Tales of a Northern Musical Hippie

I’ve already gotten in touch with my musical side as a hipster in Singapore and Vietnam, so to switch things up in the Northwest Territories, I decided to loose the “-ster” and replace it with a “-pie”, some circular drums and friends standing in more circles. Yup, I went to a drum circle – it was awesome.

Although I’d played the drums in middle school band class (yeah, I was a cool kid), I was kind of nervous because I had no idea what to expect with the addition of this whole “circle” thing to drumming. All my friend had told me was that there’d be singing in addition to the drumming and that I fail out of songs on easy when I attempt vocals on guitar hero.

Lucky for me, this “circle” thing was centred on inclusivity and making everyone feels welcome (the session was taking place at a friendship centre after all, so I should have expected as much).  In the local native Dene culture, drums have always been an important aspect of healing and finding internal balance (when they’re not being used to distract opposing teams during the über-competitive Dene Hand Games).

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With that, they’re a big part of the local culture and to respect tradition, we started the session by burning some sage and letting the smell absorb into our bodies and drums.

An old boss used to call me a

An old boss always used to call me a hippie, which I would feverishly deny, but after this moment, I don’t think I’d be able to do that anymore..!

Then, the rhythm for the first song, the Eagle was explained: beat, rest, beat, rest – something I knew I could do! The lyrics had also been provided on a print out, but although they were supposed to tell the story of an eagle journeying through a storm, they weren’t actually written in any type of language and looking at them proved to be a mess of  “ah”s, “ha”s, “hi”s, “ho”s, “ye”s and “lo”s. Basically, they just seemed like a dyslexic jumble on the page, about as far as you could get from rhythmic lyrics. Before I had even finished struggling to read the first verse, the first drumbeat had sounded and we were into the song.

I drummed in silence the first couple of bars, desperately trying to find my place on the page while continuing to drum in rhythm. Try as I might, I could not make sense of all the crazy non-words and eventually conceded and just focused on the drumming.

Then at a magical moment partway through the song, the “lyrics” developed a natural order! I stopped overthinking and just … sang along. To my surprise, I “happen” to be singing the same thing as everyone else – it was a hippie miracle!

I think sage gives drums magical powers, just saying

I think sage gives drums magical powers, just saying

At the song’s end, we all sat down and talked about what we felt from the song. I explained my experience with stopping myself from over-complicating the task and how letting go made it so much easier. The circle leader beamed at my response and I felt as though I passed some type of subtle hippie-test.

I applied this “chill out and just sing” thing to the rest of the songs and made it through no problem – I wasn’t even (atrociously) off-key most of the time! By the end of the session, I was charged with hippie-life-lesson-learning energy and re-sparked with a drumming love.

PS. I feel like it sounds as if I’m using “sage” as a euphemism for some type of hard-core drug, but it was actually just sage, okay!?

 

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TSN in the NWT: Fort Smith, Kraft Celebration Tour Champion

Just before I got to Fort Smith, a fire broke out in town, burning down the skating arena. This place not only served as the only place to play hockey in town, it was also home ice for kids from all over the Northwest Territories, even as far away as Inuvik. Even though it serves such a large area, the arena was still pretty low in funding and a full reconstruction wasn’t in the budget.

Just to give you an idea, Inuvik is (A) and Fort Smith is (B). Kids from these 2 places play on the same minor hockey team!

Just to give you an idea, Inuvik is (A) and Fort Smith is (B). Kids from these 2 places play on the same minor hockey team!

Then, a dreamy idea came to one of the devoted coaches: over the past few years, this thing called the Kraft Celebration Tour has gone about donating $25,000 to several communities across Canada to help fund community based projects. If you nominate your community and your proposal gets accepted, your community is faced off against another somewhere across the country in a round of online voting where residents show their support for the project.

