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What it's like to live in the middle of nowhere

March 7, 2015, 12:32 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 1149

By @mariocantin

Written by Scott Welch -- originally posted on Quora.com

I have lived in the middle of nowhere.

I'll go a step further: I believe that it is credible to claim that at one point in time, my family was the most isolated family in North America.

Building an igloo, spring 1980.Don't believe me? Read on.

Here's a map of the USA, taken straight from Google Earth. As you can see, it's a pretty big place:

Now, some of you might not know this, but there's another country just to the north of the US, Canada. It's a pretty big place too, even bigger than the USA:

Now, what you might not know is that while Canada is pretty big, it doesn't have very many people, and what few it has are mostly along the southern border. The whole northern part of Canada has a population of only about 31,000 people, although it's over 2 million square kilometres in size. So if you live in the north, as I did when I was growing up, you are already pretty well "in the middle of nowhere". I lived for three years in Resolute Bay (Resolute Bay), population about 250. This is already pretty isolated, but was bustling as arctic communities go -- it's where all of the trips to the North Pole start from. Here's a map of Resolute, zooming out will give you a good idea of the scale: Google Maps. As a rough guide, it's almost the exact same distance from New York to Resolute as from New York to San Francisco... but the flight to Resolute is directly north. Resolute is also cold... here's a typical February morning when I was on my way to school (and yes, we went outside for recess):

Typical February morning in Resolute.In 1977, when I was 14, we moved to a research camp located in the middle of the north part of the Keewatin, right where the arrow is in this picture. I lived there with my parents, my 3 younger siblings, and a graduate student:

Again, here's a Google Map that will give you a better perspective: Google MapsOur camp was three pre-fabricated buildings, about 3000 square feet total:

Aerial view of Saqvaqjuac. Gen shed to right, main cam in middle, fuel storage in brown tanks.

View of Saqvaqjuc from Weather Station Hill.

Same view, in spring.The smaller buildings were for storage and the diesel generators (my responsibility). No power = no light, no radios. That would be bad.

Generator shed, two Ford 20KWs and one Lister 4 KW.

It was a great place, especially if you were a bit adventurous. We had pet foxes at the front door, I'm on the left:

Feeding foxes, October 1977.

I didn't really go to school, but I did learn some useful things. When something busts you learn how to fix it, or you die. No Coast Guard, no 911, no telephones, no tow trucks, no garages, no Walmart. That's me on the right, aged 16, swapping out a diesel engine in the boat I worked on every summer, using a hand winch and an A-frame we jury-rigged out of scraps we found in the dump:

Me an Guy Amarok, summer 1979.

There was a small town located about 50 miles to our south, but it was only accessible part of the year. And when I say "small town", I mean population 150 or so, with a plane that brought mail twice a week. Two digit phone numbers. A store that was about the size of a 7-Eleven.

At the camp we had no TV, no telephone, no internet, no satellite, no GPS, no FedEx. We did have a single sideband HF radio, sort of a high-powered CB, that we could use in an emergency.

Saqvaqjuac radio station, summer 1980.

We had to order all of our food a year in advance, so our kitchen was sort of like a store:

Saqvaqjuac kitchen, summer 1978.

Of course when I was putting up these antennas sixty feet in the air my mother was not particularly happy. Did I mention, no hospitals, no ambulances and no doctors?

Rigging a Cubical Quad antenna for 12.125 MHz SSB. I'm at the top.

We traveled by snowmobile, and made igloos when we needed a place to stay overnight. Here's a typical trip, I'm on the igloo and we have a fish that we caught through the ice (which is over 6 feet thick):

Camping, March 1978.

And other than our camp, there was not much around. This is the same building that I was in front of feeding the foxes, but now this is about early May and there is roughly 10 feet of snow. We stored stuff on the roof so we didn't lose it in snow storms:

Saqvaqjuac from the front, March 1978.

Still, we had plenty of fun. We read, we camped, we hunted, we fished, we built stuff in the shop, we goofed off in the lab. We even had Lego:

Camping in the Barren Lands. I'm in the back of the rear canoe rigging a tent fly as a sail using two paddles as a mast, then we lashed the two canoes together. Sailed 15 miles that day.

