Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 61: Come play with me

I saw a small reddish squirrel run with tail low through the kitchen of the original CNSC building.

To a Squierrel at Kyle-na-gno
by William Butler Yeats in The Wild Swans at Coole (1919).

COME play with me;
Why should you run
Through the shaking tree
As though I'd a gun
To strike you dead?
When all I would do
Is to scratch your head
And let you go.

Why are we so drawn to the small wild creatures? Do not be afraid little ones, I just want to pet you and let you go on your way. The squirrels, the baby hares, the chicks - plover and dunlin and yellow warbler and godwit, the baby fox, the polar bear cubs... Why are they so very cute with upturned eyes, but quick feet and fear?

From Winnipeg Free Press article
The slight irony of the poem I chose to share is that I habitually do carry a gun, but not to hunt, only to protect myself. Though that brings me back to another story of a polar bear incident in town. A third bear was killed in Churchill this year. I don't know why so many this year. Winnipeg Free Press and CBC covered the story of a woman and her two children's encounter with a polar bear near the health centre. No humans were hurt, and the woman ended up fighting off the bear with her handbags while screaming until it ran and the natural resource officers showed up. The bear was shot and killed due to aggression. And the same questions I had at the beginning of June are resurfacing. Why such killing? Why can't there be a way to live together without any death? Should there be a limit to nature? Can a top predator and humans ever get along? Anywhere?

This is such a contrast to the squirrel poem. That I am tempted to write a poem in response from the bears.

To a Human in Churchill

COME play with me;
Why should you run
Screaming as you flee
in the land of midnight sun?
You think I want you dead?
When all I would do
Is to sniff your head
And let you go.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 60: Home

I realized today that CNSC has become my summer home. My home. The first month, I merely lived and worked here. Then one day, I found myself saying, after a long field day, "time to go home." What a strong word, home. Home is friends, comfort, safety, enjoyment. Home is stimulation and relaxation. Home is freedom to be myself. I have a home in Waterloo, still with people I love and miss and places and freedoms I love and miss. But I have discovered that I can have more than one home. I am happy in this home of the north.

Today, I lost one roommate of the two, so I now only have one, Krista. So we decided to expand and really unpack. We have been here for two months and have one more month to go, so why not unpack all our books and display the rocks and feathers and drift wood that we have collected this summer. We cleaned up - though we have been keeping pretty clean anyways, and we reorganized so we are no longer just visiting, we have moved in. And we have additional plans to place plants around the room and decorate it to our tastes. I love it. And I love it here. In many ways, I don't want to leave. So I will thoroughly enjoy August up here, in my home.

My little corner of home

My rock and feather collection

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 59: Responsibility

Today, I was a bear guard, I was a bear monitor - I carried a firearm and scanned the horizon for bears while the rest of the group did science. And I took my job seriously

First, it was just about looking around for bears, but not the one in charge of the shotgun. Then I went out with Carley, a very experienced member of the science staff, who kept an eye out as I carried the firearm when we went out with two of the girls from my lab, so the responsibility increased, I was now the one with the gun. But at that point, though I was still looking around, I had no idea what to really do if there was a bear. Carley helped run through potential scenarios with me. What if the bear came out of that patch of trees over there between us and the car? At what point do I shoot and at what point do we return to the car without shooting a cracker shell? At what point do I shot with a slug instead of a cracker? In other words, at what point do I shoot to kill rather than to scare?

I started to be the one who would carry the shotgun during the weekly water sampling. I started to get used to the weight of a firearm, the process of loading and unloading, aiming and carrying. I learned to wear gloves that bugs can't bite through along with full bug netting because the last thing you want is to be swatting bugs when you're trying to focus on the bear that is stalking towards you! I've learned to always have a pair of binoculars around my neck to see if that white thing in the distance is a person or a bear. I have learned to wear pants with pockets so I can keep the cracker shells in the left hand pocket and slugs in the right and not have to think about it when I load one or the other. All of these things let me focus on the bear rather than comfort, or a firearm or anything else. All focus.

Bear guarding for the tourist group. (pic by Sarah Johnson)

My first group bear guarding, I went out with Carley with a tourist group. Carley and I had firearms and the tour guide was experienced with bears so it was relatively safe. We were hiking on the Ramsay Trail, with me at the end of the pack, to make sure no bears snuck up. I was mostly only nervous when we had to go through a patch of willows. But I had scouted the area by car before we went out and Carley was also leading so she had already scouted the area before the group went through by foot, so it was pretty safe.

The next major bear guarding event was meant to be a standard sampling day. I went out with LeeAnn and the two girls from my lab so we could collect Jessica's sediment cores from Larch. I was the one with the gun again, and designated bear monitor so I was on strict lookout. This is harder than it seems because often times, walking on the tundra with the moss hummocks and ice wedges, I always look down at my feet so I don't trip and fall. But when I have to guard, I have to force myself to look up and all around. So we were about to walk into a patch of willows. I have been warned many times that bears can just lie down in a willow patch and you won't see them until you are right on top of them. So I was really paying attention. Right before LeeAnn stepped into the patch, I shouted to hold up. I thought I saw a solid, whitish object behind some of the green leaves. It could be a rock or it could be a bear... So I stared at it some more. I think it was only a bunch of flowers that were really thick, but they were the right location and height to be convincing. Better be safe than sorry, right? This was the first time that I have actually loaded a shell into the chamber in the field, at LeeAnn's instructions. Whenever I leave the truck, I load three slugs and two cracker shells into the magazine, but I still have to pump it from the magazine (the storage space) into the chamber before I can pull the trigger and ignite the powder to fire the shell or slug. That reinforced why I had to be extra cautious.