Getting approved was the easy part, since Kraft also does a Hockeyville challenge in the winters; they’ve got a soft spot for the sport. The hard part was the voting challenge. We were up against Whitehorse: the capital of the Yukon and a place with 10x the population of Fort Smith. We were going to have to take serious action to even stand a chance at winning and fortunately, the town was ready to pull together: they set up voting stations at Aurora College and had teams of people sign up all throughout the voting period to sit down and do nothing but vote for 2 hour blocks. Getting into the spirit of things myself, I sat down with a movie on my laptop and the voting page in another window and got down to business. With each vote, you have to prove you’re not a robot by typing in some words on the screen. I voted so many times; I saw a whole evolution of passwords:

Starting our with the normal gibberish...

Starting our with the normal gibberish…

...Moving on to foreign accents...

…Moving on to adding foreign accents…

...Now introducing crazy decimal numbers...

…Now introducing crazy decimal numbers…

...To learning that whoever makes these things really doesn't like their job!

…To learning that whoever makes these things really doesn’t like their job!

In the end, the voting paid off and we tallied 253,022 votes – about 100 per person and demolished Whitehorse (they only had around 40,000)!

After about a month, the Tour made its way to Smith to present the town with a cheque and have reporters Jennifer Hedger and Darren Dutchyshen do a live TSN broadcast from in front of the Rapids of the Drowned. A stage was set and peanut butter and Cheez Whiz sponsors gave away bags and foam cheese hats – it was a pretty big deal!

This is what happens when TSN comes to the north: TIPIS!

This is what happens when TSN comes to the north: TIPIS!

I loaded up on free swag and autographs from Jennifer and Darren, something I realized I’m quite awkward at doing – what are you supposed to say to someone who you can talk to for about 20seconds and is signing something for you? With that, my conversation was pretty much limited to the spelling of my name.

I don't always meet celebrities, but when I do, I'm wearing a cheese hat

I don’t always meet celebrities, but when I do, I’m wearing a cheese hat

When everything was said (or not said) and done, it was great to see Fort Smith come together in such an amazing way. Helping out with the voting and coming out to the broadcast, I really felt like a legitimate part of the community (notice the whole “referring to Fort Smith as “we”” thing). Cheering for the town during the broadcast, I left genuine pride for the community and everyone in it! WHOO FORT SMITH!!

Some of our Dene drummers showing off their skills for Jennifer

Some of our Dene drummers showing off their skills for Jennifer

Northern Adventure? Alpaca My Bag!

Earlier in the summer, I caught wind of a rumour that there was an alpaca farm somewhere around Fort Smith. Now, alpacas are one of the most awesome animal species on the face of the planet (comparable even to leafy seadragons).

Is it a leaf? Is a dragon? NO! Its really just a fish (but I'm not afraid of them anymore so who cares, ITS AWESOME!)

Is it a leaf? Is a dragon? NO! Its really just a fish (but I’m not afraid of them anymore so who cares, ITS AWESOME!)

The minute I heard about this farm, visiting it became my #1 mission in life. Mostly, I had to the chance to see a bunch of alpacas while I was in Peru, which made my life, and was in need of another camlid fix.

Way too cute, and far too tourist-y of a photo!

Way too cute, and far too tourist-y of a photo!

Lucky for me, this alpaca rumour turned out to be true and Flat World Alpaca Farm wasn’t just a figment of the town’s imagination. Soon enough, a buddy and I were on bikes and headed about 10km out of town to the farm, squealing excitedly (or enduring listening to me squeal excitedly).

Arriving at the farm, we were greeted by Mike, the legendary alpaca farmer. After some introduction, he took us out to the alpaca pen and told us we’d be able to pet and help feed the alpacas. I honestly have no idea how I made it through that period of my life without passing out – I was so overly ecstatic.

This is Morgan, he's such a babe!!

This is Morgan, he’s such a babe!!

Crazy, but still a babe!!

Crazy, but still a babe!!

Brinx is my lover though!

