Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: NWT

Instant Hook Runner-Up

Slave River, NT.

Slave River, NT. This is where my story starts.

In November, I printed off the first 300 words of a novel I was working on and mailed it off to the Fourth Instant Hook Writing Contest. This past weekend, I found out that I’m a runner-up.

The Instant Hook contest gauges how well a writer can “hook” a reader in the beginning of an unpublished novel. Many of you know that if you’re not grabbed at the start of a story, then you’ll probably never turn the page. Authors have to make their words compelling and interesting and worth your time.

The competition was developed by Paul Butler, a writer and creative writer instructor in Lethbridge. Over one hundred first pages from across Canada were submitted to him. The winner is Bianca Lakoseljac from Ontario with her novel Where the Sidewalk Ends. I was a runner-up along with Shawna Troke-Leukert, an author from Newfoundland and Labrador, who wrote Forgive.

Paul said there were a large number of very strong entries this year and “the runners-up represent a small shortlist made up from a very good long shortlist.” My story, Me, You and Here, is about a couple who go on a canoe trip in the Northwest Territories. One of them doesn’t make it back.

  Me, you and here

At first, there was only a sprinkle of rain. Now it’s an angry storm. Rain pours from the sky. Thunder shakes the earth. Lightening slashes the clouds in half and the wind whips the lake into a frenzy. The only thing we can do, you and I, is get off the water.

There’s nowhere to hide on this rocky and wild shore. There’s no dock to pull up to and no warm cabin to keep us dry. There are only millions of trees reaching for the tempest and rejoicing that it’s rain, not snow, falling in the middle of the northern bush.

I’m not sure who suggested turning over the canoe for shelter – you or me? I think it was me. Once I got stuck in weather like this with my family when I was little. My dad paddled us to shore and we all hid underneath the boat until the pelting rain stopped.

That lake is thousands of kilometres away from this one. That lake is much, much closer to civilization. Unlike here, where no one would ever find us if something went wrong.

This morning had dressed as a sunny day. No dark clouds had threatened our journey. No signs of anything to impede our way. Except for your shadowy face. I didn’t dare ask what was wrong this time. We had miles to go and not hours to wait while you explained to me what I did or who I wasn’t.

We had planned this trip years ago. When we were both younger and more energetic and… happier? I put a question mark beside “happier” because I can’t answer that for you. I only know I was happier. I could be happy now too. If I knew you would stay with me.

No Bones about it

Me and a dog,.

Me and my buddy Bones. Photo by Don Aubrey.

A few years ago, I walked the dogs and patted the cats as a volunteer for the Fort Smith Animal Shelter. There were a lot of stray animals in the tiny Northwest Territories town. It’s especially imperative there’s a haven for animals there because of the extreme cold in winter. Once the dogs and cats are in the shelter they get tons of warmth and love from the volunteers.

I went to the shelter on weekends and sometimes during my lunch hour on weekdays. When I first started working at the shelter I got teary eyed every visit thinking about all the abandoned pets. But I kept going because if I wasn’t there, who would take my place?

Most of the cats enjoyed a pat or 30 (I ended up taking one of the kitties home.) They purred and cuddled and played with me in the cosy kitty room. I always had to hurry to shut the cat room door when I was leaving because they’d try to follow me out.

The main room was where the dog pens were housed. There were huskies and Labs and even a mini Pinscher that I wanted to adopt. There were old dogs and middle-aged dogs and puppies. There were adorable dogs and funny-looking mutts and dogs I couldn’t walk because they were too large and too strong and they walked me.

There was one big guy named Bones at the shelter and if you met him in a dark alley you probably would run the other way. He only looked scary. I’m not sure what breed he was but he was definitely a cross between a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler. He had the brown and black colouring of both canines, the ears that stuck straight up in a Shepherd and the snout of a Rottie. He had the strength of a horse and even his tail could pack a mighty thwack if you walked past him. Bones wasn’t meant for fighting though and it showed through in his soft, kind brown eyes and friendly demeanour.

Cats/

In the cat room.

Bones could have been a bad man but he was the sweetest dog in the world. He enjoyed people and pats and going for walks. I loved him a lot. We used to wander around the snow-covered paths in winter looking for new sights (for me) and new smells (for him). Bones was my best buddy. I’d tell him all kinds of stuff and he never butted in with unwanted opinions or advice. Ever. He just kept silent and let me do the talking.

It took a while before Bones was adopted so we had a pretty long relationship. He even chaperoned a couple of dates I went on with a human. Bones wasn’t the jealous kind and he let my soon-to-be boyfriend tag along with us.