Fore the benefit of non-gun crazed people.
So today, I bear guarded again, this time for 6 high school students who are part of the EarthWatch group studying wetlands with Ben Cash. Time went be so fast when I was constantly scanning the horizon for the slightest movement and having to wade through tall grass and willows - perfect hiding habitat for bears, to check the scene out before the students went through. It was definitely unnerving. Fortunately, I was again with experienced polar bear guards. But the responsibility for another person's safety is terrifying. What if I don't see the bear first? What if... what if...? The consequences are so terrible, yet these people are trusting me to keep them safe. So I watch and I watch and I practice aiming my gun and I run scenarios in my head. Without having that first experience with a bear in the field where I make a decision, I don't know what to expect, so I'm going to be extra cautious. I don't know if I will ever be comfortable with it, and maybe I should never be comfortable.

I also saw my first boreal chorus frog without even trying!

Another interview down! Thanks Hope!

I've also added a new page to this blog using google maps so you can actually see a map of the locations I'm talking about in my posts! There is a tab at the top that says "Where in Churchill" or click on the following link:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 57: Why I smile everyday

I watched Invictus, meaning Unconquered, this afternoon and was taken by the poem that Mendela recited to fellow comrades while incarcerated and which inspired him to find inner strength and persevere. The poem was written by William Ernest Henley.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The poem is so powerful and I can only glimpse an understanding of what the suffering must have been like for Mendela or for any political prisoner or for anyone fighting today - fighting for freedom and democracy as Mendela was, fighting the pain of an amputation as Henley was, or fighting cancer, fighting death, fighting any form of enslavement or persecution or debasement. I say that I only saw a glimpse because I have never had to fight anything in my life. Granted, I had my small struggles, but they were tears that could be washed away with ice cream, nothing in comparison to the world, yet everything to me. But I have been so fortunate to be born into such a safe country where freedom prevails that it is difficult to relate to this poem directly. I can only relate with empathy. So I wrote a response.

Response to Henley:

I am captain of my soul
I am master of my fate
I am unbowed, unafraid
This is all I can relate

I am no freedom fighter
I know no wrath and tears
Nor Horror of the shade
Nor menace of the years

With freedom of my thoughts 
and freedom to further strive 
Always I stand straight
and into light I dive 

My fortune I will not waste
To circumstance I will not fall
I am master of my fate
I live this freedom for all

Don't ever take anything for granted, but that doesn't mean that I should give up my life either. I stand tall, I do my research in the north, because that is the result of having full freedom to live. If I don't live, then what are the political prisoners, the cancer patients, the oppressed fighting for if not the life I have. So I cherish it and love it. And I will not forget about those who are fighting. Right now, in this small way, this is how I can help them. Once I have learned of the world, I hope to help them more by joining their fight for freedom, life, and earth. That is my vision.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 56: Science Media

There was definitely an overwhelming theme to today's work - Media. More specifically, media and science.

A lot of the researchers are leaving at the start of August, which gives me less than a week to get some of the interviews conducted for my podcast, Avioyok. The goal of my podcast is to translate specialist scientific knowledge that each of the researchers conducting their studies at CNSC have into something that the public can understand. As my ecology professor said, referring to studying for exams, you should know each topic well enough to be able to fully explain it to your grandmother in one sentence. I don't mean give the basics of the topic, but to really understand the meaning behind the concepts that the technical words for the concepts aren't needed. I'm trying to get the complex research down to the one sentence that will eloquently explain the entire project. I'm trying to do this while still having fun with the interviews, making the researchers I'm interviewing feel comfortable, make it a learning experience for the people I'm interviewing (since they are students that may never have had a real interview before, but if they stay in science, will probably be interviewed many more times).

And I'm also trying to follow a journalistic ethical code that I think is lacking in normal interviews. The main one here is transparency. Too many reporters will interview a scientist just to get the one quote of "toxic cyanobacteria bloom in the lake" without understanding any of the context. They come into the interview with a story already written rather than discovering the real story that the scientist has to offer. In transparency, I want to make sure my intentions are stated up front. This means that I give the person I will be interviewing a letter that describes the exact nature of my project, gives a sample of questions that may be asked in the interview (before the interview so the researcher has some time to think about it), that the researcher is free to participate or drop out of the project at any time so I won't be able to use his/her voice if he/she decides not to be part of it anymore, and the inclusion of the researcher in the process of the creation of the story, sharing a copy of the transcript of the actual interview, and letting them see/hear the edited piece before I give it to the public so they can get a sense of whether what they said is being used out of context. These are constraints I place on myself to keep me honest and to keep me working towards the real story rather than the story I thought I saw in my head. Of course, it is always risky to allow the person you are interviewing to see the project before the public does, I mean, what if the researcher hates it? But in this situation the transcript can back me up because it is truly what is said, giving me the argument for the story I chose. This is a system that protects both the person being interviewed and the interviewer. This podcast will be my test to see if this philosophy could actually work.

So today was the first day of interviews. I woke up at 5:30 to hop on a bike and get out to the field by 6 AM with yellow warbler researcher, Vanya. I had my mic hooked up to my backpack and just kept asking Vanya questions as we walked and biked from nest site to nest site. It was more of a continuous stream of questions that I was simply curious about, rather than an interview. I'm glad he put up with me!
Yellow Warbler chick!

A young arctic fox sat right in front of us, eating possibly one of the yellow warbler chicks, and then ran right up to us, just a few feet away as though we weren't even there, until it lolloped away across the tundra!

I followed up the field interview with an indoor interview. I had to do this just to make sure that I actually had some good audio data. Recording anything outdoors, even if it isn't windy as it wasn't today - unusual in Churchill - is always a huge risk in quality. By the time I was done, I had a solid 3 hours of audio from Vanya which I will need to edit down to something closer to 20 minutes! That task is daunting!

