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Finding A Job in The Arctic: A Contrast

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  • Finding A Job in The Arctic: A Contrast

    I am aware that this section of the site is concerned with the Antarctic region,but a comparison and contrast with the other circumpolar region has some heuristic value to readers, it seems to me. When one lives in Canada as I did as a youth, it is the Arctic that has its attraction not Antarctica--but back in the 1960s--only a few Canadians ever ventured to that remote part of the country. This post is a short piece of my story, if moderators here will indulge me, will permit the following, a story of my experience in the Canadian Arctic in the 1960s, placed in the broad cultural context of the times. I hope readers find this account of some value to them in their journey, with what is no longer a curious and somewhat absurd interest in more extreme climates of cold.

    In late August 1967 I was new wife, Judy, and I arrived on Baffin Island to get our rented unit in order so that in the first week of September I could begin teaching a class of grade three Eskimo(now called Inuit) kids. If the ethos of teenage revolt that George Melly describes in his "Revolt Into Style: The Pop Arts" was evident in much of North America and western civilization, it manifested itself in unique ways in Eskimo(Inuit) culture and its fringes in Frobisher Bay. The songs of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger from 1962 to 1966 that Melly analyses and which he argues reflect this spirit of revolt among the young did not float through the air-waves on Baffin Island because all the Inuit and the few whites got back in the sixties was the CBC and the BBC. But still the revolt was on anyway.

    My life manifested a certain degree of revolt; at least from 1963 onwards there were signs of it in my personal life. While I attended university, 1963-1966, I experienced some of that bourgeoisophobe that Gustave Flaubert raved against as far back as the 1840s and 1850s and Frederick Nietzsche later in that same century. Flaubert devoted his literary career to exposing the weaknesses of the middle class and Nietzsche raged against the cultivated philistinism and mediocrity of the same group. This rage against what I saw as the moral platitudes and hypocrisy of the middle class lasted from 1963 to, to my year among the Inuit. But a mild schizo-affective disorder from June to December 1968, precipitated somewhat by the rigors of this cultural Arctic shock, put me in several psychiatric hospitials and knocked this antagonism for the middle class for six. This middle class sensitivity or conscious rejection of the middle class was replaced by a whole set of new problems. In Australia people go tropo; intense climates often predispose people already genetically disposed to various psychiatric illnesses. It is part of the Antarctic history as well.

    When Martin Luther King was murdered in April 1968 and I was 24, one writer argued, a decade characterized by a sense of determined mission and often chaotic change came prematurely to a cataclysmic close. As it did come to a close my own sense of determined mission and its cataclysmic change came to a premature close, as I say, in a series of four mental hospitals from Frobisher Bay to Whitby Ontario. I had come from a culture which in the last two centuries had been increasingly rejecting its inherited tradition and especially in the sixties it seemed to be a whole ned ballgame in our lives. Andy Warhol's art, the Mods and Rockers, a Pop culture had come to play its rhythms in the interstices of my life and affected my ambience, my philosophy of life in complex and indefinable ways.

    Improvisation, the instinctual urge, creativity, they were all the buzz in those years before my wife and I went to this hunting and gathering community then going through a transition from their stone age culture which was dizzying in its speed. The Antarctic experience is, of course, another story. The Arctic got in my blood, as the Antarctic does in this southern hemisphere, especially in Australia and Tasmania where I now live. Let me close with a piece about snowgeese.

    "The snowgeese, wild voices of the Arctic," said David Attenborough, "have been increasing in numbers since the 1950s. (Ref: David Attenborough, Wildscreen, Channel 2, Perth, Western Australia, 14 September 1995, 8:30 p.m.)

    They’ve been increasing in numbers
    in a big way since the ‘50s when I
    was a kid and with no interest in
    places colder than where I lived
    in southern Ontario by a big lake.

    These snowgeese are a vivid reminder
    that there’s power in natural cycles.
    Ever since Professor Jamieson Bond
    went north beyond the Arctic Circle
    and encouraged me to go north, too,
    these wild voices of this northern clime
    have been flooding south more than ever.

    Snowgeese, you were never part of my plan
    when I was young, but there was a new spirit
    in the north, calling me, calling me--and you
    by the 1000s. Or was it instinct, nature, some
    specific environmental process that led your
    dazzling floods of whiteness to travel three
    thousand miles across a continent? Was it?

    What took me, not much later, across two
    continents as your numbers increased?
    I was part of some other Plan, part of the
    dazzling floods of the beauty of the rose,
    bent on rising above water and clay, and
    flying with the nightingale unfolding inner
    mysteries high above the earth, close to
    that Voice from on high, beyond the blue
    white sky--and the threatening slough of
    despond that just might engulf us all....