- Arctic Summer
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[End Page 156]
Soon after finishing my sophomore year of high school, I found myself above the Arctic Circle. My father, an economics professor at Cleveland State, had landed an unlikely summer teaching job at Nunavut Arctic College. The college has campuses scattered throughout the Canadian territory, but this one was located on the island of Qikiqtarjuaq, or Qik, as the locals call it—population 510, almost entirely Inuit.
Qik boasted few buildings beyond a one-room airport, a school, houses huddled along dusty, unpaved roads. Even the Akulliq Coffee Shop and Pool Hall was neither a shop nor a hall but just a trailer with a pool table at one end and a counter at the other. The Northern [End Page 157] Store, the mainstay of the town, was where you bought everything you needed, from groceries to clothes to DVDs. A few Inuit men were always gathered under the overhang, talking and smoking.
The house my parents and I rented, a leaky two-bedroom cabin with an old-fashioned furnace needing constant attention, looked right out on Baffin Bay. Even though it was June, the water was clogged with ice floes. The sunlight dyed them a brilliant blue.
* * *
My first night in Qik, the sun woke me up at three in the morning.
I put on my glasses and went to the window. All day it had been foggy, but now the fog had completely burned off except for a single slender curl stretching over the bay. I could see the rugged granite peaks across the water, houses strung along the shore in bright reds and greens. The sun played off the rooftops so that their edges were gilded with light.
For a few minutes I just stood there at the window. Then I closed the curtains against the glare and returned to bed, unsure if I had been dreaming.
* * *
Even today, I am unsure about a lot of things. I am unsure about what exactly happened to me in Qik that summer, about how much it had to do with the strange beauty of the place—strange enough to put a spell on you. Or how much it had to do with her, or with me.
Other things are more straightforward. My name is Tamara Singer. Most people call me Tam. That summer I had a boyfriend back in Ohio, a junior named Adam, with hair the color of eiderdown. We knew each other from marching band; I played trumpet and he played percussion. We'd been together since the previous fall, when we'd spent the third quarter of every football game sitting in the stands with our arms around each other.
"Stay warm," he said on the phone the night before I left for Canada. "And I want you to take a picture of a polar bear for me."
"I'll do my best," I promised.
"Oh—and try not to run away with any Eskimo boys."
"Inuit," I said automatically. "You're supposed to say Inuit, not Eskimo."
"Oh, okay. Then don't run away with any Inuit boys."
I smiled into the phone. "Adam, you know things like that don't happen to me." [End Page 158]
In Qik I was mostly free to do as I pleased. My dad spent his days at the college, and my mom, a freelance journalist, stayed in the house to work on her article in progress.
Passing the time was no problem for me. I liked being on my own and was constitutionally incapable of boredom. And so I read the books I had brought, daydreamed in the makeshift coffee shop, spent hours wandering the island with my camera.
It was during my wanderings, about a week after we arrived in Qik, that I first saw her. The weather was perfect by Arctic standards—a sunny, windswept morning with a temperature in the mid-forties. While I was exploring the outskirts of town, I encountered a rocky outcropping not too far from the main road. I started to climb to the top, then paused about halfway up and...