I took a break from my own interviews after the morning only to find out that there was a production crew at the Centre to interview LeeAnn and the science staff to learn about the work they do. I was going out with Jessica to help her with her lake samples in the afternoon and this production crew was going to come out with us as well! I knew I wasn't going to be interviewed myself as the field assistant, but I also knew that even if they are using Jessica's stuff as background footage, they would probably want to know what Jessica's research is. So I chatted with Jessica to help her develop the short explanation of her project - that one sentence, 10 second thing. From experience, I have found that if you let the person interviewing control the messages of the interview, the real story will be lost. As the scientist being interviewed, the best defense against this is to develop that one message that you can share, so the reporter can only use this message without being able to cut it short or misunderstand it. You have to direct the interview to the story you have, not the other way around. So when we were out in the field doing the sampling, of course, they did ask Jessica the question - what are you studying. I'm glad we talked about it because she did so well explaining the project!

That was the afternoon, which left the evening open for two more interviews with two members of the Godwit crew, Andy and Madi who leave on Thursday! Back to back 1 hour interviews! It was a more formal interview style in a classroom where I asked similar questions to both of them. It was really interesting to hear how the two of them responded completely differently to the same questions, same facts, but a slightly different style and take on the events. I still have Hope and Hannah to interview before they leave next week to complete the crew that are still up here. I also want to interview the grad student who hired the crew, Nate, but that will probably wait till the fall and be a phone interview.

I'm so glad to have finally done some interviews before people left for the summer. I was getting a bit nervous that I wouldn't actually have any audio from this summer, but I suddenly have 5 hours worth! And having done the interviews, I'm starting to think that I really can pull this off!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 55: The Hindrance of Language

I went to a self-awareness circle in town tonight where, among other things, we went through a guided meditation. It was the first time I have ever meditated with the intention of meditating with other people in the room, and it was certainly a unique, dazing experience. After the meditation, we went around the circle and described maybe what was seen or felt or the experience as a whole. When it came to my turn, I could barely find the words, as though language had abandoned me. It would have been much simpler to hold my heart out in cupped hands for everyone in that room to understand than to form sentences of description. In the moment, language deserted me, and trying to use it was inadequate to the experience.

And I thought about all the other times language becomes a hindrance.

Sometimes when emotions are so strong that the words get stuck in the throat, both happiness and sadness, where the body is encased in the moment of emotion rather than the analysis and synthesis of words. When you try to use words in the dissection of the feeling, the emotion doesn't always come back.

There are times when I have met people who speak different languages than my native English. I have never met someone who speaks absolutely no English though, something I really wish to do. But I have met people who have English as their second or third language, making English awkward to speak, unable to share the true thought in their head. I watched a film that has no narration. The footage is from all over the world and the viewer is invited to simply watch and absorb the differences and similarities between people thousands of kilometers away. It is called Baraka - Blessing, where images are all that is needed to share our world.

Then there is the language of science. In large publications, this language tends again to be English, with some smaller journals in other languages. But how sad would it be to say that English is the language of science. Even to say that Latin was once the language of science is incorrect. The language of science is discovery and curiosity and observation. When you are out doing field work, it is not the language that is of interest to the field biologist, it is the observation of a behaviour or a bloom or some sort of change. The first thought is amazement! Amazed that you are seeing something new, even if it is not new to the rest of the world, in that moment, the discovery is your own. When scientists gather to share their research, language is used as a tool to explain the specific observations. But I would argue that the honest language of the gathering is the passion for the discovery, the shared passion for the curious new things found in the world. Science transcends language. It is so easy to get lost in the jargon of the field, to learn the language of a microbiologist, an ornithologist, a paleontologist. And it is this jargon that then creates the chasm between the scientist and everyone else, not in that specific field. But, if the passion of the observation is shared instead, everyone can understand because that feeling is universal, beyond language.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 53: Belugas and the Bay

I got to be a tourist yesterday with Belugas on the Bay, the current learning vacation up here. It turns out, I'm a bad tourist. Mainly, I tend to wander away on my own...

We stopped at the polar bear jail - where the polar bears that become a problem in town are placed during the fall, bear season. They aren't fed in the jail and just hibernate until the ice freezes over. If there are too many bears, the conservation staff will parole the bear that has been there the longest to make space for new ones. The tranquilize the bear, sling it up to a helicopter and transport it 60 km north, up the coast. It takes them several days to make it back to Churchill, but they mostly do come back until the ice forms on the bay. So how do you catch a polar bear? A polar bear trap of course! You dip a rag in seal fat and hang it on the inside of the tube by a rope. The hungry bear will follow his nose into the trap. When he pulls on the rag, trying to eat the "seal," the gate closes behind him and locks him in. There is no tranquilizers involved! The conservation officers then hitch the trap to a truck, drive it out to the bear jail near the airport, back the trap up to a door and bang on the tube until the bear walks into the jail on his own. How do you release a bear onto the ice? Again, unless paroled, the bears are not tranquilized. The conservation officers trick the bears back into the traps, just like before, then drive them to the beach. Open gate and let the bear come out on his own, then drive quickly away. They don't come back once the ice is on the bay. It's a pretty good management system that limits conflict between tourists and bears. Side note, Polar Bear alley is this transect along the coast from Wapusk National Park to the old open landfill where bears used to feed in the burning trash and dirty diapers. The residents got rid of the landfill , partly to eliminate the problems with the bears, partly to live up to modern standards for a landfill, partly to clean up the beach. Now they use the dump in the building, which I've talked about before, and sends trash to Thompson. There is some more talk in Churchill about dealing with the garbage by burying it (CBC interview with Churchill Mayor Mike Spence). We'll see what happens.

First stop: This is one of my favorite flowers in Churchill, the Indian paint brush! It has only opened up this past week, but the buds are beautiful themselves. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the bud. Being a tourist let me play with my camera for once!

