10th running. Racers from Arctic Bay, Igloolik, Hall Beach, Pond Inlet and Repulse Bay have all competed in the past. The race is going to be documented by the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. I'm not sure how much footage, if any, will make it onto the television but I plan to keep my eyes peeled for it. Last year's top prize was a cool $10 000 so this tends to draw a lot of people out and generate a great deal of excitement. I should add that this is not just a "male only" event as the race does has had some female entrants from time to time. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, a young woman from Igloolik won the Nunavut Quest last year.

The event is set to finish up here in Arctic Bay sometime on May 6 or 7. Next week I expect there will be a big swell in the population as people from neighbouring communities arrive to celebrate with raffles, dances and traditional feasts. Fun times ahead.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Grosse Eisberg Part 2

The iceberg was well-sculpted by the wind and snow. Nature's work of art.





Petra and Trudy.





Our skidoos look pretty small from up here. This is about as high up as we felt safe in going.

Die Grosse Eisberg

With the warm weather and increasingly daylight I'm finding the outdoors very enticing. Perfect conditions to for a little skidooing. With this in mind I was out this afternoon with my housemate Monty, Petra, a fellow teacher from work, and Trudy, our new RCMP member. This iceberg is probably the largest I've seen so far, easily rivaling the ones I saw in Qikiqtarjuaq. It was just outside the bay in Adams Sound, the first large iceberg I've seen this close to shore at any rate.



The skidoo gives an idea of just how large this 'berg is.



Smile and wave Trudy!



King of the iceberg.



Again, the girls provide a sense of scale. The skidoos are actually sitting in a large gap in the iceberg where it split into almost two separate 'bergs. I'm pretty sure the two halves are joined together underneath all the sea ice though.



Trudy's disco pose.



Monty and Petra.



Oh, what a hard life I lead!



Just me trying not to hurt myself.



Living it up - Arctic Style!

Way Way Up - A Cross-Over Talent

In another fit of outrageous attention-seeking behaviour, I am asking my readers to head on over to Best NWT Blogs where I have an entry in the "Best/Funniest Northern Story" category. The post I submitted was one I had thought about putting on my blog a long time ago but since it took place when I was living in the NWT, I didn't think it would fit with the rest of my blog. But this friendly competition and the fact that I seem to have expanded my blog into a whole pile of different topics this year, motivated me to tell my little tale. There are some great nominees. Be sure to check them out.

PS - For anyone who "Googled" my blog with the key words "cross over" or "cross-dress" looking for something else and got a hit off the title of this post - sorry, wrong address.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Interesting Building

The newest challenge is now up over at Nunavut Nonsense. As always, northern bloggers have submitted some very cool entries. The North is home to some pretty interesting architecture. So, head on over there to vote for the most interesting building. Don't delay.

Getting Out Of The House

I took advantage of today's nice weather to get out of the house and get some exercise. One thing I had been wanting to do for quite some time was to hike out past Uluksan Point for some pictures of The Cliffs. I walked down along the ice past the graveyard before deciding to take the road. When I first arrived here in Arctic Bay the road along the far side of the bay ended at the graveyard. Last Spring, I noticed that it was being extended out further toward the point. So after some huffing and puffing I decided to take the path of least resistance and follow the nice plowed road instead. Once past Uluksan, it was a tad windier than expected but it was pretty clear out which gave me a chance to get some decent pictures. I've been out to The Cliffs several times but this was my first trip out this school year. Although I have tons of photos of them with my old film camera, I had yet to get any shots with my digital. So........here you go.

St. George Society Cliffs, Arctic Bay, Nunavut.











Friday, April 25, 2008

Not Quite The Eiffel Tower

It was a long hike up Petrin Hill but I was curious to see a rather interesting tower I had heard about before I flew across the pond. Although at first glance Prague's Petrin Tower looks an awful lot like the famous Paris landmark, it is much shorter - around 60m. But, it does sit on the tallest hill in the city meaning that its observation deck is at about the same height as the Eiffel Tower. Petrin Tower is almost as old as the Eiffel Tower but was built simply as a communication and observation tower. Unlike its French equivalent, it took a lot longer for it to become a major tourist attraction.



