Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
Somewhere Over Nunavut
by Alison Timmons
The sun is so low, almost disappeared, that it is a blood-red gaping maw, a glowing firepit. We are 40,000 feet above northern Canada en route to Iceland, on the roof of the world; local time 23.50.
I idly flick the small seatback screen to follow the path of the flight. A little textbox appears: Hall Beach, Canada; population 609; elevation 27 feet. I peer out the window at the vast expanse of ice fields softened in places by blurred waterways and dotted with dark islands.
Those 609 people--what ancient connections they must have with that flat and snowy land. Later I learn that winter can bring temperature of -49F, that they live on permafrost, and see caribou and polar bears every day, eat igunaq, fermented walrus, as a delicacy, that their air is bright and clean, and the winter has two months of darkness--the sun busy warming those on the other side of the world and plunging Hall Beach into a cold stillness.
But today, as I fly over them, I wonder how they see and understand the changes being wrought by the rest of the world. The area is called Nunavut, Inuktitut for "Our Land" but they have no control over carbon emissions from China or India or America. Their land is caught, helpless, ensnared like a walrus, angry but feeble and weak. How are those 609 voices supposed to be heard above the tumult of millions? Their circumscribed lives far from smokestacks and factories, multi-lane highways, lawnmowers and leafblowers, reach back to ancient times, following the same rhythms as their forbearers. It is there, on the very edges of the polar icecap that the first changes, the thinning sea ice and softening permafrost, are being witnessed. Surrounded by their vast Arctic wilderness, the Inuit can feel and see the transformations and while we still argue about carbon loads and emissions, it is their lives that are changing irrevocably.
I am aware of the contradiction as I consider my part in all of this, my plane spewing out its own carbon load. I keep looking out the window. Less than two hours of a twilight--no real darkness--and the sun, a blood-red globe, bounces back into the sky. Local time 02.41.
And now, in no time, the whole sun is visible. By 02.50 the sun is as high as a late morning--morphing, blending like a lava lamp, the sun's globe split by a dark band of cloud--brilliance above, a soft diffusion of light below. Our plane windows glow golden. I look below, an observer as powerless as they. Their day is just beginning again.
Alison Timmons is an English Instructor at Blue Mountain Community College, Pendleton, Oregon and enjoys writing a variety of creative non fiction. She originally hails from Britain and likes traveling and birdwatching.
Back to Flashes