Thursday, October 1, 2009

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.

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