Bones went to live with a local family in Smith and was often seen hanging out at their shop. I went to see him a couple of times and he’d always stand on his hind legs and give me a bear hug. He knocked me over each time as he was almost the same size as me.

Thus year, 2017, marks almost 10 years since I last saw him. He was hit by a vehicle a while after I moved from Fort Smith to B.C. I heard the news through a shelter friend and I cried over the loss of my big, furry friend. I still miss him.

Gifts not presents

Woman sitting in Fanas, Switzerland.

My big ugly coat I can’t find. I’m in Fanas, Switzerland here.

Christmas is on the horizon and for many of us, that means lots of cookies and eggnog and family time. My immediate family (and family-in-laws) don’t live close enough to us to hop over for some seasonal cheer but my husband and I consider our friends as extended family.

It’s a gift we have these people in our lives in Calgary. This week though — this cold, cold week — I’ve been thinking about other gifts that I’m grateful for: and not expensive presents.

It’s super-duper freezing outside and I walk everywhere (most everywhere). Somehow, I’ve lost two winter coats. Oh I know they’re packed in boxes but I’m not sure which boxes. I didn’t label them when I loaded them full of housewares and clothing and knickknacks in preparation for a move. Well, that move hasn’t happened yet but winter has. I did know where one special winter coat was put and dug it out.

The special coat was my Nana’s. It’s pink and pure virgin wool (so says the tag) and has a fur-lined hood. Nana lived in northwestern Ontario and it’s cold there. The coat must have worked because she used it for a long time and then handed it to me before I moved from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) about 10 years ago. I never used the vintage coat in the N.W.T. because I had a black, puffy parka that looked like a sleeping bag on steroids.

Now I can’t find that black coat nor another black parka that looks almost the same. I had to start using my Nana’s coat. I put it on today and walked downtown in the -33 (with wind-chill) weather. It worked! I was warm and cozy in the wool coat and I even got some compliments on it while I was shopping in the mall.

I never saw Nana again after she gave me the coat: she died soon after I went to the N.W.T. Her gift is finally being put to use 10 years later and I’m grateful for its warmth and the reminder of her as a flesh and blood person. She wasn’t always an old woman. She wasn’t always my Nana. She was young and had ideas and dreams and perhaps, in her coat, she lived some of them.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Another gift is the gift of nature in the city. Like I said and many of you know, it’s freaking cold. But have you seen how beautiful it is outside? The fog rolling off the Bow River in the morning turns everything around it silver. The fresh snow covering the brown leaves on the ground and ugly grey pavement convinces us that the streets are pretty and Christmas is just around the corner. At night, when the festive lights are turned on, they still can’t compete with the stars. The clear cold air only accentuates their brilliance, reminding me that I’m one small person on this large planet.

With the holidays comes goodwill. People hold doors open for me. They stop their vehicles to let me cross the street. They put down their mobiles to engage in conversation with me, a stranger. This is a great gift and I wish it continued all year long because this is an important gift: the gift of time. Taking a couple of seconds to be friendly doesn’t take much and you’ll never know how deeply your kindness was felt.

“A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Where to go from here

Rogers Communication Centre.

Standing outside of the Rogers Communication Centre, home to Ryerson University’s Journalism program.

When I graduated from journalism school the economy was in rough shape. It was 1997 and there was a global economic crisis. There’s a recession now too and journalism grads are in the same boat I was in almost 20 years ago. One recent go-getter grad e-mailed me and asked for some advice. I met him a couple of weeks ago and shared what I learned about being an unemployed and young journalist.

In 1997, the global economic crisis hit Asian countries the hardest. That’s when I decided to teach English in South Korea. I had been working at the Gap in Toronto and wasn’t getting any bites on my green journo resume. I left for Korea and spent several months there. While I made next to nothing, I wrote a biweekly column for a newspaper back home in Nova Scotia. It gave me a chance to hone my skill writing to deadline, as well as share my insight into a different world with people from home.

Things are different for journalism students today. I got out of school with my degree and had a good possibility that I was going to be hired by a news agency, eventually. Now with the shrinking (and outright shutting down) of newspapers, news programs and news magazines, the possibility of solid work for journalism grads is slim. But there are other places to go, especially when you’re 23 and don’t need to support a mortgage or family.

Take a look at the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP). I went to The Gambia, West Africa as part of an IYIP internship. I was the publications officer for a human rights non-governmental organization, a position that required me to use all the skills I had picked up during my six years of university. I learned a lot and the experience taught me more than a job in an office in Canada would have. Take a look at the internships available today.

