Keeping Canada Alive

Sometimes you just have to sit back and observe the unfolding events of your life with wonder.  The way themes arise, fall away, reoccur.  I believe that these observations are touchstones on our path through this lifetime, and like a good map or a well worn path, they can help tell us where we are, and where we are going.  Most of the time that is in an unexpected direction, a path we did not know we were even seeking.  Its important to notice those themes, to pay very close attention to them, to see what our heart is telling us, or more often, what the universe is trying to tell us.  Its a kind of listening to the buried, beating heart of our life line.

So I find it curious that my path of late seems to be intersecting with media.  One the surface its about no more than being in the right place at the right time, but listening with the heart tells me its also more.  It was only this spring that I blogged, as an aside, about my quiet but burning desire to make documentary films, especially about the north.  And while that hasn’t exactly happened as I’d imagined, it is happening. On the Northwest Passage trip this summer I was interviewed for a German documentary film and photographed and interviewed for a travel magazine article.  And I’m going to be featured on CBC television in a few weeks as part of a documentary series on health care in Canada, called Keeping Canada Alive.

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I was reluctant to participate in the project when I was first approached.  I have no interest in ‘scripted reality’ shows, and I also see how the media can manipulate words and stories to feed controversy.  But my interactions with the fine folks at Force Four Entertainment in Vancouver soon convinced me that they were a professional organization committed to telling the real story.

The premise for the 6 part series is fantastic – it is 24 hours in the life of health care in Canada.  Some 60 film crews went to 24 cities across Canada and filmed what they saw over a 24 hour period.  The entire show was filmed during a day in May.  Its a great snapshot of our health care system at work.   You can see the trailer here.

I’m not at all comfortable in front of a camera – I don’t even like getting my photo taken.  But I feel strongly that the stories of northern Canadians, the lives of the incredible people I meet daily in the Yellowknife ER, need to be told.  Since moving to the north I’ve meet so many people who’ve had young children die that I’ve lost count.  (I can’t think of anyone I’ve met in southern Canada that has lost a small child due to illness – of course it happens there too, but its much more rare.)  I’ve heard the saddest stories from suicidal patients – stories of so much pain, and hardship, and aloneness, such heartbreaking losses, that I am pretty sure I would not have survived what these people have survived.  I meet homeless people every day, I know them by name, and I am impressed with their toughness and their ability to survive in the harshest of lands.  I have first hand experience of knowing the difficulties faced by Inuit patients who live hundreds of miles from a doctor and a hospital.

These stories are not unique to Yellowknife, or the north, but they play a big part in my window on health care here, and I feel that the system could do so much more to support people.  Complex issues like suicide, addictions, homelessness and poverty are not health care issues, they are social issues that lead to significantly increased rates of death and illness, and they can’t be solved at the health care level.  And I understand that because these issues are complex that they are not easy to solve – indeed, we may not even understand what is needed to solve them.  But I think we need to do more for those amongst us that have the greatest needs.  We live in a society where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  And I am not sure my countrymen really understand that when you are poor, the deck is really stacked against you, and there may not be much you can do to change that.  While on the other hand, if you go to medical school, you will have a very good income and a guaranteed job forever.  You just have to show up and your star will rise.  But really, its only being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time that makes it so.  There but for the grace of God go I.

So I said yes, with trepidation.  The film crew wanted to start out the filming on Houseboat 28 – a day in the life, so to speak.  As it was May, I was anxious that the ice on the lake would be half out and half in, and the crew would have difficulty even getting to the place due to open water.  Fortunately the weather cooperated and they only had to walk one plank over the open water at the shore, and then haul their gear on foot out to the houseboat.

I spent a day with the crew – at home and then for a shift at work.  It was challenging for me – once I put my head down at work I couldn’t really focus on the film crew, and I suspect that made it harder for them.  It was a bit uncomfortable for the rest of the ER crew too, who naturally didn’t really want to be on national television while at work either. (I had a faint, and I recognize unrealistic worry, that I might actually kill someone on national television.)  In the end I did not get much of a chance to discuss the issues near and dear to my heart, although I am hoping that the story of one fellow who was filmed in the ER that day will touch on those issues.

