Monday, November 10, 2008

A good haul at the library book sale

Twice a year, The Friends of the Yellowknife Public Library hold a book sale. The books (and videos) on offer come from the library, as it culls its collections, and from donations of Yellowknifers who are, likewise, culling their collections.

I generally avoid the book sale. Someday I'll post a photo of the chaos that is our library loft, and you'll see why. For now, just trust me when I say that I own too many books. The problem, of course, is that I love them all and don't want to give them away. But even I feel the occasional need to tidy up, and in the weeks leading up to the sale, I carefully select videos and books to donate and then make Pierre take them away before I change my mind. If I go to the sale, I may end up buying them back.

This fall, however, we spent a weekend at Blachford Lake Lodge, where I passed a good deal of time looking through the lodge's eclectic little northern library.

"Hey," I said to myself. "I need one of those."

I started collecting northern books shortly after I moved to Yellowknife in 1986, but quickly fell off. I realized, flipping through the books at Blachford, that a lot of the publications that had been fairly accessible to me away back then now had heritage value - annual reports of the Government of the NWT from the 1970s show a different North than the one we live in today.

But, hey, the hunt is part of the fun.

I know from the days of the Boy Scouts Book Sale (a sadly missed Yellowknife institution), that it can be difficult to get your hands on northern books - there are a number of collectors roaming the streets, all looking for the same titles.

So a couple of weeks ago, I found myself at the public library meeting rooms ten minutes after the special by-admission-only advance sale began. I heard the nice lady at the door tell another customer: "We have a small table of northern books at the back of the room."

Rats. Someone was already onto the northern books. By the time I paid my $5 and turned toward the northern table, someone else was hauling away a large box of books. Double rats! I politely elbowed my way through the crowds (yes - crowds), trying to peek into my competitor's box as I went past. No luck. Probably just as well - book envy is an ugly thing.

There was a group of people lingering in front of the northern table. A copy of Fred Bruemmer's "Seasons of the Eskimo: A Vanishing Way of Life" was perched atop a row of books.

"Let me get that out of your way," I said in my most helpful tone of voice, as I reached over someone.

The others at the table were either not as committed to snagging as many books as I was, or they simply couldn't take the get-out-of-my-way vibes coming off me. The gang quickly dissipated, leaving me to plunder.

Here are the highlights.

Best score? "Seasons of the Eskimo," published 1971.

Oldest book? "David Goes to Greenland," by David Binney Putman, published 1926.

The books that will be blasts-from-the-past in 20 years' time? "Diavik: Our Foundation, Our Future" and "Diavik: Constructing the Legacy," both about the establishment of the Diavik Diamond Mine.

Book with a personal connection? "The Northern Circumpolar World," by Bob MacQuarrie. The territorial Department of Education, Culture and Employment supported the development and publication of the book while I was working there, and I had some involvement in the project.

Most unusual? A cookbook of sour dough recipes from Alaska by Ruth Allman, 1976. (Note to self: try the flaming sourdough waffles.)

Lessons learned? Next time there's a sale - get there early!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A few words for Storyteller

I recently received some sad news: Storyteller, Canada’s Short Story Magazine, has ceased publication.

I discovered Storyteller back in 1999, through the summer program at The Humber School for Writers. My class had workshopped a story I’d written based on Yellowknife’s Ugly Truck and Dog Contest. Consensus was that it was entertaining. The problem was that my writing leans more towards the popular than the literary, which limits my publication options in Canada.

“Try Storyteller,” said classmate Joan Boswell.

So I did. Not only did they accept “The Ugly Truck and Dog Contest,” publisher Terry Tyo phoned to see why they hadn’t heard of me until that point. I explained that I was just starting to send out stories, but that they would continue to hear from me.

And they did. Over the years they published six of my stories. “The Prospector’s Trail” was re-published in a textbook for high school students, after the editors found it in Storyteller. The cover art for the Winter 2001 edition of the magazine featured Herb, a character in my story “Bug Bites.”

I know it’s important for organizations to be able to articulate the impact they have on others. Sometimes it helps with funding, sometimes it helps build partnerships, sometimes it just helps to carry on. So a few years ago I sent a thank-you e-mail to Terry and editor Melanie Fogel. This is some of what I said:

"Whenever I have a story published in Storyteller, I have no qualms about showing the magazine to my friends and colleagues. It is a nicely designed publication that consistently contains well-chosen, professionally edited stories. Many people take me more seriously as a writer once they see the quality of the magazine.

