Tag Archives: my life

What jet lag feels like

For the last few days, lying down has felt like being swallowed up. I sink as if my body is resting on moss, compressing the springy fauna and becoming part of the forest floor. My brain surrenders to the fog of jet lag and gives my body no choice but to resign itself to sleep.

Photograph of Laura in corpse pose on a mossy forest floorHaving returned to Copenhagen from the west coast of Canada a few days ago, I’m still adjusting to the nine hour time shift and the long, sleepless trip home. I have never been able to fall asleep on planes or in stiff gate-side seats, which means the two long flights and aimless hours at airports did not leave me feeling rested!

I remember travelling in the opposite direction (from Europe to Canada’s west coast) some years ago and going to a restorative yoga class the evening I landed. I managed to keep conscious throughout most of the practice, but the moss rose up and claimed my wakefulness during savasana. I managed to re-awaken with the rest of the class after savasana, but the teacher (who is also a friend) whispered to me afterwards that a few gentle snores escaped!

Sometimes sleep is exactly what is required and it can’t be fought! Perhaps, I need to make time for a restorative practice before long.

But, for now, life will not wait for the jet lag to pass and I’m left to battle the tiredness – although I hope it will only be for a few more days. Thankfully, jet lag doesn’t last forever.

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Retreat ahead

Laura during Prana yoga teacher training

Serious concentration or bad red eye correction? Me in my Prana t-shirt on our last day of teacher training

This time next week I’ll be at Sklenářka in the Czech Republic on a week-long retreat. Seven days of yoga, vegetarian meals (eaten in silence!), workshops, and meditation in the middle of nature (meaning an isolated villa 130km east of Prague) with Shakti and Pepe from Prana Yoga College.

Much like tidying up before the cleaning lady arrives, I’ve been practicing more regularly in anticipation of the retreat’s daily yoga classes. My yoga practice has been pretty sporadic since moving to Munich, so this preparatory kick in the pants has been very welcome.

I suspect the retreat will bring some discomfort (whether physical, social, spiritual, or all three!), but hopefully my time on the mat beforehand will ward off the worst of the aches.

Many days, my practice involved a class from the Prana YouTube channel. I spent five weeks with Shakti and Pepe three years ago for my initial yoga teacher training, so these online classes feel a bit like returning to my yoga home.

Shakti’s consistent instructions (lots of reminders to breathe!) and Pepe’s subtle accompaniment are reassuringly familiar. There are no jolting surprises in the flow of poses – I know what asanas to expect and understand the sequencing. The setting is familiar as I spent many hours there during teacher training and in the months afterwards. There’s even a barely-on-screen cameo from Milo, Shakti and Pepe’s little dog who was so much like Sofie!

While I’m a bit anxious about the retreat, I feel certain that the comfort I’ve felt following the online classes will continue in person. I may not know what to expect in terms of the facilities or other students, but I do know Shakti and Pepe! And I know what to expect from their teaching.

I’m hoping that sense of yogic home-coming continues through the retreat with its silent meals, unfamiliar location, and bug-filled wilderness. And that seven days with Shakti and Pepe energizes my yoga practice long after!

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Small complaints; big picture happiness

Forest looking like a watercolour painting

Photo credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

Yesterday was one of those days where all the little things were a bit off. I woke up feeling discontented and uneasy. What I thought would be an easy shopping expedition proved fruitless. One of our bikes blew a tire, necessitating a long walk on what may have been the hottest day of the year and resulting in seriously sore feet. Doing laundry was needlessly complicated and involved way too much to-ing and fro-ing.

It was a day filled with small complaints that made it easy to forget that two major things went right: we successfully registered ourselves in Munich and got some very good news from Vancouver.

The Anmeldung process was even easier the second time around (and our first ‘permanent’ address registration was pretty simple), although the system is a little different in Munich than in the rest of Germany. No questions at all from the government clerk, just a few words exchanged in German and an official stamp. The hardest part was the over-heated 45 minute wait and managing that nervous feeling that something would go wrong.

Then later in the day, very good news came from my parents that made me feel like my decision to return to Germany earlier this week was the right one.

With all of my small complaints, it was easy for me to feel as though yesterday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day… but it wasn’t. It was a great day.

That’s the joy of perspective. Looking close up at all the little things, I was unhappy. Looking at the big picture, I was exactly the opposite.

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‘Permanent’, really?