Newspapers are important but they’re becoming extinct in urban Canada. In northern Canada, many still rely on the paper for news. People are excited to see their children’s photo on the pages of a community paper. I worked as an editor for the Slave River Journal, (called The Northern Journal today) and it was fantastic. There are a lot of issues and news north of 60. Working at a small paper broadens your perspective on Canadian culture and you meet

forest fire.

Flying over Wood Buffalo National Park and checking out a fire.

people from all walks of life. You get to do cool things too like go ice fishing or take a ride in a helicopter to check out a forest fire in Wood Buffalo National Park. See if these places have openings for reporters/editors:

NWT
Northern Journal
Northern News Service
Hay River Hub

Nunavut
Nunatsiaq News

Yukon
Yukon News
Whitehorse Star

This site was invaluable to me when it came to finding jwork: http://www.jeffgaulin.com/ I hope the journo grads reading this find it useful too. Good luck.

Love at first sight

cat.

Tomas

I saw him from across the room. A handsome guy with an intense stare. I decided to go over and say hello. That’s when he head-butted me.

It was my introduction to Tomas, a cat at the Fort Smith Animal Shelter. He knew he was going to be mine the moment he laid eyes on me. And he wasn’t about to let me go.

I was trying to pat the other kitties in the shelter’s cat room. There were a lot of them and everyone needed at least a couple of hugs. Tommy didn’t think so. He wiggled his way into my arms and told the others to scram.

This was my first visit to the shelter since I had moved to the Northwest Territories a couple of months before. Dixie Penner, who runs the shelter, also worked with me at the paper I had come to be the editor of: the then Slave River Journal. She suggested I volunteer at the animal sanctuary and so I was there looking around.

Tom followed me around, hissed at the other kitties, and mooed at me to pay attention to him only. (Tomas doesn’t meow, he makes cow noises but since he’s from the north we say he’s making bison noises.) After that day I started coming back to visit him and play with the other cats, well, if I could get near any of them. I walked the dogs too.

A few weeks after helping out, Dixie asked me if I wanted to foster Tom, a squat boy with several shades of grey granite on his white fur body. He wasn’t getting along with the other cats and needed to be on his own. I asked my landlords if I could bring him home and they said OK so I said OK to hosting Tomas for a while.

dog.

One of the dogs I used to walk. She was eventually adopted.

He moved in one November afternoon. When there was snow on the subarctic ground and the sun was beginning to hide for most of the day. I thought he’d be a regular guy, hang out with me, eat some food and then go to sleep at night. But oh no, he turned into a bad guy.

Tomas would run full-tilt at me and then attack whatever part of my body he arrived at first. Usually my legs. He was vicious and for the first two weeks I walked around with giant pillows so he could assault them and not me. One night I got a nasty surprise in the dark just as I turned out the light. Tommy leapt up and grabbed my arm, scratching and tearing until I managed to pull him off.

Even my friends were afraid of him. When one buddy came over Tom would hop into his lap, waiting for pats. He wouldn’t get many as my friend was frozen solid, afraid to move a muscle in case Tom sank his fangs into his flesh.

Family_Lines_Tomas_oneOver a few months Tommy became a sort-of nice boy. He stopped the attacks and bit only when I left him on his own for a while. He’s a very social cat. After a year I decided to adopt him because even though his poster was all over the territory, even in Yellowknife, no one has asked about him. (I’ve never told him this though.) He’s a great guy now after mellowing for 11 years. Just don’t whistle around him. He’ll bite you.

How I wrote my book

Slave River.

Flight flying over the Slave River in Fort Smith, N.W.T.

Yes, I’m touting my book again. As an indie writer and publisher, I have too. No one else is going to promote me except me. So give me a moment to toot my own horn.

The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly centres on a raven from Fort Smith, N.T., a small town that I lived in for about three years. The big birds of the North are everywhere and while they scare some people, I like them. While walking to work through the snow on dark mornings the ravens would fly just above my head. I could hear their wings go swish, swish, swish, almost like a velvet skirt rustling, as the birds rose to the sky. I wondered where they were going and what they saw when they flew around the wilderness.

Ravens are also smart and stole food from the sled dogs chained up behind various homes. I’d watch as one raven distracted a dog and then a second raven snuck behind the canine and took kibble from its bowl. The dog was none the wiser.

