(Sorry for the delay in this Blog! It is without intention that I discover this gap in my eager literary rapport. Time and all its wonders lend funny twists to intention I find. So, now I will tell you how the next steps unfurled upon departing the wondrous Nunavut….)
I had a lump in my belly and a warming in my heart as I boarded the Canadian North airline. The latter, a gift from the girls of the Inuksuk Drum Dancers and the many kind people I met in Iqaluit. The former, a gift from a big Canada Council disappointment when I learned that my grant application would not be juried because the contract I had attached to the abundant application was from the Province I currently lived in. Pursuing a musician’s dream is hard road, seldom filled glam and glitter; often thwarted with trials and obstacles we don’t anticipate. Worth it always, because the alternative of not, is the most lonesome sound a music-filled soul can imagine. But, it is a financially challenging path, an energy and soul demanding path and many times a lonely path. In harmonic tandem to these demands- it is also engaging, fulfilling and drenched with possibility in its reach. Hence, the addictive yet elusive romance between musician and music business begins.
So, on that cold day in January (and this is not ‘cold’ as in chilly here….this is…I’m talkin’…minus forties) when I departed Iqaluit on a plane I took with me the beautiful moments happened there and the disheartening disappointment that something I had placed great hope in was no longer a possibility. While thick winds blew the small plane as through lonesome air, I wondered how I would continue to make this dream a reality. We were to land in Rankin Inlet on our way to Yellowknife but the kindly Pilot periodically alerted us that the weather was not likening this deposit. I watched as people far too accustomed to such inconveniences chatted easily about alternatives and when confirmed that we would not land, they quietly chatted themselves into planning mode. I needed to learn from them. So often while I was visiting the North, situations seemed to lend metaphoric solutions Whether it was simply where I was at at the time, that the history of the land and its people were simply inspirational, or that clarity is revealed more easily in the rock and air of cold barren lands, I’ll never know-but I was grateful.
When I landed in Yellowknife in early evening, I was met at the airport by my generous host Lone Sorensen, who I had been connected to through yet another lovely contact I made in Iqaluit, Heather Daley. She met me at the airport and drove me to her home and then immediately back into town to my interview at CBC North Radio. As I got out of the car, the air in Yellowknife was frozen still and I wondered how I might walk through it and I was thankful for Lone’s kind offer to drive me to my first event in the area. I was met at the CBC North Studio by Jennifer who had worked with my publicist Heather Kitching to arrange the interview. As we chatted easily, I felt like I had resurfaced somewhat from some of my funk and that perhaps the flight through the bitter weather had led me to the other side. The other side of what exactly I wasn’t sure, but I was moving from disappointment to seeking purpose, and that is always a forward step. I was interviewed by CBC’er Norbert Poitras for the ‘Trail’s End’ show that airs while people are doing their drive home from 4 to 6pm. He was kind and personable and we had a great interview. His questions and genuine interest in the project re-stoked my faltered passion and I felt inspired again by the time Lone picked me up to call it a day.
The next day, Lone gave me a tour of Yellowknife. She had lived there for 22 years so was well versed on the sights and doings and I was equally heartened by the resilience of the natural environment as I was by the people. We drove out onto the Ice Road on Slave Lake where I saw colourful box houses happily wedged into winter ice in the same spot they floated during the summer. How gratefully residents drove up into their frozen ‘driveway’ appreciating the novelty of a floating home having one at all. Evidence that their front yards normally lapped on their docks was found in the tires secured around their Boathouse boundaries and various other sundry flotation devices. The best example of the celebratory resilience of the people of Yellowknife was the side-boarded ice hockey rinks they set up in their now-frozen ‘yards’ on Great Slave Lake. It was minus 45 degrees and they were out playing hockey (see the pics) and enjoying Canada’s greatest pastime (yes I realize this moniker will be disputed, but we could at least agree that hockey is a recreational essential in this country I’m sure.)
Lone and I chatted about the landscape, culture and people and about the ‘Canadian Girl’ project and projects she was focusing on at that time. It was amid this exchange, there came a moment I shall always remember. I explained to Lone that I had learned some disheartening news regarding a grant and was wondering how I would afford to take it to the next level when my most hopeful touring funding option had been dashed by my technical oversight. I spoke of how important the project was to me and that the investment of time and money was nothing in comparison to what I believed the project to be….but I was still, in the moment, feeling a bit lost. I looked at her and said, ‘I feel like I need a sign–something that can tell me I’m not crazy” (yes, this also might be disputed, there is room for commentary at the end:) ) “and that the project really is as meaningful and worth finding a way to make it work.” Lone parked the car on the ice at this point and we were sitting facing the sun, looking at the vast stretch of milky white ahead of us. And, that is when they came. Floating in, as if on cue. Ravens. Not one or two. But twenty-three ravens landed surrounding our car. And they just sat. All around us. They sat in full confidence, splendor and wisdom. After numerous moments of shear speculative appreciation, I had the wherewithal to get out my video camera. I have watched that video moment more than once with Lone’s voice breathing her mesmerized comment at what we were seeing: “…in 22 years, I have been parking on this ice…and I have never seen anything like this happen before.” The last of my disheartenment melted into the snow and my hopes flew with the ravens after their at-least 15 minutes with us.