A great view from the top. I was fortunate to head up on a day that was more or less cloud-free. Much of my stay in Prague was plagued with what seemed to be non-stop rain. Also, I'm terribly afraid of heights. But after climbing up Petrin Hill in 30c degree weather, I figured I had to go all the way and get myself right to the top. I'm glad I did. The views were fantastic.



If you look close enough you can make out two bridges spanning the Vltava. The famous Charles Bridge is the one on the right.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Tip Of The Hat

An old school chum of mine sent me a note a few days back to let me know that he is soon heading back for a second tour in Afghanistan. These days it seems its really hard to mention the Afghan mission without dragging in politics. The Canadian soldier always gets overlooked when this happens. Sadly, I often feel they never get the recognition they so richly deserve. My buddy John mentioned how interesting it was how our lives were such polar opposites - extremes in both temperature and in distance from the small town where we grew up. A few people have told me I must be pretty brave to live way up in the Arctic. Sure, it might sound impressive that I live in a land of polar bears. But at least polar bears don't shoot back at you.

So, to Captain Haylock and all of our soldiers .......qujannamiik! A big thank you for your devotion to duty and for taking time out of your own lives to serve.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Piece For Organ

An interesting piece of news that caught my eye a couple days back was this story about a newly discovered composition by J.S. Bach. I guess you never know what you might find at an auction. I'm always fascinated when new pieces turn up, especially if it is a keyboard work of some sort. Granted this recent piece is just a small organ ditty and not something along the lines of say, a cantata....... but still. I've heard of the odd piece turning up in the past. It was either unknown or previously thought to be spurious. And it always make me wonder about what other undiscovered gems might still be out there.

The biggest Bach discovery in my lifetime occurred in 1970's* with an original edition of the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) written in Bach's own hand. Attached was a sheet showing the 14 cannons based on the 8 fundamental notes of the aria. Prior to their discovery, only two of the 14 cannons were known....compelling stuff for a Bachophile like myself.

*I've seen a couple of different discovery dates, either 1974 or 1975 but since I was born in late '74 I'll take the 1975 date so it just barely fits within my lifetime.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There's A Surprise In Them Thar Woods

Out of all my experiences with wildlife, one will forever remain etched in my memory. My first full day in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories was memorable not only as the start of my northern teaching but also for a chance encounter I had in the woods on the edge of the community. One of the first things I wanted to do in Fort Smith was to hike down to the Slave River to see the rapids there (interestingly known as the Rapids of the Drowned) as well as the pelicans. So with this in mind, I left the road at the top of the river valley and confidently strolled down a marked trail and into the woods. I could already hear the rushing river below me and was able to catch glimpses of both it the pelicans though breaks in the trees off to my left.

What I should have done was look to my right. Eventually, as I rounded a bend in the trail, I did. I saw a small bush about 30-40 feet away that looked a bit out of place. A few more paces on and I realized why. Poking around a shrub at the base of a small tree, was a brown bear. Like a deer in the headlights, I froze instantly.

I'm not sure how long I stood there. All sound around me seemed to die away and for a few moments, I was aware of only myself and this bear. The world fell silent for me. (Though I'm sure I may have uttered an expletive to myself under my breath.) I found myself thinking back on all the friendly advice I had been given prior to my arrival on what to do if you have a bear encounter. Advice I was now trying desperately to recall. What should I do? Wave my arms over my head? Stop, drop and roll?? Run around in a circle and scream in a girlish manner???

In the end I concluded that backing away slowly while avoiding direct eye contact was my best option to sustain my existence. So that is what I did. Now, backing up for 100 feet in the woods isn't an easy thing when you've spend the past several years a large Ontario city. But somehow, I managed.

The bear really seemed too distracted poking around in the brush to pay me much mind. Which was just fine with me. I don't think it even looked up at my once during the entire episode. At one point I do believe I detected a slight smirk on his face (as bears are wont to do). Doubtless, he was bemused by the sight of a gangly, bug-eyed newbie walking carefully backward along the trail.

Within a couple minutes, I was thankfully back to the safety of town. I was later told by a few folks that bear sightings were a pretty common occurrence along the river valley for that time of year. It was awhile though before I ventured down that trail again. When I did go the next time I was armed to the teeth with a camera. And even tough I never saw that bear again, every little rustle or snap of a branch filled me with a healthy respect for nature and an exhilarating rush.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Taking A Stand

Those that know me are aware that I hold some pretty firm socio-political views. I even write about them from time to time (big surprise). One thing I've ruminated about from time to time is the question of how far a person will go to demonstrate their beliefs. (No worries, I'm not planning anything crazy here.) Last summer I happened across two small monuments that gave me a good idea of just how far someone might go to demonstrate their opposition to two of the biggest evils of the 20th century - Communism and Nazism.



