Wednesday, March 4, 2015

NWT Reflections, part 3: Throw-away wilderness


Saturday, our second full day in Tulit'a, we went exploring. 

Yes, sign behind oil drums reads 'BATTRIES'.
The first place our friend Jean took us to look for wildlife was the local dump, which is just that. A halfhearted landfill, the facility is a dumping ground for an astonishing range of toxins, hazardous wastes, appliances, decrepit vehicles, and the community's entire stash of trash. Most of it is starkly visible above ground, only partially blanketed in snow. 

For some depressing info on the situation of trash in isolated Northern communities, see these links: Sahtu Hazardous Waste Inventory ProjectContaminated Sites in the NWT. The Project to reduce appliances as trash is a welcome positive antidote.
Not only do ravens and rodents thrive here, but according to our hosts, so do some fairly habituated foxes, wolves, and bears. Because some community member vocally prefer watching wildlife to fencing the dump, the situation persists.

Thus, the wildlife scene at the dump is a pretty reasonable destination for wildlife watchers. Ready with our cameras and my sketchbooks, we had high hopes...but saw only ravens. 

Until we drove away from the dump.
That's when we spotted a lynx trotting down the road. It jumped the berm of snow lining the road, then paused at the forest edge and watched us watch it for a while. We got another look at it when it crossed back out, and headed down the road toward the dump.
We didn't have time, in the moment, to contemplate that juxtaposition - lynx and landfill. We were busy looking for the critter, and ogling the astonishingly clear tracks it left on the crust of what turned out to be thigh-deep snow.

Ever since, though, we've been collectively pondering the darkly eloquent metaphor the situation offers. Admittedly, it is absurd to 'drop in' to this place where two rivers meet (which is what Tulit'a means) for just a few days and hope to draw terribly credible conclusions. 

This holds true even though we are being hosted by people totally steeped in the complexities of life in this First Nations community. 

And yet, one thing seems true enough to mention it.

Not only is life often a serious challenge in the North, it is different - in both predictable and highly unlikely ways - from the lives we lead further south.





If you'd like to read the column, let your local newspaper or magazine editor know you want to see an illustrated version of the West in their publication!


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