When you have grown up in a little town, on a small island, in the southern Caribbean, camping on an island in the Canadian High Arctic is a long way from home! This was my experience in the summer of ’79. Devon Island. Arctic Archipelago. Above 76 degrees North. Land of the midnight sun. A treeless landscape of Arctic poppies, mosses, permafrost and purple saxifrage – barren but beautiful.
This reminiscing was prompted by a conversation with my older son who now lives in Victoria, BC, and a blog suggestion to write about a time when I was furthest away from home. In terms of physical distance, I have been further away from home than Devon Island. Devon Island’s physical and cultural landscapes made for a larger psychological separation distance.
The trip to Devon Island was triggered by the need to find a creative solution to not being able to go home in the summer [no money], not having paid employment [ a rarity for international students back then], and the desire to explore my options regarding what to pursue for further study. Possibility of adventure. I signed up.
In the days when Nordair still existed as an airline company you could fly from Hamilton, Ontario to Montreal,Quebec and then on to Frobisher Bay [Iqaluit], Nunavut. From Iqaluit another flight took you to Resolute Bay [Inuktitut ], on Cornwallis Island. Back then, we had a few days to “acclimatize” to northern conditions: cold temperatures and 24 hours of daylight. A flight by Twin Otter aircraft took us to our field destination, the head of Eidsbotn Fiord on Devon Island.
Purpose of the trip? Research on the hydrology of High Arctic streams. Over a period of about 2 1/2 months we monitored: snowpacks, changing temperatures of a small glacier, an ice-dammed lake and streamflows. For a lad from The Tropics [Trinidad and Tobago], it was a different, totally foreign but rich experience.
During that time I also came to know the many faces and moods of Devon Island: Silence – unbroken except for the wind and frost-shattered rock rolling down slope; the music of flowing water as the melt season began at the end of June; the wonder and fury of a summer storm that turned babbling brooks into raging, impassable torrents; the beauty and quiet of a summer evening with the midnight sun in the sky; the thrill of skiing down a small glacier with the accompanying spills.
They say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back from a more mature perspective, I can see the lessons I lived through that summer. More than a research adventure it was an opportunity: to learn about myself; to learn to get along with one other person; to learn about my faith away from any faith community; to step outside my “comfort zone”, risk to turn obstacles into opportunity – what Kouzes and Posner calls “Challenging the Process”.
Devon Island – barren, beautiful and a long way from home!
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