Last night I caught the last half of globetrekker on PBS. He was on Baffin Island. While I have never been to Baffin Island, the images struck me as home. Iqaluit and Whitehorse are on opposite ends of the country, the lifestyle is different, the language is different, the food is different, even the tribes are different. And yet there are more similarities between Iqaluit and Whitehorse than there are with either of those cities and any city south of the 60th parallel.
I even let my son watch, who doesn’t normally get to watch tv. We saw a team of dogs pulling a sled; my son laughed at the dogs. He loves every dog on our walks and was able to make the correlation between those little dogs on our residential street in urban LA and the big malamutes running in a team across the frozen prairie, Meta Incognita, of Nunavut.
As I listened to a pair of young mothers throat sing to each other with their babies bundled on their backs I tried to recall the last time I had heard throat singing; 2001 and before that, 1998. Since then I have been regailed with Polynesian chants and country crooning; all beautiful in their own rights, but lacking in something … that element of primal familiarity that reaches inside of you and reminds you of your more simple life. The Polynesian chants came close, but they were foreign to me.
As I watched a man and his grandfather take the globetrekker out on skidoos I tried to recall the last time I had been on a skidoo; 1998 from Island Park to Yellowstone, and before that, probably 1995. As I watched the footage I used every sensory imaging technique I had to feel the snow on my face, the wind in my eyes, and the cold air leaping into my lungs. I felt so alive; I felt so free; I forgot all about the petty cares of an urban life.
As I listened to Fran Phipps, the first woman to reach the North Pole, talk about the important things in the arctic, (have I eaten? have I rested? how do I feel?) I remembered the simplicity of northern life. Granted I grew up in the city so I had a few more cares than whether or not the dogs and I are fed and whether I am feeling lucid or lethargic –which, by the way, is a good self-analysis on whether you’re getting hypothermia– but being outside in the bitter cold blows away all the unnecessary cares. I realized how much I missed a minimalist life.
And it was then that I realized that no matter how acclamated I am to my new life and no matter how easily I adapt to our moves, I’ll still be the girl from the great white north. In Hawaii some locals asked me if I was local because I had mastered pidgin so well. In Virginia I had adopted “y’all” and learned to love Virginia so much that I still miss it a year and a half later. And here in California I’m happier than I had imagined and feel comfortable with my surroundings and friends. But when I saw that program last night I suddenly felt out of place, as my arctic memories surfaced and I realized how much of my life I had forgotten.
I miss the midnight sun. I miss the cold weather; I miss knowing that no matter what the weather does life goes on because it is illegal to close the schools for inclement weather. I miss knowing that I was living a life few people could even imagine and fewer still would dare attempt. The north really is the last frontier; the winter really does change a person. I am so glad that I had the life I had. I am also glad for the life I live. I can take the beauty of it all and make myself a richer person. I can be happy anywhere (yes, even California,) but I will always love the land that bore me, raised me, and continues to haunt me. I am so grateful to be of northern blood.
“There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.”
(from “The Spell of the Yukon” by Robert W. Service)