Thursday, March 29, 2007


This is your first officer speaking from the flight deck. As you may have noticed we are in a holding pattern. We have been circling around the White Bear's Blog but have not been given clearance to actually descend. Air traffic has told us that this due to an unusual weather problem affecting our destination: high pressure from the office meeting a mass of under-stimulated will power.

We do not expect these conditions to last for too long and hope to get you to the gate by Saturday.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy our complimentary Shirley Temples. The real stuff is only coming in this weekend.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

How to Trap a Polar Bear

The days are getting much longer already, even though it hasn't even been a full week yet since the vernal equinox. By my reckoning, and by this handy calculator courtesy of the US Department of Commerce, we are gaining daylight at a rate of 5 or 6 minutes a day. Come May, the twilights will almost join, and it becomes hard to distinguish morning from night. At that time the weather generally stays sub-zero but the sun is high enough in the heavens that it throws a very strong heat. At first the black roofs thaw, followed by the asphalted roads. Then anything dark begins to melt out as well since the solar heat load is retained by dark, non-reflective objects.

Last year my erstwhile Russian boarder Yuri noticed this tendency of dark objects to thaw out the first. He had just finished his 4-week rotation at the mine 90 miles east of here and was already starting to get bored. Like me, as non-Inuit, we are not really permitted to hunt even though I have been up here over 20 years and all five of my children are Inuit. This doesn't bother me in the slightest since I have qualms about squeezing triggers. But the inequity of this proscription was very hard for Yuri to stomach especially since he was confronted with 2 weeks with very little to do.

"Nanuk, I am going to trap polar bears" he said after a few Vodkas.

"Now wait a second, Yuri, you can't even do that. Just because you are not using a gun still doesn't mean you can kill some poor animal by starving it to death in a leg-hold trap. Moreover, there are no traps in town large enough for this".

"But I'm not killing animal. After six days or eight days it will be leaving and go swim and eating seals." "And just how do you expect that manage that?", I queried.

"I have plan". He punctuated this short sentence with an extra-healthy swig of Vodka, and went up to bed.

I didn't see much of him for a few days, but heard through the grapevine that he was up at the dump looking for something. With this bit of intelligence I started to get the sinking feeling we were going to see something truly remarkable from my Slavic guest.

That night I went to my shack behind the house to get some jumper cables for the truck, but the door was blocked from behind by something weighty. I shouldered my way in to discover about 10 green garbage bags filled with something. Opening one up I put my hand in only to find ash and bits of charred wood. On investigating another bags I came to two conclusions: that all were filled with ash, and that Yuri must be responsible since ash is only found at the dump where the town's garbage is burned. That and the fact that only Yuri would be crazy enough to lug all these bags the three miles down from the dump.

"What the fuck are you doing with those bags in my shack", I asked politely when next I saw him.

"Going to trap polar bear." And he looked serious.

"And how the hell will you manage that with garbage bags?"

"Not with garbage bags, Nanuk - with ashes".

Foolishly, I pressed on with my questioning, although I knew better. "So what are you going to do with the ash?"

"I dig hole in snow. But when it is too deep for shovel, I put ashes in bottom. Sun heats ashes, ashes heat snow, snow melts deeper. Soon hole big enough to trap bear”.

My mind was reeling by this point. “Sweet Mother of God, how is the bear going to find your one hole in thousands of square kilometers of snow!!??”

“Smell. After long winter of nothing but seal, polar bears crazy about vegetables. I shall put 3 cans of peas all around edge of hole.”

Having been sucked into this crazy argument I wasn’t about to give up now. “So what’s the polar bear going to do? Jump in the hole out of gratitude for his first vegetarian meal of the year?”

Yuri looked at me calmly. “No. When polar bear stops to take a pea, I kick it in ash hole”.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Killing Time

Last night, and for about the past week, I've been kept up with an insane itch from a third world-type illness. All my family have been treated, but I am told the itch can go on for days and weeks. For the first time I am putting out a public plea for shipment of a bottle of Calomine lotion rather than a bottle of Scotch.

In an effort to take my mind off it so I don't rip myself to shreds, I've been doing a lot of surfing in the wee hours of the morning. There are a lot of Flash-based YouTubey videos out there, and some of them are incredibly interesting as they provide an insight into what makes some minds tick.

I have restrained myself from embedding these in my posts for two reasons. First off, I don't mind writing if I am in the mood, and to provide a digital canvas for self-expression (read "rant") is why I started this in the first place. Secondly, for my readers with limited bandwidth, watching a 3-minute video is at least 10 minutes of herky jerky buffering and play. Sort of akin to watching a stripper with intermittent narcolepsy.