I came up with the idea for my book sitting in a downtown Calgary lounge while on a work assignment. I wanted to create something that everybody could read, not just adults. So I started with the idea of a little raven not wanting to learn to fly. (As a private pilot, I had to learn how to fly once but my experience is much different than my raven’s.)

At first I was photoshopping my own images and cutting and pasting ravens in the photos.

Slave River.

The photo of the Slave River used for the last illustration.

But I didn’t like the way it looked. I found illustrator Helen Monwuba and provided her with pictures from around Fort Smith. (She’s in Nigeria.) She did an excellent job bringing my Canadian ravens to life in her art from Africa.

When the story and illustrations were complete I published my book. Now comes the hard part: selling it. The ebook is the cheapest option at $4.99 and the softcover is nice too but a bit more pricy at $32. That’s because each book needs to be printed and then shipped. Don’t let that stop you though. Go get a copy!

The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly

Flight is a young raven born in Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, Canada. She loves her family and hanging out in their comfy, cozy nest. When it comes time for Flight to spread her wings, she first has to overcome her fear of flying. Thanks to her parents, she finally leaves the nest.

Print book

Blurb: http://blur.by/1zZpZdi / $32.99 CAD without shipping

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1320278310 / $28.58 US without shipping

Ebook: 4.99 CAD

Blurb: http://store.blurb.ca/ebooks/p43a9f931da2cda4398e5

Apple iBookstore: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/id950045042

 

My “Stanley Cup” goal

Hockey game.

Fort Smith versus Fort Simpson at the Moose Hide Mama tournament.

I love hockey. Playing hockey, that is. I like watching the NHL. Especially during playoffs. I can imagine the thrill of each goal that brings a team closer to the ultimate shiny target – the Stanley Cup. I’d like to think I know how it feels to be playing your best and out for the win.

My first hockey team ever was the Fort Smith Fury. I had played hockey with my family on the pond growing up in Nova Scotia but it wasn’t until I went to the Northwest Territories that I ended up on a formal team. It was in Smith I learned how to put on shoulder pads and hockey socks and poke check.

I was a winger my first year. My second year I moved to centre – a good position for a puck chaser. Centre is awesome. You’re half forward and half defence. You skate a lot, which I liked because of the exercise, but you also have to have a good idea about what’s going on around you. It’s your job to feed the wingers (and the points) pucks to get the goals. As centre I did put some pucks in the basket but one stands out for me.

Every year Smith went to a tournament in Fort Simpson, a town about an eight-hour drive west. Simpson is a cool place where the Mackenzie and Liard rivers meet and the Moose Hide Mama’s tourney was so much fun. The hockey was good and the party afterwards included the whole town. It was worth the slog along snow-covered dirt highways with nothing to look at but trees and trees and trees.

Fort Smith made the trip to Simpson as did Hay River. Teams from Yellowknife never seemed to make it to anything not in Yellowknife. Smith and Simpson had a friendly joking relationship on and off the ice. Hay River was different. They were our rivals and always seemed to beat us in this tournament and others. Not this year.

Smith had sent a tiny team and we lost one of our players due to an injury. That meant we only had two subs, one for defence and one for forward. We had managed to win most of our games on Friday and Saturday but heading into the final game on Sunday against Hay River we were tired. We had played a lot of hockey in the previous days and, of course, attended the party the night before. Oh well. Time to hit the ice and win.

The first period went OK. Not smoothly but we were getting into it. Then came second period. This is where we had to hold our own. I was on the ice playing centre when the puck was shot from our side down the rink. Icing would be called – maybe. I was taught to skate hard after that puck in case the call was waved off.

Hockey team.

Fort Smith waiting to play in Fort Simpson.

I was deep in Hay River’s zone when the goalie took several side steps out of her net, stopped the puck and…passed it to me.

That’s when I started to feel the pressure. I had an empty net. A wide, wide open net. If I didn’t score on this then I would be scarred for life. I would never live it down if I missed and I did not want to miss this opportunity.

I had to do it. I had to shoot the puck now. For all I knew there were Hay River players about to pounce on me and take away this golden moment. I let the puck go and…she scores!

I did it.

That was one of my most memorable hockey moments. That goal buoyed my spirits and gave me a shot of adrenaline for a few minutes. Then I started to flag as I got tired again. We called the third period of that game zombie hockey. We were so exhausted that we were like zombies. Instead of looking for brains, we looked for the puck.

My goal was not the winning goal, there were far more talented women on the team who took up the score. Despite the game of living dead hockey, we won and were a bunch of happy ghouls.

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