Thursday, October 1, 2009

Georgia's Blog Day 3

Tuesday 29 Sept

I was awakened by Robert Buchanan singing “Oh what a Beautiful Morning”. Personally I prefer the Gordon MacRae version, but I didn’t have much time to ponder this bizarre wake-up call because I had to report for breakfast duty. I hurriedly got dressed in my bunk and hid my hair under a hat.
Meal duty was actually quite pleasant, and I even made toast! Then we piled onto the Tundra Buggy, which was warmer today because we were all more properly dressed. One of the supervisors, Ian, taught us all about the local flora and fauna, and we actually got to go on the ground. There were little mussel shells everywhere, and squishy kelp because the tide was out. I loved taking pictures beside the giant wheels of the Buggy. I thought that would probably the most special moment of my day, but I had no idea what would come later.
After seeing no wildlife save some birds, we came back to the Lodge for lunch. The food is really good here, and it goes especially appreciated after being out in the cold. We even got fresh baked cookies. Someone had spotted a bear out on the tundra, so we rushed through a presentation about how to interact with and teach people. Once again the gang boarded the Buggy and after a short while, we saw a dot of a polar bear. We got gradually closer and closer, until the bear was maybe 100-200 meters away. It was just resting, because it’s too hot for the bears to be active at this time. Yep, 40 degrees is too hot for them. After maybe ten or so minutes, the bear got up to come and investigate us. I will forever remember the thrill, the view, the air, when a wild polar bear is ambling towards you. One of the girls compared the polar bear walk to the waddling ducks in the Aristocats. I went out on the uncovered platform of the buggy and was honestly only four feet above the bear. It just sat, staring. I loved the moment it made eye contact with me! It sits really slumped over, almost like a dog when it’s not feeling well. If I were to anthropomorphize, I would say it’s funny that this apex predator would act so sheepish and diminutive! Robert had us focus on the bear, and imagine what it would be like if we were one of the last people to have seen polar bears. My eyes were water, but I blamed it on the nippy wind. The cold didn’t bother me much, but most of us had stiff fingers from taking pictures without wearing gloves. Eventually the bear got up and retreated a little. It took a drink for a large puddle, which is really rare. The bears don’t need much water, because they only eat seal blubber which doesn’t require water to digest. Even the Tundra Buggy veterans had never seen a bear drink before.
I helped prep dinner then we watched Kay (the Aussie chaperone) give a presentation about climate change and the Aurora Borealis. It was some pretty dense stuff but I grasped most of it. We took a break for brownies then brainstormed how to approach the video project we are supposed to make. We’re targeting adults and emphasizing the fact that there is only five years to stop really permanent damage. I’m not that excited to do the video, though I did joke with the guy in charge of the film (a different Ian with cool glasses) if he was going to do German expressionistic or French nouveau. One of the other supervisors is from White Bear Lake! I told him that White Bear Lake didn’t really exist, because you’ve always realized you went the wrong way home from the Xcel before you reach it.
We watched some intense videos about how important this issue is and how little time we have. Everyone got a little misty-eyed watching some 12 year old girl talk to the U.N. about conservation. It really lit the fire under my butt. I think I’ll bike to school, and try to get Hopkins to ban Idling while waiting to pick up kids. I’ve got so many ideas, though I also feel like curling up in a ball and crying until it all goes away. We did more blogging, then bed.

