Beauty is found within luminescent ribbons splitting the few moments of darkness into the mysterious Northern Lights. It is the rich, organic, sweet smell of the tundra permeating the air from the labyrinth of plant, fungi and bacteria as the weight of our feet plunges toward the permafrost a few inches below. It is in the tart taste of lowbush cranberries and the sweetness of blueberries as their sun-warmed richness slides down our waiting throats. It is in the change of fall as green grass in a single night erupts the next morning into a symphony of gold, oranges, and reds painting rainbows down the hills of shale coated peaks. It is the deafening sound of perfect silence. It is a sunset that fades into sunrise in a land that night has fled.
The small towns surrounding Inuvik have formed almost vigilante like efforts to eradicate drugs and alcohol from their communities as seen by the signs warning those who would deal. For us, Inuvik is a place at the end of a 760 km road to finally turn back toward family and friends, but for others, it is clearly the end of the road when there is nowhere else to go. The town has beauty in people like the young man who took us on a boat tour. He had much to teach us about the effects of global climate change from the observations of his elders and his family’s almost 50-year relationship with a scientist who has measured the destructive effects of climate change on permafrost. But much of the town feels like the brightly painted colors covering dilapidated metal and deteriorating wood buildings. There is beauty, but it covers a beast.
The Dempster Highway is a 760 km gravel road that travels north across the Arctic Circle and through a Canadian province, a Canadian territory, and two time zones. The land, and the road, are contrasts, harboring both beauty and the beast. We have been changed by our visit as our souls strain to understand the meaning of the words from the soft crooning of the elder Neil tapping his beaded, moose-hide moccasins in a rhythm ingrained into a mind softened with age but rich with understanding.
Posted on the Dempster Highway in Eagle Plains, Yukon.