A simple cross in Wenceslas Square commemorates Jan Palach, a 21-year-old student who committed suicide by self-immolation in 1969 in protest against the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. In the Museum of Communism, a few hundred yards up the boulevard, some chilling post-mortem pictures of Palach were on display. Needless to say it was a pretty gruesome spectacle.



A memorial plaque outside Prague's St. Cyril and Methodius Church marks the place where resistance fighters responsible for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich took refuge. In June, 1942, after being betrayed by an informant and surrounded, the two surviving fighters took their own lives rather than surrender after attempts to tunnel out of the church failed. In reprisal for Heydrich's death, the Bohemian villages of Lidice and Lezaky were razed to the ground and the majority of the townspeople were executed.

Monday Morning "Splash and Dash"

Nothing says "Welcome to Monday morning!" more than rushing like a man possessed to finish off a morning shower as your water tank is in the process of running dry. Oh but for just a few more drops of water! In 5 years I've had a couple close calls, but this morning was the closest yet. Whew!! I just barely made it!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

White Noise

Who knew I could go more than a couple days without writing anything? Just a few random things on the go at the moment.

1. I managed not to pull out the rest of my hair last night after Montreal's loss. Really, Montreal played so poorly the last half of the game, they deserved to lose. Can't blame Price much on at least a couple of those third period goals. Here's hoping Montreal takes the series tomorrow night. It would be nice to see at least one Canadian team get past the first round this year.

2. After much delay, I'm just about set to put together my sea lift order. I'll likely do it tomorrow after work. I haven't done a sea lift order in 4 years I think so I've definitely learned a few things since then which should take a lot of the aggravation out of the process. My first sea lift was through the Northern. This year my housemate and I will use Marche Turenne. Having a housemate will make it easier since we can split on things like cleaning supplies and shipping costs. I have a pretty good idea of what I will need. I did up a list Friday after work before I came home from the school. The plan was to do up my order today but of course I forgot my list at the school. So I'll wait until tomorrow rather than trust to memory. I DO know that I ordered exactly ZERO spaghetti this time. It took about 3 years to eat through all the pasta I ordered on my first sea lift so yeah, as I mentioned earlier, I've learned a thing or two from that experience. I could have had my order done much earlier but have been distracted doing it the past couple weekends mainly because......

3. After setting it aside for a few weeks, I'm back at planning my Europe trip. I still need to book my tickets but I have a pretty good idea of times, dates and where exactly I want to go. Hungary it is this year. I'm hoping to meander around a region my guide book refers to as Western Transdanubia but basically its north-western Hungary between the Danube to the north and Lake Balaton to the south. The trick is to get enough information so I don't have any unexpected experiences but not to over-plan too much. I like the whole Bohemian, off-the-cuff adventure, where I just take things day by day, that I had last year in the Czech Republic. I'm also planning to visit my aunt in Switzerland, and if I'm lucky, there are a couple castles over the Danube in Slovakia I'd love to explore if I have time.

4. Finally, check out a new contest over at Best NWT Blogs. Its been awhile since I was there (and even then, it was only for one year) but I still like hearing news from the territory next door. After all, its where I started out my teaching career. I'm toying with the idea of writing up a post and entering it in the "Best Post" category. We'll see. But don't let that scare you away. Head on over there a check out the best blogs the Northwest Territories has to offer.

5. I'm sure I've just made blogging history by making mention of the words Transdanubia, sea lift and Northwest Territories, all in one blog post.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Flood News

I had caught a little bit of news over the 'net a couple days back about the flooding emergency back home. A call home quickly allayed my apprehensions. My parents' home is perfectly fine, sitting as it does on a rather large hill. My sister and brother-in-law's place I was less certain about since their property lies across the road from the canal on the edge of town with no core wall to hold back the water. Other than 3 inches of water in their basement though, things seem relatively calm. A big relief for me tonight. Unfortunately, a few residents with property backing directly onto the river though will have to deal with flooded yards and basements. It is good to know that no one is in any immediate danger.