"I believe that my writing has improved over the past three or four years because of my association with Storyteller. Melanie’s coaching was essential in turning 'The NWT Yeti' into a publishable story. The lessons I learned on that re-write have stuck with me. Likewise, the edits she’s requested on subsequent stories show me where things tend to go off the rails."

I've remained a subscriber to Storyteller over the years, and have enjoyed the work of all the contributors. Their stories were entertaining and accessible.

So thanks again to Terry and Melanie, and all the other folks who have kept Storyteller running since 1994. It was a great magazine, and I will miss it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What’s with the cranberries this year?

I was walking through the grocery store the other day, when I noticed a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. She was standing in the check-out line; I went over and said "hello."

She wasted no time on irrelevant chit-chat (like "hi, how are you?").

"Have you been cranberry picking this year?"

"Yep," says I. "Last weekend."

"And . . . ?"

"And I don’t think we were the first people to hit the berry patch. We only got half a zip-loc."

She pursed her lips, shook her head. "No, no, it’s just like that this year. The berries aren’t where you expect them."

"Well, I thought I saw some evidence others had already been there: broken mushrooms and footprints in the lichen where someone had been walking."

She shook her head again. "No. It’s the berries. They probably weren’t there in the first place."

The conveyor belt whisked her groceries toward the till, and I moved on.

Later in the day, I had an appointment with my massage therapist. After the customary "where does it hurt?" conversation, she got straight to the point.

"Have you been berry picking this year?"


"And . . . ?"

"And when we found berries they were great: clusters of beautiful burgundy fruit, just like little grapes," says I. "But I think I chose a spot too close to town – someone beat us to it."

More of the lip-pursing and head-shaking. "No, no. It’s just like that this year. The berries aren’t where they usually are. We went to our favourite spot and . . . nada."

"Then where are they?"

She waved a hand. "Somewhere else."

So there you have it. Something strange is going on with the cranberries around Yellowknife this year. We all had high hopes. This summer’s weather was perfect for a bumper crop: long hot days, lots of rain at nights. And as noted above, when you find the berries, they’re great. It’s just that they are surprisingly elusive. Is this a permanent shift? Will we all have to find new preferred picking spots? Are the berries going to settle in their new locations for the long-term, or will they be migrating to different locations every year? We await the answers . . .

(Photo above was taken in 2002, a much better year for cranberries.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekend at Blachford Lake Lodge

I'm trying to chip away at a new story, but autumn in the North provides too many distractions.

The most recent was a two-day trip to Blachford Lake Lodge, a 20-minute float plane ride from Yellowknife. I've been to the lodge a number of times, and know better than to take my laptop, story drafts, or even my yoga mat, for that matter. You have to make the most of your Blachford time, and when you're not eating (waistline warning: chef on site), you need to take advantage of the walking/skiing trails that loop out past the lodge, or the fishing opportunities (by boat in summer, through a hole in the ice in winter), or skating, sliding, dog sledding . . . whatever the season has to offer.

This was the first time I've gone fishing at Blachford. I didn't catch anything, but Pierre caught three pickerel at a nearby lake. He turned them over to chef Marc-Andre, who served them almondine-style on Sunday. Both guys were considered heroes by the lunch crowd.

The never-ending cycle of meals is a blur, but I remember whitefish, smoked char pasta, tomato soup flavoured with local juniper, apricot and white chocolate scones, braised red cabbage, rosti potatoes, fruit crumble, and ever so much more.

Spending time in the outdoor hot tub is one of my favourite year-round activities. After sipping champagne under the stars, it was a relief to get out of the water without worrying that my wet feet were going to freeze to the deck before I found my flip flops, or that my robe - wet from my pre-tub shower - was going to be frozen stiff, and therefore unwearable. (A hazard when tubbing at -40.) On the other hand, the northern lights tend to be better in the winter. It is quite cool watching them as the steam from the hot tub freezes into frost on your hair.

I took a book to read, but spent a good deal of time going through the lodge's eclectic little "northern library," which includes a number of books from the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s. Interesting to see how the North has changed over the years . . . and how it hasn't.

We arrived home yesterday evening, and so it was back to reality. I really should spend some time on my story, though, because cranberry-picking season is upon us, so guess what will be distracting me next weekend?