Now, I don’t suppose of course, that Mother Nature, the Universe or any other omni-or-uni-present Deity of any kind might have the time in their busy world-saving schedule to choreograph a raven soul-revival on my account; but on that day, in that moment, those ravens were there, at a time when I needed them, and because of that; they were there for me in a way. And we were bonded in sheer freak possibility of our colliding schedules, if not the spiritual awakening it delivered.
Days like those are ones you are grateful for forever. They last so much longer than they lasted.
The tour of Yellowknife continued on that day and in spots of free time on other days, with a frozen climb to the top of the The Rock to witness the early sunset on the City of Yellowknife, to brave standing over a crack in the ice road, to shamefully mutter at my own absence of hardiness as I stood shivering for a photo on the frozen Great Slave Lake at minus 45 while a local rode by on a bicycle and waved cheerily. I saw the diamond mine and Buffalo planes (yes I have pics of all these things!) dog sleds, whisps of northern lights and frozen eyelashes of passer-by’s. I happily coffee’d and fed with Ben Nind of the Northern Arts and Culture Centre one day and Lynn Feasy of Points North Creative another; both helping me to learn more about the Arts in the North. All of this was amazing and tale-telling and a great precursor to a much happily anticipated day in the studio with a friend and singer/songwriter extraordinaire, Leela Gilday (www.leelagilday.com )
I had met Leela in Vancouver when we both lived there, participating in many common events, fundraisers and shows. She is a soul-raising singer who can stand barefoot on a stage and take over a room with one vocal note–she is a musical force to be reckoned with who can inspire you into action with her songs full of intent and message and just as easily will your heart open with her gentle melodic tales. She is a proud Dene woman who has won a Juno and endless other awards for her captivating capacity. I was stoked.
But even the most soulful of songstresses is not immune to the common flu. As it turned out, Leela had the flu and when I called her on my first day in Yellowknife, I asked the strangely raspy man on the phone if I could speak to Leela. Oh dear. It was her. My heart fell into my shoes and I worried at her well-being and simultaneously my position. There was no contingency plan for flu. Lets see. I had packed Sorel boots, I had snow pants, my favourite touque, I had booked the studio, confirmed the guest artist, worked with my publicist, booked the flight and flown to the North, found a place to stay, brought my favourite tea, chalked up on blistex….but…no….no thought of the what-if-I-land-in-the-Northwest-Territories-and-the-guest-artist-has-the-flu scenario. Leela kindly coughed out a reassuring albeit gravelly, “I’ll be fine by tomorrow I’m sure.”
As inconceivable as it seemed, Leela showed up on Lone’s doorstep the next day to pick me up so we could go over the song together at her place. (I must inquire as to the specific meds she used to resurrect her from her ashen state, they could be a legitimate tour sponsor.) Bless her heart, she was somewhat weary I could tell, but as always professional and determined. We went over the song over copious amounts of herbal teas and citrus fruit and Leela welcomed the thought of doing a vocal solo for the song. The song was ‘You’ve Already Got What You Need’ and it had a nice drum groove that had felt like a natural fit for the northern territory. While imagining how the song would turn out, I had always felt that a First Nations chant for a vocal solo would bring to life the imagery the drums alluded to. And when Leela agreed, once again, I was stoked.
So, I went to bed stoked and praying to the Flu-Gods for Leela’s continued recovery. Sure enough, on recording day she picked me up and off we went to meet Norm Glowach at Spiritwalker Studios. Leela had emboldened her immune system and stalked up her determination and there was no one more grateful than I to hear her first notes as she stretched her natural vocal graces into the harmonies. Everything was going to be just fine.
Of course, it was more than fine, that vocal solo, to this day is one of my favourite parts on the album. Norm was fabulous and we enjoyed an easy afternoon (there were still throat lozenge and water breaks of course) where Leela nailed the parts and the song was lifted with her harmonic injections. I had many moments of pure gratitude right then. Leela apologized to me on the way home saying she felt terrible that she had not toured me around her hometown of Yellowknife nor taken me out to local venues. I couldn’t believe that she had even considered that! I was happy she was upright nevermind being my tour guide! However, she was feeling a bit better and with that, invited me to dinner at her family home where she showed me around the beautiful place she grew up in and I got to meet and chat with her parents. Her mother had cooked a traditional meal of bannock and caribou stew. I had a brief moment of oh-dear-I-haven’t-eaten-meat-in-25-years but appreciated sharing the meal so much that we simply got out my camera and took a few shots of me eating my first meat in many years and my first caribou meat ever! At the very end of the night as I stood at the door and Leela’s mother told me that caribou had previously been an easily accessible meal and was now becoming much harder to come by as the caribou population dwindled. But even with this distressing comment, she had to laugh out loud when I replied in mortification “You mean I haven’t eaten meat in all that time and now I’ve just contributed to the extinction of the animal?!!” They were charming and I had a lovely time with them and felt honoured to share a traditional meal.
My trip to the Northwest Territories tested the thickness of my skin. Not only as to whether I could muster up true ‘Canadian Girl’ gusto and embrace the minus forty-something weather (yes, Lone and I even climbed to the top of “The Rock” in these temperatures to snap those sunset-over-Yellowknife photos you see!) but also to test my willingness to move forward giving everything I could to the project without knowing exactly how I would take the next steps. I felt good. I felt like I passed. I didn’t retreat from either and I was better for it.
Travel isn’t just about seeing different places and experiencing culture. It is also about learning who you are through the lenses these new experiences provide.
Go visit the North of Canada. It is so worth it.
Til next time