Brinx is my lover though!

I make them both work it for me ;)

I make them both work it for me ;)

After the feeding session, Mike began to explain a little bit about how he got to bring alpacas to the great white north (mostly because I started quizzing him excessively about this stuff). Mostly, he originally wanted to buy some horses, but then realized that they’re a lot of work and thought to himself “wow, alpacas are a lot easier to take care of, maybe I should just buy some of those instead. Plus I know a guy in Peace River (Alberta) who’s willing to throw a llama into the deal, so I might as well”. I was kind of expecting an epic adventure involving stealing alpacas from Machu Picchu porters and fleeing north to Canada and getting off the grid in Fort Smith, but I guess his story works too.

Whatever gets these guys here!

Whatever gets these guys here!

Anyways, I also found out that alpacas aren’t just a pretty face! Here’s some awesome alpaca trivia you can at your next dinner party or when you’re trying to pick someone up in the club:

–       Alpaca “hair” is called fleece

–       Fleece from young alpacas (>5years old) is softer and more valuable

–       All the fleece is hypoallergenic, waterproof, toasty warm and unbelievably soft

–       Alpacas talk to each other by humming

–       They come in 22 exciting natural colours (if you count the grey scale as a colour)

–       Alpacas (and llamas) don’t have hooves, they have toes

Gunnin’ For A Good Time

Sometimes I do normal things with my days like make coffee and answer phones at work then come home, hang out, go for runs and surf the web. Other times, I use coffee filters at work so I can tie-dye them into butterflies all day, then clock off and go shoot things with my boss. Regardless of what happens, most of the time, I don’t just question these things.

Just another day in Fort Smith

Just another day in Fort Smith

The whole “shooting stuff” idea started while I was looking into travelling in Vietnam. There’s a shooting range at the Cu Chi Tunnels where you can fire AK47s and M16s. However, it’s basically the only (even moderately) expensive thing you can do in the entire country, so my travel-buddy-turned-fortune-teller predicted that I’d one day meet someone who (a) owned a gun (b) had access to a place I could use it and (c) wouldn’t charge me the cost of eating out for a week to fire it. Buying into her prophecy, I decided to hold off on the gun shooting for the time being.

As fate would have it, I would end up meeting people who fulfilled these requirements right in Fort Smith. I thanked the fortune-gods and got ready to shoot (which meant putting on a plaid shirt – because it seemed appropriate gun-apparel, and not really knowing where to go from there)!

Arriving at the range, my buddy unloaded his weapons and got to work pacing out cans at varying distances for me to shoot at. Once the field was set up, he began explaining that shooting is actually a calm activity like yoga and at that point, I interrupted him with a laugh of disbelief. He continued on, however, to saw that firing a gun wasn’t just about ripping off a round of ammunition as fast you possibly could, it was about hitting a target with consistency. Anyone can make a mark 1/1000 times, but it takes skill to hit one 1000/1000 times. THAT was what you wanted. You wanted to get into the zone, line up your shot and hit your targets without missing, no matter how long it took.

I probably took this advise too far to heart, as it took me almost 10minutes to line up my first shot before firing, the scope was being really finicky to align and I really wanted to make sure I actually hit my target. All of my preparation paid off eventually though, and my first set of shots with the 308 Winston and 22 Large all hit their marks! The yoga-zen attitude I had originally scoffed at actually came into play and the whole vibe was about the polar opposite from what Hollywood had led me to believe.

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With that, I was ready to start firing at the shooting range-official targets. This, of course, required significantly MORE planning time, but I was again able to hit all the targets!

To celebrate my success, I was granted the high honour of being able to handle the shotgun. Mind you, the only thing I was able to aim at was “exactly the opposite direction of where everyone else is standing”, but as this was still my first time even TOUCHING a gun, it felt like an accomplishment nonetheless.