(Top photo: the main lodge. Bottom photo: rear of the original cabin on the Blachford property, now called "Trappers' Cabin," after Henry Cadieux and his wife, whose families are long-time residents of the area.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An evening cruise on the Norweta

Pierre and I spent last night cruising Yellowknife Bay and Back Bay. Not an unusual circumstance in itself, but instead of bobbing along in our little boat, we plied the waters aboard the Norweta. A small cruise ship based in Hay River, NWT, the Norweta frequently makes its way across Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife, as well as up the Mackenzie River to Inuvik. The Mackenzie River cruises are particularly popular, attracting people from all over the world.

Last night’s event was a dinner cruise to raise funds for the NWT Mining Heritage Society. It was a great opportunity to visit with old friends, and to make some new ones. Cocktail hour was spent on the ship’s upper deck, while float planes took off and landed not far from us. There was a bit of a breeze, so we also got to watch sailboats gliding along, as well as the ever-present motor boat traffic.

After dinner below deck in the dining room, we were treated to quick history of mining in the Yellowknife area by Geddes Webster, a former mining engineer and public servant who lived in Yellowknife during its early days. Mr. Webster has carefully recorded his stories of Yellowknife, and the people who founded our community, in a book called The Prospectors' Pick. Needless to say, a copy now resides on our bookshelves.

Pierre and I live across the street from Yellowknife Bay, and have seen the Norweta slip past our front window many a time. Its movement is so silent and stately that we've taken to calling it "the ghost ship." I’ve been on day-cruises on the Norweta two or three times over the years, and appreciated the chance to go aboard again last night. The family that owns the boat is planning to retire, so have put it up for sale. No one’s sure what the future will bring for the little ship. It’s a part of our history, and like many other northerners, I hope it will stay in the NWT.

(The photo above was taken at the government dock in the Old Town; the one below was taken from our front deck this evening.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Oxford on my mind

Ten years ago today, I was preparing to say farewell to one of my favourite places: Oxford, England.

I am a university geek. I probably should have been a professor, but that's not an option when you live a thousand kilometres away from the closest university. My first encounter with Oxford University occurred towards the end of my English degree with Athabasca University; a history prof and an English prof decided it would be fun to hold three-week summer courses in Oxford, so I signed on for the English course.

It was, sadly, a credit course, so I spent much time in my room labouring over my assignments. It occurred to me later that I needed to return and see everything I'd missed, so in the summer of 1998, I attended the University of Oxford International Summer School for six glorious weeks.

Five mornings a week, we attended lectures. We had four tutorials per week. The rest of the time, we read, wrote, went on tours (I think I saw four Stratford productions that summer), and explored the heart of the oldest university in England.

The best part was that I belonged to the university. I had a library card, so got to see the inside of buildings that were closed to mere tourists. One memorable day I sauntered into the Radcliffe Camera, a beautiful round building that is one of University's libraries, and ordered a book written by Julia Briggs, a professor who had delivered one of our morning lectures. The lecture was probably about Virginia Woolf (as was every second lecture, for some reason), but the book I requested was called Night Visitors, a history of the English ghost story.

Oxford is a national repository for books, and most have to be stored underground, because there's (clearly) not enough shelf space. So I waited as my book chugged up from the depths on a conveyor belt, then took it upstairs to read. Excited as I was to have the book in front of me, I spent more time staring out the window at the spires of neighbouring All Souls College than perusing Night Visitors. I've spent the intervening years trying to find my own copy of that book; I finally tracked one down on eBay a couple of months ago.

So 10 years ago today, the lectures had wound up, the assignments marked and handed back, and my bags were half-packed. Right about now I would be sipping champagne at a farewell "drinks party" in the Rector's private garden at Exeter College, before sitting down to the closing banquet in the dining hall.

Do I think about going back? Oh, yes. And guess what? They now offer a summer course in creative writing. :-)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Canadian Authors Association conference

Let's get in the Way-Back Machine while I reminisce about CAA's CanWrite! 2008 conference, held in Edmonton last month.

It was the first time I'd been to a CAA event, and I'll be back for more. There were great panels about the state of the writing/publishing/book-selling world and sessions on craft. Ralph Keyes, the author of the brilliant "The Writer's Book of Hope" was the keynote speaker. There were many opportunities to buy books by participating authors. (Too many, in fact. I had to buy a new duffle bag to get all my loot home.)

