My return to Alexandra Fiord this summer was bitter sweet.
On the north east coast of Ellesmere Island, Alexandra lives also in my heart. She introduced me to the High Arctic, and on my visits I have seen life and adventure unfold, tasted my own mortality, and been engulfed by the profound healing power that raw beauty bestows.
And she is more.
Alexandra is quintessentially Canadian. Here was Canada’s northernmost RCMP post in the twenties and again in the fifties. Buildings, graves, and tattered documents in a jar under a cairn bear witness to bravado and self sacrifice in the name of sovereignty.
Even this fades.
Thousands of years before Alexandra’s name passed a white man’s lips, the paleo-Inuit made this place their home. Here they laughed, hunted, made love and gave birth. Here they found a way to live with a land at turns brutal and magnanimous. Here they danced the edges of mortal existence, defined a part of what it is to be human.
At a hearth thousands of years old, my fingers explore the texture of the boiling stones. Narwhal blow a misty rainbow, the diffusion of arctic light blurs the border between yesterday and tomorrow. It becomes immaterial.
I am in love with Alexandra. This. Place. I want my ashes scattered from this rock shelf where the walrus dive for sea cucumbers. My soul walks these bluffs and valleys.
In my time here, I believe I have opened some eyes; to the essential contribution the arctic makes to our country, our world, to the way it is slipping through our fingers.
Yet, this summer I could not avert my eyes from an unwanted reality.
Sea ice is dwindling, and with it the walrus. The air is warmer, and mosquitos are here now. The glacier I used to paddle to and touch is inland. This land that whispers a thousand stories is buckling and heaving under the weight of a climate shuddering toward an uncharted reality.
I know I am part of this. The jet fuel burnt coming here, the first world life I live. Even as I love this place, I strangle the beauty that gives me love. Desperate eyes plead.
We Canadians are among the luckiest when it comes to the impacts of climate change. We likely won’t starve, flee a flooded home, or become refugees. Perhaps this is why we continue on, justifying.
Our loss is more ephemeral. We are losing part of who we are. For some, it may go unnoticed. For others it is the aching loss of a loved one.
I say goodbye to Alexandra looking out the window of a chartered Twin Otter.
Goodbye. Thank you. I’m sorry. I wont ever forget. You.
Author: Dave Weir Painting: John Carswell