But I cannot resist sharing with you this Rube Goldberg-like creation of epic proportions - over 3 minutes all shot within the confines of one house. Although I haven't counted I estimate their are over 75 different stages to this masterpiece.

So enjoy this while I run off to the store for some 80 grit sandpaper for tonight.

Click Here for more great videos and pictures!

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dog Race Ends Minus a Leg

Nunavik's annual Ivakkak dog team race ended today in Salluit. Already over a week late and dogged by adverse weather from the get go in Quaqtaq way back on March 6, it was decided to move the finish line to my home town and eliminate the last portion to Ivujivik.

Although the weather conditions were a relatively balmy minus 17 C, the winds on the ice by the town's shore brought the windchill down well below minus 30 C - so cold I froze my fingers twice while taking pictures. But a large number of people turned out to cheer the tired teams across the tape. The winds were so strong that the lines holding the pennants and community flags were bowed outward dramatically.

The race was won by Peter Keatainak, who has had a virtual lock on the trophy for the past four years, and his younger partner Peter Qisiiq. Both hail from Kangiqsujuaq, and were the odds-on favourites amongst the bookies. Coming in a very close second was 65-year old Tamusi Sivuarapik and his son Johnny, pictured above being hoisted by the crowd atop their qamutik in honour of their accomplishment. The clothing worn by this team is traditional, and in stark contrast to the high-tech garb of "professional" racers in more southern parts of North America and Scandinavia. The leggings, by the way, are made of caribou skins. I've tried them before and found them toasty warm, but the fur sheds like nobody's business.

A couple of dogs were on the limp and had to be brought in by ski-doo, but the thing which struck me the strongest was the placid demeanour of the normally exciteable, and potentially agressive huskies. They let themselves be patted by anyone who wanted to, and seemed to realize their journey was at an end, for this year at least.

Tomorrow night is the awards ceremony at our town hall, and if I know my fellow residents well there will be a square dance afterwards.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ivakkak Race on the Move

After being hunkered down in Kangiqsujuaq for the better part of a week due to blizzard conditions, the remaining 15 dog teams in the Ivakkak race set out for Salluit yesterday. Rather than take the planned route on the highlands through the Raglan mine property where the winds were still howling, they let discretion be the wiser part of valour and followed the shoreline of the Hudson Strait on the sea ice. I give them another two days to reach here if the weather holds.

I have not done much dog sledding myself, but I had the occasion about twenty years ago to take a couple of trips with one of this year's contestants from Quaqtaq. Therefore I am no expert on the subject, but lack of first hand knowldege has never prevented me from spouting off before, so why should it now?

First off, let me distinguish dog sleds in the Eastern Arctic from those used in wooded areas further south and in the west. Inuit were a nomadic people, and used dog teams to move lock, stock and qullik from one place to another during the winter. It is important, therefore, to think of Eastern Arctic dog teams as a semi tractor-trailor rather than a sports car. The 8 to 15 dogs in an average team had to pull a weight of 100 kgs or more of cargo and sled, add to which a couple (at least) people sitting astraddle on the the family's possessions. For this reason the qamotiks (sleds) themselves are long (2.5 - 4 metres) and are ridden sitting down rather than standing up in the rear as conventionally scene in movies.

Secondly, there are no trees, which removes the necessity of arranging the dogs in a tamdem to prevent dogs getting snarled around the shrubbery. Instead, the dogs each have their own individual trace attached to a central rope fan-style near the sled itself. This provides for greater pulling efficiency in most situations, although it presents its own difficulties on sea ice with the pressure ridges or in areas with lots of boulders above the snow.

At the front of many sleds is a wood box lashed to the frame, with "handle bars" atop the box, which provides leverage when making adjustments to the course of the sled with one's feet. Other than that, the path taken by the sled is determined by the dogs. So how can you get the dogs to go where you want?

Trained sled dogs are often responsive to their owner's voice. A shout of "auk" (turn right) or "quraa" (turn left) may produce the anticipated result. Sometimes a whip was used, not to hit the animal but to flick it beside the recalcitrant dog to encourage it to change its path. Failing that, someone would dismount from the sled, up along side the dogs waving hands and yelling at the team to alter their course. A well-timed kamik aimed at a particularly balky husky's rear end also serves to "focus" the dog's attention during this.

Perhaps the only thing you have to know about huskies, Eskimo dogs, call them what you will, is that they love to pull things. What would be cruel and arduous in the extreme for any other breed of canine is entertainment and pleasure for these dogs. My own theory is that it has something to do with a "pack" mentality - all the dogs want to be part of the gang and none wants to be left behind.