And then there were the "added extras." An open mic with readers backed up by the Raving Poets Band, a jazz-type ensemble. The music meshed well with the readings; darned impressive considering it was improvised. During the closing breakfast, "Nellie McClung" showed up to describe her shaky start as a author, the type of tale that goes down well with struggling writers. And then there was the young photographer who came in to do publicity photos.

Did I mention the food? University of Alberta Conference Services outdid itself, and I am still working off the poundage gained at the incredible buffet meals.

Everyone was very friendly, so it was a good opportunity for me to meet some new folks - especially those in our neighbouring province of Alberta - and introduce myself to others I have "met" via e-mail.

The organizers did a great job, and I had a great time.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

They like me! They really like me!

I've just discovered that English Language Arts teachers in British Columbia have named me as one of their favourite authors. The teachers were surveyed by ArtStarts in Schools during the fall of 2007 on a number of issues related to teaching CanLit. The survey results include a page listing favourite authors. Far be it from me to drop names, but others on the list include Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Timothy Findley, and fellow northern writer Richard Van Camp.

I’m guessing the favourable opinion is based on my short story “The Prospector’s Trail,” which is included in Imprints 11, a textbook from Nelson Education Ltd. I knew I liked British Columbia - beautiful scenery AND impeccable literary taste!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quick! Someone pass the AfterBite!

AfterBite being an anti-itch lotion . . . and if you're not dependent on this fine product, as many northerners are, count yourself lucky.

On Monday I returned from a week in the bush, fishing with Pépé and friends in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. I am a reluctant camper, having given it up at age 14, much to the consternation of my fellow Girl Guides. (Is a Guide who doesn't camp really a Guide?) For the past couple of years the air charters to and from Quiet Cove have worked in such a way that I've only spent a manageable two or three days communing with the blackflies and mosquitoes. This year, however, it was a week or nothing.

We've had some rain recently, which creates the optimum environment for mosquitoes. There are many of them in the East Arm, they are the size of pterodactyls, and they are ravenous: I'm having nightmares about one little walk I took into the bush . . . a swarm of Hitchcockian portions formed . . . I was sure I'd be exsanguinated before I made it back to shore. The entire party had to scoot into the boat and push off, just to get clear.

I'm thinking of playing connect-the-dot with my bites, just to see what would come up, but that would take a long, long time.

Things were relatively quiet on the fishing front. Seems my glory days of catching twenty-something pounders have passed. So I read a book and a half in the boat, took some photos of the fabulous scenery, and swatted at mosquitoes with one of those nifty electrified-tennis-racquet-bug-killer-thingies that doesn't off nearly enough of the little blighters, but gives great satisfaction when you manage to connect.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

NorthWords a whirlwind

It's been a week since the NorthWords Festival wrapped up, and it's taken that long to mentally process everything that went on.

Random impressions. Extreme good luck to find myself sitting between Newfoundland authors Bernice Morgan and Michael Crummey during supper one night. Both are good company, as well as top-notch writers. Jennifer Storm, a young Winnipeg author who writes with an assurance well beyond her years. Nova Scotia writer Lesley Choyce giving a highly entertaining reading during the closing gala, even though his home was threatened by forest fire. Local writer Annelies Pool bringing down the house with a hilarious short story. Richard Van Camp, NorthWords president and resident big brother, who seemed to be everywhere at once, organizing, chatting, providing encouragement and advice. And Anita Daher, whom I thought I knew so well, absolutely stunning me with her self-assurance and charm as the MC of the closing gala.

My own activities also a blur. My how-to-set-up-a-website-workshop: so much material, so little time. The panel on blogs - did I say anything intelligent? Reading at two open mics, despite creeping exhaustion.

The festival board of directors deserve a big ol' round of applause. A small group of people organizes this ambitious event every year, and things once again went off without a hitch. Events like NorthWords are part of the reason Yellowknife is such a fab place to live. Way to go!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

NorthWords program posted

The program for Yellowknife's 2008 NorthWords Writers Festival has been posted.

I'm leading a workshop called Breaking the Electronic Barrier on Saturday, June 14, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. While I would never claim to be the All-Knowing Being of the Website Universe, I've set up a couple of websites using a couple of different methods (the original NorthWords website in 2007, and my own website) and am happy to share what I've learned.

