You know it's cold in the North, when the snow your boots kick up, skitters in front of you and sounds like a vibrating high tension wire.
In Brampton, where I am from, there are many different kinds of snow. There it ranges from slush to gingerbread to frozen solid. The temperature fluctuates constantly. As we say, if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change. It gets cold here and stays below minus 25 until May. Snow is icy here; packed by the runners of many snowmobiles and squeaking as you walk. It was skipping ahead of me, as I walked this night, with it's eerie warble echoing off the hills and the houses that I passed. Frost piled up on the surface of my parka as I went, my breath freezing into a sparkling halo around my face. I was giddy tho', full of good company, good food and laughter. I was also full of promise. Of hope. Things that I had not felt in a long time.
The last year or so has been hard for many. As I've said before, I am no exception to this. 2014 saw many changes in my world, including the sudden loss of my younger brother. My life was so full of sadness that I had to make some drastic changes. I lost 75 or so pounds, I changed my eating. Somehow I lost the ability to digest meat. Fish, thankfully, is still on the menu, but with the sudden change from a high protein diet to something else, you can imagine the shock I was in for.
So, here I am.
In this place, where winter can so easily mean death, surprisingly, I have found life. Although this community has known much hardship over the years, there is still much beauty. Cape Dorset is the art capital of Nunavut; everyone here carves or draws or sews or makes prints. It is very difficult to find someone without some kind of artistic leaning; it can also be throat singing or cooking or playing an instrument or simply writing “Electric pow wow” or rap lyrics for ones self. As the only Mental Health professional here, I encourage and tap into that undercurrent as much as I can. This town, her people, have all had a shadow touch them. With any luck, the sun slowly creeping up and over the horizon will help dispel some shadows. Then perhaps, the seeds I plant will be allowed to grow.
That night, as we crunched merrily along, I saw the northern lights for the first time. Although they were low in their cycle and a faint green stain amongst the millions of stars, they flickered up and overhead in a dancing arch. We walked behind one of the hills, where the street lights did not reach and whistled to watch them change. The other nurse and I must have been outside in -40C for over an hour. We stood transfixed at times, watching “the lights” waver across the skies as Orion the hunter stood at the ready. Realizing we were tired and soon to be frozen solid, we parted company shortly thereafter and as I walked home at night for the first time in years. Surprisingly, I felt no fear. Only peace... and an understanding that I was very much in the presence of something much bigger than myself.
I am reminded almost daily that it was a very hard thing to leave my life, my “comfort zone” and fly thousands of miles into the tundra and attempt a job that has burned out the last three nurses that have held it. What I say to those that offer this tidbit up is, yes, you are correct. It was hard. It was also hard to watch my brother die on my birthday. It was hard to do the last job I did. The last year was hard. It's been hard all over. Instead of crawling into a bottle of Jack or drinking wine on a beach somewhere, instead I opted to go to (seemingly) the land of hard. Life is hard here and can be as cruel as the winds that blow in from the ocean. But, once the winds settle and the stillness returns, there is a vibration here that resonates deep within my soul. I can't explain it. I do know that you can see it in my face and I can feel it in my step. This place is right. This time is right. What a relief and a joy it is to finally feel that.
One of my patients told me the other day “we have waited a long time for you”. I hope she is right, and I have to admit, it was really great to hear. I hope I am able to live up to the expectations and the awesome responsibilities I have here. The pain in this town is real and almost palpable some days. As I walked into the stifling warmth of the Health Centre that night, and ran into one of my colleagues tending to a very sick baby, I thought of the reasons that had brought me to Nunavut and the reasons I had become a nurse in the first place. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could help people again. I feel like myself again.
So, here I am.
Staring in wonder as I whistle at the stars.
Not a really bad place to be, if you really think about it.
“And I fell apart, but got back up again...”
-Alibi, 30 Seconds to Mars