Thursday, September 27, 2007

It's Lucy's Fault!!

Okay, I've been tagged by Lucy to do a meme, using the letters of my middle name to come up with words that describe who I am. I think all she wants to know is what the "Z" stands for! Now is that fair??

Well, my middle initial "Z" is not the first letter of my middle name. It is the first letter of my maiden name ... Zabski. Yes, it's a good Polish name, and yes, I always was called on last in school and always sat in the back of the room. When I went to college the funny folks who are in charge of placing students in the dorm, roomed me with a wonderful gal with the last name of "Debski." We were known as the "Ski" twins. She was from Brooklyn. I was from Long Island. Well, the joke is on them. We still keep in touch some 40 odd years later.

So here is my response to the meme!

Z: Zealot. I'm too often overly enthusiastic about things once I set my sights on them. This can be good and bad.

A: Anxious. This results from being overly zealous, which also has to do with wanting to be perfect in what I'm zealous about. It's a terrible thing!!

B: Buddhist. Now this is a very good thing and helps me with my anxiety. I try very hard to follow the principles of Buddhism but I'm not very successful. However, I am learning to catch myself when I'm really being bad at it!

S: Silly, Stubborn, Serious. I don't think I need to go into these!

K: Kidder, Kyaker. Yes, that's me in the photo on my way out to have a paddle with my friend, Susan, over at Visual Voice. She took this photo. And yes, I do like to kid around sometimes!

I: Interested. I'm far too interested in too many things and don't have time for them all.

So there you go! There's probably more information here than you wanted. I will refrain from tagging anyone else, but offer up the invitation to anyone who reads this to take it on.

The other meme that Lucy tagged me for was a list of questions that I'm not going to dive into. However, the one question that interested me the most was who would you invite to a dinner party if you could invite anyone in the world, living or dead. One could have a lot of fun with that one. I have a list, but it's too politically incorrect and might result in more war. So why go there!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Autmumn Joy ...

The Sedums (the dark red is Autumn Joy) in the photo above are the glory of my garden at the moment. Due to a lack of rain for most of the summer, things are getting a bit crispy out there. For the month of September we've only had 1/2 an inch of rain. The area is down 1 foot of rain for the year. Yet the water and sewer authorities refuse to issue a water emergency. We are under some restrictions at the moment, but they are minimal. Tonight on the local news, a reporter said that the authorities had talked about declaring a water emergency today, but want to wait longer ... until what? Until there is no water coming from the faucet and the reservoir in front of my home is a waterless wasteland like it was back in 2002?

It was that year of crackling lawn and newly planted browning lanscape that persuaded me to install a cistern to collect rain water. (We had just moved in the year before and had planted alot of shrubbery that I didn't want to lose.) The tank holds some 3,000 gallons of rainwater when full. I also have some rain barrels around for watering small areas. But I'm not watering much this year. You have to have rain to fill the cistern and though there is still water in it, I don't really know how much. So I water only those things that should be looking good at this time of year. The rest I let go since it will be dying back for the season as hard frost approaches.

This is my very favorite time of year, however! The cool nights bring wonderful sleep and though it can still be hot during the day, it isn't the endless summer blast furnace that nothing can relieve. So I sing the praises of the season even without the rain.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Greenland ...

Wouldn't you know it! During the last days of our trip and the part I'd been looking forward to the most ... Greenland ... I got pretty sick with bronchitis. I spent alot of my time on board the Explorer, while everyone else was on shore having fun and seeing the sights.

I did, however, make it on shore in Ilulissat, where the ship refueled and we had several hours to wander through the town. Greenland is Danish and though the Inuit of Greenland are related to the Inuit of Canada, the villages are very different in appearance. While the homes and buildings in the Canadian Arctic are prefabricated and somewhat dull in appearance, the buildings that we saw in Greenland are very colorful European style cottages, painted in many colors of the rainbow. Through one window, I spied lovely orchids blooming. They must be a godsend in the winter months, bringing joy to that person who carefully tends them and watches them open delicate petals while the weather outside is foul.

The harbor in Ilulissat

Ilulissat seems to be a very busy place. At the dock next to the Explorer, was a large fishing trawler that had just brought in its catch. Halibut already cut, frozen and packaged was being loaded into containers that would be shipped and available in grocery stores in North America and around the globe.

