I was 24 the first time I went to the Arctic, and at the time I remember thinking how lucky I was, embarking on a museum expedition to the Arctic at such a young age. On that same trip I met Gary Okheena, who is around the same age as me, and who grew up in the village of Uluhaktok in the Northwest Territories.
While I was busy collecting and pressing plants, and learning their Latin names from my museum colleagues, Gary was keeping watch out for wolves and bears that might otherwise ruin a good day on the tundra. But he would still find the time to come over and tell us the Inuvialuktun name of some of the plants he knew well, and tell us about his own trips out on the land. It was a great cross-cultural experience.
This year, from July 4 to 11, I will get to relive the excitement of someone’s first Arctic encounter, and the ability to see the Arctic through the eyes of people who grew up there, as I accompany youth from Canada’s South and North on an expedition with Arctic Watch Lodge on Somerset Island.
For one week, I will be working with the lodge as a “scientist-in-residence”. I will teach the assembled participants about the biodiversity of Arctic plants, how to collect and identify them in the field, and what being a scientist in the North means. At the same time I will get to learn from the northern students about what the arctic – their home – and the wildlife found there, means to them.
During the trip, I will also be collecting botanical specimens to support the museum’s Arctic Flora of Canada and Alaska project. This will be the first comprehensive survey of the northern coast of the island by the Canadian Museum of Nature, and will help us get a good baseline record of the plant diversity at Somerset Island’s only inhabited site. These specimens, collected by myself and the students on the trip, will last permanently in the museum’s collection as a scientific resource. It’s amazing what bringing people together in the spirit of education can do!
Paul will be tweeting this trip live from the field—you can follow him through @Paul_Sokoloff; hashtag: #NatureArctic.You can also follow his progress on a live map.