Paper pop-up house

Photo credit: elod beregszaszi via Compfight cc

We had our first experience with German bureaucracy today and it was surprisingly (and delightfully!) free of confusing questions and difficult forms. The most challenging part was actually getting to our appointment!

As we’ll be in Berlin for a little over three months, we needed to file an Anmeldung or residence registration.

Whenever anyone in German changes permanent residences, they have to register with the local authorities. The registration requirement applies to German citizens and foreigners and the information is used for taxation and census purposes… and maybe even mail delivery. Most of the information is in German, so it’s hard for me to really understand!

Given that there’s no such a process in Canada and English-language information is sparse, it seemed a little strange. Further research revealed that resident registration is pretty common in the EU and, thankfully, the process wasn’t that hard.

After making an appointment online, we printed out the necessary form at an Internet cafe; my husband translated the entirely German document into workable English and we filled it out; we researched how to get to the office via the S-Bahn and set an alarm for Monday morning.

There are lots of Einwohnermeldeamt (Residents’ Registration Office) throughout Berlin and the first appointment we could get turned out to be further away than we thought – essentially on the outskirts of the city. Our trip out to the Berlin suburbs was further complicated by construction and part way through the trip we gave up on transit and hopped in a taxi. Thankfully, the taxi driver knew exactly where we were going because we really didn’t!

After almost an hour and a half in transit, the actual appointment was pleasantly anti-climactic. It was entirely in German (I nodded along while my husband earnestly communicated in halting and hard-fought German) and took under 10 minutes.

We left with a stamped piece of paper bearing our names and ‘permanent’ address in Berlin, which will facilitate getting library cards, bank accounts, and maybe even jobs! Although we have no real plans to look for work in the near future – there’s too much to see!

We’re moving to our new neighbourhood later this week and will be there until the middle of February. The flat we’re in feels transitory and we’re still living out of bags, so it will be nice to get a little more settled. Although February will bring a new city and new ‘permanent’ residence, so we shouldn’t get too comfortable!

On a side note, how incredible is this pop-up house! The artist has lots of other astonishing pieces on this Flickr stream and at the Popupology website – the Budapest Opera House is my favourite. There are also ‘how-tos’ for creating paper pop-ups, although I suspect they’re a little too intricate for beginners – or at least my clumsy scissor skills 🙂

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Travel while you’re young

Scenes of Germany and OktoberfestIn the last month I’ve noticed a lot of net chatter in favour of travelling while you’re young (most notably this piece from Huffington Post). Or maybe I’ve been more predisposed to notice these kinds of articles as we’re preparing for our own travels – although we just barely count as young!

My husband and I have entertained the idea of living in Europe since about 2004, when we less-than-seriously looked into getting UK visas. After spending time in England, France, and Germany last fall and my husband’s Eastern European adventure with my brother in the spring, we decided we were serious about living in another country.

Outside of a short stint in California, I’ve lived in Canada my whole life. While I love my country and I know living in another country will be challenging, I want to become immersed in a new way of life. I yearn for the empathy that comes with understanding how others live, the depth of cultural appreciation that cannot be gained simply as a tourist, and the insight that will come from recognizing all the ways cultures are alike and distinct.

After spending about a year applying for positions in Europe and getting no nibbles, my husband and I began evaluating options for moving overseas without jobs in place. We discovered this summer that we both qualified for visas under the German/Canadian Youth Mobility Agreement and the French/Canadian Youth Exchange Agreement – although we had to apply by mid-August when my husband turned 36.

The short timeline mobilized us and we applied for German visas a few days before my husband’s 36th birthday. When our visas were granted in just two days we took this as a sign that we were in for smooth sailing. Within a week we had signed the paperwork to list our condo, told our families and close friends, and begun the process of whittling down our possessions. Unfortunately, our hopes for a smooth transition out of our condo were scuttled by building re-piping work (five weeks of construction in our unit!) that meant we took our place off the market.

The construction is coming to a close, our condo is listed again, and now we’re hoping for a quick sale. We have just a few weeks left in Vancouver as our flight from Calgary to Frankfurt is November 4, with our year-long German live/work visas starting the day we arrive.

We decided to fly out of Calgary to get an Air Canada-operated flight (our dog, Sofie, is just the right size to fly in the cabin with Air Canada, but too big for most other airlines) and to spend a few days with my husband’s family. Tickets are booked, Sofie’s started the process to get certified for travel, and we’re counting down the days until our German adventure gets underway!

We picked Germany over France pretty much by flipping a coin. I was in favour of France, my husband was leaning towards Germany, but neither of us were opposed to either. Perhaps it was the beer and pretzels that cemented Germany as the front-runner!