Fish, Arctic Char, I believe, drying in a back yard in Ilulissat

And then there is the way the locals do it. I'm sure these folks eat fresh fish daily in summer that they catch themselves. And as you see in the photo above, they preserve it for those long winter months when the ice on the waters makes fishing impossible.

I first became interested in seeing Greenland some years ago when on a flight back to Virginia from Europe, we flew directly above the southern tip of Greenland. It was November and early afternoon. I watched in awe and delight as glaciers and mountains passed below us adorned in splendid, frozen white. Then five years ago I had the opportunity to sail through the Svalbard Archipelago, another stunningly beautiful place. There was lots of wildlife but no Inuit to visit. So when I received information about this trip, I had to sign up, immediately.

As autumn begins and shadows grow long here, I wonder what it's like in Ilulissat. Has there been snow yet? I'll bet the snowmobiles and dog sleds are being dusted off and warm boots, mittens and hats are coming out of the closet.

But who knows ... with the planet warming, it may still be relatively warm. I hope to have another chance to get back to these wonderful places. By following my dream of seeing Greenland, I found the Canadian Arctic and have once again fallen head over heals for the spirit of the north.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tungasugits! ...

A seal being skinned and butchered as a welcoming treat in Kimmirut

In Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit, tungasugits means welcome or "finding solid ground," as in "you will find the ground solid under your feet here." And in Kimmirut, I felt really welcomed and honored to be there. I was truly on solid ground.

The people of Kimmirut seemed to spend days preparing for our arrival. We were divided into small groups and with our guides toured the town. Rosemary our guide, told me that the children of the town had spent the day before picking up all of the litter from the ground and indeed, there was not a candy wrapper to be found. We sampled freshly made bannock, toured the visitors center and a gallery where Bill and I bought a lovely carving of a muskox, an animal the inland Inuit hunt for their meat and warm hides. Back in the days when I was a spinner I was gifted with some muskox hair to spin. The hair as soft and light as cashmere, is prized for warm knitted caps and scarves and is a lovely chestnut brown in color.

But the big fanfare of the day was the skinning, butchering and sharing of a freshly killed seal. After a communal prayer of thanks to the seal and the hunter, an Elder of the village, skinned and butchered the seal. Certain parts and I'm not sure which, were set aside for only women to eat. The rest of the animal was shared with us and the rest of the villagers. At the time I chose not to try it, but now I wish I had. It would have been the proper thing to do in view of the welcome we were given and in return would have said, " I welcome your culture into my life and heart." Next time ... and I hope there will be a next time.

Every part of the animal is used. The skins are used for clothing and boots. Even the bones were traditionally used for needles.We were shown a game, similar to Monopoly, played with some of the smaller bones from the flippers. Sled dogs also are fed seal meat.

This seal was shot with a gun, but traditionally they are speared at their breathing holes, which the seal claws through the ice. Inuit hunters, stand bent at the waist, peering down into the hole with their spear raised and at the ready for the seal to come for a breath of fresh air. They can stand stone still like this for hours.

Once the seal is taken and dragged up onto the ice, the hunter, melts snow in his own mouth and lets it dribble slowly into the seals open mouth. This is done to provide the seal with fresh water (unsalted), which in life, they never have the opportunity to drink. This assures that more seals will come to be hunted and given fresh water for their pleasure. This is a way of paying respect to the animal and saying thanks for its sacrifice.

This woman is flensing or scraping the blubber or fat from a seal skin. The fat will be rendered down and used in seal oil lamps and for other purposes. The skin will be stretched and dried. It will or will not be tanned depending on what it will be used for. Tanned skins do not retain their waterproof quality. Skins used for traditional clothing and kamiks (footwear) are not tanned but rather chewed to soften the skin, so that it can be worn more comfortably.

I am so taken by how balanced the life of the Inuit is. Living in an environment of cold, harsh weather, they are constantly on the edge between life and death. They take from the land, but they also give back to the land. Their abiding respect for the animals they take for food is heartening and could be used as an example in other places ... such as this country.

A ringed seal skin stretched and drying.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Northwest Passage Is Open ...