The series starts this Sunday, October 4th at 9 pm, and will run over 6 weeks.  My 5 minutes of fame will air on October 18th.  The entire show will also be available online here, or view the cbc.ca website.  h

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I sailed the Northwest Passage

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Devon Island

This summer was a dream come true – my mom and I took a ship through the Northwest Passage.  It was an amazing experience, with a depth that is hard to articulate. For so many reasons – seeing the land and sea of the high Arctic, the culture there, both ancient and current, being on a One Ocean Expedition, and being part of the staff as the expedition doctor, the wildlife we encountered, and the fabulous people we spent 2 weeks with on the ship.

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Our route.

We started in Greenland, where we boarded our ship, the Russian Akademik Sergei Vavilov, which is a modest ocean going vessel strengthened for ice travel.  On board were 85 passengers, mostly from Canada, 25 One Ocean Expedition staff members, and some 45 Russian crew, led by Captain Beluga.

Our ship, the Vavliov.

We sailed down the long fiord of Kangerlussuaq, and up the coast of Greenland, with 2 stops at towns there, although we could not reach shore at Ilulissat, due to the massive amount of icebergs in the harbour that day.  The community that we did spent time in, Sisimiut, seemed wonderful. Colorful well kept homes, friendly people, a thriving and bustling energy, a harbour full of boats, and thriving traditional culture.  For instance, we saw a kayak rolling demonstration by a man in a traditional Inuit model kayak, which is custom made for his body, and with a sealskin drytop.  We also saw a great deal of ice – mostly icebergs calved from the massive glaciers of Greenland. This is hard and sharp ice, particularly dangerous to ships.

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Sisimiut, Greenland

Some of the icebergs were massive. That small black dot is a zodiac full of people.

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The ice can be sculpted in the most beautiful shapes, and is a brilliant shade of green at times.

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Can you see the wee gull on the tip of the ice?

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Note the small hole letting the sun shine through. It was like being in an art gallery

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So close and yet so far – harbour choked with ice

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Hi mom!

I was sorry not to get to shore in Ilulissat, as the glacier there is enormous, and responsible for a most of the icebergs that are carried down past the Maritimes.  Apparently as the ice is calved off it can be caught up near the glacier, only to suddenly overflow into the bay, causing sudden and massive amounts of ice there.  The scale of all that ice is not visible in my photos, but it took us 1.5 hours to go about 8 km by boat, weaving our way around immense icebergs and through smaller floating bits.

From Greenland we spent 2 days crossing massive Baffin Bay, to northern Baffin Island.  We stopped in Pond Inlet, which was a return for me, as this was the place Martin and I started our kayak excursion from last year.  Pond Inlet is a stunning place on the water, full of scenic mountain and glacier views, and a friendly Inuit community.

Once we left Baffin Island, to head north into Lancaster Sound, we were in the high Arctic.  This is a place of utterly barren land, mainly rock and ice, and perhaps a bit of short grass.  It is not a place that people have historically been able to survive in over long periods of time, and in fact one of the most shocking and shameful examples of the Canadian government’s attitude to aboriginal culture in times past (don’t get me started on how they are doing now) was that they relocated several batches of Inuit families from further down south, to various small settlements in the high Arctic.  And then left them there to starve to death. This was probably an attempt at asserting Canadian sovereignty, in order to create a stronger presence in the Arctic.  There are several examples of such communities in the region, and we visited one on Devon Island.  Three policemen and a few Inuit families were dropped off at Dundas Harbour, and forgotten for 3 years, until the survivors were rescued.  One of the amazing things about the high Arctic is that buildings and artifacts from time immemorial are still abundant.  Things don’t rot or break down quickly, and without too many people around there is not much scavenging either. Along with the more recent artifacts from the last 100 years, we saw Dorset and Thule homes, and of course, the artifacts from the time of the exploration of the Northwest Passage by Franklin and by all those who came to find him.  (More on that later.)

RCMP outpost on Devon Island

Dundas Harbour – RCMP outpost, with graves up above.

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possibly my favorite photo of the trip - can you see the wee people? We saw red throated loons on this pond.

Possibly my favorite photo of the trip – can you see the wee people?

