Journey From The Edge: Finding True North

A compass can help you find true north. It is a wonderful navigational tool.

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 But there is also a true north that is inside of us. An internal compass that guides our lives.

Sometimes, our compass is off. Sometimes, our compass needs adjusting. And sometimes, it takes an extraordinary experience to help us find our compass again…

And to have faith in new directions.

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As I head home from the edge, I realize that I have rediscovered my compass.

And that because of this journey, I have found my true north again.

I’m not sure where it will lead me or what I will discover and learn.

I only know that it’s working again…

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Journey to the Edge: The View is Glorious

Our last full day here.

I’m not sure words alone can describe the beauty and the magic of today.

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Luke, who is from Jamaica, called it “Brawta” which means extra in Patois.

It was more than any of us could have hoped for and more than we could ever dream of.

It was an extraordinary gift.

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Places and things that we hadn’t yet seen or experienced…until today.

Tomorrow we all leave.

Heading in many different directions and returning to our lives.

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But we will never forget…

The glorious view here at the edge.

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“…all you need to do is step outside and ride the energy of the earth, for there is always a brilliant sunrise, rolling fog, shifting seasons, and rising waters to experience; as well as new inviting lands to step foot on…..And the view is glorious.”

Victoria Erickson

 

Journey to the Edge: Lessons from the Arctic Circle

In this land of extremes…

There is so much to learn from the things that live, grow and thrive here.

From creatures large and small…

To the abundance of plants.

Each has a voice, a place, a purpose…no matter how small.

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And they are all connected.

Here on the edge…life is always changing.

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Everything must adapt.

As I spend my last full day here I think about everything I have felt and experienced.

The lessons I have learned.

I hope that this stays with me. I hope that I can stand strong in the face of adversity and when necessary adapt with grace to the changes in my life.

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Most of all I hope I never forget that life is all about living at the edge. Taking risks and not being afraid.

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Because the edge is where we learn to breathe and we learn to open ourselves to all the beauty life has to show us.

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It’s about taking leaps of faith, being inspired, and trusting in ourselves.

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I may be leaving here…

But this journey to the edge will always be a part of me.

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Journey to the Edge: The Search for Polar Bears

In the summer, the polar bears of the Hudson Bay region come ashore when the ice melts. It is here where they wait out the summer fasting, until the water freezes once again and they can go in search of food.

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I had no idea that it is actually more common to spot polar bears in the summer than any other time of year. Because they are closer to where humans live. Here at the center there have been many sightings…by other people.

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We have wanted to see a polar bear. And we have believed this to be a strong possibility. After all, whenever we go out into the field, we always have a bear guard with us.

During our day in town, some of us were fortunate enough to see some polar bears. I saw one from out in the bay that was on the beach. Others in my group saw a mother and her cub on a rocky point.

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But we have all wanted to really see some…up close. To feel that exhilaration…that excitement. After all they are not something we could ever see in our every day world.

So, our Earthwatch researchers have been kind enough to take us out polar bear searching. We are always escorted by a bear guard because this isn’t something you do lightly. It is serious. And polar bears are very dangerous.

We still have not seen any polar bears up close. We saw one far off in the distance tonight and it was so fascinating to watch him through binoculars as he ambled through the rocky terrain.

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However, in our search, our quest for the elusive (to us) polar bear, we have traveled to some beautiful places along the shore. We have taken pictures and soaked up the magnificence of this special place. We have stood on glacial rock formations and looked out across a bay that is as endless as the ocean. We have enjoyed time together. Forming bonds and connections that will last long after our time here is done.

We still hope we see more polar bears. But we are enjoying the search and this journey together…here at the edge.

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Journey to the Edge: A Day in Town

The Churchill Northern Studies Center is about 19 km from the actual town of Churchill. The town is right on the Hudson Bay and on the eastern shore of the Churchill River which flows into the bay.

It is a place full of history, culture, industry, and wildlife.

Today…we spent the day in town.

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Exploring, adventuring, learning and connecting.