Fish on! Midnight, June 1979.

Me in the shop, building something or other. With a welder and a drill press, you can make a lot.

Playing with Lego. We had an entire steamer trunk full.

Visitors would arrive by plane and boat in the summer, snowmobile and sled in the winter:

Visitors drop in for lunch in a Twin Otter, probably a mining survey crew.

Visitors arrive from town by skidoo and komatik (sled)

We got three types of visitors at the camp. First, we had lots of Inuit friends, and they would come out all the time. It was about 2 or 3 hours from town (Chesterfield Inlet) by snowmobile, so weekends were always busy. Inuit culture is highly oriented towards hospitality, to the point where it is considered insulting to knock on a door, because that implies that the person might not want to see you. We would often have a dozen or more visitors around.

A typical spring day, April 1988.Sometimes they brought nice fresh caribou, best enjoyed raw:

Butchering a caribou on the kitchen floor.

Sometimes we had music to go along:

Getting ready for music, looks like banjo and accordion.

Then we had scientific visitors, typically research scientists and their grad students. We might get one or two in the winter, but in the summer there were up to 25 in camp.Of course, everyone pitched in on busy days. Here is a typical scene in the lab, with Inuit visitors pitching in:

A typical day in the lab. I'm on the right in the t-shirt.

We also got surprise visitors, often people doing mineral exploration, etc. If they were flying over they would sometimes just drop in for lunch.

We did not have any extended family up north, although we sort of "adopted" into a local family, and we became very close to them.

We also had the radio. First, at the time, all long distance phone calls were placed over a radio link, and so you could listen in to basically everything that was going on in the whole Eastern arctic. Plus, there was another radio that we used for all of the Inuit in all of the villages to communicate, so you heard all of the local gossip. So no, we were never lonely at all.

Still, it was always sad to see visitors leave:

Waving goodbye, you can just see the skidoos leaving.

So how isolated was it? Well, just for fun I used Photoshop to superimpose South Dakota onto the map I showed you above. According to Wikipedia, at 200,000 square kilometres, South Dakota represents the average size of a state in the USA. For Europeans, this is roughly the same size of England. And here's the thing: We were the only family living in an entire area the size of South Dakota or England. (Updated for my Indian readers to add an overlay showing Gujarat State -- again, we were the only people living in an area the size of Gujarat State)

South Dakota in yellow. We are the only people living in that area.

Gujarat State in purple.

Now I want to take this one step further. This might be hard to believe, but this entire area was originally populated by the Inuit people, although by the time we moved there in 1977 they had all been relocated into the small towns I mentioned earlier.

But in historical times, say prior to 1900, this entire area was home to a few thousand Inuit, who knew this land like the back of their hand. They regularly migrated to the far reaches of this area, in search of food and to meet with other families. And they did all of this on foot, as entire families. Using as tools nothing that they had not made themselves, wearing clothes that were warmer than anything we have developed, and eating nothing but meat. Living, in fact, in a way that many people would characterize as "stone age". And yet, in a life that you might think would be harsh beyond description, we have this:

(Northern exposure)

Even in the middle of nowhere, some things remain the same. And in this, I believe, lies a lesson: It is not how isolated we are, but the connections we chose to make. While the actions of the few may strike fear, it's the actions of the many that bring comfort:

(Edited May 08: Added a few more pictures)

(Edited Jun 17/14: Added an overlay showing Gujarat State)

(Edited July 6/14: Put some of the comment pictures inline)

(Edited Jan 7/15: Added captions to pictures)

A note about the photos: All shots are Kodachrome, shot by my father using a 50mm lens on a Canon TL. Which, BTW, is non-trivial at minus 40 or below. Slides were scanned with a Canon Coolscan, no colour correction, no editing, no Photoshop. And these were just a few random shots, there are thousands of great ones:

An igloo lit by a Coleman lantern. Harpoon standing up in case bears come by. Hunter is about to go inside for the evening.


Source: www.quora.com. Link: https://www.quora.com/What-is-it-like-to-live-in-the-middle-of-nowhere

Republished with permission, as per Quora's Terms of Service, under the subsection titled, "Quora's Licenses to You".

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