Iceberg off the west coast of Greenland, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

The iceberg in the photo above is made of very old, frozen fresh water. The blue coloring is caused by a lack of oxygen in the ice. It is drifting very slowly toward the south.

My husband heard on NPR yesterday afternoon that the the Northwest Passage is open for the first time. Scientists will have to redo their estimates of the speed of ice melt in the Arctic region. It is happening much more quickly than they believed it would.

The geologists on board the Explorer told us that they believe the sun is in an active cycle and producing more heat. They say that the most recent ice age is ending and the activity of the sun is much more responsible for global warming than our dumping of carbon into the atmosphere. However, they think that we are definately contributing to the problem and must act to change our dependence on gas and oil.

On Nova, aired on PBS a few weeks ago, another theory was explained in which clouds of pollution caused by jet travel and other pollutants are actually keeping the sun from doing as much damage as it could by reflecting heat back up above and away from the earth. When we begin to clean up the polution, we will be hit by massive heating from the sun and temperatures will rise at a much more rapid rate than has been modeled by computers.

Regardless of what is causing our global climate change, the fact is that it IS happening. We must take action as quickly as possible to change our oil, coal and gas habits to find a way to keep the planet livable for our children and grandchildren. While we can agree to disagree on the cause, we cannot assume that the problem is not ours.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It Pays To Know Somebody ...

It does pay to know somebody if you want to get to know somebody else! We were extremely fortunate to have on board with us, John Houston, a regular on the Explorer, when she is plying Canadian Arctic waters. Here he is in Kimmirut, speaking with a town Elder, while enjoying a treat of freshly killed seal.

John spent his earliest years growing up in Cape Dorset, on Baffin Island where his parents were instrumental in bringing to the rest of the world the fabulous art of the Inuit people. Cape Dorset is known today as having the greatest concentration of artists per capita of any arts colony in the world.

Walrus, sculpted in native stone, Cape Dorset, Baffin Island

John loves to talk about growing up in Cape Dorset. He considers all of the people there part of his family. His Godfather still lives there along with many other friends who obviously think he is a very special person. When he travels in Arctic Canada he insists upon having Inuits on board the ship to share their way of life with the passengers, making it a true cultural experience. Spending several days with us was Senator Charlie Watt. He represents Nunavik in parliament in Ottawa and continues to insist that the Inuit be fully represented and that the proceeds from the resources of the area benefit them. Nunavik is the province of Quebec's northermost region.

Also traveling part of the way with us was print maker, Jolly Atagoyuk, who taught printmaking on board. Jolly lives in Pangnirtung with his wife and children and is a member of the Uqqurmiut Center for Printmakers.

Meeka Mike, a lovely woman from Iqaluit, on Frobisher Bay, described her life with her sled dogs, demonstrating the equipment she uses, some made from walrus and seal skins. She is an accomplished hunter having killed her first seal and first caribou at the age of six.

Aaju (pronounced I U) Peter, from Greenland, showed us traditional Inuit clothing made from seal and caribou skins. She demonstrated the use of seal oil lamps which heat and light homes where electricity is unavailable along with a multitudeof other utensils used in every day life. She has just finished law school and is ready to take the bar exam and also produces a line of contemporary clothing of her own design made from the skins of Arctic animals. The skins she uses for this line of clothing are not killed for this purpose, but are from animals that are taken for food.

Here she is with musician Marshall Dane, modeling traditional clothing and boots like those worn by Iniut peoples, made from seal skins and the skins of other Arctic animals.

Along with these individuals we were often joined on board by community members from the settlements we visited.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Lessons From The New World ...

Rock Billboard, Kimmirut

When you arrive in Lake Harbor, Kimmirut, this is what you see posted on a cliff above the village. HBC stands for Hudson Bay Company and has been in business in Kimmirut since 1911.

Harvested to supply warm and comfortable hats and clothing, beaver were dying out in Europe by the year 1600.
In 1610 Henry Hudson and his son discovered what is now known as Hudson Bay. In 1670 the Hudson Bay Company was formed to supply Britain and all of Europe with the best quality furs this new world could supply. The company is still in operation today as a department store supplying all of Canada with goods from around the world. To the locals in Arctic Canada the company, HBC, is known as "Here Before Christ."