I've been cruising the web since the Jurassic period, when it didn't support graphics, and all you saw was green text on a black screen. (Had to type in your own commands to move from one page to another, and everything.) Given my background in journalism and public relations, I've watched with interest as the web has evolved. Along the way I've picked up a bit about Hypertext Markup Language, design principles, and how a website figures into author branding. We'll be talking about these things, and many more. The workshop will be held in the computer lab at Aurora College, so we'll be doing some hands-on work. And - the postal service willing - we'll have a draw for a copy of The Non-Designers Web Book by Robin Williams and John Tollett.

Right after the workshop I'll be participating on a panel called Writing and the Electronic Universe with Anita Daher and Richard Van Camp, moderated by Annelies Pool. We'll be looking at social networking media, including blogs, MySpace, Facebook, etc., and how they affect readers and writers. I'm looking forward to this event as well, because as much as I love the web, I'm not thrilled about the growing number of ways to spend even more of my so-called free time in cyberspace. Who knows? I could come out of it a convert . . . or not!

Monday, May 19, 2008

New article on my website

I've just posted an article about the writing of "Diamond Girl," a short story published in North by North Wit: An Anthology of Canadian Humour a few years back. After the story was published, the editor of the Territorial Writers Association newsletter asked if I would put together a little piece on how I came to write the story. In true Cathy fashion, it turned out to be more than a "little" piece. (Don't forget - I'm pioneering a new literary form know as the "epic short story." For more on that, please see another of my articles.) I chopped the "Diamond Girl" item to newsletter size, but now, thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web, you can enjoy the entire experience!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An evening with Elizabeth Hay

The NorthWords Writers Festival and CBC Mackenzie hosted an interesting trip down memory lane last night, in honour of visiting author Elizabeth Hay. Just in case you’ve been living off the grid for the last few months, Ms. Hay won the 2007 Giller Prize for her novel Late Nights on Air, which follows a group of people working for CBC Radio in Yellowknife in the 1970s.

Late Nights includes reference to a couple of iconic northern stories: the Berger Inquiry of the 1970s, and the death of English explorer John Hornby on the Thelon in 1927. In keeping with these themes, the evening opened with Yellowknife author Patrick Scott reading from his recently released book, Stories Told: Stories and Images of the Berger Inquiry. Bruce Valpy, a local journalist and playwright, read from his celebrated play Hornby. I’ve heard a lot about Hornby, which was staged in Yellowknife before I arrived in 1986, so it was good to hear some of the script.

After Ms. Hay read from Late Nights, we heard clips from Focus North, the radio show she hosted while living in Yellowknife. CBC’s current morning show host Randy Henderson then led a panel discussion about what it was like to work at CBC Radio in Yellowknife back in the ’70s. Panelists included technician Bob Carr; Patrick Scott, who worked as a camera operator during the Berger inquiry; the ever-hilarious George Tucarro; and Elizabeth Hay. One of the important themes of the evening was the role of CBC in building a sense of community throughout the NWT. And that’s true – I know from my work as a government communications officer that if you want to get information out to the communities, you need to find a way to get it aired on CBC Radio because everyone listens to CBC.

My own history is wound up with CBC in Yellowknife. Pépé moved north to work for CBC as a camera operator. A lot of our friends are CBC folk. And I’ve spent many hours running around trying to find information for CBC reporters during my career. It’s not hard for me to imagine the world of Late Nights on Radio.

The evening’s discussion did, indeed, make me nostalgic for Yellowknife of the olden days, when the town was still very small and friendly. When I moved here in the mid-80s, there were only 11,000 people and one set of traffic lights downtown. Crossing the main drag was no problem for pedestrians, because motorists would screech to a halt if someone on the sidewalk vaguely looked like they were thinking about crossing at some point (maybe, possibly, perhaps) in the next ten minutes or so.

Having said that, the discussion reminded me that many things remain the same in Yellowknife. People are still friendly (even if the motorists are considerably ruder). People – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – still live close to the land. CBC Radio continues to build a sense of community. And the place retains its anything-is-possible vibe. Maybe you can no longer walk into CBC and get a radio job without any training. (As apparently you could in the ’70s. I couldn’t get a job there in the ’80s and I had training.) But Yellowknifers are busy pursuing their dreams without a lot of hang-ups. The place is crawling with artists – writers, musicians, visual artists, dancers – who routinely put themselves out there. And the community is unfailingly supportive. A holdover from the days before satellite TV when we had to invent our own amusement? Perhaps, but I think it’s just the nature of our little town.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

NorthWords, ho!

