connections through noodles

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Rusted vats for rendering whale fat in Kekerton Nunavut

After almost 4 years of working on it, my first peer-reviewed academic paper on the oceanography of Cumberland Sound is about to come out. One of the things I’m discovering about academic writing is there are all sorts of interesting parts that aren’t science and therefore left out. On that note, I thought I’d branch out from my garden and re-post an article I wrote a few months ago that originally was posted here.

Everywhere I go, someone has been there before me and probably eaten pre-packaged noodles. I don’t have anything against these noodles – they make a quick meal and even after looking at the ingredients I still find them tasty. Pre-packaged noodles also make an interesting case study on the interconnectedness of our world out to the remotest places.

On my first trip to Cumberland Sound on Baffin Island, I felt like I was heading to the remotest place on the planet – a place so remote it took me five days of travel within Canada to get there. The purpose of my trip was to measure water properties beneath the sound’s surface and for days on end, that’s what I did. On a rare afternoon off I went ashore to stretch my legs at Kekerton, an old whaling station that is now a national historic site.  Abandoned in 1923, the station’s heyday was from 1850 to 1880 when both American and Scottish whalers worked from adjacent camps. The whalers hunted bowhead whales, and when the whale numbers declined so did the whalers.

Near constant winds scour the black lichen from the white rock that dominates the landscape. As I walked along the shore, crystals in the exposed rock sparkled all around me, with a subdued glitter not found on the Las Vegas Strip. Ludwig Kumlien, a naturalist from the Smithsonian who overwintered in the region in 1877 miserably described his winter this way: “We lost much of our wonted enthusiasm during the long, dreary winter and found rest only in continual work.” I’m fortunate that I can leave my instruments in the water over winter and do not have to stay to monitor the equipment.

A short walk inland, the station was nestled into a patch of tundra. A few rusty cauldrons and decomposing structures amongst the stunted flowers and red mushrooms were all that remained. Bone fragments littered the ground. A bowhead whale skull dominates the shoreline and I found what looked like a walrus skull. Animals, hunted for profit and subsistence were brought here to be butchered. Kekerton whaling station was built and inhabited in a pre-plastic world and now the remnants are breaking down, returning to nature. Even in the slow Arctic environment, the station will eventually be erased.

While wandering around what I thought was a remote landscape, I found a Mr. Noodle bowl wedged between some rocks by the shoreline. The styrofoam bowl was faded but in good shape – it clearly didn’t drift in from the ocean. It had come a long way from its origins at a factory in Huizhou, China, roughly ten thousand kilometres from this abandoned Arctic whaling station. This Mr. Noodle bowl, along with many others, was shipped across an ocean, then trucked to grocery stores across the continent. Someone browsing aisles of food decided a Mr. Noodle bowl was the right snack to bring on a trip to Kekerton. That person may have sat on a rock, munched on noodles, pondered the view, and tossed the bowl away at the end of the meal.

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Litter found near Kekerton – it was too far out on a rocky outcrop for me to reach it and put it in the garbage.

In our industrial world, we litter with objects that take generations to decay. A Mr. Noodle bowl will need more than a million years to break down. What that Mr. Noodle bowl showed me was that even though I felt I was in a remote place, no place is truly remote anymore. One way or another our world is intimately interconnected.

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