We’re planning to start our German year with a couple months in Berlin and hope to travel to parts of Northern Germany (Hamburg, Hannover & the North Coast), along with Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic while we’re Berlin-based. Maybe we’ll even brave Scandinavia in the winter!

We’d like to be further south in the spring and summer to explore into France, Italy, Switzerland, and that area and to allow my husband the chance to do some cycling trips through the Alps. We’re being pretty loose with the planning and being open to wherever the experience takes us.

Ideally, we hope to stay in Europe for at least a couple years, but we know that life (and visas!) could take us in unpredictable directions.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is moving outside my comfort zone by being exposed to a German way of thinking and shaking up the routines I’ve settled into in Canada. I want to re-learn how to do things I take for granted now (like grocery shopping or taking public transit) and expand my horizons.

We’re looking for adventure and the opportunity to re-invent our day-to-day lives; embracing the idea of traveling when you’re young… and when you’re not so young, too!

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Nosing forward

Collage of Laura post-nose bleedA few days ago I trepidatiously did my first downward-facing dog in over a month. The last day I did downward-facing dog or any sustained forward-folding posture, I had an extreme nose bleed. The forward-folding may have contributed to a scab from the septoplasty surgery I had three weeks prior coming off, which triggered major bleeding.

On July 29, I had blood streaming from my nose and mouth for hours – more blood than I thought possible. Thankfully, Dr Nabi (the otolaryngologist who performed my septoplasty) met me at the hospital and we were able to stop the bleeding before I required a transfusion.

I was hospitalized overnight, but got to go home the next afternoon. After a night in a hospital ward, sleeping in my own bed felt incredible – even if I did have to be propped up to elevate my nose!

After five days with uncomfortable packing in my right nostril, I met Dr Nabi to have him take it out. Understandably concerned that removing the packing might trigger another massive bleed, Dr Nabi took every precaution possible – none of which ended up being necessary. The packing came out smoothly and cleanly, with almost no blood at all.

After the packing came out, recovering from the massive nose bleed was quicker and easier than recovering from surgery. While my hemoglobin levels were low and I was fighting an infection, I was in much better shape than after surgery. Eating high iron foods, taking lots of naps, and regularly rinsing my nose with saline all helped.

Laura in downward-facing dogWhen I last saw my surgeon, he was very impressed with the recovery and cleared me to return to regular activity – including downward-facing dog. But even after Dr Nabi’s reassurance, I was nervous about holding my head lower than my heart for any extended period of time.

I’d seen my therapist and worked through the emotional trauma of the massive nose bleed, but couldn’t muster the courage to come into forward folds. I devised several yoga sequences without forward folds to ensure I could keep up my practice, but yoga without forward folding feels a little incomplete.

Last Friday it finally felt like it was time. It had been over a month since my nose bleed, the nasal soreness was almost entirely gone, and I’d received a clean bill of health.

Initially, downward-facing dog felt foreign and scary. I moved slowly through a sun salutation sequence, nervously approaching each repeat of downward-facing dog. By the fifth round, I felt comfortable again and was content to hang out in downward-facing dog for a couple minutes.

I’m back to a full yoga practice again, forward folds and all, and have rediscovered the joy of downward-facing dog!

While the septoplasty process was longer and more complicated than I anticipated, it was worth it and I’d unhesitatingly recommend Dr Nabi. He’s the first (and hopefully only!) otolaryngologist I’ve seen, but I can’t imagine a better ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Hopefully, this is the end of my nose saga and now I just get to enjoy the ease of breathing through both nostrils!

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The nose knows

NoseSurgeryThis time last week my nose was bleeding profusely, the result of septoplasty surgery some hours before. The surgery went exceptionally well; the surgeon was delighted, I had no adverse reaction to the general anaesthetic, and a recovery room nurse even called me “bright as a berry.” Everything from waking up at 5:30am that morning and not eating to pre-op prep through to walking out of the hospital was almost effortless – much easier than I thought it would be.

The recovery, however, was not as smooth as I had anticipated.

While there wasn’t much pain, there was a lot of blood. I didn’t clot quickly and, even with the packing the surgeon left in my nose to sop up the bleeding, I spent the first couple days changing the gauze underneath my nose regularly and wishing for thicker blood.

Thankfully, the bleeding stopped after a couple days and I was left with discomfort, wooziness, and the continued joy of sleeping without fully lying down.

