Dust

all the things
i wanted to say
as the dust settled

dawson

i watched you
uncurling your frame
into the drivers seat

21 inches of you
uncurling
from your mother’s womb

yesterday

and years ago

and now your time
to fly, dream,
live

across oceans

and away

_______________________________
as you left
you said
“Dad,
I want to make you proud”

leaving dust
in the air
_______________________________
how do I say
the words
that tore
through me

i wept
as the dust settled

_________________________________
Son,

i am proud

of the love
in your heart

i am proud

of the beauty
you see in our world

i am proud

of the kindness
you share

__________________________________
time will try
to tear these things
from you

love, beauty, kindness

but
they are all
you will ever need
__________________________________
in the dust
my tears stung

how could i ever
be prouder
than i am
of you

 

 

Author: Dave Weir     Photo: Unknown

 

Len

Len,

on the day you died
i flew your flag

Candice - flag

at seventy nine degrees
North latitude

before the pack ice and glaciers
Arctic Terns dove and fed

above the walls
of our northernmost RCMP post
in a crisp north wind

Len,

Pride flew

______________________________

i remember,

in your living room
a few weeks before
we spoke of your flag

i remember,

your words

“Dave, this isn’t about being gay,
or transgender,
this is about everyone,
about diversity”

______________________________

a week after you died
and a little further north
i sat atop the bare rock
of Loon Island

i led my group here
and then,
then we waited,
cornered by an East wind and the heavy ice it drove
unable to advance, unable to retreat
our kayaks tethered and idle
the airstrip we sought,
still 30 kilometres away

through the day and night i sat
watching for an opening
in the swirling ice
responsibility,
heavy on my shoulders

ice pans crashing and groaning
watching
violence in the currents

i remembered,
talking,
laughing with you
guiding with you
sharing responsibilities
in the decades gone by

at 4 am
i thought there might be an opening
a gamble
a longshot in the ice,
eight lives in my hands

heart in my throat
i woke my group
“get up, we’re going,
we need to move fast”

packing my gear
i looked up
an Arctic Fox stood there
not ten feet from me
velvety brown fur and gold yellow eyes
patiently
it watched me

and calm returned

______________________________

i remember,

when i left your hospital room
i said to you

“I will look for you in the Arctic”

i think i found you
or maybe

you found me

______________________________

Len,

in Alexandra Fiord
i flew your flag

and now your flag

Len,

your flag has become mine

 

 

Author: Dave Weir     Photo: Candice Stuart

I Need You To Understand

Before I try
to describe
this place to you

SD-berg and mist

I need you to see
how the light here
makes my heart sing
lyrics of happiness

I need you to feel
the wind dance across my skin
reminding me
to be alive is to feel love

I need you to smell
a vastness that frees my soul
to be at once
insignificant and immense

I need you to understand
that my life blood flows
not just in my veins

My life flows
not just in me

 

 

 

Author: Dave Weir     Photo: Sophie Deschamps

Qausuittuq Memories

It’s been two years of preparation for this day. We touch down in Canada’s newest national park, it’s first visitors.

camp in Qausuittuq National Park

Walking a nameless ridge I search for signs of others before me. Do they travel here from Resolute to hunt? Did the Thule or the Dorset make lives for themselves here? I hunger for signs of other people, an old cache, maybe a tent ring.

I search for signs of humanity wherever I travel in the Arctic. Somehow, when I find remains from the lives of others, I find a place for myself. A sense that I am not alien from this land, but am of it.

Today, nothing. Am I the first to walk this ridge?

As I trudge upwards, human figures loom from the corner of my eye, only to become rock formations when I turn to look. Then shift and become human again as I change focus.

Perhaps I shouldn’t focus. Perhaps there is another way to see.

I seek connection to this landscape, press my fingers to it’s wrist for a pulse. With time, I find it. I find it inside me before I find it around me.

I do not know if another human has stood here before me, but I do know that I am of this earth. That my bones belong as much as the bones of the caribou, or the paleo-Inuit who came before me.

There are times in the wild when the joy is so intense, the contentment so pervasive, that I can see clearly. The separation between me and the connection I yearn for, that separation is myself.

It is not the wind around me, it is the wind inside me.

 

 

 

Author: Dave Weir     Photo: Marlis Butcher

Ice Pan

I stood, trying to decipher a jumbled ice pan. Behind me, open water, beyond the ice, our camp.

Sarah Matula - AA Panorama

We could have backtracked, gone around. I went over.

On the ice, synapses fire, I am alive. The domain of humanity is defined by wildness, somewhere between grace and violence.

I yearn to live, submit to this Earth, disappear into my lover’s eyes.

At times I live in that place.

At times, troubled in the night, I reach out and find comfort in her familiar form.

At times I am utterly lost.

But in the looking, I find glimpses of myself.

