Friday, September 12, 2014

First impressions from Churchill

Descending through the clouds, the area south of Churchill, Manitoba revealed a seemingly stark landscape of small lakes, patchy trees and low lying shrubs aglow in fall colours.  A bright midday sun illuminated willows yellowing, bearberry reds, larch taking on just a hint of blonde prior to loosing their needles as shallow grasses waved and weaved between it all.  A horizon uninterrupted by tall trees or taller buildings.

I applied to come to Churchill and more specifically the Churchill Northern Studies Centre after an unfulfilled summer of low to dismal job prospects in my northern resource town.  As mild depression and feelings of worthlessness, under appreciation and really-what-the-f-am-I-doing?!? were creeping in, I knew I needed to shake up my (lack of) routine and rediscover my direction while deeply reflecting on future plans.

There's something about isolated places that attracts unconventional people.  Living, playing and working alongside and with these goofy, wayward folks is something I have sought out around the world.  Aside from university residence halls, the shared intimacy of daily life cannot be harnessed anywhere else.  Few other places do we have the opportunity to live closely with people who are not our family.

Happily I can recall more than half a dozen occasions where I have willingly left the comfort and security of home, friends and family for immersion travel.  Satisfying experiences for paid and volunteer work that have taken me to truly great physical places while supporting that parallel journey of personal introspection and soul searching.

So, as I've outwardly oggled the recent northern lights and polar bear in my first week, I am also consciously monitoring inside for the redevelopment of creativity and passion.

Views from my bedroom towards Hudson's Bay
Returning from field work
Churchill River
Churchill's own beach to Hudson's Bay

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Upcoming (more) northern visit

I think I have a thing for apex predators.

Living and working in northern British Columbia in prime black and grizzly bear habitat, I regularly see these beauties cruising the powerlines, cutblocks, roadsides looking for a feed.  In all the sightings and interactions on foot, none have given me any grief or cause to worry.

Two previous stints took me to volunteer at the Sharklab on beautiful Bimini in the Bahamas with a variety of shark species.

On Sunday, I will be arriving in Churchill, Manitoba to volunteer for six weeks at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.  Situated on the aurora oval and adjacent to Wapusk National Park which protects the inland denning area of the polar bear, I'm looking forward to the opportunities to view northern lights and migrating polar bears.

As at the Sharklab, it's the spectacle of these apex predators that lures in most visitors and volunteers. While I fall into that category, I have to remind myself that these places are SO much more than the critters they're known for.

Bimini has endemic snakes, migrating birds, massive turtles and tiny seahorses while Churchill is also a birding haven, botanist's wet dream as three biomes converge, an active archaeological dig and there's even seasonal beluga whales!  And then there's the people I met and have yet to meet.

Yeah, I had a great time longlining, observing and acoustically tracking juvenile lemon sharks, swimming with reef sharks and pen building at the Sharklab, but it is the relationships I developed and continue to nurture that were the greatest prize from my time spent in Bimini.  So again, I'm looking forward to a new place and new faces to share this great next adventure.