Good news - the organizers of the NorthWords Writers Festival have invited me to participate as a guest author this year. The festival will be held in Yellowknife, June 12 to 14. Visiting writers include Lesley Choyce, Bernice Morgan, Michael Crummey, Jennifer Storm, Richard Van Camp, and my good friend (former Yellowknifer) Anita Daher. I will be joining a number of other local authors: Annelies Pool, Jamie Bastedo, Mindy Willett, Patrick Scott, Pat Braden, Tessa Macintosh, Tyler Heal, Walt Humphries and Fran Hurcomb.

This is the third year for NorthWords. I was on the organizing committee for the previous two festivals - I'm glad to be involved again, albeit in a different way.

Details are still being worked out - more later!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pépé’s Bistro

My husband (sometimes known as “Pépé”) runs a collection of bird feeders in the backyard. I use the word “run” because it is much like running a restaurant, catering to the needs and desires of the crowd of LBBs (Little Brown Birds) who spend hours loading calories to make it through our -40 weather. The bird feeders are collectively known as “Pépé’s Bistro.”

Pépé’s has proven so popular this year that ptarmigan have flocked there to indulge in its delights. We've seen ptarmigan at the bird feeders before, but nothing like this. I am talking about a lot of ptarmigan - like a couple dozen at a time. And they've been around for weeks now. Some of them are starting to change colour - you can spot dark feathers on the throat or back of the head. Not that the snow is showing any sign of melting, so the poor little blighters could find their natural camouflage is out of sync with their surroundings.

Ptarmigan, for those of you who don’t know, are cute, chubby birds that look like medium-sized lumps of snow. They can fly, but often prefer to walk. The snow in our back yard is now patted down by the prints of their feather-covered feet. (Yes, it looks like they’re wearing little booties.) They moult in the spring, with brownish feathers growing in, which helps them blend in on the tundra. Heaven knows they need the protection - it's not like they survive because of their street smarts.

Ptarmies are cute, but they're dumb little bunnies. Many a time I’ve come across a flock wandering down the street, and have had to honk (loudly) to get them to move out of the way. (Duh.) Other drivers are not as patient, and those ptarmies that end up as roadkill contribute to the caloric intake of another classic northern bird - the raven.

Speaking of ravens and ptarmigan - as soon as my collection of short stories finds a publisher, you’ll be able to (re)read my short story “The Yellowknife Yeti” and my take on ptarmigan and ravens.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dog Derby weekend

It's Caribou Carnival in Yellowknife, but things are pretty subdued this year. No tents down on Frame Lake with food and activities, no Ugly Dog and Truck Contest. Caribou Carnival depends on volunteers, and it seems everyone is tapped out because of the Arctic Winter Games, which wrapped a couple of weeks ago. That event took 2,500 volunteers, most of whom were local.

The big event this weekend is the annual Canadian Championship Dog Derby. The race is held over three days and covers 150 miles.

For many, many years I've gone down to Frame Lake for the start of the race, trying to get the perfect dog sledding photo. This year I finally have a digital camera that shoots fast enough, and corrects for the brightness of the snow, so I'm having better luck.

Someday I'll have to take a tape recorder to capture the sound of the dogs before the race begins. When the handlers start taking them out of the trucks and putting them into their harnesses, there's a lot of yipping and squealing - the dogs love to run, and just want to get going. Then the starting gun goes off, and everything is silent, except for the hiss of the sled runners on snow and the occasional instruction from the mushers.

Here's a shot from the start of the race on Friday.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday afternoon at the Snow King's castle

The sun was shining this afternoon, and it was only -7C, so we headed out to see the Snow King's castle on Yellowknife Bay. The Snow King has been building castles just off the edge of the Old Town for the past 13 years. The architecture is never the same two years running (as far as I can tell), and it's always fun to see this year's design.

The castle is the centre of all sorts of arts and leisure activities. When we got there, we found our friend Dave supervising curling on a couple of make-shift sheets beside the castle. The NWT Mining Heritage Society was running it as a fund-raiser for its work.

Inside, there was a rather fab snow sculpture of the Snow King himself, paintings by a local artist and archival photos of Yellowknife on the walls, and a folk singer performing on stage. A number of our friends told us about some of the evening events we'd missed, including a fashion show and the Snow King's Royal Ball. I need to keep better track of these things.