I lived the bulk of my life close to the Trent River and never paid much mind to the notion of its waters spilling over the banks. Familiarity breeds contempt I suppose. Mother Nature obviously has other ideas and with all the extra snow the area received this past winter, the area's watershed is quite saturated. Typical small-town Ontario though. Everyone pitches in to help out with sandbags and to help their neighbors. Its a relief to know the town can handle a 100-year flood. Understandably, my thoughts this evening are very much of relatives and friends back in Ontario.

100th Post

This is my 100th post this year. Oddly, given the verbal diarrhea I have apparently suffered over the past 3 months or so, I have nothing particularly enlightening to say other than I added a new feature on my sidebar listing my top 5 most-commented-on posts of the past few months. Peruse it at your leisure.

Taima.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Don't Call Me Eskimo - The T-shirt

I picked up a t-shirt this afternoon from Nunavut Youth Consulting. NYC is a non-profit youth organization in town, the same organization which played a large role in the creation of a locally-created rap video and short movie which I mentioned had become quite popular on Youtube when it was added on there a few months back. Here is the crest on the front of the t-shirt.......



And here is the logo on the back, in reference to the video.




....and the little hick inside me couldn't resist one small modification to the original design.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Better Appreciation of Hills

Growing up in Campbellford, Ontario, I spent the better part of 20 years living in a house on a hill. There was a great view. It made me feel important. My house is higher than yours. The only difficult part was walking up that hill to get home. Now, I have pretty long legs so if it drove me nuts I can only imagine what walking up a big hill would be like for someone of shorter stature. A couple years ago, my parents moved to the other side of town - on another even bigger hill. Now, before my parents read this and cut me out of the will, I have to say I really don't mind it. Especially after hearing about stories like this.

I've caught bits and pieces on the news. I'm sure Campbellford will be fine though. It always is. The last time we had a major flood watch there was back in the summer of 2004 but Peterborough, further up the Trent-Severn, bore the brunt of that watery onslaught. I have faith in the lock system doing its job and sparing my old stomping grounds any major disasters. Part of me still thinks it would be cool to see a great deluge flow down over the lift-lock in Peterborough. Its a silly childhood fantasy/delusion of mine.

But I digress. Tonight I salute big hills and the wisdom of my parents for buying a house on one.

And for the record, I love the hills around Arctic Bay. (Photos courtesy of Kendra's blog. )

Monday, April 14, 2008

Anne

Life didn't start out very promising for Anne. Her parents were simple, impoverished cooks who had escaped Ireland's Potato Famine. When she was just nine, Anne's mother died. At the tender age of five, Anne picked up a bacterial infection that robbed her of much of her eyesight. Many surgeries were undertaken to help restore her failing eyes. Most of these failed.

A lesser person truly would have given up, content to remain a ward of the state with their life dictated by the whim of others. But not Anne. Here, fate interceded for her and she ran with it. She was able to study at the well-known Perkins Institute for the Blind, eventually graduating as the class valedictorian. Inspite of her physical handicap, things began to improve for young Anne. Following a second round of surgeries, her eyesight improved somewhat.

Anne was a dedicated student and a keen seeker of knowledge. A year after her graduation she was encouraged to accept her first student. Like Anne, her student had also been stricken with childhood blindness. The young girl though was also deemed spoiled, unruly and very difficult to manage, given over to wild fits and outbursts. Fortunately Anne was a patient teacher. She was able to use sign language to teach the girl her first word - doll, and then a second word - water.

Anne's mentorship of her young charge sparked the beginnings of a relationship that was to span nearly half a century. The pair went on tour together, going to Perkins and many other schools. People were amazed at the progress her student was making under Anne's steady hand. How proud Anne must have been when the girl entered and then graduated (magna cum laude) Radcliffe College. (In subsequent years, other notable Radcliffe grads included Margaret Atwood and Benazir Bhutto.)
Anne also went on with life. She had a brief marriage to a younger man that ended in separation. She continued teaching. She lived with her student and together they continued to tour the speaking circuit.