After a solid day without bleeding, it was time to get the packing out. The packing is great for controlling blood flow and keeping tissues separate so they don’t fuse together while healing (particularly important as the point of the procedure was to give my nasal passages more space), but it does introduce greater potential for infection and it’s damn uncomfortable.

I wasn’t sure if the crusty strings dangling from my nostrils would come out with the packing or if they were part of the stitches. Turns out “packing” is code for “tampons” and the surgeon used those strings to pull them out.

Getting the packing out was brutal. All blood and saline and mucous and Otrivin. Without the general anaesthetic of the surgery, I didn’t have the luxury of drifting off into oblivion while thinking about my favourite vacation spot and having the surgeon do all the messy work without me seeing or feeling it.

I left the hospital much less bright than after surgery and continued to ooze blood from my nose through the night. The next day I started experiencing head-splittingly painful sinus congestion, which didn’t get any better when I burst into tears. Turns out crying doesn’t make sinus congestion any less painful… but decongestants do 🙂

Equipped with Benylin (not my usual cold-fighter Advil Cold & Sinus as the ibuprofen wouldn’t play nicely with the antibiotics and also acts as a blood thinner… not helpful when I’m trying not to bleed!), plenty of fluids, saline nasal spray, and lots of naps, I’m feeling much better. I’m still tired, but my nose hasn’t bled for three whole days and the soreness is manageable.

I’m reminding myself to take it easy and not to expect that I’ll be entirely well yet – the surgery was just a week ago!

While it’s too early to say if the surgery has been a true success, I am already finding it easier to breath through my nose. Even with the congestion (along with the sutures and scabs that must still be there), there’s an ease of movement through my nasal passages. The surgeon said he took a lot of bone out of my right nostril, so it’s no surprise that things are clearer.

I’m hopeful that recovery will proceed smoothly and that within a few months I’ll be breathing easy… any that maybe I’ll even have stopped sleeping with my mouth open!

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Clothing connections

The flurry of media coverage about the collapse of a Bangladeshi garment factory has me thinking about my own purchasing habits, specifically how differently I approach buying groceries and clothes.

I lean towards shopping locally for groceries. I enjoy getting fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market or the neighbourhood green grocer and chatting with the vendors. I like knowing the staff at the butcher around the corner and asking for suggestions on what to have for dinner. I love that the counterperson at the bakery down the hill knows which bread is my favourite.

I also favour organic groceries whenever possible – although often the price differential shocks me into non-organic purchases! If organic isn’t viable, I’ll look for options that are locally raised or grown.

I’ll pick apples from BC or Washington over those from Australia or New Zealand. I’ll choose free-range eggs from a farm I could reach in under an hour instead of those trucked in from a different province.

Buying food from people I know, supporting stores where I live, and choosing organic and/or locally-grown options feels good.

When it comes to clothing, however, all of those considerations go out the window.

I prefer a more anonymous approach and almost entirely ignore questions of sustainability, ethical production, and support for local manufacturers and retailers. I blame it on a strong dislike for clothes shopping. I’d rather not spend time, effort, and money on finding things to wear – I want cheap and easy.

Instead of small boutiques with attentive salespeople, locally-crafted goods, and sustainable options, I head to H&M or Old Navy and try on a flurry of different styles and colours while interacting with staff as little as possible.

My dislike for clothes shopping feeds itself as I feel no connection with the items I end up taking home or the people who sold them to me. Grocery shopping satisfies not only my need to eat, but also helps me connect with my community.

In addition to limiting connections with those around me, not making conscious, deliberate choices when shopping for clothes encourages a larger problem of manufacturers not being accountable and transparent. I vote with my dollars when grocery shopping, but haven’t taken the same action when apparel shopping.

Frequenting smaller retailers that carefully select their suppliers and have salespeople who help me feel good about the process of clothes shopping could allow me to mimic the experience of grocery shopping; personal, local, and maybe even enjoyable!

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Arctic adventure

It was about 5°C in Vancouver this morning and I was complaining about how cold it was. Just a few days ago, I was calling the -2°C temperatures in Yellowknife balmy. A shift in perspective, for sure!

It was an amazing experience visiting the Arctic. In talking about the trip afterwards, I almost feel like I should be working for the Northern Canada Tourism Board!

We didn’t take many photos because we completely forgot to bring a real camera and had to rely on iPhones, which struggled with the incredibly bright sunlight. Click on the images below to see the full-size pictures.

