Sunday, September 29, 2013

Arctic Journal Excerpt: Discovering Silence

On my first morning in Ivujivik, a cloudless, crayon blue sky was all the invitation necessary.  The solitude on the land was the carrot that had the most appeal whenever I looked ahead to the time in Ivujivik.  Without even a bowl of cereal, I scrambled through the boulders piled immediately behind my house, camera slung over my shoulder, to get out on the tundra.  It may have been more conventional for me to take the gravel roads through the village, but that was too lengthy a route for my liking and there was something about “making a left turn at the community centre” that diminished the grandeur and purity I had already attributed to the land.  I also wanted to ensure my time on the tundra was solitary rather than intruded upon by someone who saw me striking out on my own and wanted to ensure I would be okay.  I wanted to, had to contemplate the space and the epic minimalism the tudnra for myself without the trouble of making conversation or needing to be aware of or reading someone else for their mood or take on the place.  Solitude would allow me to relate to that place without any mediation or intervention from another person wanting to whisper, “Something, huh?” or “Leaves you speechless.”

I was not conscious of the very moment silence first set in.  I climbed the rocks upward seeking a broader horizon that was level with my feet rather than over my head.  When I cleared the rock pile to the more open area I sought, I finally paused to create and go through a mental checklist of the sounds I would hear from the village: barking dogs, the ATVs, the hum of electricity through the wires.  None of those sounds could be caught or conjured up in my imagination.  For a few moments I strived to stretch my hearing toward some sort of sound to confirm or deny the possibility of complete silence.  I listened for breezes percussing against my ears, or playing an aeolian note on some crack in the rock. There was even the thought of finding my own heartbeat.  At that point, in that place, I was entirely absorbed in my imagination and left to believe whatever I wanted about myself and that moment.  I could deceive myself or discover a truth, but ultimately I was going to be left with whatever I chose to believe.  In a place as primal, pure and unadorned as this, it would be hard to believe that silence would lead me to self-deceit. Compared with the inundation of challenges in the village or the classroom, the tundra was a place where I could satisfy myself with the knowledge that I respected the land and treaded on it accordingly.  

That first hike, like all that followed, was an occasion of rapture and peace.  I shot two rolls of film that would never equal the experience.  Two dimensions of texture and colour admitted as much.  The patinas of granite and sedges seemed a mere monotony of rock and sky to friends who handed those pictures around a kitchen table in the south.

The land, however, commanded a reverence that kept me walking slowly and deliberately to ensure that I was grounded by more than mere gravity during those hikes.  I never gave a thought to sitting down on the tundra, shouting out to see what the space would do with my voice, looking at my watch or bringing my walkman.  This was not a place I would render mere background.  I do not know if the time I spent on the tundra provided me a context for the community I was working in, but it definitely provided me meditative hours to clear my mind and recharge.

I was able to escape whatever matters I was dwelling on.  I would ponder things like the tiny magenta flowers that grew in the barest patches of dirt: tiny wonders blossoming briefly on the granite with scant, cosmic mysteries of survival and will locked in their seeds for the long winter.  Puzzles of the fragile and ineffable filled my thoughts - a free radical ready to latch on to any other notion about the community, the vocation or life.

Without a landmark to identify as a destination before returning to the village, the decision to head back was always an arbitrary one.  I would be absorbed in the breadth of the uninterrupted horizon and the depth of my contemplation, until a mundane thought turned me back to the village for food, rest or being available to others, even if it was just to assure people I was safe and accounted for.  I regretted every step back, knowing that I had deprived myself of more of that state of mind.  Could it have been enlightenment?  

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