Go to an article in the September/October issue of Orion Magazine, for an interesting read by Gina Cassidy, Lessons From The New World, about "takers" and "leavers" and how they fared in populating North America.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Big Questions ...

Inuit Mother and Child in Kimmirut, Nunavut,
© 2007, Joan Z. Rough

We've been home two weeks now from our trip. It's quite amazing how fast the memories of this latest adventure are beginning to shift and become lost in the everydayness of being home. It was a life altering trip for me in many ways. None is more relevant than the realization of how miniscule I am in the general scheme of things and how inarticulate I feel about explaining it to you or even to myself. Every time I go away, I change in some way and when I return I feel smaller than I did the last time I ventured out and even more inarticulate.

What does it all add up to? A more expansive view of the universe perhaps and my own connection to it along with the belief that though we are but a drop in the vast ocean of matter, are we not also an integral part of the chaos that is the whole of life and effect what lies around us?

When I reread my journal of just a few weeks ago and remember the Inuit people I met and how they live in what many would consider a remote, life endangering wasteland, I am warmed again by their hospitality and the true welcome they showed to a boatload of crazy white people from the south. They indeed live in a land that is dangerous. Weather and wild animals can make fast work of grown men or children in below freezing temperatures and the bellies of polar bears. Wasteland, it is not, though to a southern eye used to the greenery of trees, shrubs and manicured lawns it seems so. But the land is indeed rich ... in beauty, wildlife and what lies hidden underneath the tundra and mountains ... oil, uranium, gold, diamonds.

Now that global warming has set in the ice is melting fast and the greedy of the world are lining up to cash in on yet another frontier. Already the old ways of Inuit culture are dying out. Today's modern day settlements can be rife with problems brought from the south, such as alcohol. The suicide rate is higher here in the Arctic than anywhere else. The ground is often littered with empty coke cans and the shredded remains of bags once filled with chips and other junk food.

With the warming of the world, the Northwest Passage is opening up for a while each summer and as time goes on and it gets even warmer, it could remain open for most of the year allowing resources to be mined more easily. The Russians have already gone beneath the polar ice and planted their flag beneath the North Pole to claim the undersea land and what is hidden beneath as theirs. Prime Minister Harper of Canada, is already planning on building defenses through the Northwest Passage, including the building of new battle ships to protect their rights from intruders. And the good old USA, is out there too. As Alaska belongs to us, we too may have rights to what lies beneath and are already exploring the lay of the land beneath the ice in hopes of proving that it is part of our own continental shelf and our heritage.

The geologists on board the ship, assured us that the earth would be treated with respect and that the Inuits would gain jobs and as much from the mining as the rest of the world. But I've seen too much in my soon to be 65 years, to believe that. These same geologists are hired by the mining companies to assess the goods beneath the earth. And it is the mining companies who do the environmental impact studies, not independent groups who have no interest in the money that will be lining the bottomless pockets of money hungry white people from the south.

I'm left feeling anger and mourning for the our planet and all of the people on it. What will we gain by stripping the earth of all of these resources? What are we gaining by paving the world with asphalt and concrete? What are we gaining by making war over natural resources? Is it really true, as I heard quoted on NPR yesterday that this is a capitalistic society and therefore if you have money you can do anything you want? This said by a man who is planning to move into a brownstone in New York City across the street from the location of an African American Drumming Circle that has been in place in the same neighborhood park for thirty years. But he says the drum circle is noisy and goes on every Saturday from 11 AM til late at night. And of course there are too many people who attend. He says they should leave and go somewhere else! Could it be that the people are mostly dark skinned and that is why this man complains? Could he not plan on moving somewhere else?

I pray that the geologists, the mining companies and our global governments wake up and that I am mistaken in my own ranting!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Handbook For Explorers ...

View From Sisimiut, Greenland; photograph by William H. Rough

I'm taking a break today from my travels to mention two links that I have just discovered. I stumbled on Lucy's blog a while ago and feel I have found a new friend. In today's post she sent me to Compasses, an astounding collaboration of poetry and photography. Lucy is the photographer, Joe, her partner is the poet. Beautiful, inspiring words and images, I doubt I'll find anywhere else. Please give them a view! I don't think you'll be dissapointed! Be sure to view Compasses as Lucy directs you.