Laura and a moose at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre

Laura and the museum moose – click on the image for a larger image

We flew into Yellowknife in the afternoon and after picking up cold weather gear and checking into the Explorer Hotel, we headed out to see the sights. Our first stop was the underwhelming Northern Frontier Visitors Centre. At least they had a map of where to find the museum!

The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (aka the museum) was highly recommended and did not disappoint. In addition to a display about how locally mined minerals are used in technology (mostly to strengthen steel!) and some great wildlife dioramas, there were also samples of fur from most of the animals on display.

Not surprisingly, polar bear fur is really thick and dense! Quite surprisingly (at least to me), musk ox fur is quite soft.

Seeing how variable caribou hide is when tanned, cured, or left natural was fascinating. It’s a truly versatile material and I now totally understand how valuable the herds are to locals.

Even though the museum opened in 1979, the inside of the building felt modern. Beautiful use of wood and lots of windows meant that it was bright and airy.

Given that it’s named after him, the giant portrait of Prince Charles and the crazy jewelled sword made sense, but they still felt out of place amongst the taxidermied animals and rock samples. It was particularly strange to see a younger Prince Charles… and that he still looks pretty much the same.

After getting a little too warm in the museum (it was about -20°C and we were dressed for outdoors!), we walked downtown.

The path we took from the museum is part of the Trans Canada Trail, which prompted one of those surreal moments of realization for me. There are two sections of the Trail within walking distance of our condo in North Vancouver and they’re connected to the path in the Northwest Territories. It hit me that this is all Canada and that Canada is REALLY BIG! (I already knew that from the Arrogant Worms song, but experiencing the sheer length of the Trans-Canada Trail drove that point home.)

Laura on the frozen lake in Yellowknife with snow castle & ice sculptures

The Snowking castle and remaining ice sculptures

Needing an afternoon snack, we stopped at Sushi North for a couple of rolls and some arctic char nigiri. Hopefully that won’t be our last experience with arctic char sushi – it was delicious!

Despite it being fairly cold, we were dressed for it and continued walking from downtown into Old Town after stopping to buy scarves from Erasmus Apparel. Quick stops at a couple shops to look at local art and beautiful furs (I’m not usually pro-fur, but I totally understand it in the Arctic) were followed by a longer linger at Weaver & Devore. It’s an outfitting store that stocks pretty much everything from food and toiletries to incredibly expensive Canada Goose gear and axes. It was like a high-class dollar store on steroids 😉

After polishing off a couple chocolate bars, we wandered down to the entirely-frozen lake and happened upon the remnants of the Snowking Winter Festival. Ice sculptures, a snow castle, and snow walls – all amongst brightly-painted houseboats!

It was quite something standing on the lake looking down through the ice. Things don’t freeze that solid in the Lower Mainland!

I really started to notice the cold after leaving the novelty of a snow castle behind and it was a chilly walk back to the hotel. We were impressed with how many people were walking home from work and even more impressed with the number of cyclists. Yellowknife seems like an active town and I suspect the adventurous souls who call it home aren’t about to let sub zero temperatures deter them.

Posing with the polar bear in the hotel lobby before dinner

We certainly had different reactions to the polar bear in the Explorer lobby!

Coming from Vancouver, where most residents are politely hostile to strangers, it was refreshing to have the people we walked past smile or nod in acknowledgement. Friendliness might be one of the benefits of having a population of about 19,000 instead of +1 million!

While in Old Town, we came across the famed Bullock’s Bistro. It’s know for eclectic decor (diners are encouraged to draw on the walls), great fish and chips, and exorbitant prices. We elected to not venture out to Bullock’s for dinner and went to Trader’s Grill in our hotel.

We couldn’t resist posing with the large, stuffed polar bear in the hotel lobby… I can’t deny how much I enjoy good taxidermy!

Dinner featured some local fish and meats: smoked arctic char, musk ox dumplings, grilled boar. And it was all really good!

I debated whether to try and stay up to see Northern Lights when dinner had wrapped up… but sleep won out pretty fast!

I’m guessing that the tourist-laden buses that left the hotel at about 10:30pm were full of more dedicated Northern Lights seekers 🙂

Wearing cold weather gear

Dressed for the weather! Or for sitting on a plane…

We had a relatively late flight to site, so had the luxury of sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast. The logistics company picked us up at 10am and we carted all of our gear to the Yellowknife airport.

All passengers on winter flights are required to wear full winter gear (snow pants & coat, gloves/mittens, boots), which is a hell of a lot of clothing for small airplanes! Thankfully, the logistics company arranged for pants, jackets, and boots for both of us so we didn’t have to purchase them ourselves.

