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A Town So Far North TV Dishes Point at Horizon

April 06, 1985

I was pleased to reacquaint myself with lnuvik in the Canadian Northwest Territories (Times, March 10)--and on the front page! But why repeat and stress the old cliches of life in arctic towns? If drunks, bugs and ice were news, Buffalo or Milwaukee would be stronger candidates for treatment, and this year, God help us, even San Antonio.

I visited Inuvik for a couple of August days two years ago, and much of what made the place distinctive and interesting to me was missing from your man's story.

Where was the mention of the vividly painted row houses in which adjacent units were different bright colors? Someday I will return in the winter just to see these buildings in the snow.

Where was the mention of the imposing Catholic church in the center of town, a large white circular structure like an overgrown igloo?

Where was mention of the Northern Images Cooperative, which is one of the major outlets for Inuit art?

Where, among the references to the importance of television in the town's entertainment life? Was there recognition of the quintessential strangeness of seeing satellite dishes stationed so far north of the Equator that they pointed not up into the sky, but at the horizon?

But most of all, where was the sense that one of the best reasons for a visitor to go to Inuvik is to enjoy the process of getting there? Inuvik is as far north as you can drive on an open road in North America (the North Slope haul road reaches closer to the pole, but it's not open to public travel for its full length). If you drive the Alaska Highway deep into the Yukon, then turn north for another day's drive to Dawson, you have just reached the turning-off point (or "the corner," as it is called even by those who live a day's drive from it). Inuvik is still 460 miles away over the Dempster Highway, a two-lane unpaved road whose surface consists of whatever was nearby when the road builders came through--river rock, graded dirt, crushed shale (guaranteed flat tires for everybody!)--and which, in rain, is at points impassable.

Sound horrible? Not for the psychologically prepared. It was an enjoyable adventure, punctuated with opportunities to see some of the most interesting terrain on the surface of the earth, and to meet some people of whom I would otherwise never have had any knowledge. Conversation with Dene children while I waited for the ferry at Fort McPherson gave me a new perspective on generic words for common objects and machines ("What kind of truck is this?" they asked of my VW camper), as well as names for animals: their dog was Moldy Bread.

If you visit, be sure to drive in and take the time to post cards to friends as you leave town. "On the road again: heading south to Alaska."

I put the town on my license plate. Lots of people have asked me what it means, but only one other person in Orange County has understood it as soon as he saw it. Believers in the small-world hypothesis will be pleased to learn that he lives four doors from me; neither of us knew of the other's travels until the plate gave us a common subject for discussion.


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