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The Trip of a Lifetime – Rachel Hughes

October 27, 2017

Being accepted as a member of the Chinook Team of 2017 was one of the most exciting things to happen to me this year. I was looking forward to eventually being able to say that I had practised veterinary medicine in the north, but something else made the acceptance even more special. When I was younger, my father used to tell me stories of the years that he spent living in the north. He told me stories of walking across the breathtaking landscape and seeing the tree line slowly get thinner to the point where there wasn’t a tree in sight. He told me tales of being invited to go for rides on a qamutiik (sled), and of watching the people from the local community arrive back home from their hunting trips. He told me stories of how the sun never went down – and described the wonder of witnessing the sun just reach horizon and then rise again. When I got my acceptance letter I knew that I would be able to experience some of these things first hand and begin to make my own stories.

My trip began with a short stop into Ottawa. I arrived at the airport in Ottawa with nothing but winter clothes, wool socks and a set of hat and mittens. When I realized that it was 32 degrees outside in Ottawa, I knew that I needed to get north before I melted! Fortunately, the journey to Igloolik began the next morning.

As we got closer and closer to the north, I watched the trees and hilly landscape quickly turn into flat and treeless tundra. I watched the hot and sunny weather in Ottawa quickly turn into a snow-covered landscape. And as we flew into Igloolik, I watched the rolling turn into a magnificent turquoise-coloured sea ice.

The first morning, before heading to the clinic, I stepped out onto the door step, and the icy Arctic air hit my nostrils. For as far as the eye could see there was nothing but the small community of Igloolik and the beautiful arctic tundra. On the walk to the community hall, I took in as much as I could before the busy veterinary day began. On this first walk and the numerous other walks I was fortunate to take during my time in Igloolik, I was able to make memories for myself and experience the things in the stories my Dad had shared with me: memories like seeing the ski-doos pulling qamutiiks filled with skins, like seeing my first polar bear skin being set out to dry, and like every morning saying hello to the same two dogs on the corner – sometimes basking in the sun and other times chowing down on a caribou head for supper.

I quickly came to realize that time had a different meaning in this community. Whether it was 3am or 3pm, the sun would as bright as ever and the children would be playing soccer in the streets.

On my last day in Igloolik while on a walk with the team that I stumbled across the strikingly beautiful plants that grow in arctic despite the incredibly harsh environment. The purple saxifrage, an edible plant, and one of the earliest flowers to bloom as the snow begins to melt, was starting to blossom. Julie and I each plucked a flower and popped it into our mouths. We experienced the initial sour taste quickly turn to sweet.

This will remain one of my fondest memories, and will become one of the stories I get to tell – how many of us are lucky enough to be able to eat arctic flowers with their best friend?

Rachel Hughes, AVC 2018, traveled to Igloolik in 2017 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing.

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