CNSC manager, Mike Goodyear, was found laying in the wreck of Miss Piggy - a cargo plane that crash landed a few minutes after leaving the Churchill airport in 1979. Moments later he was laughing at his staged joke. No one in the actual crash got hurt so the joke was only slightly morbid!
Back to the boats! We went with Sea North Tours across the Churchill River to Fort Prince of Wales and then to look at the whales.
Again, a bad tourist, I decided to talk to the stone mason and the carpenter who are repairing the walls in the fort instead of following the tourist group. I think it was a good choice. I learned that most of the fort has been reconstructed, but 75% of the original material was reused. I learned that the walls were falling apart even when it was in use so the occupants stuffed whatever they could, scraps of anything and everything, from food scraps to broken cups into the wall to keep it stable, I learned that they say it will take 7 years to finish the restoration, but that's what the original fort designer said and it took him 40 years to finish building the fort - and there are so many little things that keep having to be done. I'm glad I talked to them. I did kinda get yelled at when I wandered around the fort near the archeologists, wondering what they were finding. When I got to them, they strictly told me to leave because I was in a construction area! When I was with LeeAnn at the fort, and a scientist, I could go anywhere. Being a tourist has its down sides.
Next was the beluga whale tour! Yes, belugas are white, but they start out as grey. So the older the animal, the more white and less grey they are. In this picture, you can see the tail. This is really unusual for belugas because they are pretty well trained to keep their tails down when the water is covered in ice. It makes taking distinctive pictures pretty hard!
Pod! Notice the dorsal ridge, not the dorsal fin. It's been reduced in belugas, hypothesized because of the ice.
See the blow hole above water, the eye and the mouth below? It was so hard to get a head picture!
Baby beluga!
Baby beluga, born this year, swam really close to mommy beluga (the white).
The captain turned on the hydrophone so we could hear the beluga whales singing below us, live! Just to give you an impression of the sounds, this video is pretty close (you may want to turn down the speakers).
Parasitic Jaeger or Arctic Skua: this is a gull that doesn't spend time hunting for his own food when it isn't breeding, but instead attacks other gulls that have caught food until those gulls drop the food. Then the jaeger flies down and gets the food. This makes them kleptoparasites! A new concept of kleptomaniac!
This is the mixing zone between the freshwater of the Churchill River, on the right, and the salt water of Hudson Bay on the left. The belugas swam in both waters, trying to catch these small sardine-like fish, capelin.
Bouy to guide the ships into the port so they don't get stuck in the shallows.
Then we went fossil hunting! This paleozoic fossil is bigger than my foot! I will tell you the GPS coordinates if you can tell me what it is and cite me in the paper about the discovery! I'm thinking some sort of invertebrate. Just to give you a reference, this is the time period of the famous trilobites. The largest trilobite ever found was from Churchill! This rock was way too big and heavy to try and carry back.

So after the day on the bus, the boat and the beach, I went to Bear Fest where there was live music and I danced on the grass till 1am with stars in the sky! It was a lot of fun, but no pictures. The sleep deprivation of today was totally worth it. Today was rather boring in comparison - lake sampling, filtering, and black box and now recovery from yesterday!

Special treat: Polar bears in winter

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 52: Food

Today, I enjoyed the taste of chocolate ice cream with raspberries. A delicious combination that was unexpected and extremely satisfying. I haven't had ice cream since I left the south, and the Northern, the only grocery up here, doesn't sell berries, so I haven't had that either. The ice cream was courtesy of Krista and the berries of Matt, so I thank the two of you so much. I don't know how you intuitively knew that I was craving chocolate ice cream!

But thinking about food, especially about the food I can't have access to up north, I started wondering about the food I do have access to. I can't actually make my own food up here beyond trying some crazy combinations with the toast, apples, bananas, oranges, honey, teas, and cereals that are left out at all hours - I have gotten pretty good at making a cinnamon apple toast crunch! So I am at the mercy of whatever Rob decides to cook up. This is where being a vegetarian gets a bit tricky.

I am a vegetarian, a moral choice I made for several reasons that many vegetarians share - health reasons, animal cruelty in the factory farm industry, environmental reasons. It is easy in the south to make choices that are much better for all of these areas - eating locally grown food, fresh food that I make myself. Easy. But the choices are much harder up here.

To truly eat local in Churchill, I would have to eat off the land, mainly eat wild game. The option seems logically reasonable. Eating wild food is healthier. It creates a direct connection between what you eat and the animal that you had to kill to eat it, which is a much deeper connection to food that I could ever have, even growing my own vegetables couldn't compare to taking the life of a goose or a caribou for food. This concept is largely related to the 100 mile diet, eat what is available to you within 100 miles.

So here is the problem with that philosophy. I am staying at a place where food is being prepared for me from plants that have traveled at least from Winnipeg and probably further, especially the bananas and oranges, to get all the way up to Churchill. The environmental impact is huge just from the travel of the food I am eating. The chef also prepares more food than everyone can finish during a meal. Some of it is reused, and he is pretty good at this, but a lot still gets thrown out. So if I already accept that I'm eating plants that are traveling from so far away, what would be the difference if I ate the meat that is already prepared and will be thrown out? Every other reason for being a vegetarian up here has already been compromised. There is still the carbon footprint of the meat itself and the amount of food that the animals have to be fed to make that meat, so maybe the veggies still have the upper hand.

I'm somewhat unique among vegetarians because I don't crave meat. The scent of chicken makes me sick, the scent of bacon doesn't make my mouth water, but makes me want something green. So I'm not tempted to eat meat. The thought of meat itself makes me sick. When I think of it, I don't think about it as food. I think of it as a dissection.

I'm wondering how right my choice is to eat what I'm eating up here anyway. If I would really follow the philosphy I proposed, I would still find a way to cook my own food and still only eat local foods - which wouldn't mean being a vegetarian.

Yet, if I am so strict about what I eat, am I going to miss out on the enjoyment of eating itself? When there are people starving in this world, shouldn't I be happy that I get food at all?

