Arctic Avens… harbinger of spring

When many people think of the tundra, they think of rock and barren landscape, with very little life. In fact, even the name – tundra- comes from a Finnish word meaning “treeless.” Though the summer season is short with really only two -three months of growing season…there are roughly 1,700 types of plants that grow in Canada’s Arctic. Of these, there are over 800 flowering varieties.

Because the permafrost prevents any deep-rooted plants from growing, the plants that do live here must be extremely adaptable to the harsh conditions. Flora such as mosses, grasses, heath, lichens and small shrubs abound. In the summer, the icy blanket melts away and quickly the ground is awash in red, pink, purple, green, yellow, and blue. The contrast from the stark white of winter is quick and dramatic.


However, the first large swath of color to cover the rocky areas of the tundra’s Spring surface is ..well..white. Mountain avens or Arctic avens ,as they are called, often emerge through the exposed land and signal the beginning of this short but bountiful Summer season. An avalanche of wildflowers follow throughout the season with precise timing so to maximize the pollination options from various insects. Every living organism in the north is opportunistic…aside from some humans I imagine. These wildflowers adapt to any obstacles the tundra provides…and they do it amazingly. Avens twist into a seed ball at the end of their flowering faze and even grow higher to launch their seeds in the wind..really a fantastic adaptation to the region.

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So when you make it to Churchill some Summer be sure the belugas aren’t the only wonder you take in…enjoy the wildflowers ..starting of course with the magical avens.


Churchill River breaks up…bring on the belugas

The Churchill River has cracked its’ icy surface into chunky bergs that cruise in and out of the mouth with the swift currents connecting with the Hudson Bay. The annual Spring break-up opens the estuary to sows with baby calves who migrate south each year to enjoy the bounty of food and comfort of the warm water of the inner river. Males swim in mini pods feasting on capelin all across the massive river. The massive white ice vessels will soon be supplanted by graceful shining belugas gliding effortlessly through the frigid brackish water. Churchill’s Arctic summer is almost here.

These recent photos by Churchill local and Natural Habitat guide Rhonda Reid illustrate the sublime transition and rebirth of the Churchill River this Spring.




I took my son to a fishing derby yesterday organized by a charitable foundation called Joseph’s Journey for kids fighting terminal and life threatening diseases. I didn’t use a GPS to find Waterton Canyon..where it was held. I turned off my cell phone when we got there….well..after I took a call much to the scorn of my eight year- old.  And, my son never once asked for his Samsung tablet to play Minecraft….which I did sneak into the backpack just in case he,”needed” it. He didn’t. We were in a little hard to find place in our neck of the to speak.

Once the fish started biting, everything slowed down and the next two hours felt like a day. Two beautiful rainbow trout and some near catches later…Jack was all smiles and the sparkled allure of our new virtual electronic age had disappeared for most of the day. In fact..the hour and a half ride home was amazing with no requests for the game player…just talk of fishing and Jack playing with the yo-yo he got at the event. Just like the good old days.

Jack Selden fights the tug of a rainbow trout.

Jack working hard to bring in a rainbow trout. Photo Steve Selden

A nice rainbow trout at the derby.

Jack and his rainbow trout. Photo Steve Selden

So…now the north and Arctic are slowly catching..or rather being caught in the high tech electronic revolution net that is bringing every aspect of the world closer to home and attempting to eliminate any mystery still hiding out there. Let’s face it, discovery of the unknown is deeply embedded in the human genome. The problem with this concept is the Arctic’s allure as with other remote lands on this planet is ….well…the idea of their remoteness. Take that away and the allure goes with it to a great extent.

When Churchill, Manitoba finally turned on the cell service tower a couple of years ago, it felt like a little piece of northern soul was removed from this frontier town. Now travelers and locals can check their stocks, the news, wildlife sightings …whatever they like at any time and that seems a lot like cheating in some crazy fundamental sense. We love these types of places exactly for what they are…remote and raw. Unpredictable. When we start to remove the mystery from the ends of the earth with all the modern conveniences are we not killing the spirit that drives us innately to explore these lands?

This video below illustrates the Google mapping of Iqualuit, the capital of Nunuvut..the heart of the Arctic. Seems a little like an alien invasion to me…imagine ourselves as aliens to our own planet….quite the science fiction thriller indeed!


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