Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wapusk 2007: living life to its fullest

Well, it’s only a few more days until I leave Churchill! Countdown until I return to the apparent record heat waves from the cool sub-arctic.

After the course, I was glad to return to work, and to have my evenings free once again, but not so happy I had to say good-bye to my new friends. The students and researchers taking the train came into town on the Saturday to explore, and have one last dinner together. We went out to the Lazy Bear Lodge, and I tried musk ox for the first time. This was where some of the students gave an odd gift to the teaching assistant, Kevin. It was half of a chain mail glove, likely with some relation to the medieval era. When turned upside down with the two fingers hanging, it was rather peculiar looking (see pictures on Kodak gallery to get a better idea of what it looked like).

My week at work was a mixture of random projects not related to bug collection, for my boss. It was nice to have my attention focused on Parks-related matters for a change, even if it meant sitting in the office on a nice day. One of the things he had me do was count the number of caribou in this picture taken of a large herd from a helicopter. My estimate after several counts was over 2900 animals. It was rather a challenge because the picture was not very clear, and was taken from an angle, but I made do!

A friend of mine lost a dog across the river. We spent an evening searching for Scruffy (a little poodle) by boat, while whales and seals were playing all around us. Not such a bad way to spend the evening! Turns out we found Scruffy at the quarry seven days after he ran away (more about this later).

My long weekend was filled with adventures – nights out in town, and cruising around made it go by quickly. I visited a building called the golf balls, which has these large fiberglass covered spheres on top. It is now abandoned, but once used for radiotelemetry or something of the sort, long ago. Inside, there were lots of strange equipment and shiny material that it looked like it was the remnants of a spaceship designed in the 50’s. Another adventure was a walk out to the Ithaca shipwreck during low tide (it’s filled with about 8 feet of water during high tide). The ship is falling apart, but it was pretty neat to climb inside, and take a few shots (with what, a shotgun!) at the light socket that hung from the mast (you can see this socket in the picture looking upwards through the ship).

A bunch of us took a trip to the quarry, which was this place that was blown up to use rocks to create a dam, called the Weir. I borrowed a canoe from a colleague, and rode in the back of a pick-up truck, in the canoe, to the marina – that was fun. With three others, all our gear and Smokey, the dog, we managed to canoe across the turbulent waters by the dam to the quarry. When we arrived, my friend Samantha was blew her whistle to alert any bears, and sure enough it called Scruffy. Everyone thought that tiny little dog was dead by that time, so it was a miracle he was still alive! The quarry has a 40-foot drop into Caribbean-turquoise water (from the limestone, much like the Bruce Peninsula). Sure enough, I jumped off into the frigid waters, and somehow pulled a muscle in my leg pretty severely. I took no more jumps – didn’t want to push my luck! It was fun, though. We had hotdogs over an open fire and snacks while we were there, and I made sure that Scruffy got plenty of food as well, and the kids gave him lots of TLC. With it being a small town, it didn’t take long before my friend found out about the dog – so much for it being a surprise!

On the last day of the long weekend, I went out for an ATV excursion, along the tundra buggy trails (in search for bears). Indeed, there were two bears that took off at the sight of the 4-wheeler, so we hung around until they came back and settled down. Funny thing was that as we were watching the bears, a helicopter circled over top of us, and happened to have my colleague Janine in it (she had gone for a week or so to do some goose banding in the park). The people in the helicopter were so focused on the bears, they didn’t notice us down on the ground, waving (even with my yellow bandana). Bit by bit, we got closer to one of the bears, and the result was a wild picture of me standing with the bear 20 metres behind me, definitely something to hold onto.

Also on that excursion, we came across some caribou, and an Arctic fox den. What a bold little creature that fox was – I got some great pictures and video footage of it as it came out of its den and such. In my exploration of the fox den, I sunk into part of it, because the ground on top is not very sturdy with all of the underground tunnels… luckily I didn’t fall in too far (just up to my ankles), whoops.

Another colleague of mine has a dirt bike that he uses to get around town. Last week, he taught me how to drive it, and I spent the evening cruising up and down the streets of Churchill and down to the Cape Merry National Historic Site. It wasn’t as difficult as I imagined – my standard car probably made the shifting come naturally to me. Although, after hearing about mom’s not so fortunate experience with a dirt bike when she was my age (and the fact that I wasn’t wearing a helmet), I was careful not to pop the clutch or go reeling around corners.

I bought myself a hoodie sweatshirt from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre gift shop, as a souvenir of my time spent there during the course. It was brand new, off the shelf, but as I was trying it on later, I noticed that the pocket was rather bulky… I reached in, and pulled out a lacy thong!!! What are the odds?

The last couple of days have been tame in comparison to my wild long weekend (aside from my CSNC sweatshirt purchase)… summer is winding down in Churchill: the days are getting shorter and colder, and people are away for various reason. I’ve been doing lots of overtime trying to get everything packed up… and I will be home real soon! Looking forward to seeing you all.