I'll end that thought there and add here, at the bottom of the post, an update on my experiment. It's done! Emma helped me empty the pool. After safely getting all the containers back into the lab and filtered with Jessica and Emma's help, Emma and I tilted the pool onto its side so the water easily flowed out. But remember that we were on the roof? The flowing water fell down the side of the roof onto the lower tin one, making an avalanche of lake water rain down onto the lab below. It was a pretty cool sight with the wind blowing the mist back up at us as the water fall crashed, holding a pink blowup pool on top of a roof in Churchill.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 51: Signatures

"Will you lend a caring hand,
to shelter those who need it,
Only have to sign your name, 
don't even have to read it."
 - From Dr. Horrible's sing-along-blog

I've been wondering how effective petitions really are, especially these internet petitions that ask you to sign your name and tell someone to do something. I think that the petitions could work to bring awareness to the public about an issue, but can they actually do anything about the issue? So to illustrate this, I found these two petitions about dogs in Churchill.

Petition Number 1:

Picture attached to petition

It has been brought to my attention that a horrible act of cruelty has been being bestowed upon dozens and dozens of innocent dogs in the north.

These innocent dogs in Churchill Manitoba need your help! Please Rescue these dogs from a life of loneliness, pain, and suffering. Imagine yourself in their position. All year long they are tied up on chains in the open wilderness in the North. Some are even killed by wild animals...and nothing is being done about this? Apparently seeing helpless dogs tied up in the freezing cold with no food or water and shelter is actually some sort of a tourist attraction. It saddens me so much to actually see that people can get away with this kind of abuse.

No animal should be treated this way. These are innocent sweet dogs that deserve to have a safe, loving, warm home to call their own. A dog doesn't ask for much. They don't care how much money you have or what you look like, give them your heart, and they will give you theirs.

[Your name]"

This petition is directed at Greg Selinger, and Stephen Harper. Selinger is the Premier of Manitoba, and Harper, well, if you don't know who Harper is, you probably don't know much about Canada - he's the Prime Minister. This petition has 1,245 online signatures.

I think that there are several really critical problems with this petition, which makes me think that there are petitions out there that are, frankly, hurting the cause they try to help. My first criticism is the language. If any petition is to be taken seriously, the language must be professional, or at least proofread. There are instances when the language doesn't have to be professional in order to illustrate someone's personal background and the views presented - in my epistemology class we read a paper that used an example of writing an opinion piece to a newspaper using slang English to bring attention to the person who was writing it rather than writing an academic, proper English paper that has less power and soul. But that is not the case here. Here, the opening sentence, "act of cruelty has been being bestowed upon" is trying to sound more sophisticated than the writer really is. Write at your level and be sincere!

My second criticism is about the inaccuracy of the information in this article. It seems like the petition writer really didn't do her homework on this. She had a friend who saw dogs out in the snow and came back and told her. "Dozens and dozens of innocent dogs in the north" sounds like there are many cases of animal cruelty in Churchill and in other northern communities, almost as though all the dogs up north are treated like this. Well, being up here, I can testify that many are well cared for and loved, that the case described is terrible, but anomalous. The petition also says that it is a "tourist attraction" which seems to me to be talking about a very specific local dog sled owner and the description of "tourist attraction" being applied to "seeing helpless dogs tied up in the freezing cold with no food or water and shelter" is completely misleading. Because the information was told to her by a friend, I think that she misunderstood that the tourist attraction is the dog sledding, not seeing these dogs tied up.

My third criticism is the lack of a call to action. What could Greg Selinger or Stephen Harper really do for these dogs? They are politicians who, if they even pay attention to the petition, will only be able to make it into a media story without having any authority to enforce the laws about animal cruelty already in place. So who could have the authority? Another note on language, who is the audience of this letter? Is it really Selinger and Harper or is it, as it seems to be written, addressed to the potential petition signers to convince them to sign? I don't think that the writer had a clear message to tell the politicians and maybe shouldn't have been sending it to the politicians anyway.

I found a second petition about the dogs in Churchill that has been put on the web. This petition seems to me to be talking about the same dogs, from what I know about the area, but is much more factual and much more directed for action:

Petition Number 2:

Picture with petition

"Provide Sled Dogs with Shelter
For years, the conditions for Brian Ladoon's sled dogs in Churchill, Manitoba, have caused outrage among residents and tourists alike. Dozens of dogs are kept chained in extremely cold, windy conditions without any shelter. Reports that dogs are periodically mauled by polar bears and wolves have made it all the worse.

Manitoba's Animal Care Act requires an owner to "provide … reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold." Although the Chief Veterinary Office of the Manitoba Agriculture, Food, and Rural Initiatives reportedly inspected Ladoon's dogs in the fall of 2010 and recommended that Ladoon provide doghouses and bedding, these animals are suffering through yet another frigid winter without these necessities.

We ask that the Chief Veterinary Office act in behalf of Ladoon's dogs immediately.

Dr. Wayne Lees, Chief Veterinary Officer
Dr. Terry Whiting, Manager, Animal Health and Welfare
Office of the Chief Veterinarian
Manitoba Agriculture, Food, and Rural Initiatives
204-945-4327 (fax)"

This second petition is directed to the Chief Veterinary Office and has 1,553 online signatures. The criticisms that I had with the last petition are solved in this one. The language is professional, almost lawyerly with references to the Animal Care Act. The petition is also directed at one individual, not against an abstract number of dog owners. I haven't met him, but I have seen him at the Seaport with a bandanna around his head. He is known for not taking care of his dogs and there are various odd stories about him - several blog posts could be dedicated to his story alone, but this post is really about the petitions themselves. So the last point I want to make is that this petition is directed to a specific organization, the one that does have the authority to do something about the conditions of the dogs. This petition can be successful because of this last point. It is telling the authority about a specific case of animal cruelty, and telling it en masse, showing that many people care about this. I don't know how recent this petition was posted, I don't know if it was sent to the Vet office, and I haven't seen any change with the dogs, so I don't know how effective this was/will be. But out of the two examples, this would be the one that works.

