Saskia de Wildt
Fat, wrinkly and grey...
Updated: Nov 25, 2021
That's how I feel, after literally 'sitting' through a series of lockdowns during Canadian winter.
It's been quite the year in some ways, and a completely uneventful period in other ways. And therefore, it's been a while since I wrote a blog on my adventures while pursuing a Ph.D. in Canada. We're all going through this, so what do I have to offer here? Beyond just more covid-content?
That said, it hasn't all been stay-at-home research disruption. And 13 months in, I think I gathered enough little and big moments to warrant another update from the North.
Of course, in March 2020, when the rest of the world was stocking up toilet paper, I was in Coral Harbour, Nunavut; Making new friends.
Leonard Pameolik, our Northern co-principal investigator gifted me a very special day - as he invited me to join him on a 6-hour Caribou hunt. The picture above pictures me, showing off my skills as a skidoo snowflap. And Arctic fashion! Note that both my pants and my jacket are made from caribour fur. My mits were wolf-fur and my Mukluks (boots) were made of polar bear furs. I will tell you, there was not a moment in all 6 hours of -58 windchill skidoo riding that I felt cold.
As the week progressed, and I was waiting for the weather to turn so that I could fly back home, Leonard and his family made sure I was comfortable and had company. I was allowed to help butcher the Caribou with an Ulu (traditional Inuit knife, used for EVERYTHING - and I still feel bad, when I think of the crooked ribs I produced. Butchered for better or worse).
Most people followed my chronicles of traveling back to the Netherlands through deserted airports and apocalyptic sceneries, so I won't elaborate further on them here. But I will say that the second time around traveling home in this pandemic hasn't become easier with all the required testing. It has however become a bit less panicky. Which is how I am finding the time to write this blog from Pearson airport with ravaged nostrils and seas of time to kill before my flight departs.
The first months of pandemic madness consisted of an actually really chill summer in Amsterdam. I split my time between quarantine in a farm-lodge, an apartment in the dreamlike empty city-centre of Amsterdam and living-in with my sister and her family. Lots of quality time with my nephew Joah! Even if I slept on a leaky air mattress that I had to reinflate every night for a month.
When things calmed down after the first wave, I returned to Kingston, Ontario and got to enjoy a gorgeous Canadian summer and fall. For someone who claims not to enjoy swimming in natural sources, I sure dipped a lot into Lake Ontario! Finding creative ways to still enjoy life 6ft apart, I started cycling, kayaking and hiking. Picknicking at the Kingston waterfront and even campfire whenever I could convince my garden-possessing friends to light it up! And of course, I gifted myself a mullet haircut and 'Butter'; my 2002 Chevy Express converter campervan, for my birthday in September. If I am supposed to socially distance myself from people, I might as well do it mobile, right?
Over the past 10 months Butter and I explored Southern Ontario, over the course of a couple of roadtrips and discovered some real gems in the Province.
Of course all the time in between these trips were spent in Kingston, which fared really well through covid times. Cases peaked at about 140 at one time, but we mostly remained a little island of single digit case counts. I would know, as I became a dashboard junkie. Something my roommate Alex can attest to. Other go-to indulgances over the winter months consisted of liquorice (Alex found a shop for double-salt drop and became my handler), indoor movie nights (also with Alex) and the arthouse cinema around the corner; the screeningroom (sometimes with Alex). Lots of Alex! If you can live together on less than 50m2 during pandemic times and still like each other you know you're perfect roomies. Although I have up my lease for our beautiful, dead centre downtown apartment - hoping to move to Toronto upon my return, both Kingston and Alex were good to me :) Even if winter lockdown wasn't. (Both the liquorice and the cold contributed to my current state as described in the title of this blog).
Even for my research, it wasn't all bad. Leonard and I stayed in very frequent contact over this past year, and are trying to maintain our connection as well as we can over the required distance (the Arctic has pretty much remained closed for researchers so far, due to a lack of medical infrastructure).
I had hoped to write my proposal in collaboration with Northern communities to ensure my work represented their interests - but needless to say that didn't happen. I wrote a paper instead, and read any (critical or Indigenous-authored) piece of content on the Arctic I could get my hands on to prepare for my proposal.
For those that are curious, the diagram below shows my core conceptual approach to knowledge relations in polar bear conservation research; the ethical space of engagement.
The idea is that in the current landscape of ongoing colonialism, a direct overlap between Indigenous knowledge and Western knowledge leads to the latter dominating the relationship. Therefore you need an 'ethical space of engagement' in between to facilitate this encounter of knowledge. It's that void in the middle, that I will be working on. More on this in follow-up blogs. Or if you're curious, you can reach out! I am very happy to chat about this concept!
As I can' t end this blog with a 'boring' diagram, I will leave you with a preparatory picture - so my friends in the Netherlands can anticipate my 'fat, wrinkly and grey' return home. And my friends in Canada might have something to remember me by, and be pleasantly surprised by my youthfulness upon my return after all this nonsense is done.
Get your shot! Be safe and most of all - be generous with each other,
See you on the flip-side, whichever side of the pond you're on ;)