People & Culture

Our Country: Margaret Atwood

The iconic author shares her vivid memories of Canada’s Arctic, from its impressive wildlife to its otherworldly landscapes
  • Nov 30, 2013
  • 325 words
  • 2 minutes
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Visiting Canada’s Arctic is the kind of thing that people say changes your life. You have no idea what the planet is really like until you’ve been to the Arctic.

People often think it’s a colourless place, covered in ice, but it’s actually vivid with colour. Depending on which part of the Arctic you’re in, there aren’t many trees, but there’s a lot of growth that turns different hues.

The wildlife in the Canadian Arctic is also impressive: bears, walruses, whales, seals — not to mention astonishing bird life in many places. During one trip with Adventure Canada, we were in a boat approaching a large rock that looked to be volcanic, because there were huge clouds of steam rising from it. But indeed there is no volcanic activity in that part of the world. As we approached, we saw that the steam was rising from hundreds of walruses that had hauled out upon this rock on a sunny day. The older ones were lolling about on the rock, and the younger ones were charging around in the water like a football team, snorting.

Another time I went to see a large field of stromatolites that had been discovered just the year before. Stromatolites are the fossilized mounds of blue-green algae that created oxygen in our atmosphere billions of years ago. Our planet didn’t come ready-made with oxygen; it was created as these organisms split oxygen off water. Every time you breathe, you are breathing an inheritance from those very fossils. In my short story, “Stone Mattress,” the murder weapon is one of these stromatolites. The word translates literally as “stone mattress,” and they’re very sharp and pointy when they fragment.

The Canadian Arctic is a fascinating place. Culturally, historically, geographically, it’s different from anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else.

Famous Canadians and Canadian Geographic readers have shared their favourite places in our country on an interactive map. See it here

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