The tundra way of things

Summer has been playing hide and seek in Vancouver, and ideas of a sunny day keep collapsing with reality. Thinking of the Great North where the sun never really sets some parts of the year, and escaping from the rain under a temporary gazebo, I got to meet an ex-urbanite who agreed to clue me in around the concept of living in the tundra. Fifteen years ago, when his career looked stuck in the city, he got offered to leave the traffic jams to use and develop his skills as a social worker north of the 60th. parallel.

Putting two and two together, his revelations were confirming the logisticaDoris camp - Jason Pineaul master plan a transportation manager was sharing with me last week: she is responsible for the coordination and shipment of heavy equipment to a mining camp in Nunavut. From Vancouver, it takes three flights and two days to reach the base. And that is a safe and best case scenario. Unloading a barged container by -50ºC sounds pretty extreme, and it just happens to be a classic exercise on the polar territory. Not a routine one though: the weather governs the activity. Considering the ice opens up most years, there is only a six-week window to rely on the melted ice to let the sealift through the Northwest Passage. The rest of the time, the subsoil is permanently frozen (also called permafrost), and everyday life requires a high degree of creativity to survive and live. Summer becomes more than busy, and the cargo convoys make the maritime passages look like a highway. The rest of the year, ice road truckers and local airliners take over (and it goes beyond the few TV shows some cable channels keep buying from reality TV production companies).

Granted: the whole supply chain project falls under a series of superlatives given its magnitude. This happens and comes together thanks to a highly valuable resource: the human kind. Coordinating the cargo loaders, the truck drivers and other logistics crews along the rivers, waterways, railways and ice roads becomes easier when dealing with the locals, the ones who know, can teach and share strategic pieces of information to keep everybody and everything safe from point A to point B. “My” social worker learned all this from living in the very environment, learning about the communities he got to work with, around and for.

It is not a “them” and “us” scheme, rather a two-way show of genuine interest, respect and exchange, to build together, and move forward, whether it is about drilling in a lake or planning a project around the migratory birds migratory birds nesting season. Customs, beliefs and personal experiences north of the Arctic Circle are anchored in the never-melting ice: they are solid, deep and strong. Offering a willingness to discover local habits and ways of living can go a long way, same as traveling off the beaten paths or landing on a frozen lake. A bit of adventure never hurts: it sure helps in the tundra.

Photo credits: Doris, Hope Bay (NWT) – Courtesy of © Jason Pineau