I guess this type of petition is akin to tattletaling, reporting on your neighbor, which is another issue in it self - citizens reporting on citizens. Even if it will help the dogs, I feel uneasy about the idea of neighbors tracking my every move to see if I mess up. The argument against that is I don't have to worry about my neighbors if I'm not doing anything wrong, that it's beneificial for me if my neighbors are looking out for me and the rest of the street if they are monitoring everyone. There are definitely some moral questions here, but I will let you think about that rather than diving into it myself.

My point to make about the petitions is that this type of petition seems like it will work. It's a law enforcement thing. What about the petitions that ask for lawmakers to pass a law to give teachers a better pension? Or a petition to save a wetland? Or a petition to get Harper to change foreign policy? How effective are these? Are these more like public opinion polls? Will these get anything done?

And how do you measure the effectiveness of a petition? Do we know it worked if the dogs are removed from Ladoon's care? How do we know someone else didn't just call up the vet or police to report animal cruelty? Would that be more effective than a petition?

What about the role of a petition to tell the public about something, almost a media role? Just by me sharing these petitions on this blog, I am informing you of a case of animal cruelty in Churchill. Isn't awareness just as important? Action can not happen if there isn't awareness first, right?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 50: Lessons

  1. To delegate a task:
    • Demonstrate the task completely (I'm talking about filtering here so it is a simple task that will be repeated 30 times in a row) from start to finish, explaining each step as you go and explaining the context of the task (We are filtering for SRP, nitrate, and ammonium which requires 20 ml of water in the analysis. These are three of the nutrients we are really really interested in so it is crucial to get this!)
    • Have the person you are teaching walk through the task from start to finish with you standing there! My mistake was walking away to do something else after the demo, doing things that I know have to be done, but without realizing that I didn't explain them, such as using a certain amount of water to rinse. When someone else walks through it, you can correct these slight differences from protocol that are actually really important.
    • Keep walking through if the person still isn't comfortable with it! Get them to talk through each step as they do it. Talking and doing are different sometimes, especially with different learning styles. 
    • Let them go on their own and trust them. You trust them then they will pay attention to the work and really try to do it right and catch their own mistakes. This doesn't mean dissappear. Be around for questions and....
    • Come back every once in a while to check in. Not casually, "how's it going?" check in, but specifically, "which filter are you on? Is the pump still giving you trouble?"
    • Be flexible for each person because each person is different. 
  2. Tips for recording audio: (I listened to the audio from the researcher in action tour last night so I've learned a few things)
    • Stand downwind of the speaker and away from the chattier members of the audience. 
    • Cover the mic with fuzzy stuff or something to shield a bit of the wind noise.
    • Hold it away from your own mouth and clothing - because you make a lot of sound that you aren't aware of - "Are you ok, Kaleigh? You're breathing really fast." "Was I?"
    • Do not take pictures while recording the audio - click, click, click... Ask the speaker to pose again afterward or get someone on the other side of the audience to take the picture
    • Do not record on a bus or in an echoing atrium where the slightest noise is picked up. Well you can, but you have to be much more careful about sound pollution!
  3. Tips to get food from Rob (the chef):
    • Do the dishes and then ask where the cookies are for a reward - having a cute little smile helps - I learned this from Kelly
    • Help put away the food after lunch or dinner - there are so many leftovers that you can have your pic - I learned this from Fiona
    • Come in before dinner when Rob or Ros is just finishing the dessert and getting ready to put it out - the key here is to look exhausted, kinda sad, and making puppy eyes at the dessert mumbling about how good it looks - I learned this from Krista and Celia
    • Barely put any food on you plate when Rob is standing cross-armed at the back of the kitchen surveying his kingdom - he notices everything that everybody eats! I don't know if this will get you food though, but he has commented when I only had a small salad one day, it might work...
    • I wonder if he would let me into the kitchen to cook my own food? I want to learn how to make bannock too!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 49: Research in Action

Today was the BIG SPIKE! So we spiked at 8:00 and sampled, then filtered, then sampled... then filtered... then sampled... 3 times! It takes a while to get this done. And as the day went on, it got colder and wetter, which was... great! Thanks to Ema and Jessica for the great help today! We weren't able to finish the filtering because we decided to go on the Research in Action tour instead. So filter tomorrow, then another sample and another filter... deja vu? Oui!

I broke out the audio recorder and the mic that LeeAnn lent me to take with me on the Research in Action tour which is a tour that picks people up from town and drives them to some of the sites that the researchers are working at where the researchers present. We had a great turn out of around 50 to 60 people would be my estimate! The recordings turned out pretty well, but you will have to wait for the podcast for that! 

This is Ann's talk (in black on the left). She is studying
semipalmated plovers and the mismatch hypothesis. Basically,
this means that the insects, which the plovers eat, are hatching
earlier because the temperatures are higher (climate change)
earlier. So traditionally, the plovers, and other shorebirds,
timed their migration, nesting and mostly the timing of chick
hatching occurs at the same time as the peak of the insects so
there is enough food for the chicks! With climate change, and
the insects hatching earlier, the hypothesis is that the chick hatching
time will not change as quickly as the peak insect time. Bad news
for the plovers. Ann is catching the chicks and the insects so
she can see if this is in fact true!

This is Hannah's talk (in blue on the right). She is the field
team leader for Nate's project studying Hudsonian godwits
and whimbrels. These are both shorebirds, but not much is known
about them. Specifically, they don't know how they migrate,
or how they nest, or how the chicks grow, but they are pretty
amazing birds - migrating from Churchill to the lower tip
of South America, male and female share of responsibilities of
chick rearing , the dramatic physiological changes to prepare for
migration and then after the migration. So most of the work
is trying to locate the nests and then capturing the birds
to put a data logger and tags on them and to get weight and length
measurements and blood samples for DNA and disease detection.
Here, Hannah is modeling how a bird trap works with a volunteer.
The trap snaps closed when you pull the fishing line after the
bird wanders back to its nest. It doesn't hurt the bird.

