One of the particularities of being in Qikiqtarjuaq, and evidently of being beyond the polar circle, is the time and more precisely: the timing.
Of course, it is obvious that, along with the seasons, the day length can vary to extremes, with full darkness in winter and endless days in summer. But even in-between, when the GreenEdge mission starts in May, one can rapidly forget about time, because one works like crazy, and also because the sky is bright in the middle of the night. You end up being fully awake at 4:00 AM, and can’t get back to sleep. Anyway, after few days at the ice camp, one is tired enough to sleep in any light conditions and at any time (even during sample analyses, I’ll not mention names, but I know a guy).
This being said, the worst thing about timing in the North is when the time comes to leave. Although the place is remote, one has to confess that you are lucky to be able to reach Qikiqtarjuaq by plane, or better said by plane-via-successive-jumps from wherever you started to Ottawa and on to Iqaluit, Pangnirtung and Qikiqtarjuaq. Of course, one can easily guess that the Qikiqtarjuaq airport is not London-Heathrow, and there are not hundreds of flights per day. Actually, there is only one, either in the morning or in the afternoon. And it alternates every day. And there is no flight on Saturday. And one has to count on ‘mechanical incidents’, but most of all you pay attention to the weather forecast which can be summarized by ‘if you cannot see the top of that mountain, you can be 100% sure that the flight will be cancelled’ (truthful local Inuit saying). This is a situation that happens quite regularly, especially when it is time for the snow and the ice to melt. This generates a more or less permanent fog over the bay and the surrounding mountains. Which is (of course) the exact point in the ice floe dynamics that the GreenEdge project is focusing on. To come back to the plane timing; If one is lucky, one can catch a flight in Qikiqtarjuaq in the morning and be at home-sweet-(warm-quiet-alcohol-furnished-Aaaaaaaah) home in the evening in the ‘South’, for instance, in Québec or Winnipeg (not that one travels to Cuba or Costa-Rica to having a glass of rum), to cite ‘close’ destinations of many GreenEdge participants. Europeans also need to cross an ocean. And for the Japanese, forget it, the trip is endless.
But, if one is not lucky, the waiting can be long, especially when the real nights last 3-4 hours. So long one could propose a new definition to the words ‘bored’ and/or ‘furious’ and/or ‘desperate’ depending on how one takes it. And then, you regret of having mocked your colleagues that were stressed the day before their departure, checking the weather forecast on the internet each and every hour.
So, let’s just take a Hollywood-like (i.e. extreme but inspired from real facts) example:
You are booked on the Monday morning flight, the weather forecast announces clouds and snow, the flight is cancelled. You find yourself rebooked on the Tuesday afternoon flight, which implies spending the night in Iqaluit to leave the next day for Ottawa, and from there wherever you want to go, no big deal, better than nothing, even if hotels in Iqaluit and the George V were built on different planets. Tuesday morning the weather is even worse, one can barely distinguish the FOOT of the mountain, Wednesday then? Wednesday morning: in addition to clouds and snow, there is now a strong wind, which instead of pushing the clouds away brings even more. All right… Thursday will be fine, it is announced that sun will be back, great. You wake up, you nervously open the curtains: sun it is, whouhouou! Problem is: you are not the only one waiting for an empty plane, so that the plane is full before you even can think about putting a foot in it. OKKKKKKKKKK, then what about Friday? The weather is, again, crappy, and anyway, the plane is over-booked: what on Earth have I done to deserve this? Is it because I made fun of the others? Cooooome oooooon, these were just casual jokes, don’t you have any sense of humour!!??? (yes, at that point you start talking to the entity who is supposed to control the weather). Then next opportunity is Sunday (please remember that Saturday is off, and NOW you REALLY wonder WHY). OK Sunday it is, let’s pray the almighty Lord, cross all of your fingers and all of your toes, climb to the Inukshuk up the hill behind the village, fall on your knees, raise your hands and request the mercy of the Inuit Gods, especially the one that takes the form of a majestic Hawk and which can be translated as ‘First Air’. And finally, it works, finally, you can put a foot and your biiiiiip in that plane and you can leave, you feel like Henri Charrière and Nelson Mandela reunited in the same movie: freedom for yourself and peace on Earth. Your joy and relief are beyond description, as Quebecois would say ‘tu shakes lââ, tu shaaaaaakes!!!!’.
And as the plane takes off, and as you think about that first delicious sip of fresh beer you’re gonna have, taking a look through the window, you feel a tiny something that tells you that you are leaving a singular place and that a unique life experience has just ended.