There are no roads that lead to Churchill. You can only get there by plane, boat or train. In the town itself there are roads…but it is isolated in many ways from the rest of Manitoba, Canada…and the world.

The population is about 900 year round residents…many descendants of the Cree, Dene, and Inuits. Their history dates backs over 3000 years.

Throughout this area as well as other arctic areas of the world you will find Inukshuks. Rock people. These were made by the Inuit to mark or indicate the direction to a good hunting or fishing or camping spot. They also often were used to mark sacred places in the landscape. In Churchill, you will find them scattered throughout the town.

Everything is either shipped in or brought by train. It is a life of simplicity…

And struggle.

A strong tourist industry helps boost the local economy. But life here on the edge isn’t easy. You can see it in the faces of the residents.

Yet there is a pride…and a deep love of this land and her creatures. A respect of the harsh and extreme elements…and a spiritual reverence for the wildlife that coexists here in the lowlands of the Hudson Bay.

Our first adventure was a boat ride across the river at the mouth, where salt water meets fresh, to see the Beluga whales. This time of year they descend upon Churchill for calving season. There were dozens of whales. Many with their babies riding on their backs as they glide through the water. It was truly breath taking. These majestic creatures…swimming all around us…showing no fear, only curiosity. Talkative and playful as we listened in on their conversation over the hydrophone.

It is a sight and an experience I will never forget.

As we rounded one of the coves…there on the beach sat a huge male polar bear. The first I had ever seen in my life. They come ashore in the summer where they live near the water in and around the rocks. It is during the summer that they fast…waiting patiently for the ice to come again so they can feed. This male had been in that spot for about 3 weeks. Injured we learned, and so he was left alone.

I wasn’t able to get a clear picture…he blended so well with the beach. But his mighty image is etched in my mind and heart forever.

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This intense and up close interaction with nature…gives a new perspective on the interconnectedness of all life on this planet. Every species has a role and is an important piece of the puzzle we call life.

Here on the edge…

I am feeling my heart expand. Opening and understanding more and more about this fragile place we live.

Inspired to do all I can…to make a difference.

Journey to the Edge: In the Field

 Besides enjoying the splendor of this incredible place…I am here to work as well. There are 11 other teachers here with me. A wonderful group, that have come from all over. including Jamaica.

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We are here to assist some of the leading scientists with their study of climate change and it’s impact on the arctic environment. This work, is not only important for the entire world, but is gathering and analyzing data that will be used for years to come. We are conducting real investigations and engaging in real scientific processes.

We are being scientists in every sense of the word. This opportunity is something that I’ve only imagined. And now…here I am. As a scientist…out in the field…doing science

The tundra ponds and their diverse populations are one means to measure the impact that global warming is having and has implications for habitats everywhere. This unique place…the edge of the arctic circle…is an indicator, a predictor, of what’s happening and what will happen if warming trends continue.

To be a part of this work is humbling. To work along side some amazing scientists, is inspiring. To be here, in the forefront of learning and research is a dream come true.

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Journey to the Edge: CNSC

My home for 10 days.

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The Churchill Northern Studies Centre

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It’s located on the outskirts of the town of Churchill, Manitoba in northern Canada which is on the Hudson Bay. Once a former rocket research base, it’s been the place for research and education of the Arctic environment since 1976.

In 2011 the new, greener, state of the art CNSC was completed.

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It is considered to be on the very edge of the Arctic Circle. It is home to many scientists and researchers studying different aspects of this special place. It also opens its doors to many groups whether tourists or volunteers or teachers…like me!

Come on in and I’ll show you around!

When you first enter, you will be amazed at the structure and design, the natural light that streams through the many large windows, and of course the view.

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Each space has a purpose. Every corner utilized.

From the welcome area to the cafeteria…

It is a place for living, working, and playing.

My favorite rooms are…

The Collections room.

Filled with fascinating polar bear, beluga whale, and other animal artifacts.

And the Aurora Dome room.

Not only is it unique, but it holds the promise that perhaps one of these nights, we will get to see a summer show of northern lights.

And as you head out the door…

A gentle reminder.

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This is polar bear country.

After all…we are at the edge.