Very similar to teenagers, I'd say. Except for the pulling part.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Career as a Forger

When I was younger I dabbled in the ideals of communism. In particular I was taken by Marx' and Engels' dialectical analysis of the class struggle inherent in 19th century Europe, that and the fact that a certain girl I was interested in was a rabid Marxist.

About that time, the legal drinking age in the province of Quebec was 20, and falling short by a good three years I was frequently turned away from the doors of clubs for lack of identification showing I was of an age to imbibe legally. Not only could I not see the local bands all of the older kids were seeing, but that girl somehow always managed to get in even though she was only a few months older than me.

I was not alone in my misery - all of my friends except John Delancy, who at the age of 14 had a 5 o'clock shadow by noon each day, were similarly barred from bars due to the ID situation.

Now about that time the first coin-operated Xerox machines were being installed in public libraries, and my friends and I hit upon a scheme to doctor a driver's license so that it showed that we were indeed over 20 years of age. But we weren't going to risk buggering up our legitimate licenses in case we were pulled over by the local constabulary for pulling Chinese fire drills and the like.

Jean Robidoux had the solution. After having sunk his father's Austin Mini Cooper into an open grave about 200 yards deep into the local cemetary, it was unlikely he was going to ever get to get behind the wheel again until he was 30. So he offered up his license as a blank.

Using an exacto knife, we painstakingly eradicated his name and year of birth. But printing a false name and different DOB proved to be problematic. The font used by the manual typewriters in the school was just plain wrong, and none of us had the dexterity or artistry to do it by hand. Then I hit on it: "borrow" some Letraset from the art room.

Unfortunately, almost all the Letraset was either the wrong size or different font. Except for one used sheet which had most of the letters missing except for the uncommon ones like "k" and "x" and all the vowels except for the letter "a". We could not, therefore, use a common alias like "John Smith" or such - we were stuck with the letters we had.

Then it hit me - Karl Marx. All the letters were there, but we had to be very careful since there was only one capital "M" left - no room for error. Using some masking tape, we made a baseline on the blank driver's license, and painstakingly began to rub on the letters. Some of them showed cracking which we had to fill in with black ink, but in the end we had a reasonable facsimile of a driver's license, one good enough to pass in the smokey haze of a nightclub, but would certainly not fool a police officer.

After purloining some heavier cardboard in the appropriate colour and putting it in the photocopier, we made a half dozen or so copies, although the first two had the verso side upside down. We were so pleased with our deceit we named ourselves the Marx brothers, and being somewhat nondescript I was given the sobriquet Gummo, but that had probably more to do with my ever-present Bazooka Joe than anything else, I told myself.

Obviously, we could not follow each other on the same night into the same club, so we took a vow to either frequent different establishments on the same night or at least wait a good hour after one of us had entered before we had a go at it.

And it worked. Our Karl Marx IDs were accepted without challenge in all the dives where they were produced. So successful was this we toyed with the idea of forging enough IDs to keep us in beer throughout the balance of our high school careers.

But all good things had to come to an end. Al Little's mother went through his wallet, apparently looking for condoms, and found our forgery. She browbeat Al into divulging that another five IDs were in circulation, and told her husband who worked at city hall, who in turn informed the police of our conspiracy.

That very night, when we produced the driver's licenses at the local strip club, the doorman just shook his head and pointed to a sign freshly tacked to the wall behind his station:

"Beware the IDs of Marx".

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Dog Days Set In

Sure, it is not the Alaskan Iditarod, that 1,850 km ultramarathon of dogsledding. But the Arctic portion of Quebec has been staging an annual 8-day race since 2001. Usually, the race runs through 3 or 4 Nunavik communities so that locals can cheer on the teams, and this year it will pass through my home town.

Ivakkak is a much more traditional type of race than the Iditarod. No Goretex high-tech outerwear, no carbonfiber sleds, and certainly no carbide-studded drag pads for breaking. Most of the racers in Nunavik wear sealskin boots and gloves, and perhaps caribou skin parkas and leggings.

The area covered this year stretches from Quaqtaq through Kangiqsujuaq, the Raglan Mine and Salluit before ending up in Ivujivik. This region is quite mountainous, totally devoid of trees and known to have blizzards at this time of year (as often reported in this blog). So bad has the weather been that a full week into the race the teams have only made their first community, Kangiqsujuaq. I project it will take another 8 days for the teams to reach my community.

Over the next few days I will give more details on dog-mushing Nunavik style, and relate some of the experiences I have had on the back of a qamutik.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Here I thought I was a lone voice in the wilderness, a half-crazed prophet facing the icy gales decrying the early advent of daylight saving time which is around 4 weeks early this year speciously advocated by the forces of darkness as an energy saving chronometrical shift.

