Most days, I wear three pieces of winter gear to keep my head warm: a hat, a fleece balaclava and my down-filled, fur-trimmed hood on my jacket. While my hearing is still intact – so long as its not someone speaking into their own balaclava/hood combination – it definitely distorts my peripheral vision, so much so that simply crossing the street requires a full rotation of my entire upper body to make sure I’m not about to get hit by a car. Thus far, I’ve done okay.
The worst thing about the lack of peripheral vision – asides from limiting how much landscape I can take in at a time – is being able to hear things before you can see them. By ‘things’, I really mean snowmobiles.
A couple years ago, I went shark diving with friends. Afterwards, one of them noted that part of the reason it was such a fun-exciting-scary-cold-weird experience was the fact that there was no sound of the shark approaching: it was simply THERE when you turned around. Not being able to hear what was coming up behind you made it that much scarier – you had no way of anticipating what you were about to see. At the time, I couldn’t have agreed more.
Then I moved to Iqaluit and lost my peripheral vision to the necessity of keeping warm and began encountering snowmobiles, one of the more popular forms of transportation here. There is nothing more terrifying than walking along, in the dark, by myself, and hearing the sound of snowmobiles coming from behind. The best analogy I can give to life back home is driving on the highway and hearing a group of motorcyclists coming. Or maybe sirens of some sort. But its also not, because thanks to the handy invention of rearview mirrors, you’re still able to see them before they pass you (and if its sirens coming, you pull over to the side of the road). Here, you can hear them getting closer but have no idea exactly how close they are.
Every time it happens, I have an internal debate about whether I should turn around and look, or whether I should continue walking in a perfectly straight line, or if I should stop and wait for them to pass. I’ve somehow managed to convince myself that its brave to keep walking, even as part of me really just wants to stop and look. But I don’t out of fear that stopping will lead to being hit. And then I always have a moment of panic as to whether or not they can see me in the dark despite the knowledge that yes, they have seen me, and no, they won’t run me over. Snowmobiles seem to travel in packs and so once one passes you, there is no way to know how many more are to come.
I’m definitely more likely to be run over by a snowmobile here than anything else. They follow the roads as little as possible, cutting diagonally across intersections leaving pedestrians to anticipate their next unpredictable move. I have nothing against snowmobiles really, but they have definitely given me a new appreciation for how scary sound can be. And an even greater appreciation for the silent, silent walks to work accompanied by sunrise, sometimes snowfall and my early morning thoughts on how great life here is – snowmobiles included.