 

Working the Rapids at Fort Smith’s Paddlefest

Unlike what my previous post would suggest, the rapids along the Slave River aren’t only an attraction for pelicans, it’s a pretty big tourism draw in the Northwest Territories. Home to some of the top whitewater rapids in North America, the Slave River screams adventure and Fort Smith’s Paddlefest is the reciprocating answer.

A Yearly event over the August long weekend, Paddlefest draws visitors from all over the Northwest Territories and even as far as California to compete against each other – and the rapids. As one of the kick-off events is a 7person “voyageur” team canoe race and my museum offers programs (which I planned out, thankyouverymuch) about these crazy French-Canadian fur-trade explorers, our entire staff got together, in full, authentic voyageur costume, to show off our skills. We even portaged a flag and several boxes down the slopes to the rapids to set up our camp and intimidate our opposition.

(The museum team are the ones sporting the awesome red Where's Waldo-esque hats)

(The museum team are the ones sporting the awesome red Where’s Waldo-esque hats)

Raring to put our get-ups to the test, we clambered into our canoe against a team from Yellowknife.

IMG_0149Coming out of the starting gate, I could feel my dragonboating skills coming back to life. I paddled my heart out with passion, setting the team’s rhythm, with my “row”-ing chants.strong, our team took an early lead,

The pace was all-too-soon interrupted by a new “TABERNAC” call when we hit a particularly strong section of rapids (which, despite our best efforts, were IMPOSSIBLE to manoeuvre through) and got derailed off of our course. Being sent spiralling cost us our lead, which, although the course was rather lengthy, we weren’t able to recover from. In the end, we didn’t place, but we didn’t end up dead last (we even beat our newspaper-team rivals – haha) OR fare as badly as the museum’s team from the previous year, so I’m counting this as a success in my books!

With that, some co-workers and I celebrated with a Paddlefest Chilli Dinner and Pancake Breakfast. The weekend continued on to host a series of intense competitions featuring the best paddlers from all over, awe-ing (and intimidating) me to bits

Throughout the weekend, I came to see how accurate Paddlefest’s “Worth the Drive” slogan really was. People from all over North America admitted that although they arrived in Fort Smith exhausted after X million hours of transport, they’d be return for the paddle-themed festivities again next year.

Crazy skills!!

Crazy skills!!

Altogether, I loved being part of an event that was able to seize not only the best in local Fort Smith spirit, but also the spirit of great paddlers across the continent. The event had been raved about throughout the entirety of time I spent in Fort Smith, and lived up to its reputation entirely.

Yup, definitely worth my 0 minute drive :P

Yup, definitely worth my 0 minute drive :P

Picnic With The Pelicans

The entryway to the museum I work at features an exhibit on local bird populations around Fort Smith and Wood Buffalo National Park. This is to say, I spend a lot of time looking at these birds and eventually had to break down and make a trip out to see some in real life.IMG_9156 Fortunately, this was easy enough to do. White pelicans migrate from the southern USA to Fort Smith every year for mating season around the town’s rapids (bom-chica-wa-wa). While most of the nesting grounds are a couple dozen kilometres out of town, the birds often come up to the Rapids of the Drowned to eat, flap around and whatever else pelicans like to do. Basically, this means that you’re about a 15-minute hike away from prime pelican territory from anywhere in town as Fort Smith literally backs right on to the rapids – there’s even a lookout on the side of the road over them.

Complete with the awesome binoculars and everything!

Complete with the awesome binoculars and everything!

