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Arctic travel changed my life

KIMMERUT, Baffin IslandI remember the little girl who guided me through life in this 480-person hamlet on the shores of Hudson Strait.

KIMMERUT, Baffin Island

I remember the little girl who guided me through life in this 480-person hamlet on the shores of Hudson Strait.

Her name was Shannon.

She was about eight years old, but she spoke with the wisdom and worldliness of someone much, much older.

I spent the entire day learning about her way of life and I was so grateful to her.

She took me to a carving shed where she introduced me to her father.

She explained to me that her father used to be the mayor of her town and now he was the best carver she knew.

He was working on a walrus carving and he was almost done, but I had to go to culture meeting before he could finish.

I was in Kimmirut as part of a team of 68 international students and 30 scientists touring the Arctic for two weeks.

The expedition affected me so deeply that I have been inspired to do something about our global warming crisis.

The journey began in Ottawa, where all participants of Students on Ice, the international student fact-finding mission,  gathered.

I was nervous about spending two weeks with complete strangers, but as soon as we met it was like we had known each other forever.

We spent two days touring Ottawa: the Parliament Buildings, the Natural History Museum and we got to know each other better.

We attended a lecture by Alain Baranstain, who was involved in the Phoenix Launch (a lander that was to stay on Mars and monitor the environment). The launch was scheduled for takeoff the day after we left for Churchill, Manitoba.

I was a little disappointed that there weren’t all that many lectures on space.

We attended one by Denis Lacelle on the Canadian Space Agency’s projects, which was absolutely fascinating, but other than the Lacelle and Baranstain’s lectures we had no others.

That is why I took it into my own hands to learn what I could about the Phoenix Lander when I got home.

After three days in Ottawa, we hopped a charter flight to Churchill and boarded the icebreaker Luibov Orlova, our home for the next two weeks.

We spent 14 days sailing up Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait exploring the communities and meeting elders.

Our Zodiac cruised through little bays and around little islands to enable us to study the plant and animal life. In the process, we just enjoyed the atmosphere of a group of people that had come together for the same purpose: to learn about and raise awareness about global warning.

I met many different people, saw Baffin Island’s Auyuittuq National Park, tasted raw seal liver (tastes like salty fish and blood), heard walrus grunt and smelled the Arctic dandelion, which had a light, sweet fragrance.

These experiences changed my view of our planet and its resources.

The expedition was to raise awareness of global warming and its effects on life.

Learning about the Arctic meant learning about extreme environments — like Mars, where Baranstain’s Phoenix Lander was bound.

The remoteness of the Arctic was otherworldly for me.

There were no trees. That was different not to see these natural structures making a jagged line on the horizon.

One of the many things that amazed me this summer was all the varieties and quantities of vegetation in the Arctic.

I expected it to be an enormous barren land of rock and snow with nothing but polar bears living on it.

It was an enormous land, but the Arctic was anything but barren. We saw more than 100 different types of moss and many more flowers.

Of course everything was close to the ground, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t beautiful.

In fact, I think that the vegetation in the Arctic is the most beautiful, impressive and fascinating vegetation that exists on Earth.

These plants can survive the harsh winters and windy summers yet still, remain intact and strong.

This was where my first learning opportunity about global warming presented itself.

One of our scientists was an amazing botanist named Lynn Gillespie.

She told us about how, because of global warming, plants that only used to grow in the southern parts of the circumpolar countries were starting to invade the Arctic plant species because the north was warming up.

It is so sad to think that, because of what we are doing to the planet, all this beautiful vegetation will be wiped off the face of the Earth.

If you ever get the chance, I very strongly suggest that you travel to the Arctic and study the fauna there.

We saw land animals seen by only a handful of people, sea creatures that some can only dream about and birds that could amaze you if you only spent five minutes with them.

I’ll start with the sea creatures.

The most spectacular thing happened with a pod of orcas we saw in the middle of Hudson Bay.

The first thing was just that we saw these whales, (they are actually very large dolphins) that are already rare in Arctic waters, in the middle of an enormous expanse of water.

It was amazing that we found a pod of only about 10 orcas.

We spent two hours going round in circles in the middle of Hudson Bay marveling over these spectacular creatures.

Another great experience with the sea creatures was the day I spent with the jellyfish in Eric’s Cove.

I saw glowing jellyfish, little green jellyfish, big red jellyfish and we even found an unnaturally large zoo plankton.

We also saw beluga whales, walrus, harbour seals and even the blow from a bowhead whale.

The land animals were incredible as well.

We saw polar bears, Arctic hares and Arctic foxes.

We also saw many different species of birds including kittiwakes, glaucous gulls, ivory gulls and the penguin of the North — the thick billed murre.

But what changed me most this summer were the people I met.

I met students from around the world, knowledgeable scientists, wise elders and children from these tiny, self-sustaining communities on Baffin Island.

When I arrived in Ottawa, I was scared that the people from my organization wouldn’t accept me.

I was completely wrong.

Every single person I met changed me and showed that you can make a difference just by caring.

Which brings me back to Shannon.

The second our Zodiacs touched land in Kimmirut, the children came up to us and immediately wanted to guide us through their town.

It didn’t matter to them that we were complete strangers.

As soon as they met us, they wanted to share their whole world with us.

Shannon was my guide. And then I was pulled away to the culture meeting, and left the little girl with her dad in his carving shop.

After the meeting, I wanted to see if Shannon’s father was done his walrus carving.

Shannon took me back to the shed and her father was almost finished.

She told me to wait there because she would be right back with something she wanted to give me.

I waited, but then one of my fellow travellers told me we had to leave.

I wanted to wait for Shannon to come back so I could say goodbye, but I was rushed back to the Zodiacs.

I never got to say goodbye.

Now, every time I think of throwing recyclables in the garbage can, I stop and force myself to put them in the recycling bin.

I want Shannon and her community to be safe.

I want her to live and get the chance to grow up.

She inspired me to do something about global warming.

One irony about the trip was that in learning about global warming, we also contributed to it.

We needed some way to all get together and, unfortunately, the only way that was possible was for everyone to fly to Ottawa.

We burned close to 90 tonnes of fuel this summer, and we needed to think of a way to balance that out.

We started something called carbon neutralization.

Carbon neutralization happens when you offset the amount of fuel you burn by practising more economical strategies in other settings.

Recycling is one way to balance it out a little, but there are many other ways to balance our greenhouse gas emissions: carpooling to school and work, walking or riding your bicycle instead of driving a car, composting, turning off your lights when you leave your house, turning the heating down when you go to sleep, washing your clothes in cold water, planting trees — are all ways of reducing these emissions.

Life is precious.

I realized that this summer.

We have to start taking care of our world otherwise everything we hold close could be destroyed.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that we are destroying our planet.

Many people know that we can’t keep using up our resources without consequence but there are far too many who are oblivious to the consequences of their actions.

I find it so infuriating that people don’t care in what condition they are leaving the planet for their grandkids.

I want to make a difference otherwise everything I learned, everything I experienced this summer will all be wasted.

I need to do something for the animals I saw and for the places I explored.

I need to do something for Shannon, so she can live her life without having to be displaced from her home because of global warming, so that one day, I can go back and give her a proper goodbye.

I am doing my part to help our planet by telling you all about my experience.

All I ask is that you help also.

Anne Aubin is a Grade 10 FH Collins student. This is her first story for the Yukon News.