Anne died in 1936, but her accomplishments continued to inspire. Her work was later the subject of both Broadway and the big screen. Her student also went on to inspire, as an author, an advocate for women's suffrage and workers' rights. All this might never have happened without Anne's patience, determination and caring, the hallmarks of a truly great teacher. Rather than allow her condition to control her life and to be viewed as someone who would never accomplish anything meaningful in her life, Anne chose a different path. Her one simple choice to make a difference inspired thousands to become teachers. (Including this author from a simple small-town Ontario upbringing). The Anne of this little tale (or Annie as she was affectionately known) was Anne Mansfield Sullivan. Her student was none other than Helen Keller.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thanks Loyola

After hearing about the seizure of the Farley Mowat I have to hand it to Loyola Hearn tonight. Thank you for dropping the gloves and telling it like it is. (Money sucking manipulators indeed!!) Here's hoping they charge the captain to the fullest extent of the law, along with Paul Watson. Expel the foreign crew members and send the Canadian members to Darfur, Haiti or Afganistan so they can then appreciate this country rather than try to cripple its industry. Finally, tow that piece of garbage ship to the Marianas Trench and send it straight to the bottom.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Um.....Alrighty Then

Thanks to my best bud Paul Watson and the vessel "Farley Mowat" for my laugh of the day. Really, that's the only thing I can think to say after having read this CBC story.

Never mind the fact that the captain was ordered not to interfere and refused repeated demands to stop, the poor ship was stormed by gun-toting RCMP. Well, horror of horrors!! Imagine that Paul! Law-enforcement officials carrying sidearms. It's shocking. Never in my wildest dreams could I fathom something like that.

And now, not only that, but the Canadian government, according to this cracker, has committed an act of war. Now, I'm not sure if Paul Watson means an act of war against the Farley Mowat or an act of war against the Netherlands, since it was a Dutch-registered ship. I'm really glad he's mentioned it though as it will likely take me several days to dig down through the permafrost here to prepare against a Dutch invasion. Thanks for the heads-up Paul, seriously. My God, we've run afoul of the Dutch!!! Seriously, this is horrible folks!!

Oh wait......Given that the Dutch army fought so briefly and so unpreparedly the last time they were involved in a major conflict though.........

Yeah I think I'll leave that trench digging for another afternoon and watch a playoff game instead.

Maybe they should just sink that stupid ship. I'm sure it would make a fantastic underwater habitat for sea creatures great and small.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Wierd Landmark

After missing a few deadlines, I finally managed to meet this one. (bad teacher, bad teacher). I submitted a photo for the latest challenge at Nunavut Nonsense. So head on over and cast a vote. Preferably for me, of course, although all the entrants are very deserving. Go vote. Do it now.

Karlstejn

Here are a few pictures from one of my favorite castles in the Czech Republic. Ok, actually, all the castles I saw were my favorite. The Karlstejn Castle, outside Prague, however, holds the distinction of having been built and lived in by the Czech's greatest Renaissance king, Charles IV. At one time the country's crown jewels were held here. As the tour guide explained, being in the centre of Europe was both a blessing and a curse as the area was a political football between the great powers of Europe. As a result, the Crown Jewels now lie in a Viennese museum.



My visit was a day-tripper with a tour group out of Prague so I wasn't able to explore the town proper on my own. I look forward to returning here so I can spend time wandering the old streets. It would also be great to spend a day there earlier in the tourist season when the place isn't swimming with tourists. Here is a view of the village from the castle walls.







The tower in the above picture was the only part of the castle I didn't get a chance to see. Viewing is limited to 50 tourists a day on only a single day of the year in order to help preserve this 14th century gem.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Back With A Vengeance

In less than 2 months from now we will experience 24-hour daylight. At the moment we are gaining 14-15 minutes of daylight each day. The speed at which the day lengthens fascinates me still.

Sunrise - 0544h
Sunset - 2140h

The Arctic can be a strange place when you consider yourself a night hawk.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sitting In An Empty Classroom

Regular readers will have noted that I haven't blogged as much this year about work. There are many reasons for this, of course. Blogging about work can bring you some grief from the employer, for one. While this hasn't been an issue for me, I know it has been on occasion for others. Another reason is that I didn't want to make my blog boringly academic by talking overly much about the pedagogical aspects of my work. (Yawn.....)

The main reason lately for my silence is simply that I know if I start writing about my day in the classroom, I'll eventually get around to an issue that has been slowly eating at me for some time now - attendance (or rather, the distinct lack of it) It is the one things I am finding increasingly frustrating.