We sat and had a hot chocolate while buddy on stage belted out the folk tunes. (Must have been from the Maritimes. There was a definite lobster theme in the lyrics.) We went up to the ramparts to wave at the folks below before heading home via the Detah ice road/Ingraham Trail loop.

One of those quintessential Yellowknife afternoons.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Yep, that's me

. . . in charge of a dog team. I'm looking pretty relaxed now that we're standing still, but the knuckles were white while we were moving. Maybe I'm paranoid (or just self-aware), but I was expecting to fall off the sled, and have the dogs bolt for parts unknown.

And those puppies can pull. They're part of Frank Turner's Yukon Quest dogteam. I was in Whitehorse last week for the Northern Communications Conference, and was lucky enough to tap into a session on dogmushing as a metaphor for leadership at the Turners' Muktuk Kennels. After the rigours of a thousand-mile race, a spin on the Yukon River with a bunch of conventioneers was probably a let-down for the dogs, who had a little too much energy for my liking. Fortunately, my sledding partner, Chris, got them settled down before it was my turn.

The conference itself was a lot of fun, and a good opportunity to connect with other communications types in the Yukon, Nunavut and the NWT. I'm supposed to be heading over to Iqaluit in May for another meeting. Looking forward to that one, too, since it's been years since I've been to Nunavut.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sunrise, with ice fog

This morning's sunrise over Great Slave Lake, photo taken about 9:15 a.m., -44C.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Not that I'm obssessed

. . . about the weather, but take a look at the photo I shot at 11 a.m. this morning, as I was heading out to do my icky-Saturday-shopping-chores.

Yesterday the NWT Power Corporation asked people in Yellowknife and Behchoko to voluntarily conserve power, so that the whole grid doesn't go down. I work in the Government of Canada building, and the owners put the building on emergency backup during peak usage hours, to help reduce the strain on the system. So far things are holding. The only outage occurred a few nights ago, and the brown-out that preceded that one fried TVs across the city, including ours. :-(

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mercury still dropping

Sad to report that January 16 was not the coldest night of the year. When I got up this morning it was -47C. And if that isn't freaky enough, the power went off last night for a good hour. We have a woodstove, and I quickly sized up the logs stacked next to it. Time to lay in a bigger supply, I'd say. There's a lot of ice fog right now - probably caused hoar frost on the power lines, and that caused the outage.

To celebrate the cold snap, I climbed to the top of Bush Pilots Monument this evening to take a photo of the ice fog over the city. Here's what I got (in addition to frostbitten fingers).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Coldest night of the year?

Went down to -41C last night. Not surprising for January in Yellowknife.

Compensations? Saw the northern lights last night while walking home from work. When it's cold, it's clear, and it's the first time in ages that I've seen them. Spent today in a workshop in a local hotel conference room. From the windows we could see down the Franklin Avenue hill to the Old Town. Trees, rocks, the Franklin Avenue Trailer Park - everything white and misty with ice fog. At mid-morning a nice pastel sunrise - yellow, pink, a touch of blue sky before the clouds moved in.

It's -34C right now - things are heating up!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas in Yellowknife

Another holiday season draws to a close. The Christmas cookies are long gone. All that remains of the turkey is an inch of soup in the bottom of the pot. The eggnog I feel compelled to buy every year was used to make French toast this morning.

This Christmas has been relatively quiet - the festive season in Yellowknife is generally a month-long binge of eating and drinking as we all try to blow off some steam, bulk up our fat reserves to counter the -30 degree weather, and try to forget that we're getting a mere four hours of sunlight a day . . . and that's only if the sun actually shines. (Which it hasn't been, lately.)

A highlight of the season was a reveillon (French Canadian Christmas Eve celebration) out on one of the houseboats. In the summer the houseboats bob happily on the waters of Yellowknife Bay; in winter, of course, they are frozen into the ice. There was a bonfire outside, and a toasty woodstove inside, along with tourtiere, sugar pie, salad rolls (okay, not a French Canadian speciality, but memorable just the same), and many other treats. In years gone by, we'd go to parties on another of the houseboats. The road across the ice to that one was fairly straight, and when the house was quiet and a vehicle was approaching, it sounded like a bowling ball coming down the alley.

The downtime over the holiday was been a good thing - 2007 was a bit much, at times. I'm now getting my ducks in a row for 2008. I've made arrangements to go to some writing events, started a new piece, and bought a new memory card for my camera, so I can take more YK pics. Onward, ho.