Updated: Aug 20, 2021
A soundscape is "the acoustic environment as perceived by humans in context" including the sounds of a natural environment (animal vocalizations: biophony), sounds of the weather and other natural elements (geophony) or human-generated sounds (Anthropophony).
I am always attuned to the soundscape in which I find myself here on Yellowknife Bay. I won't take a moment of it for granted. The sled dogs singing, the waves crashing on the rocks, the wind, floatplanes flying over the cabin, or even the crackle of the fire. These sounds fill my soul like the air fills my lungs. They make me feel larger, alive, refreshed.
When I worked for an Indigenous Government, I met many inspirational Elders that made me feel and hear the world this way: inspired, alive, refreshed through their knowledge of- and connection with the environment. I saw the world around me in a new light, from a new perspective.
Elder Sharon Bear is one of these incredibly amazing people I had the opportunity of getting to know. I worked closely with Kokum Bear developing a traditional, cultural curriculum that would replace provincial mainstream education on her reserve and I also had the amazing opportunity to write a book with Sharon about the Round Lake Mission (Pimatisiwin Wawiyekamaw: A History of Jacob Bear and the Round Lake Mission). Sharon's grandfather worked as a translator for the Mission and her parents attended the Indian Residential school associated with the mission. Sharon's stories, her laughter, energy, leadership, her teachings of medicines and the environment all around us resonate in my mind and everywhere I look. I now see life in every strand of grass, every piece of dirt, every animal (and in Canada there are many: beaver, mink, otter, muskrat, squirrels, lynx, wolverine, cougar, bear, wolf, coyote. etc.), every season. Her stories of resilience, survival, hardship and life are so powerful in a way that I cannot begin to do justice describing in words.
Living off the land, harvesting and survival are a part of human history especially so in this place known as Turtle Island or Canada. As I walk down this trail through the forest that eventually leads us to the car, I pay close attention to the tracks I see in the snow, the sounds I hear in the forest around me, while Sharon's stories of the land echo in my mind. They remind me of the significance of the untold history of this place, my love for cultural and bio-diversity, nature, minimalism, Canada, anthropology, adventure, sustainability. I think about the ecological footprint of modern society on such a unique and fascinating environment and wish there was more I could do to protect it.
The quad has frozen up from driving through the half frozen sloughs and ponds so we now have to trek 30 minutes through the forest to the car to get to school in the early hours. The 22 hours of daylight we saw here in the north in the summer is now becoming endless hours of darkness. Our trips to and from school involve a narrow circle of light produced by headlamps guiding us through the dark forest. Our peripheral vision is non-existent in this setting which heightens the sense of awareness to the sounds around us. We are speed-walking in the event that a wolf, lynx, wolverine or other animal has spotted us. Carrying groceries we have learnt make a person feel even more vulnerable. The warm 50% off meals are too irresistible not to throw in the cart at the grocery store and you never remember it's a bad idea until you are sprint-walking down the trail smelling like animal bait with a head like an owl turning a 360 with every step to make sure nothing is following. The ice patches under the snow are not included in the heightened sense of awareness and we often lose our feet beneath us landing on the groceries, inevitably squishing the bread into a massive pancake every time. I wonder what it would be like without this headlamp, without the groceries, without modern comforts.
On weekdays, after dropping my son at school, my morning ritual consists of starting the generator, stoking the fire and setting up for a day of home office. If you only have an hour or two of electricity each day, starting the generator requires plugging in everything that matches one of the mixed-up cords that have become entangled in the mass of cable salad. This can take minutes out of the day! I often reflect on how many devices require electricity in this day and age as well as the necessity of them. If you aren't plugging them all in at once, I don't think you have ever considered this thought. The generator hums a droning buzz across the lake and it no longer feels so peaceful. I wonder what the Lynx might think that awful sound is.
On weekends, my soundscape includes the odd conversations I hear my son having on weekends with friends back in Berlin or even some friends that have visited from the neighbouring city of Yellowknife. "What do you mean you don't have electricity and running water?" "Can we play a video game?" "What's a generator?" "Where do you go to the bathroom?" "How do you choose a lead dog?" I am pleased to hear my son respond to all of these questions and as "Billie Holiday by Trettman" rings through a portable speaker in German, I am struck by all of these sounds coming together in a truly unexpected scenario and wonder how I can delve deeper into this reality. There is so much to learn and I am eager to explore further what the body and mind are capable of and break the moulds of expectation with this gift of adventure.