I've been in the teaching game in the North long enough by now to know that attendance problems can be an issue (particularly in the Spring when the weather warms up.) But really, even from my experience, its been getting a bit ridiculous. High school attendance here has dropped off noticeably since the start of the calendar year. My attendance began to slowly die off back in November which was a lot earlier than in past years. Now, it is downright painful. The December attendance rate for my one afternoon class was 9%. Last month, it was 0%. Yep, that's right. Not a single student attended for the entire month.

I was hoping that this was just some freakish anomaly and that the DEA, parents and/or the community in general would pick up on this and address the problem. Even if they don't have access to my monthly attendance figures, surely it's difficult not to notice our rather empty hallways here. But, with only 2 months left in the academic year, I haven't heard a peep.

I know there are many issues outside of my control. Home lives can be less than ideal, we had a killer staff turnover in the fall and high school schedule we got stuck with from last year's administration leaves a lot to be desired. But, I have to admit to a certain level of bewilderment. We have put in place a few strategies this year to improve attendance. Perhaps they came a bit late in the year but still, its better than doing nothing at all. Clearly though, if you can't bribe a student to come to school, I don't see how they will do so on their own initiative. In the past I've tried to get a student council going but this tended to flop after a couple of months.

A couple weeks back, I decided to take more direct action. I wanted to get a meeting of high school students going to hear from them. I told the few students around about the meeting, mentioned it to students I saw when I was out and about the community and had our Assistant Principal do a couple announcement about it on the town radio. I even planned a small raffle for those that attended. The result of all this was......6 students showed up. These were students that were regular attenders anyway, so I must tip my hat to them as clearly they recognize there is a problem.

It's not my intention here to dump on any one group or person. I just wish at times, that we had greater support from parents and the DEA. We have many beginning teachers on staff who I know are doing their absolute best. We have a first-year principal this year to whom I give a lot of credit. I've seen enough of the administrative side in northern schools to know of the huge challenges you can face. But I feel by not mentioning this issue I would not be acting in an honest manner, painting instead an inaccurate picture of my experiences here. At this point, I don't see how the year is salvageable in terms of improving attendance. I really need to sit down and think about this. And I have plenty of time for this this morning. Certainly I'll have lots of quiet time to ponder things over. Afterall, I am sitting once again in an empty classroom.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Inuit Mythology

One of the things I've always found fascinating is the traditional Inuit belief system. Its something I've wanted to blog about for quite some time now. What held me back was the paucity of information on Inuit mythology. Inuit shamanism was pretty much steam-rolled by the juggernaut of southern society in the early 20th century. Much of what is known has been passed down by elders but it is difficult for southerners like myself to access this information when you speak only basic Inuktitut. I should point that tradition Inuit religion, if it can be called that, is not really a religion in the usual, Western sense. Much of it involves a series of rituals and taboos which help to guide social behaviours and bring luck (either good or bad) in hunting and survival. Shamans were often aided by a number of guiding or helping spirits so it is easy to see the appeal that Christianity could have on the various Inuit groups with its idea of a helping spirit (or Holy Spirit in the Christian tradition). As an aside, the movie The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is an excellent look at the effects of Christianity on one 1920's Inuit community.

There are a few mythological beings I am familiar with through my chats with students and other people from town. These beings can differ slightly from region to region and community to community but I will do my best here. I came across a very helpful little book in my class which was very helpful in bringing together many of the little strands of information I have picked up over the past few years. Some of these beings were already familiar to me but a few were new. At any rate, I will give you a run-down of some of the more well-known or at least most talked about creatures/beings/spirits. Any mistakes are, of course, my own.


Tuniit - This was a group of people many Inuit held to be the direct ancestors of today's Inuit (at least in the Eastern Arctic). Despite their great strength, they were shy, peaceful folk. Encountering them was a rare experience.



Mahaha - This is one of my favorites. Basically these creepy-looking guys sported long sinewy arms and piercing white eyes. They were demon creatures that would sneak up on a person and use their long fingernails to tickle torture someone to death. Victims would be tickled until they suffocated and could be found afterwards with twisted grins across their face. If you are lucky, you might hear it giggling as it sneaks up on you. A Mahaha, though is easily fooled and many stories tell how they were done in after being pushed into a water hole as it tried to take a drink



Ijirait - These were a type of shape-shifter sporting red eyes. Most often they would take the shape of a raven, bear, wolf or another human being. Most of the time they are portrayed as malicious beings but they are also known as message-bearers and associated with mirages and memory loss soon after an encounter with one.



