Micah May recently completed a two week expedition with Students on Ice, a Canadian-based organization that leads educational expeditions to the Arctic. Micah was asked to be the youth ambassador for Canada Goose, one of the corporate sponsors of the expedition. He has been writing blogs and creating videos about the experience, which can be found on the Canada Goose Facebook page. The following is his final blog post.
After returning home to Nelson, B.C. from the 2013 Students on Ice Arctic expedition, I have been able to reflect on the experience and what it has meant to me.
A strong memory is of playing soccer against the community of Itilleq, Greenland (population 130). We didn’t speak the same language, but through the game I got a glimpse of their lives. Every one of their players – no matter their age – was physically strong, focused and determined. Clearly, life in the Arctic demands this.
Uummannaq, Greenland is drawing strength from its past to forge its future path. They have chosen to continue using dog teams, rather than snowmobiles, because dogs anchor them to their traditional culture. At the same time, they use other modern technologies and their youth travel for education. They are straddling both worlds: connected with their land/culture and the bigger world.
It was the size of the animals that amazed me. Travelling by ship along the coast of Baffin Island, I saw 11 polar bears, including one feeding on a seal amidst the broken pack ice. The seals had the advantage as there were many opportunities to surface for air, so I came to appreciate how skilled the bears are to survive when the odds are against them. I saw at least 10 fin whales, the second largest mammal on the planet, as we all cruised through the icebergs in Uummannaq Fjord.
To support such numbers of large animals, the ocean must be highly productive. As the climate warms, change is taking place, including the introduction of new food sources and predators from the south. I now understand the value of witnessing these changes as I want to help make informed decisions about what is worth preserving and how we can adapt to ensure the path forward is positive.
During our hikes I experienced the true vastness of the Arctic. Without trees, we could see our destination many kilometres in the distance but it seemed to take a very long time to reach it. The soft, spongy ground beneath our feet slowed our travel. I could appreciate how easy it would be to become lost in the open landscape. We had mostly good weather throughout the expedition, but I imagined what it would be like to be in those places with snow and 100km an hour winds – a not uncommon experience in that part of the world.
The biggest challenge was saying goodbye to all the great people I met – new friends from places like Norway, Monaco, Tennesee as well as all parts of Canada. When strangers come together and step outside what is familiar to any of us by taking a challenging 30 kilometre hike in the Arctic or interacting with cultures that are very different from our own, then strong friendships form among the expedition team. This has been a very important part of the experience for me and I know that some of these friendships will last my whole life.
So what is next for me? While I very much appreciated the opportunity to travel to the Arctic, there is much to experience and learn from the forests, glaciers and alpine ecosystems in the region that I call home. I see myself back in the Arctic someday, maybe working on a wildlife study, perhaps in one of the vast National Parks. Knowing that Canada is a wealthy country, I also want to understand how I can make a difference in some developing countries, perhaps by helping a family build a home or a community build a safe water supply system.
The 2013 SOI expedition has helped me not only learn about the Arctic ecosystems and communities, but also better appreciate what it means to be anchored by my home community and landscapes, while being connected with many diverse people and places around the world. This is helping me understand how I can make a contribution within my community, my country and as part of a global community of friends with shared passion for supporting the diversity of life on our planet.
Micah will be showing pictures and telling stories about the expedition on September 18 at the Civic Theatre, following the first public screening of the youth-made documentary about the North-South Student Exchange between LVR and Ft McPherson, NWT students of which Micah was a participant.