Disconnected and Present — Liz Byers

The first stop for the Chinook Project 2016 was the small town of Nain.  Nain is the northernmost settled part of Labrador.  It is located on the Atlantic coast, just north of Unity Bay and about 370km from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the largest nearby city.  The population of Nain is about 1400 people — largely of Inuit and European descent.

In planning for the Chinook project, I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that we were traveling very far north and that the area was remote.  Still, being from a large city and having hardly any experience with isolated places, I had difficulty picturing Nain or predicting how I would respond to northern life.

I have been privileged to travel frequently and have seen many special places; however, Nain was like nowhere I have ever been.  Water and air are the only ways into this community; and since, during this time of year, much of the surrounding water is still frozen, plane was our only way into the town.  Our small plane carried just our team and a few other people; the rest of the seats were filled with cargo.  From the air, breathtaking views of the coastline and the Torngat Mountains surrounded us.  As the tiny plane approached the short runway of the coastal town, we could see how small the town really was – and the enormous surrounding mountains make Nain appear even smaller.

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As we settled into our home for the week, I pulled out my iPhone in order to inform my family of our safe arrival.  Quickly I learned that Nain has no cell phone service.  Something that has become commonplace for much of the world was obsolete here.  Wifi access was also extremely limited and has become a highly sought-after commodity among the community.  Communication in Nain involves traditional land line and good old face-to-face interactions.  In this small community, people tend to drop into each other’s homes and workplaces to visit and connect.

Being unable to contact most of MY world, in ways familiar to me was, at first, frustrating.  Constant communication via cell phone and internet is part of “southern” life for many of us.  And, between phone calls, text messages, and emails, we live in the midst of nearly unrelenting noise.  This “noise” isn’t only the ringing telephone, but also the scattered thoughts that accompany our technological 24/7 world.  Technology improves our efficiency, but – as I witnessed in the north, it also often distracts us from what is really important.

In Nain, I soon realized the peace that comes with the silencing of the cell phone, and I began to embrace the isolation.  It is in silence that true reflection and focus becomes possible.  Although the Chinook team was very busy with surgeries and animal care, the detachment from life outside of Nain provided some rest and refreshment.  Despite the hard work, it was a retreat.  The quiet allowed both my body and mind to be truly present in the moment. I have often thought of the importance of quiet and, at times, sought out it out.  But in Nain it was imposed on me by the remoteness of the area.

Upon my return from Labrador, I find myself – once again – embedded in the noise of technology and of my own busy thoughts. This time, though, I am more aware of the significance of silence and have plans to leave my cell phone and computer at home in order to become more attentive to my own thoughts and the world around me – creating my own small “northern space” in my “southern” home.

(Liz Byers, AVC 2017, traveled to Nain in 2015 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project.  As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing.  This one is Liz’s response to “place.”)

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