But now it seems my lone crusade is picking up some traction among the academic press. No less than the prestigious web site has taken up the cause in an article today pointing out, unsurprisingly, that by pushing the population another month back into winter lighting that it will prolong depression from those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (with its appropriate acronym SAD).

This is an initiative of the Bush administration, which the sycophantic Conservative Party of Canada has enacted without so much as a debate in our Parliament. It seems that George W. was not content merely depressing the public with his stance on the environment, economy, health, education and international affairs: he now intends to render us totally manic.

So, kind readers, we now have only 3 days or so left until are forced, once again, to wake up in the dark, cold and shivering. I propose a total boycott of DST until 2:00 AM on Sunday, April 1 as God himself intended.

Are you with me?


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Flying Sardine Tin

It took me three days to get home from Kuujjuaq, and this time it was not the weather which did me in.

Concerning the first day, I don't even want to discuss the reason I was not on board. We'll just leave it alone.

The second day, Friday, after arriving at the Kuujjuaq Airport (currently under construction) a good 2.5 hours early, I was finally boarded on the Dash-8 turboprop. Looking out my window, I saw the pilot, then the co-pilot inspecting the landing gear on the starboard side. The crowd soon grew with the addition of two mechanics, and then a third. This is never a good indication of your flight taking off on time.

Sure enough, we were marched off the plane and told to sit in the terminal while they figured this one out. Now it is my firm contention that airport seating is designed by the International Order of Chiropractors to bring in new clients, and after three and a half hours of waiting, we were told that the flight was a wash, and we had to reappear at 6:30 AM for a 7:30 departure the next day. By that time, my lower back was knotting up like one of those macramé wall hangings from the 70's.

After many phone calls to my family trying to explain why I didn't make it home the previous two days, I treated myself to a dinner of "seafood" consisting of brine shrimp and pollock masquerading as crab meet, a couple of glasses of wine, and a couple of glasses of some nice single malt from Islay and the Orkneys. By 9:00 PM my back was starting to loosen, and I drifted off to sleep.

I have no complaints against the carrier, Air Inuit, for the mechanical delay. They have a near perfect safety record flying in very hostile meteorological conditions, and I would rather write off a flight if they didn't feel 100% comfortable about the condition of their aircraft. What I didn't appreciate, however, was hanging around the airport for hours on end when it was probably obvious that a part had to be flown in from Montreal.

I have a morbid fear of flying, more from a sense of claustrophobia than of actually crashing, I suppose. I mean I can tolerate the larger aircraft, Dash-8s and Hawker-Siddley 748s, but Twin Otters, Aztecs and Navahos are so cramped that I fear losing it and jumping out of the plane.

So imagine my horror when I arrived at the airport yesterday at dawn to find that the Dash-8 had not been repaired, and they were putting us on a King Air A-100, a 9-seat turboprop which, just 5 days previously had created a state of emergency at Kuujjuaq Airport when inbound from Puvirnituq had a landing gear which refused to come down. Fortunately, this plane has a mechanical method of putting down the gear so all worked out well in the end, but the sight of that little box sitting where my comparitively luxurious Dash-8 should have been served to ratchet up the muscles in my lower back past the redline.

Since the plane was full and there was a lot of cargo in the back (mostly mine, I might add), the crew hand to rebalance the plane using the passengers. One glance at me from the co-pilot and I was relegated to the frontmost seat (how dare they call me heavy - I'm just big boned!). There was literally 4 inches for my feet, and no space for my carry-on. And I had to curl up like a contortionist so the co-pilot could squeeze past me to get into her seat. I then knew a flight from hell was ahead.

Actually, the flight itself was good - VFR conditions and over very picturesque landscape: but it was impossible to get my camera out to take pictures. And being half in the cockpit I noticed the crew spent most of their one-hour flight playing around with the GPS - I don't know if it was training or getting it to agree with their other instruments, but with blue skies and unlimited visibility, I guess a GPS was not necessary.

But my back was in agony. Since they wanted a fast turnaround at our first destination - Kangiqsujuaq - we were not allowed off the plane for a stretch. But at least I could move aft to a seat with more room for the final 30 minute leg back home.

So today I write with a very sore back, and am keeping my fingers crossed so that it doesn't seize up completely. I spent a 10-day period last year laid up so bad I couldn't even crawl to the bathroom, and I never want to exist in such a helpless state again.

I've done some research today on the King Air 100, and have come across some some beautiful seating configurations with table trays, swivel leather seating and the like. But this is only possible for a maximum of 6 passengers. But I also came across a 12-seat configuration: unless it was a custom design for the dwarves from the Cirque du Soleil I can't imagine it at all.

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