That being said, the gear was certainly not designed for women and wasn’t anything I would have bought myself.  Size small was still pretty big and I ended up looping the straps of the pants around the back of my neck to shorten them and get them to stay up!

Being without winter gear was certainly not an option, though, and I wound up growing kind of attached to the outfit. The boots were awesomely warm and my toes never got cold. I was actually sad to let them go!

The real purpose of the trip was to visit two camps in the Back River area of Nunavut. The first site we went to (Goose Lake, Nunavut) is about 500km east of Yellowknife. It took about 90 minutes on the Dash-8 and it was fascinating to watch the terrain change below us.

The trees and all visible vegetation disappeared not far outside Yellowknife (apparently the treeline ends around 80km out of the city) and then there was nothing but the whiteness of ice and snow.

Herc on the ice runway at Goose Lake

Herc on the ice runway at Goose Lake

We landed on an ice runway and were whisked into camp. The concept of an ice runway is pretty foreign and mildly terrifying to me (the plane is landing on the lake!), but it’s the norm in the north.

Even though the ice was around 6 feet thick and more than solid enough to hold a plane, it still felt surreal!

The ice runway is so solid that it can handle even larger planes than the Dash-8 we came in on. Later in the day, a Herc came in with supplies. Everything arrives at the sites via plane: fuel for helicopters and heating the buildings, food, machinery, building supplies. There is no other way to access these remote locations.

Existence in the north is heavily reliant on weather and environmental conditions. Cold temperatures, precipitation, and fog all restrict the ability for air travel… and if aircraft can’t land or take off, that means nothing and nobody is going in or out of camp.

The thought of being trapped in camp by weather in itself is enough to bring on a little bit of panic and cabin fever… and then the thought that most of the staff do rotations of 2-4 weeks in camp (with every day being a work day) and 1-4 weeks out, makes me feel even more trapped!

The area around Goose Lake was markedly empty. The view to every side was flat and it made me think the jokes about being able to watch your dog run aways for days in Saskatchewan. In this part of Nunavut, it was flat enough to be able to watch a hare run away for days!

The buildings at Goose Lake camp are all separate, which means going outside for everything. Want a cup of tea from the dining hall? Bundle up and head outside! Need to use the bathroom? First you have to go out into the cold! Have to see someone in a different office? Put on your coat!

Our sleeping quarters were at the far edge of camp, which made any consideration of getting up to go pee in the middle of the night extremely unpleasant!

Thankfully, the buildings themselves were toasty warm and after just a couple days I stopped bundling up quite so tightly for the three minute trek from our cabin to the dining hall or offices.

The remainder of the day passed quickly as we talked to geologists and geo techs (geos), toured the camp, and visited a drill site. Goose Lake has a number of drills that operate pretty much 24/7 and there’s also a project to create an all-season runway so larger planes can come in throughout the year rather than being confined to the ice runway.

The food at camp is top-notch, which is more than incredible considering the conditions. The kitchen staff works hard to keep everyone happy and I was amazed at the variety and quality of offerings. They also have to accomodate differing schedules as half the drillers start their workdays at night.

Wolverine tracking near Goose & George Lakes

Wolverine tracking near Goose & George Lakes

The second day we were at Goose Lake, I got to help out with a wolverine survey. There’s a fair amount of wildlife around camp (arctic hares, wolverines, wolves, caribou) and the company wants to monitor the environmental impact of their mineral exploration and development activities as well as enable better understanding of local animals.

Our day was delayed as the morning temperature was -37°C and it needed to be warmer than -30°C for the helicopter to take off. So much for a 7am start!

The temperature warmed up enough around noon and I headed out with an environmental tech and the helicopter pilot. We stopped quickly at the George Lake site to drop off a couple passengers and then carried on with our wildlife-based mission.

I’d only been on commercial helicopter flights between Vancouver and Victoria before, so this was a very new experience. The helicopter set down at about a dozen sites and the enviro guy and I hopped out to collect samples and re-bait.

Each post was wrapped in barbed wire and topped with a piece of fish. The animals would climb the post to get the fish and the barbed wire would trap bits of their hair that could then be sent for DNA analysis.