Walrus skull on Devon Island - likely left by an ancient hunter.

Walrus skull on Devon Island – likely left by an ancient hunter.

I will leave you here for now, here on Devon Island on a warm summer’s day, shortly after the northwest passage has opened for the first time this year.  You can imagine Franklin’s ships sailing by, and perhaps on such a day as this, fine and calm.  Although they were not the first humans in the area, they were the first Europeans, and most probably the first humans to attempt to find the passage, and so they would have no doubt felt like they were sailing into the unknown, to the very ends of the earth.

Stay tuned for many more stories and photos to come from this remarkable part of the world.

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What’s Happening?

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Devon Island

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A brave Merganser mom with 19 chicks!

I’m shocked to see that it’s been away from my blog for 2 months.  I haven’t been idle. On the contrary, I’ve been having a series of wonderful adventures.  After a busy month of work in July, I’ve had the best August – filled with great outdoor experiences.  Camping and traveling, paddling and flying around the north.  Its been an incredible and unforgettable month for several reasons, filled with highs and lows on a once in a lifetime scale.

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Disco Bay, Greenland

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Little Doctor Lake, NWT

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North Arm kayaking, Great Slave Lake

I’m back at home now.  But I’m left with the peace that comes from being outside and looking at wild things for long periods of time.  Suddenly I have no interest in facebook, or what I am wearing, or shopping, or rushing around here and there.  (Although I wouldn’t turn down a float plane ride.)  I am filled with gratitude for the power of the wilderness.  The power that it has to bring peace, and contentment.  Even the vast open, empty and cold spaces of the Arctic have a power to enter my heart, and quietly smooth out a lasting impression, the way water can wear away rock.  I am always still surprised at how time in the wilderness changes me.  Permanently.  It has something to do with being a small speck in a vast world, a world where the sun rises and sets, the waves rise and fall, the wind blows and then is calm.  Where the stars are always in the sky.  Where we remain a very small part of a very large space.  I find the smallness of great comfort. I am small but I am there – I am a part of the larger picture but my role is small, and perhaps insignificant.  The only thing required of me is to be there, just to be.

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Nahanni River, NWT

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Devon Island sea ice

And I was.

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When A Dog Charters A Plane

I love this photo, and these two dear girls.

I love this photo, and these two dear girls.

I’ve always had a great appreciation for the how spontaneously wonderful Yellowknife folk can be, and this was reinforced when friend Jenn called me up recently.

J:  What are you doing in one hour?

T:  I have a work meeting.

J:  Well, I’ve chartered a plane and there is a seat for you…

Fortunately the meeting I was supposed to attend was with a fellow Yellowknifer.  Others might not quite understand the devastation of missing an opportunity for a sight seeing trip on a Beaver float plane, but my colleague most graciously assured me I needed to be on that plane.

I turns out it wasn’t exactly Jenn who chartered that plane, it was really Hunter, her dog.  More formally known as Hunter The Mostly Good Dog.  (She is mostly very good, until she is spectacularly not –  and herein is the definition of a husky.)  Jenn was planning another float plane trip with Hunter (stay tuned, I was on that flight too!) and wanted to make sure Hunter would be entirely good on the plane ride.  How better to ensure this than to charter a plane, right?  Entirely logical.  Entirely Jenn.

I hustled down to the Ahmic Air float plane dock in Back Bay.  It was wonderful just sitting by the side of the lake and taking in the scenery while I waited.

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View of Back Bay

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Ahmic Air Float Plane Base, also known as a dock.

 

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Old Town and Latham Island

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Yellowknife Bay, with our place at the far right.

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Land of lakes

Our pilot

Our pilot.  (Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to fly the plane – something about Transport Canada regulations….)

We flew over old town, and then south, over a land more water than solid ground.  There are lakes everywhere.

Eventually we landed at a jewel of a lake, for some reason called City Boy Lake.  It was long and deep with a delightful smooth rock island near one end.

The plane tied up to the smooth rock, and spent a pleasant afternoon there.  We meandered, threw a couple of fish hooks into the lake, visited, admired flowers, swam, and were sustained by lemon meringue pie and champagne.