 

 

 

Author: Dave Weir     Photo: Sarah Matula

Two Islands

I had the privilege this summer of visiting Beechey Island, a desolate wind swept stretch of gravel at 74 degrees north off the south west corner of the larger Devon Island. More importantly, these days, Beechey is the site of the graves of three men from the ill-fated Franklin expedition. It has become a symbol of Franklin’s expedition, and a symbol of Canada’s recently invigorated sovereignty claims in the arctic.

Marilyn - beechey island

The desolation and solemnity of Beechey settled deep into me as we drank a toast to Franklin’s men: Torrington, Braine, and Hartnell. As I watched the wind whip the foaming tops off a steel grey sea the horrific significance of this place was inescapable. Beechey is iconic in the founding stories of our nation.

But to stop the story with Beechey is to sell our country short.

At 79 degrees north, off the east coast of Ellesmere Island sits Skraeling Island. There, 4500 years of human history in the Canadian arctic lies at your feet. There, the bias of Beechey Island is laid bare.

At the top of a dry dirt slope about 30 meters above sea level are the remains of an ancient pre-Dorset hearth that has been carbon dated at 4500 years old. Walking down that slope one can literally walk through layers of history. Dorset tent rings date from 2500 years ago, and more recent Thule winter dwellings are 1000 years old.  A carpenter’s plane, rivets and wool fabric found here are of Viking origin, though nobody knows how they got this far north.  Here, one can look across to Alexandra Fiord, to the painted white and blue buildings of Canada’s northernmost RCMP post, dating from a scant 60 odd years ago.

Standing on Skraeling, I hold in my hand a boiling stone that was in use when the pyramids were built, and I am humbled by how transient and superficial the presence of my European ancestors is in the Canadian Arctic.  The recent find of the second of Franklin’s ships is fascinating, but it pales in comparison to the history of the paleo-Inuit that lived in these most northerly of lands, pushing the geographic envelope of human civilization. For me, Skraeling Island, not Beechey Island, is the symbol of Canadian Arctic history.

I am fascinated by the European explorers who endured countless hardships searching for the fabled north west passage, and striving to reach the elusive north pole. Names like Franklin, Sverdrup, and Larsen ring in my head. But then, my blood runs thick with my Scottish and Norwegian ancestry.

The European explorers of the arctic suffered time and again for their failure to recognize and learn from the traditional Inuit ways of life.  Indeed, the tragedy of the Franklin expedition is itself an example of the arrogance that my ancestors brought to this continent.

Today, we risk reliving the same arrogance.  Melting induced by climate change, coupled with a healthy dose of nationalism, has brought renewed attention to the matter of Canadian sovereignty in the arctic. We assert our sovereignty by pointing to the recent history of European explorers. Yet, it was the pre-Dorset, Dorset and Thule that populated these northern lands and waters for generation upon generation.

A thousand years before Franklin’s fateful voyage, the Thule people, the immediate ancestors of the modern Inuit, hunted, bore children, and carved out lives throughout what we now call the Northwest Passage. The Thule were a maritime culture, a people defined by water, not land – defined in fact by these same waters that today we struggle to claim sovereignty over.

The history of First Nations is critical in building the case for Canadian sovereignty in the arctic.  But much more importantly, to achieve our own moral sovereignty it is critical  we learn to accept not just the story of Franklin but also the story of the Inuit hunter as the story of our nation.

Inuit oral history tells a more recent story of sovereignty. In 1969 when the US government flaunted Canadian jurisdiction by failing to request permission for the SS Manhattan to traverse the Northwest Passage, it was two Inuit hunters that stopped the super tanker by driving their dogsleds into its path. The Canadian government denies the incident took place.

Standing atop the dry gravel slope of Skraeling Island, I feel my connection to this land as keenly as I feel the wind blow across my face.  Accepting the importance of the paleo-Inuit people that lived here 45 centuries ago, as well as the accomplishments of Franklin in the 1850’s, does not diminish, but enriches my connection to this place. Just as it enriches who I am as a Canadian. Truth and reconciliation demand that we rewrite the bias of the past.

The key to sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic is not to be found inside the sunken hull of the Terror. The key is to be found out on a battered ice floe, clasped firmly in the bloody and weather beaten hands of an Inuk hunter as he butchers a seal for his family.  The history of the Inuit and paleo-Inuit in the arctic is the history of Canada in the arctic.

And it is a history to be proud of.

 

 

 

Author: Dave Weir     Photo: Marilyn Scriver

Thomsen Wolf

Muskoxen, shadowed at a distance. Patience stretches out beyond sight.

Teeth flash, dispense a violent peace. White muzzle drips blood red.

Darkwoods 2010

The next day, her riverside dance was pensive.

I watched. Joyous. Troubled. Reverent.

We followed her, elusive. This place, tent rings thousands of years old.

A knowledge, lost all these years. Unless you are wolf.

Did you lead us here?

A pack around us. The howling snares my breath somewhere between lungs and throat. I feel it through the soles of my feet. They are nowhere to be seen, the invisible blinds me.

What do you want of me, wolf?

Tell me.

Shall I speak what is lost inside me?

 

 

 

Author: Dave Weir     Photo: Dave Quinn