After removing any hair samples, the enviro nailed a new piece of fish to the post and then covered it in wolverine scent and seal oil. Very smelly stuff. The high winds whipping around us certainly didn’t make our task any easier. At the windiest site, I didn’t even get out of the helicopter and the poor enviro got splattered with seal oil 🙁

Thankfully, we saw no live wolverines. The stuffed one at the museum was scary enough for me! We did see a falcon and an arctic hare from the helicopter. Both of them were moving damn fast!

We spent about four hours in the helicopter and it was a much more exciting ride than going between Vancouver and Victoria. The pilot swooped and turned in order to spot the posts and at points I realized that the ground was no longer below us… it was beside us!

Even though the two sites are quite close to each other (30 minutes by helicopter, roughly 70km) the terrain around them is different. Goose Lake is flat – really, really flat. The area around George Lake has hills and exposed rock and visibly coloured lakes. Even when frozen, I could see the aqua and deep blue of the water near George.

The landscape reminded me of a beach, but with snow instead of sand and no ocean in sight. It was so vast that it seemed endless.

We got back to camp around 5:30pm, just in time to get a prime viewing location for the blasting. In order to level the all-season runway at George, they’re making their own gravel at site by blasting the ground and then using a crusher (a huge expensive piece of machinery) to create smaller rocks. The gravel will then be used to fill the low spots in the runway and will continue to be used to expand camp as the project moves towards being a producing gold mine.

Another delicious dinner (bison roast!) and then a fairly early night. Yellowknife and the Back River camps are on mountain time (like Edmonton) and it felt as though the sun rose and set earlier than in Vancouver. The sunsets were crazy long with light remaining along the horizon for at least a couple hours after the sun had dropped out of site. But when it did get dark… it got really dark.

Standing outside our cabin with just the lights of camp behind us, the world felt enormous and empty. The camp lights made it a little harder to see the stars, but it was obvious that the sky in the arctic is somehow bigger than in Southern BC.

The next day we were scheduled to go from Goose Lake to George, but the weather had other plans. Low-lying fog and blowing snow created near white-out conditions that made it impossible for planes to come in and dangerous for the helicopter to fly.

We spent a low-key day at Goose Lake. The highlight for me was discovering amazing homemade almond roca and becoming slightly addicted to the decadent treat! I reasoned that a 90 minute yoga practice off-set the chocolate and nuts a little bit 😉

The weather the next day was warmer (ranging from -19°C to -11°C), but the visibility was still terrible. A plane flew out from Yellowknife and made it to Goose Lake, but couldn’t land as the pilot couldn’t see the runway and had to go back to Yellowknife. We could just barely see the plane through the fog and everyone on the ground was very disappointed that the conditions had forced the flyover.

Views over the tundra from our 'tent'

Views over the tundra from our ‘tent’

While Goose Lake was fogged in with terrible visibility, the George Lake camp was bright and sunny. Around 4pm, the helicopter pilot determined that conditions were good enough to get us over to George and bring back a few people who had been stuck at the smaller camp through the bad weather.

When we took off, the ceiling was around 300 feet and visibility was seriously limited. I was glad that I’d done the wolverine tracking with the pilot and felt really comfortable that he had the skills and experience to fly safely. About five minutes into the trip, the clouds and fog disappeared entirely and we were treated to bright sunshine.

Staring out across the tundra again brought on the sensation of vastness. The arctic is huge and it just a part of a planet that is really enormous and full of amazement.

Spartan accommodations at site

Clockwise from top left: our cabin at Goose Lake, the outside of our ‘tent’ at George Lake, frost on the inside of the cabin door hinges at George

Roughly 30 minutes after departing Goose Lake, we arrived at the George Lake camp. George is substantially smaller than Goose and many of the buildings are connected – yay not always needing to walk outside! Sadly, the women’s washrooms and our ‘tent’ were among the unconnected buildings. At least it had warmed up substantially. I even got the camp tour without needing a coat! My sweater, jeans, and, now-beloved snow boots were warm enough.

While walking to the women’s washroom from our ‘tent,’ I spotted a moving flash of white – an arctic hare! It dashed away pretty quick, but it was still pretty neat to see one from just a couple metres away.

If it’s possible, the food at George is even better than at Goose. After another great dinner (I feel like I did little more than eat while in camp – for very good reason!), we sat in on the weekly safety meeting.

Another wander around camp (it takes little more than 10 minutes to walk the footprint of the George site) and we returned to our ‘tent.’ There was still light on the horizon at 10pm and we saw a hare prance from the sleeping tents across camp. Huge white fluffy coat – tiny little legs! I imagine they’re crazy lean under all that fur.