This is Celia (in pink/purple)! She is
holding a zooplankton net to sample the
lake for zooplankton (found anywhere in
Churchill, if there is a lake that doesn't have
zooplankton, tell Celia... she will be super
excited)! She talked about the importance of
zooplankton in the food chain as a connection
for nutrients and energy between algae and fish.
She also talked about how there are 7-8 species
in each pond and that the community can vary
greatly even between lakes right next to each
other! The communities also vary because
the environmental changes can be severe
because the volume of water is so little.
Specifically, she is looking at how different
communities that she gathers from various lakes
 can establish under different nutrient and
 salinity conditions. She is also interested in
seeing how zooplankton can establish between
lakes - how do they get from lake to lake.
So she has windsocks set up between lakes to
try and capture these resting eggs that the zooplankton
lay to survive winter and harsh conditions
(they can survive for decades in the sediment and
can actually be hatched after 70 years! This
hatching is called resurrection ecology!)
The theory is that the resting eggs are being blown
by the wind between ponds. They could also be
transported by animals or their feces!

This is Vanya (with the yogurt container around his neck!).
He is studying yellow warblers (little droplets of sunshine!)
and is looking at geographic variation of their nest morphology.
So he is holding two different nests in his hands here. One is
a nest made in Churchill, and the other in southern Ontario. The
fluffier, bigger one is from Churchill, the shallower, more woody
one is from Ontario. And he is interested in why the same species
makes such a different type of nest depending on location.
One thing he did find was that it takes 1500 trips for the
females in Churcihll to make the nests and only 500 trips for the
Ontario females! There must be some advantage!
Does it effect the chick growth? Is it warmer or cooler for the climate?
Will it hold more water or less? Or is it even an ancestral quality
that reflects the adaptations to the little ice age? Or maybe
it's just the time investment difference because southern birds
get predated more often and have to rebuild their nests many
times over the nesting period whereas the Churchill ones will
usually build it only once or twice? Vanya thinks this one since
the temperature, the moisture, and chick survival don't seem to be
different. Another thing, Vanya goes around and switches the
nice fluffy Churchill nests with Ontario nests and vice versa down
south - moving them from mansions to shacks to experimentally
manipulate the nests and see how all these variables are
effected. I feel sorry for the ones that get the shacks, but from
the research, it doesn't seem to matter all that much... 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 48: Blinds

Land of the midnight sun has been blinded.

I woke this morning at 4:30 with a blinding sunbeam across my eyes coming from Hudson Bay. Every attempt to return to sleep failed as the sun continued to shine. And it was a beautiful morning, with the orange light encasing the spruce against a pale blue sky, but I didn't fully appreciate it's splendor when all I wanted was another two hours of sleep.

I like laying in bed, watching the tundra from my pillow. I like watching how far the fog clouds visibility, the silent lightning brilliantly illuminating the fogged sky for less than a second, or the streaks of lightning that crack against the metamorphic Canadian shield rock, the roaming polar bear across the lake, the ptarmigan hopping and flapping around his nest, the Bonaparte's gulls that soar over the white spruce forest to find food for their chicks, the sunrise, the moonrise, the sunset, the blanket of stars... I fall to sleep to the tundra in my window, and I wake up to it.

But today, blinds were installed that will shield this light and obliterate these scenes.

Now I have a choice to pull down the blinds or keep them up. Of course I would have to convince my roommates with whichever choice I decide upon, but that is a later issue. At the moment, I only wish to contemplate this choice.

Humans, like most animals and plants, follow a circadian rhythm.

Gene expression showing circadian rhythm in plants with 
different genes being expressed in the day and at dusk. 
Video from the Seth J. Davis Lab

BBC talks about circadian rhythm in humans.

So my questions are: Is the sun messing with my circadian rhythm, my bodyclock, or is it already messed up anyway? As in, I should be sleeping after lunch or only for a few hours and then working and then sleeping again for a few hours? How does the clock really work? Will covering the sun at night make it work better?

But if I close my blinds to restore the night, I will lose the sight of the morning the moment I wake. I work to be outside in that. Nature is such a beautiful sight to wake to. Yet I also want to sleep... What to do...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 47

Experiment 2 underway after the rain delay. Thanks for
all the help from Jessica, Ema, LeeAnn and, the one
taking the picture, Caleigh "The Cobra."

The sampling went smoothly. I don't even
have to watch!

This is adding the lake water back to the containers with
the sediment at the bottom. Ema was amazing! She came
up with a great idea to get the water in without disturbing
the sediment based on a watering can model - Making
Rain! It should be marketed! 

The concept: lots of little holes to let the water distribute
evenly over the sediment and come down slowly. So I pour
water onto this lid that has been poked with holes and then
pull up on the push pin to create a little air hole that lets
the water fall as rain! The sediment is barely disturbed! It's

Ema had to go to a polar bear safety
meeting so I had to do this process alone.
I used a siphoning tube to add water to the
top of the lid while pulling up the pin to
make it rain. I don't know if I could stress
how fantastic this process was!

Next was setting up the pool. And while we were water brigading,
I discovered a hole in the bottom of the pool. Just a small
one where it got scrapped up a bit, so I was able to duct tape
it up. I think all is good. I have a spare pool just in case,
but this seems to work!

With the polar bears around now, we decided to set the
pool up on the roof of the old building. It meant climbing a
lot of stairs with a lot of buckets of water, but I think it will be a
lot safer. 

Plus, I get to be on the roof! On the wall next to the
little hatch that opens to the roof, there is a scribbled message:
 "No one is allowed on roof under any circumstances,
that means you!" Hehe, except me!

It is set up and ready. It will now incubate for two nights to let the
algae re-establish itself in the containers and I will spike them
 on Tuesday! What a long day Tuesday will be.

