Fingers in the sky

Returning to Life

First, to all those who have inquired, yes, I am still alive, in the same way a hibernating bear is. That’s due to sheer exhaustion, to being stretched far too thin over the past six months or so. The new job, the new home, Conor (nearly three years old), Danny (nearly a year old), and a few lingering after-effects from previous contracts and jobs have been draining all my energy, and it’s only lately that I feel like I’m finally able to yawn and stretch, poke my nose out the door, and sniff the promise of Spring.

The new job up in the Northwest Territories is going very well, and I’m very happy to be part of a great team. Starting in any new workplace is often cause for trepidation, if not outright caution, but I’m pleased to find myself among some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. The weather here in Yellowknife may be cold at times (-40C, in fact), but the people up North are some of the warmest individuals I’ve ever met.

I’m not quite sure why I’m posting here today after such a long absence. (Yes, I have been around, in spirit if not in body, at I think it’s because I’ve finally reached a turning point of sorts. My life, much like the land around me, is starting to thaw. And where there’s thawing, there’s life waiting to happen.

Another One for the Road

I’m just packing up the final bits of my computer gear as I speak, but I just had to write this one last post.

Where I (currently) live, in Newfoundland, Canada, people have a lot to be thankful for. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, with seemingly endless tracts of breathtaking rugged seascapes, adorned with icebergs and spinning seabirds and pods of whales, striking a connection with elemental nature that’s almost unparalled. There’s a longstanding cultural heritage ripe with music, art and storytelling, and a down-to-earth mentality that cherishes family, neighbours and even visitors. Here in Carbonear, the weather is warm (but not too warm) and the area is lush and verdant with giant beautiful maple trees nearly a century old. And while there’s a high unemployment rate, the people throughout the province are among the friendliest in the world, often inviting complete strangers into their homes to share a story and a cup of tea.

But there are also idiots. Yes, we have those too.

Last night, towards midnight, I was finishing up packing for the night when I heard a loud bang. I didn’t think too much of it, since the Canada Day fireworks had been sounding sporatically for the past couple of hours. But soon I heard the sirens and suspected there was a problem nearby. A half-hour later, I let the dog out and noticed police lights spinning on a house across the street. I shuffled into my sandals and went out to see what was happening.

There were three police cars, an ambulance driving away, and a crowd milling around a vehicle. A closer look revealed an older mid-sized car whose front end was completely demolished, a large nearby maple whose trunk bark was completely ripped off, and a young girl crying in the back seat of a police car.

It turns out that this girl, whose blood alcohol was several times the limit, and who had been driving without insurance or even a license, had hit our neighbour and crashed into a tree. She then tried to make a getaway, but the car didn’t make it more than a few feet. The neighbour was flung onto a nearby lawn and was suffering from two mangled legs, a badly damaged eye, and no doubt a series of other injuries. He was rushed to the Health Sciences Centre in the capitol of St. John’s. I knew him briefly from a school where I taught — he had just retired from teaching at the age of 52, and had bought a canoe for his holidays. She wound up with a nose bleed.

As I walked back to the house, I noticed the tire tracks. She had driven through a puddle on the opposite (left) side of the road, and swerved to the right, where she hit the neighbour and then the tree. There didn’t seem to be any skid marks.

I certainly feel for the neighbour, and I’m trying to feel for the girl. She’s young, and at that age we’re all a little stupid and obnoxious. (She’s the same one we often hear roaming drunkenly with a pair of teenage boys in the middle of the night, whooping and screaming and swearing as she passes by the house.) But I can’t help thinking she needed this to happen. It’s a lesson to be learned, and it’s rather ironic that a dedicated school teacher was nearly killed in the process.

Please, folks, if you’re going to drink for the holidays, remember to do the right thing and set a designated driver. It’s one thing to play games with your own life; it’s quite another to jeopoardise someone else’s.

The strange things done in the midnight sun…

Well, it’s time I shared the other big news of my life. After a year of hunting for a permanent, full-time position, I’ve been offered a position for a job I’m sure to love in Yellowknife.

For the geographically challenged folks out there, Yellowknife is the largest city (pop. 20K) in the North West Territories atop Canada –find Alberta on your map and let your eye drift northwards– and is rather close to the Arctic Circle. In fact, the picture at left was taken from my hotel room at about 1:00 or 1:30 am, and the midnight almost-sun shows the necessity of having thick curtains in the summertime. In the Winter months, there’s an equal amount of darkness. Summer temperatures range from 15-30C and the mercury in Winter can often drop to -30C. (People’s tires freeze to square shapes, I’m told.)

No doubt a few people are scratching their heads. Why, they ask, are you heading to a small, frigid place enshrouded by darkness half the year? Well, that’s a misperception, but I’ll deal with that in a minute.

The days of short-term contracts can be frustrating, especially when it comes to ensuring any sense of stability, and –with several mouths to feed– knowing where the next meal is coming from is always a worry. I used to love freelance work, but owing to a number of factors (mainly geography, overseas outsourcing, and those user-friendly technologies accessible to more amateurs), the contracts are becoming less frequent and less interesting. I want a job where I can grow, where I can learn, where I can exercise my media-related skills, and where I can become part of a team that really cares about what it’s doing. Jenny and I want a community that’s small enough to be close-knit, yet large enough to provide for our wants (including fresh produce like cilantro and mangos) — we want a place where we can feel comfortable settling down. And I’m a pretty rustic guy, so I like to commune frequently with the natural world, a faithful hound by my side.

I flew up to Yellowknife for a weekend (it took 23 hours to arrive from St. John’s, Newfoundland — a heck of a commute), and I got to know more about the organisation and the city. I can say that I was pleased at every turn. The company and its projects seem quite exciting, the opportunities for professional growth and learning are certainly there, and –hey– it’s mostly a Mac shop. Meanwhile, the people in the city (population about 20,000) are exceedingly friendly and culturally diverse, the shops seem to cater to every one of our necessities, and a wild and wonderful natural world of trees and lakes and animals is only minutes away. It’s also very warm, and the air is fresh and alive with all the greenery and flowers. Between the job and the location, it’s certainly the most exciting offer I’ve received, and there’s no hesitation in seizing it.

I’m in the throes of packing right now (Jenny just returned from hospital, so she won’t be in any condition to do much), and I’ll be heading north in the next few weeks to find a place and get things set up. Jenny, two-year-old Conor, and newborn Daniel will be joining me within a month or so. I must say, every indication points to a great future for the Johnston clan….