James Cook's  1775 Chart of Newfoundland , showing Labrador to the north, unknown and vast and beyond the reach of the map, which is just how it feels.

James Cook's 1775 Chart of Newfoundland, showing Labrador to the north, unknown and vast and beyond the reach of the map, which is just how it feels.

"Will you bring something back for me?"

"Yes, Ben."

"What will you bring?"

"I don't know yet. I don't know what they have in Labrador. Maybe I'll see a polar bear and I'll tap on his shoulder, and he will turn around, and he will say Grrrrrr. Grrrr grrr. Grrrwoooaahh? And I will say 'Mr. Polar Bear, I have a little boy named Ben, except he's not little anymore, he's big. And he would like a little something from Labrador. Do you have a little something?'"

"What will he say?"

"I don't know, love. What should he say?"

"He should say, 'Ask the children.'"

"And what will the children say?"

"The children will say 'Mr. Polar Bear, do you have a bit of polar bear fluff? The boy from Nova Scotia would like a bit of polar bear fluff.' And the polar bear might give you a bit of fluff."

I don't know if we are going to where there are polar bears. We might. What I know so far of this festival is that there are often no roads, so we'll be travelling by floatplane. Many of the communities will be Inuit. Getting to them depends on the weather. I'll be reading, teaching, and seeing a place I've never seen along with other writers, musicians, and artists. A place that is, in my mind, the real North of the North Atlantic, with fjords and wildness and everything ancient and covered in moss and Viking bones.


I have been doing my best, as friends do inland, to live off the fire and not turn on the thermostat. I was on the phone with the oil company for monthly billing and the lady said, "Let me look up your usage last year.... Oh! You're just a sipper." I felt proud and still do, pulling on a toque instead of cranking up the furnace. There's frost in the mornings and I am burning. I close off the dining room because it was once a barn, sort of, and it's uninsulated, sitting on the ground. Cold air whooshes underneath the closed door into the kitchen. You walk upstairs and feel your head leave a heat trap. I love the wildness of this house when the crawlspace is silent, with the exception of cracks and pop behind cast iron.

Plenty warm, I shut the damper to slow it down. I put another log into the flames and kneel, blowing to wake up deprived coals, and smoke coughs out into the living room. It smells so good, somewhere between a backwoods shack and a little church, like birchbark and Murphy's Oil Soap.

I come home to here via planes that took off from Robson Street, the Distillery District, the Outer Banks. Now, Makkovik. Flight is still a miracle. That this house feels like it's got a wagging tail when I walk through the door is another.