As promised, bowling pics!
From left to right starting at the back: "Spare me," "Hand me
the ballz," "Knock 'em down," "Snake byte," "Puddle" and
"Gutter Ball"

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 46: Moments

How do you define a moment?

Maybe a moment is just a small piece of time that can last a millisecond or a minute that we assign some sort of significance to and invest the memory towards. I have listed many moments of my life up here in Churchill, small snapshots of the experiments I've been helping to run, and the work others are doing up here. Maybe a moment is the thing we don't notice while it is happening, but in retrospect becomes the most important image, sound, emotion of the day?

One of today's moments: A giant orange moonrise opposite of the neon sunset while driving home (that was the first time I've called CNSC home...) after bowling.

Another moment: An arctic hare named Harvey the Hare was sitting across the parking lot so I knelt to take a picture. As I'm staring through the lens at this hare the size of a small dog, it bolts towards me! I didn't think it would stop, that it was going to barrel into me!

He stopped just a few feet in front of me.
Little bit of a demon hare with the flash.

Another moment: the event of bowling of which I didn't take any pictures, so you may have to wait a few days to see the amazing t-shirts I designed! The actual moments from this evening are the various dance breaks, the one strike I managed to make, and the posing with the science crew!

I would like opinions on the next idea. I started to work on the form of the podcast today and decided I wanted to come up with a name. This is what I think would work: Avioyok which is Inuit meaning "buzzing in ears." "You're listening to, listening, listening to, Av, Avioyok, Avioyok? Avi.. Avioyok, buzz, Avioyok, buzzing, buzzing in ears, buzzing in ears from Churchill, Churchill, Manitoba." Spliced together from a whole bunch of different people saying it, overlapping. If you have ever heard a Radiolab episode (this post is Radiolab heavy) they have a really cool title sequence that I want to emulate while being able to define the word. Any thoughts?

More Moments, these are defined by symmetry (the bonus track for making it this far in my blog post!):

Friday, July 15, 2011

Day 45: Music

The Sound of Music to be precise. That's right, I'm finally watching the movie that my Dad has rejected my entire life, up here in Churchill, the sing-along version that has the words on the screen during the songs. So songs have become the theme of the night.

First song, singing in the rain.

Thursday is the normal sampling day, so I did my seven lake samples and filtering yesterday. This morning, I went out to get seven additional samples during the rain event. Yep, it's raining again. It rained all day in buckets and breaks. Today was supposed to be the day that I started the second experiment, gathering the sediment and lake water to add the nutrient spike to on Monday. However, because it was raining, and raining so hard, the sediment was extremely disturbed and the water chemistry would have been completely different from the normal days. Which is why I've been sampling the lakes during rain events. So though I couldn't start my experiment today, and plan on starting it on Sunday, I did the during rain water sampling.

I tried to take a picture of the
mosquitos, but I failed. You
can barely see them, though
I know they were there!
So while there was one break in the storm this morning, I ran out with Carley to get the during samples. It didn't rain, but the mosquitos were maybe the second worse they have been since I've been here. The worst so far was on the ATV day when I went out to hunt fox dens with Ryan. I still have some bites from that day that have yet to disappear. Today was bad though, making taking pictures of the lakes a shaky experience every time I raised the camera - slapping at my hands against my thighs every other second. I think it's the humidity that makes them come out.

I'm sampling in the rain,
just sampling in the rain.
What an irritating feeling,
And I'm bitten again...

But that was the morning. I went again right before dinner with LeeAnn. This time there was at least a breeze to keep the mosquitos away. Then I got rained on while sampling the last lake. My good karma didn't last quite long enough to keep us dry.

A moment to break out the nerd in me. There was surface flow! There was surface flow into Puddle and into Strange from the inflow areas that we've been sampling. This was the first time that I've had surface flow since my initial walk around when there was still snowmelt during my first week here!

Song number two: Un Canadien Errant.

I had 156 centrifuge tubes to label for my experiment, 156 scintillation vials, and notebooks, containers, lids and various other assorted items that had to be labeled. I got most of it done while watching Eat, Pray, Love and listening to some podcasts yesterday. Today, I labeled the 156 centrifuge tubes while watching One Week with everyone. Un Canadien Errant was one of the songs in the movie. It was a really good movie and makes me want to travel Canada coast to coast.

Maybe I have travelled to a foreign country by coming up to Churchill. And though I do miss my home, family, and friends, the sad words of the song do not fit my mood today.

I barely knew anyone up here before I arrived, only having met LeeAnn and passed by a few of the other researchers last year and at the CNSC Winnipeg conference. Now, I eat and laugh with, watch movies with and work in the field with, make dioramas and t-shirts with new friends.

I have dove headfirst into the salty, icy waters of Hudson Bay, having never swam in salt water before. I have seen snow and ice in June. I have seen polar bears and caribous, fox and hares, dunlin and godwit chicks. I have seen the season change from winter to summer, from barren brown to a purple carpet, to a white carpet, to a green carpet with touches of pink, white and purple scattered in the green peat.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 44: Delegation

I find it difficult to tell other people what to do. I know what has to be done and I have my lists of tasks to get done, but I find it really difficult to tell other people to do them. It's not that I don't trust that they won't do the job right, but I'm afraid that I might tell them to do something that they know is wrong, but they won't say anything because I'm supposed to be in charge. I also don't know how much they can take, so I don't know how much or how little to assign. I suppose that learning how to delegate is important if I'm ever going to be a leader or just run anything. I don't know why I find it so difficult. What am I supposed to do? How do I get better at it without offending anyone? I don't think I have that kind of confidence.

Ema and Jessica arrived yesterday. They will be helping me with my project in exchange for me bear guarding for them and helping them with their projects. So I've been telling them what to do, and will be continuing this when I take get my cores and lake water tomorrow to start the second part of my experiment, and they ask my advice on how to take a lake core or where to sample. I wish I knew more so I could truly help.