Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo
July 6, 2018
We have left dark behind. All night, light leaked around the edges of the room-darkening shade. Last night other students saw a bull moose from their window, but we were already asleep.
As we drive down the road on our morning outing–four students, an instructor, a programming assistant, a visiting artist, and a learning technician who is also our essential bear guard–we see geese with goslings and a ptarmigan. Out in the bay a barge heads toward town; since the tundra train was decommissioned the only two ways supplies reach Churchill are by sea or by air. The barge might be carrying badly needed propane or even a pre-built house (cheaper than buying all the pieces needed to build a house here). Even though Churchill sits on land, without the train the town and Centre are essentially an island, dependent on what arrives by plane or by barge–and only three barges are scheduled for this year.
Some of the flowers we see through the morning, such as northern hedysarum, test our memories from yesterday, and some are brand-new sightings for us here in the sub-arctic, including alpine arnica, Greenland primrose, grass-of-Parnassus, stemless raspberry, red-flowered saxifrage, and yellow marsh saxifrage.
After lunch at the Centre, we head out again for the boreal forest and Twin Lakes. Along the bumpy road we wade through boggy water to see buck-bean, and in the deep moss on the other side of the road we find Lapland lousewort, more round-leaved orchids than we’ve ever seen, and two green-flowered bog orchids less than three inches tall. Tucked into the gravel under roadside bushes several blunt-leaf orchids grow.
The road rattles us along to the lakes, where our instructor points out sandwort, the tiny pink flowers of alpine azalea, and the bigger pink blooms of bog laurel along with purple paintbrush and the white blossoms of cloudberry.
The day has been hotter than we expected for Churchill (who knew it would reach 81 degrees Fahrenheit—we packed for cold and rain). We end the day at Twin Lakes by pulling off boots and socks, rolling up pants legs, and wading in the water. On our way back to the Centre we stop to watch three sandhill cranes stalking through the hummocks. A three-orchid day rich in so many flowers we can hardly imagine more, but tomorrow holds the possibility of northern lady’s-slipper and who knows what else?
After dinner we learn more about herbarium preservation and how to use the five-question method of keys to identify flowers, then watch a film by a visiting artist about transporting beluga whales, narrated in French and Russian with English subtitles. We are here to learn, but the Centre is so much more than educational classes, with people doing all sorts of research in the sub-arctic and artists whose work combines art and environmental education. Already we are planning how to return to this amazing place.
The immense sky at 8:30 p.m. is still as light as afternoon, but we tumble into our bunks tired, happy, and ready for what tomorrow brings.
p.s. I have managed to write to write a post without the word tiny in it, but we are constantly amazed by the smallness of so much of what we see. Everything that lives in this incredibly beautiful but harsh place not only survives but thrives, including the people who live and work here. #sustainthenorth #wildflowerwomen