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This girl knows how to plan a picnic

P1130998And The Mostly Good Dog?  She was all good.  In fact, once she figured out that a float plane is a ticket to adventure, she didn’t want to get off the pontoon.  I know just how she feels.

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I don’t want to go home!

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I’m hoping Jenn buys Hunter her own plane soon.  Because what’s a husky without her own plane?

 

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My Multi-sport Commute

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I felt like I was in a Multi-sport race today. Actually I was just on my way to work. But there were startling similarities.

Event one was the kayak ride from the houseboat to the dock. I had a stiff breeze from the south blowing me to shore, and it was a quick and easy paddle. After tying up the boat at our dock, I entered my first transition point. This is where things started to get a little crazy. Multi-sport events require lots of gear and some logistical planning, but my commute has an added layer of complexity.  Firstly, the whole thing falls apart if I forget certain critical elements, which I often do.  If I don’t remember the keys to the bike lock or the car, or even the bike itself, I have to change my entire strategy.  If I forget something not entirely critical, like a life jacket or cycling helmet, I can still manage.  I certainly received a few strange looks at my transition point – the walk from the boat to the car. There I was, walking along the street wearing this: a bicycle helmet and a snazzy blue life jacket over my professional (trust me, I’m a doctor) attire, including sensible dress shoes and lipstick.  I was also carrying my kayak paddle, and my work bag, while wheeling my bike alongside me.  (Extra points for the lipstick!)  After stashing the paddling gear in my car, with a short detour to move my car from its illegal parking space to a nearby legal one, I was ready for event 2, the cycling stage.   By this point I was running quite late. Fortunately it’s a short and delightful bike trip from the dock to the hospital, as most of it is on a fantastic trail alongside Frame lake.  Certainly my multi-sport commute is picturesque, between the bobbing ducks and sailboats of Great Slave Lake, and the birch forest and marshy beaches along Frame Lake.

Transition Point 2, the switch from dirt bag houseboater to professional doctor is fast, and so there I was, sweaty and a bit breathless, but on time for event 3. This is the most challenging part of the multi-sport event, the 8 hour shift in the ER (in my capacity as an emergency medicine doctor).  The ER is an interesting work environment.  It is of course a completely unpredictable place, as anyone with anything can come in at any time.  That is one of the things I like about my job – I love the variety.  But it is also a great challenge – while the patients and their problems and the volume and severity of illness is variable, the staffing levels are not.  We have, barring all out disaster situations, to deal with whatever comes through the door with our usual resources.  I hate the idea that people are waiting for hours in the waiting room to see me – even if their problem is not severe, or urgent, it was important enough for them to come to the ER, knowing there would be a wait.  So I find it hard to take a break for a meal when I’m at work.  It really does feel like an endurance race some times.

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Midnight in the Garden

Suddenly its summer again.  The ice is gone, and the lake is once again water – beautiful, inviting, friendly, lapping against the metal pontoons of our houseboat, singing to us all day long.  The boats are back on the water and outside our window we see canoes, sailboats, and the occasional float plane, where just days ago it was solid ice.   We have dinners on the deck in the warm sunshine and linger over wine.  It’s also, once again, that time of year when the sky is spectacular.  We see the big fluffy clouds that are only here in the summer, and the air has that crisp and clean look of infinity, once again.  The sunsets linger all evening long, and well into the night, eventually dragging itself off to sleep, like a reluctant child on summer holidays.  As we near the solstice it only sets for 4 hours;  not really night at all, but a prolonged twilight.

The other night I looked out the window as I was going off to bed too, and was struck by the first purple sky I’ve ever seen.  I went outside to take a photo.  I came back inside, and thought it looked even better, and went outside once again for another shot.  This went on several times – back and forth, back and forth, until finally the sky darkened, the light dwindled, and I went to bed too, like a reluctant child on summer holidays.

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Seagulls sleep under a big bruised sky

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Purple and blue reflections

Yellowknife from Houseboat 28

Yellowknife from Houseboat 28

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French Cooking – Bien Sur!

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Originally posted on Savour It All:
My friends at Succulent Paris enjoying the treats I brought them from Alberta – photo – Kim Irving My friends Marion Willard and Aurélie Mahoudeau of Succulent Paris food tours are wonderful cooks who…

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