There are some things that unite us all.
In Naujaat, a hamlet on the Arctic Circle, one of those things was a roving polar bear. He was close to town and had been spotted by several people. So when a few of us wanted to go on a hike, we had to have someone with a high-powered rifle to go with us.
You can't tell from the picture below but the man with the rifle who was protecting everyone is also wearing a Montreal Canadiens toque.
We got to the whale bones. There was no polar bear seen. The story is what happened on the way back.
First, some background.
I went to Naujaat to watch the first harvest from an innovative greenhouse. It's a pilot project, an attempt to bring fresh, low cost, healthy food to northern communities.
I filed online, radio and tv (some links are at the end of this post).
But while doing interviews, taking pictures and recording video, I was struck by all the Habs shirts, caps and logos in Naujaat. It was well after the playoffs were over, the height of summer, a period of almost continuous daylight.
It was fun and familiar (I grew up in Montreal). And surprising.
Yes, I spotted a kid with a Calgary Flames shirt and someone else sporting a Canucks logo. I even saw Oilers star Connor McDavid's name scratched into the side of building.
But Naujaat looked like Montreal Canadiens town.
On the walk back from the whale bones, however, that changed.
I had said goodbye to my companions. I was alone, me and my backpack full of gear. I was heading to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
Coming towards me, there was a boy and girl. I guessed they were both about 12 or 14 years old.
Like everyone else in Naujaat, they were friendly and curious about the man with the microphone sticking out of his backpack.
"What's your name?" the boy asked. Everybody knew that phrase. I had been asked that question dozens of times during my stay and I was pleased to chat. We exchanged names and stopped.
Problem was, aside from some very basic phrases, we had little in common and a pretty serious language barrier.
The silence between us was full of goodwill. But nobody had the right words.
The boy, I noticed, was wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs hat. So, after a bit, I gently flicked the bill.
"Toronto," I said. And then I shook my head, trying to sum up the team's dismal finish in the previous season and long championship drought.
"Montreal," I said emphatically, playing on what seemed to be the local favorite.
It worked. Just not the way I expected.
The girl, unlike so many others in the hamlet, was apparently not a Montreal fan. Or perhaps she was keen to defend the honour of her younger brother, if that's what he was.
She thought. She found words. A way to taunt.
"Montreal," she said slowly and carefully, "is stupid."
She paused, waiting for a reaction.
I didn't give her much. I rolled my eyes in mockingly. I shook my head dismissively.
This inspired her. But not in English.
Out came a torrent of words. She had a series of Montreal-centred insults, I was sure. She seemed to be telling her companion to translate but he was refusing. He might also have been incapable but I got the distinct impression he thought her invective was too rude and too rich to be relayed.
He laughed and laughed again, resisting her pleas for help.
That motivated her even more. She stopped, pursed her lips, frowning and thinking.
Then her face broke into a wide smile. She had me in her sights.
"Montreal," she said slowly and proudly, "is toilet."
I laughed. The boy laughed. She smiled, triumph in her eyes.
Standing on the Arctic Circle, in the fading light of an almost endless summer day, we connected, brought together by logos and loyalties. And hockey.
It rages on our roads. It appears without warning and then taunts drivers and passengers alike. It can vanish, sometimes for months. But it always comes back.
I'm talking about Strap Howl, the humming, moaning and howling sounds made by the straps that hold a canoe to a vehicle's roof.
Sounds like Canada? Sure. But this is one national icon I could do without. This three season monster haunts our highways.
I thought I had it licked. On a recent trip north, straps held my canoe snugly and securely. The Beast was silent.
The way back was different. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I hit 80 km an hour. It started as a growl, a warning of what was to come. It got much worse when I hit the big highway and was able to go 100.
The Beast roared. Endlessly. Same roads, same canoe, same straps ... it didn't matter.
I got off the highway and adjusted everything. Nothing worked. The growling, howling sound was with me for the whole ride.
Canoeing, to me, is magical when it is nearly silent, be it a quiet paddle in the morning mist or at sunset, with still water the colour of red gold.
Howling down the highway with a canoe is the exact opposite of what I treasure.
Over the years, I have learned to twist the straps and keep them tight (some say flat straps are quieter, but not in my experience). I have carried canoes all over the place without humming and howling, only to have the unbearable noise return, without any reason I can find.
It's back this summer. I don't know why. I have bought many straps in the attempt to defeat the Beast. I will try them all and try all suggestions.
For this is driving me mad.
Superb canoe builder Jack Hurley celebrates Canada Day with an entertaining speech about legendary explorer and astronomer David Thompson. Jack has passion for the Thompson, his accomplishments and Canada. He spoke at the unveiling of a new plaque detailing Thompson's activities in the Oxtongue Lake area.
Thompson is often called the greatest land geographer who ever lived. On foot, on horseback, by dog sled or in a canoe he travelled 90,000 kilometers in North America, mapping about one fifth of the continent - more than anyone else. Not bad for a guy with one good eye. As a child, he lived in poverty. As an adult, he died in obscurity. Only later were his achievements fully understood.
If Thompson could overcome his challenges, what's a little weather? It's raining. But I'm going paddling ... in a canoe restored by Jack Hurley.
That's producer Carla Turner and me picking up an award for a radio piece we filed from Auschwitz. We filed a series of stories on radio, tv and online about the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We followed a courageous Canadian who had been in the camp and went back to face her horrors. It was a deeply moving experience. I am grateful for the chance to work with talented people like Carla. And grateful to those who shared their stories, no matter how painful.
At one point, we worked thirty hours straight. But throughout, we felt it was an honour.
Click on the button below for a sample of our coverage.
Seriously ... textile recycling is catching on. Some would say ... finally. Here's my online and TV stories on the topic. I learned a heck of a lot. Starting with ... there is no reason to throw socks into the trash.
The remote northern community was in a suicide crisis. The chief of the First Nations community had declared a state of emergency.
We flew in. The hours were very long. The experience was moving and unforgettable.
When our team pulled out I was left behind for a bit. The travel glitch was hardly a hardship.
Click on the button to be taken to my reporter's notebook on CBC.ca.
The full glamour of TV news on display as Maxime Beauchemin edits a story for Radio-Canada correspondent Philippe Leblanc.
The team filed in English and French. Online, on TV and radio. I was proud to be with these people. From left to right
Maxim Beauchemin, Nicole Brewster, Havard Gould, Philippe Leblanc, Mark Gollom, Olivia Stefanovich. In front, with camera, Martin Trainor. I can't describe the roles of each because everyone helped everyone else, every day.
I am starting to appreciate what I once had. I have seen many meteor showers in the past and failed to appreciate how lucky I was back then. Clouds and pollution (light and air) have ruined some of my best chances of seeing streaks of light lately.
Does anyone still remember Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football? Cultural references can fade over time, so for the unaware Lucy would hold the football for the chronically optimistic Charlie Brown. She would always snatch it away at the last moment. And he would always overcome common sense, listen to her promises and believe that “this time it will be different”. Of course when he ran towards the ball, she would once again pull it away.
I’m not Lucy. I make no promises. I fully expect there to be clouds, light pollution and any number of other factors preventing tonight’s light show.
But I will be out looking.
This is an interesting one. The button leads to an article with a guide to watching the Quadrantids meteor shower on Jan. 3, 2016.
It’s worth a try … again.
Defining moments are what I seek and what I do, as a journalist and as a writer.
This page is part blog, part gallery but all about moments, be they anticipated, telling or simply memorable.
"We do not remember days, we remember moments."
- novelist and poet Cesare Pavese