Georgia's Blog Day 2

Monday 28 September

Our day began with a 5am wake-up call in the Four Points. Most of us slept pretty well, though the jet lagged Aussies (Stephanie and Kaylie) only got 3 hours of sleep. After some muffins we walked through a gusty Winnipeg street to the airport. The PBI people took up most of the little Calm Air plane. I slept a little on the flight, which was actually longer than my flight from MPLS to Winnipeg!
The airport at Churchill was itty bitty, though it did include a polar bear pelt. There we met Dylan, Churchill’s Ambassador (and the second tallest person in town!) He’s 6’5 I think? I was honestly expecting him to be at least a little kooky since he lives “just north of nowhere”, but he was really nice, funny, and proud of his town. He’s also a descendant from the First Nations (so he doesn’t need a hunting permit). Churchill contains about 900 people, though I only saw about 20. It was established as a military base by the U.S. during the Cold War. Today it’s even an alternate landing for the Space Shuttle! The main businesses are shipping (grain) and tourism. Dylan says everyone in town owns a “skidoo” (snowmobile) and most own a four-wheeler too. Kids our age go skidooing, hunt, skate, swim, play video games, watch TV, and surf the web. Apparently there are only 12 people in Dylan’s class, and that’s abnormally big for the school. Most of the town is quaint little houses, gravel, and rust. The school, hockey rink, curling rink, swimming pool, basketball court, and general gathering areas are all in one big brown complex that’s right on the ocean. There we saw a commemoration of a treaty between the First Nations people and Canada where the Canadian government pays the natives 5 dollars. There was a police officer in full ceremonial Canada police outfit. I got a picture with him! We ate at a place called Gypsy’s that had very delicious deli-style food. They also had a signed photo of Ewan McGreggor. We touched the Arctic Ocean and it was so unbelievably cold! I stole a heart-shaped rock for Patricia. It started to snow for the first time this season for Churchill and for me. That was one of the most special moments of the day.
We also went to the polar bear “jail” where bears that get too close to town are housed before being relocated. We heard polar bears moving inside and saw how their traps worked. We also tested noisemakers that scare the bears. I got to shoot a “screamer” out of a real, heavy handgun!
We saw a creepy, dilapidated research facility where they gave bears oil and inadvertently killed them. One of the coolest parts was listening to local trapper Parker Fitzpatrick discuss how hunting and trapping isn’t as bad as it seems. His argument is that while a city would take 50 years to return to its natural state, and if he left his grounds they would be normal in about 3 years. He also said that he’s very responsible and he helps strengthen the population by keeping it down and killing the slow ones. The traps are more humane now, but the foot holds especially seem still pretty cruel. Apparently it kills an animal a lot quicker than starvation or disease would. I respect Patrick and his way of life, but I don’t think everyone can live like him. Also I got to touch a wolverine pelt (and wolf, martin, and beaver)!
We drove in a bus a lot then we finally loaded up the Tundra Buggy. It was not as warm as hoped, especially since some of the school-bus style windows were broken and wouldn’t close. We moved at a very slow pace over lumpy terrain which was actually a road built by the U.S. military during the Cold War, but it took like an hour and a half! The land here is not the giant block of ice I expected. It’s really marsh-like, with puddles and water everywhere. It’s like a really frigid swamp. All the ground is brown and orange and green with little pockets of raspberry colored bush. You can see for miles and there are little, maybe 5-foot pine tree pockets everywhere. It’s simply beautiful. I sat at the front of the buggy with Steph and Hayley . At about 5:30 Mirielle spotted a young polar bear! Robert Buchanan said she (dubbed Sheila by the Aussies) was about 2.5 years old and would have just been turned away by her mom. Later though we saw her with another bear and reckoned it was the mother. The bear kept walking and galloping ahead of us, looking back at the Buggy a lot. We also saw an Arctic hare and some little sparrow-like birds.
FINALLY we arrived at the Lodge. There are like 5 boxcars in the middle of the Arctic marsh: boys’ sleeping car, girls’ sleeping car, lounge car, dining car, staff sleeping cars, and a generator car. There’s limited water so I’ll only be able to take 1 shower over 4 days.

Georgia's Blog Day 1

Sun. 27 September

My flight was on a tiny airplane with only 2 seats per row. As I was boarding I met another girl whom I recognized as Courtney Freyhauf, Arctic Ambassador from Ohio. We sat amid a plane full of hunters. We talked for the whole hour and a half flight, annoying all the other passengers with our incessant gabbing. Then we met the bubbly Kathy Myers and Kaylie (one of the Australian Ambassadors) at the Winnipeg airport. We chatted and waited for some others to arrive before crossing the street to the Four Points Sheraton. There we spent a few hours getting to know each other as all sixteen ambassadors arrived. Everyone is really easy to talk to and cool and funny and not nearly the collection of nerdy misfits I expected. There are a lot of overachievers though. I immediately connected with the Canadians, I think because of our proximity. Everyone else had these fantastic stories about their long journeys to get to Winnipeg and how they had never been somewhere so cold. Sadly I could not commiserate in the sentiments about how exotic Canada was. My favorite moment was when Mirielle for Quebec (aka Mimi) asked me if I was sick or if my voice always sounded like this. Yep. Someone else asked me the difference between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
We did icebreakers in the conference room for a while and watched a presentation by the MAAN (Manitoba Arctic Ambassadors Network). Then we got our beautiful goose-down with coyote fur trim jackets. We had a discussion that justified having real fur on the jackets, and it actually made sense though I cannot explain it in writing. The jackets are absolutely fantastic, but they make us all look like obese Smurfs. The girls came to Courtney and me’s after supper where we had great conversations, mostly comparing lifestyles with people from around the U.S and Australia. We also all made grand plans of visiting each other and sneaking home with the Aussies in their luggage. Even though we have an early flight tomorrow, I am too excited to sleep!