I managed to stay awake until 1am and we bundled up in hopes of catching a show.

We had excellent timing and watched the Northern Lights for about 20 minutes. I’ve seen them before in Northern Alberta, but the experience in the Arctic was so different.

The darkness of the sky seemed bigger and higher. If the sky feels 100km away in Vancouver, it felt like 150km in Northern Alberta, and it was 1,000km away in the arctic. Huge, enormous, endless.

The Northern Lights swept from horizon to horizon, peaking right above us and towards the right. They were mostly white, with hints of green and yellow and a little purple. Pastels appropriate for spring. The soft brilliance of the light reminded me of the colours that filter through stained glass in sunlight and diffuse across the floor.

There are a lot of sights that cameras can’t capture and that words can’t express. As we stared up at the lights, all I could say was “Wow.” Vocabulary failed me. “Wow.”

After our ears adjusted to the constant hum of the generator, we could hear the Northern Lights. I’ve heard them crackle before, but this was a softer sound. More like the rustle of a taffeta ballgown than the snap and pop of a campfire.

The lights shifted and swayed. And I needed to remind myself that they were not CG. No one had designed them using a software program, they were just happening.

Just as the cold started to become too much, the activity began to die down. We retreated to bed and I slept soundly, feeling exceptionally lucky to have caught the Northern Lights on our last arctic night.

Several planes were supposed to go through Goose Lake the day we went to George, but only one was able to land around 10pm that night. Thankfully, all of the staff who were supposed to leave on Monday (generally, people go in and out of site on Mondays and Thursdays) were able to get back to Yellowknife and continue their journeys home.

We left George Lake on a Dornier (an aircraft I had never heard of before), fully clad in winter gear and feeling more than a little squished in the small plane. On the 120-minute flight to Yellowknife we passed over two diamond mines: Diavik and Ekati. It was pretty neat to see where Canadian diamonds actually come from.

We arrived in Yellowknife several hours before our flight south. After depositing our winter gear with the logistics company, we headed to the Black Knight Pub for lunch and a couple pints.

Both camps are entirely liquor-free (which is pretty standard for remote locations) and having the option to have a beer in Yellowknife felt a bit foreign – as did getting the cheque at the end of the meal! We’d gotten pretty used to having great food in camp simply provided 😉

A quick cab ride to the airport from downtown and we were headed back to Edmonton. The bright clear weather continued until just outside of Edmonton and provided incredible views of Great Slave Lake and all the little lakes that dot the landscape. Minnesota may be the land of ten thousand lakes, but the Northwest Territories seems like the land of a million lakes!

We were in the arctic for just five days (one night in Yellowknife, three at Goose Lake, and one at George), but I felt like I adjusted quickly. The tremendous brightness of the blue skies, blazing sun, and reflection off the snow stopped being so dazzling and the cold felt more manageable. I certainly would love to see what the areas like in the summer and this trip sparked my interest in visiting Whitehorse and comparing the mountainous terrain there with the vast tundra of Yellowknife.

I knew that the trip would be unlike anything I’d experienced before. I didn’t realize that it would change my ideas of what Canada is and that I would be so impressed by the arctic.

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The quest continues

Laura smiling at a brilliantly coloured shave ice in Maui

Around this time last year I wrote about mental health and how the previous February had been a low point. This February, my mental health continues on an up-swing. I’ve been off of anti-depressants for about eight months, I’m feeling more secure in my own skin, and I’ve found all kinds of joy (including vacations with friends and shave ice!).

I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and periods where negative self-talk makes me feel worthless. I still wish that there was some kind of guarantee that I won’t ever be clinically depressed again. I still get anxious and sad and worried. I still sometimes feel directionless and unsure of how to be happy.

I am getting more comfortable approaching recovering from depression as a non-linear process without an end point. The quest for mental wellness is an ongoing part of my life, as I think it is for most people.

FB-LetsTalkTalking about mental health overall and making it okay to prioritize mental wellness is an important step in managing mental illness. Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, which aims to reduce the stigma around mental illness (like depression) and supports mental health initiatives in Canada. For every tweet using #BellLetsTalk and every Facebook share of the Bell Let’s Talk image, Bell will donate 5¢ to mental health related programs through the Bell Mental Health Initiative.

I think the most profound impact Let’s Talk can have is not in terms of money, but encouraging people not to be ashamed or afraid of mental health issues. Mental wellness is a complex concept with a lot of contributing factors and creating comfortable space to talk about the quest to be mentally healthy is a big deal.

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