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2014 Summer Arctic Trip

The Trip Blog for the 2014 summer research trip.

Aug 10, evening


Today was our final day in Nester 1. As a student who is graduating after the coming year, I knew this was most likely going to be my last time seeing and living in the remote research station. Sitting in the cockpit of the helicopter and watching the camp disappear out of the corner of my eye as the vehicle slowly ascended off the ground brought out a part of me that I do not experience too often. I felt a part of me slip out of my grasp that I would never again be able to feel. I am sure that every person in the group experienced the short five days at Nester 1 differently, but for me, it was the sense of isolation, openness, and carelessness that I would really begin to miss even as soon as we touched ground back at the CNSC. But before I say more, let me tell you about this morning. The original plan was to get up at 7 am and be ready for the first chopper flight at 9, and we would be able to knock out a fen in the afternoon before supper. The first step went smoothly, with a delicious breakfast of pirogues and sausages made by our chef Miguel, but getting the helicopter in the air proved to be a problem. Thick fog covered the ground, preventing the helicopter from taking off. Visibility was limited to two hundred metres (yes, I am Canadian) for the greater part of the morning. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much) the students were ecstatic at the thought of getting to stay at Nester 1 for an extra day. Moods were lightened, and morale was rising (inside ISAMR joke). Bunmi and I decided to create a voodoo totem out of an old rocket, caribou skull, bones and antlers in an endeavor to create more fog so that we could stay at nester 1 for a little bit longer. We would like to believe that it worked, given that the fog did thicken a little bit, before thinning out again once the wind blew the devilish structure over. While we waited for a further response from the CNSC about the helicopter situation, Jill gave us several very interesting presentations about her trips doing some surveying for the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas over the past few years. These included canoe trips, long hikes, and getting up at 3:30 in the morning to catch the sunrise when the birds sang the loudest. The MBBA is a way for citizens of Manitoba to help keep track of what birds are found throughout the province. The stories she told us about her expeditions were both fascinating and hilarious enough to keep us glued to our seats for several hours, save for a few bathroom breaks. It was around noon and Jill was about to begin another presentation when Bob stood up, pointed out the window and shouted: “There’s a chopper!” Everyone looked out the windows, and sure enough there was a helicopter banking hard in the 80kph winds in an attempt to land. The helicopter had appeared out of nowhere without a warning. Even with the strong winds, the pilot (who I later found out had begun flying at the age of seventeen) managed to land safely and the first five people to be shipped out swiftly got their jackets on and rushed out to the gate. The sudden helicopter took us all by surprise, but we had to go with it. The first passengers from Ryan Brook’s university course got out and the adults unloaded the university students’ bags from the chopper before packing it up again with our gear. Jessica had made us some soup to keep the rest of us filled up while we waited for the chopper. We ate that and played some cards as the ISAMR students filed out and more of Ryan Brook’s university students flew in over the next few flights in the copter. My flight was third. Luckily for me I got to sit next to the pilot for this flight. I was extremely happy about that because large machines and flight intrigue me greatly. I had flown in a helicopter three times before, twice last year, and once on the way out to Wapusk this year. As far as I know, that was the last time I will ever fly in a helicopter so it really meant a lot to be able to watch the ground glide past beneath my feet from the pilot’s perspective. The strong winds meant that the helicopter could only fly at half speed, and kept getting pushed around by wandering gusts of wind. Once we landed we climbed into the van, and Jill, who had been feeling a bit ill from the helicopter ride drove us from the landing site to the CNSC before retiring to her home for the night. After I put my bag back into my room I took a nice long, hot shower. After five days without showering and barely changing clothes the steaming water felt amazing. After everybody washed up we milled about the CNSC while waiting for dinner: salad, pasta, chicken, yam, and more. After we ate the delectable food prepared by the fantastic cooks we set to work on soil moisture recording and data entry. We worked until 8:30 when we had a meeting with all the students and adults on the trip about the plan for the next couple of days. Afterwards we went for a drive to the coast so that we could witness the sunset in all of its glory. Even though it was cold and windy, all the kids climbed on top of the vans to get a better view. Personally, I thought this was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. The colours (Canada) on the horizon were incredibly vivid, and the clouds were surreal. The way that the vans were parked allowed us to sit on one side of the roof and see the sun sink beneath the curve of the Earth in the west, but then when that was over we could switch sides and gaze at the unbelievably large, white and bright full moon in the east. We also tried to drive into the town of Churchill in order to catch the belugas as they swam out into Hudson’s bay but we were too late and knew we wouldn’t make it so we chose to turn around and return to the CNSC instead. By this time it was getting late so some people went to sleep while others finished up some more work. I began on this blog. I had gotten up to the helicopter flight when somebody informed us in the classroom that the northern lights were out. Due to the fact that we had yet to see some decent aurora borealis everyone was eager to get out onto the deck despite it being seven degrees Celsius and windy, and that most people were in pajamas. Let me tell you, we were not disappointed. They were not the best I had ever seen, but there were some incredible brief bursts of activity when it appeared that they grew tenfold in size. I was sent out to wake up the sleeping few to let them know that the lights were out. Cory and Kevin managed to capture some phenomenal photos of the auroras using long exposure photography and some skill. Many pictures were taken of the lights, of us, and of the other people staying at the CNSC. Cory attracted a great deal of attention from the Australian visitors with his camera. A few even asked him if they could use some of his photos. The lights were great, but they weren’t the only things out that night. The clouds were beautiful as well, resembling giant glowing white shrimp hanging in the sky, but the moon seemed to be demanding attention to itself with its brilliance. It illuminated the night like nothing I had ever seen before. While it’s not ideal to have such a bright source of light when viewing the northern lights, the two phenomena provided an unforgettable night that many of us will never have the privilege to see again. Finally around 12:30 am the lights began to fade out and the people out on the deck started to head back inside. I picked up the computer again and started typing. Now two hours later I lie here in my bed with the night light on thinking of a justifiable way of concluding this blog while the memories are still fresh in my mind. I suppose I will just thank all the parents, teachers, grandparents, or whoever is reading this for raising such wonderful kids for me to venture and discover the wilderness with. I wish these were not my last few days in the tundra, but unfortunately, all things must come to an end. And with that, I say goodbye. Or as the French say: au revoir. Until we see each other again.


Akio Bird

Kelvin High School