One of the things I miss about my homeland, down on the eastern seaboard of the USA, is all the trees. I grew up in a forest, where out of a third-story window I could see tulip poplars tower above our roof. I didn’t appreciate their beauty as a kid – it was just normal. But when I moved up to Nunavut, I knew I would miss trees, even though I was trading them for a different rare and spectacular beauty.
But it isn’t quite right to say that Nunavut doesn’t have trees. It is above the treeline, meaning that normal trees can’t grow up here. But there are a wide variety of dwarf species of trees, especially willows. In rare spots, those trees grow in sufficiently sheltered places that they grow into more of a shrub. There was at least one place in the south Baffin region that I knew of that had an “Arctic forest” like this, but they are much more common here in the Kivallik region. And one lovely little nest of trees is right near our friends’ cabin, where we spend as much time as possible.
This is little “forest” of arctic willow. They flower all summer, each variety having different catkins. The above are very pussy-willow like. Others are more elongated, while still other varieties have brightly colored flower parts that stick out at different times, then transform into a fluff that can be useful as wicking for the qulliq, the Inuit seal oil lamp.
These trees have evidently been growing here for a very long time. They are about the same height as Dooner, age three, but thick old trunks twist and turn in the way only old grown can. One piece of limb was broken off in such a way that I could count its rings. It was about as thick around as my wrist, and appeared to be about my own age. I wonder how old this root is, evidently still living, and as thick around as my forearm?
This little bonsai forest grows along a fast-moving stream, between two pools of meltwater on the way to the bay, between two hills that shelter them from some of the wind. They are a forest, but they are not like my home. They are something different, with all its own beauty.
Tomorrow we head out on vacation for the first time in two years. I’ll walk in my own forests again for a while. My kids will climb the trees I grew up climbing. But we will come back to Nunavut, where the forests are small, but the sky is large.