Qallupilluk - A Qallupilluk is like an Inuit boogey-man. They are covered in bumpy, scaley skin and lurk around beaches and breaking ice. They are known to snatch away children who are in the habit of misbehaving. (Naturally, as the perfect child that I was, this is all new to me.)



Inukpasugjuit - Not much is know about these other than they are very rare. They sometimes like to catch humans to use as playthings. There are more female inukpasugjuit than male ones, who are known to grab up people and carry them away in their amautiit. (These are traditional hooded garments still worn by Inuit mothers. They sport an oversized hood in which to carry a baby.)



Kukilingiattiaq - This was a giant three-fingered claw that could emerge to snatch up a child who was stealing. The idea wasn't really to scare the child but just to hold him/her until witnesses came along. In this way, the story of the Kikilingiattiaq was used to keep children respectful and honest around another person's belongings.



Tarriaksuit - These were shadow people who live in a world just beyond human senses. They are almost never seen but sometimes, you might hear their laughter or footsteps. Some stories tell of Inuit who have "crossed over" into the shadow world of the Tarriaksuit, but few have ever really turned to tell of their experiences.



Well, there goes my basic over-view of what I've picked up the past few years. If any readers out there can add to this, feel free to drop me a line. It's a topic I find doesn't get much attention. I think some elders may be wary of discussing it out of fear of derision of traditional beliefs but personally, I find this a very fascinating topic.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Never Ceases To Amaze







After nearly 5 years, it never ceases to amaze me how fast the amount of daylight increases. Shortly, morning and evening twilight periods will blend into each other. One month from today, the sun won't drop below the horizon at all. The extra light makes weekends seem twice as long. Take that Monday! You still seem a long way off.

These shots were taken at around 9:15pm last night.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Proof Positive There's An Idiot Born Every Minute

Taken from the files of "what exactly were you thinking?" this tomfoolery. Glad to see the little guy fight back. I guess when you see your culture and way of life attacked by a man who looks like he's spent too much time growing up in his parents' basement, you can only take so much crap. The idiot provokes sealers, goads authorities and then wonders why they aren't there to protect his greying corpulent hide.

Really, if you run your mouth and insult people, is it any wonder you met such a frosty resistance, Paul??

So what does the guy do? Cuts and runs. Looks like he doesn't hold the courage of his convictions and feels he must now run his mouth from the safely of the Mainland. Guess what, Paul? You lost. Plain and simple. You had your little moment in the sun. It failed.

Paul, Paul, Paul, I like a good beer just as much as the next guy. But seriously, you really should put it down and think things out a bit more coherently before you pull a stunt like that.

Karlsbad

Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) was without a doubt the most over-the-top of the places I visited in the Czech Republic. Swanky hotels popping up like daisies, crowds, tourist knick-knacks, boutique shops, fantastic food. I spent much of my time there simply wandering the streets, trying to take it all in.

A bird's-eye view.



Every day, this garden was changed to show the new date. Pretty over the top.



I forget the name of this church but I'm sure you'll agree it is an eye-catcher.



One of the spa-buildings.



Statue of Bedrich Smetana, Czech nationalist composer.



One of the many Greek-inspired structures along the main promenade. I strolled past many times, pretending I was a wealthy 19th century gentleman. Ah to dream.



Spa entrance. I can't say I wasn't tempted to go in and pamper myself. A sign advertising something called "hydro-colono-therapy" gave me second thoughts however. (shudder)



More pananoramic shots.





The humble Tepla River, where, according to legend, Czech King Charles IV discovered the famous hotsprings in the 14th century. When the crowds got too insane for my liking I could always lose myself on a quiet walk along its tranquil waters.



Sampling the waters. mmmmm rotten eggs!



My awesome hotel. It even had its own on-site doctor. Grief, did they think I might die or something?





Plenty of hotels to choose from along the promenade.





More spa buildings.





Similar to an above shot.......obviously two days earlier.



Yet more promenade ambiance.





Yes, Karlsbad was definitely in a league of its own. Despite the crowds though I'd love a return visit. For sure it was a tourist trap but there was just something about the place that made me fall in love with it. Seven hundred years' worth of visitors can't be wrong.