The rapids were named after a group of explorers who, as you can probably guess, drowned trying to cross them. In the 1700s, European explorers travelled across Canada in search of ever-fashionable beaver furs (Gucci’s got nothing on these furs, they were the be all end all of style). Their travels would often take them up the Slave River and across the 4 sets of rapids near Fort Smith. At each of the rapids, the explorers would have to get out of their canoes and carry them around the rapids because they were often too dangerous to cross. Since there were so many of them, many explorers got tired of this portaging nonsense by the time they got to the Rapids of the Drowned and would instead try to paddle through. This was done by sending the more experienced paddlers in a separate canoe to test the rapids and getting them to send a gunshot signal if they were deemed passable. While this system would have worked quite well for reasonable paddlers, reason was not common among many explorers and one ended up getting distracted by a passing duck (yup, just a duck, not even a pelican or something cool) and decided to shoot at it after making it through the rapids (which ended up being particularly crazy that day). The rest of the team mistook the duck-shot as the signal that the rapids were safe and were unwittingly lured to their doom.

To add insult to injury, the duck-shot missed the animal and the explorers didn’t even get duck soup as a consolation. They did however, become eternally shamed, as since then, the rapids have been named after their mistake.

With this, some buddies and I decided to take an afternoon, pack up the chequered blanket, stock up on some tortilla wraps and hit up the rapids. After a short but steep climb through the woods and down to the water, we ended up on a small outcropping of rocks over looking a group of pelicans diving around the waves about 2m from the shore. IMG_9065 IMG_9111 IMG_9144

After a serious photo session, I decided to join the birds for a quick dip in the rapids. While it looked like they were all just casually floating around in one place, the current was deceptively strong and even staying still in the water required quite a bit of effort. To say the least, I now definitely understand why the pelicans spend so much time eating if it takes that much energy to stay in the water!

They've got the whole fishing thing down to a co-ordinated art!

They’ve got the whole fishing thing down to a co-ordinated art!

...and then there's this one, just wading in the shallows!

…and then there’s this one, just wading in the shallows!

Altogether, pelicans definitely know how to choose their picnic spots!

 

EEEEE!! Pretty Waterfalls!!

Although I still felt like we were just getting acquainted, now that Folk on the Rocks had drawn to an end, Yellowknife and I found ourselves parting ways. In quite the under dramatic fashion, might I add, I was awake and packed in under 5 minutes before 6am!

While the “short” 9hour car ride could easily have been quite insufferable after an extended folk festival-ing weekend, we made plenty of sweet pit stops along the way, which made the drive an experience in itself.

Most notably were the 4 sets of waterfalls we stopped off at on our way back. Now, I already find the idea of fast streaming fresh water pretty exciting, but when it’s streaming off the face of a cliff, that’s exciting programming right there, folks! Add a freaking rainbow to the mix, and I might as well be a kid who stayed up extra late on Christmas Eve, only to actually discover Santa Claus delivering presents under the Christmas tree. Yup, this was my experience at Evelyn Falls (of Lady Evelyn Falls Territorial Park): pure euphoria.

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Meanwhile, the rest of the vehicle had already been to the falls about 50,000 times and were significantly less impressed at the water, but found my exhilaration quite amusing and agreed to stop off at McNallie Falls, which like the McNallie, McKenzie and Slave rivers, along with everything else around here, was discovered purely by accident.

Best accidental discovery ever!

Best accidental discovery ever!

Next up was the grander Alexandra Falls, sister to Louise and sharing an aptly named Twin Falls Territorial Park site together. While I feel a little bad about gossiping about the two sisters, I’m going to hope you don’t tell Alexandra about this and say that Louise is muuuuuuch prettier than her sister.

Louise is nice and everything...!

Alexandra is nice and everything…!

Louise makes you trek for her - there was also a  giant spiral staircase and a rope climb!

Louise makes you trek for her – there was also a giant spiral staircase and a rope climb!

... But she's totally worth it!

… But she’s totally worth it!

PS. To all you campers out there, while the waterfalls were absolutely mind-blowing, the camping around them is pretty basic. Some of the grounds, like Lady Evelyn, have less than 20 sites, so accommodations are pretty basic. My recommendation would be just to pit stop at each location and motor on either towards Fred Henne Territorial Park in Yellowknife or Wood Buffalo National Park outside Fort Smith, depending on which direction you’re heading.