The Power of Stories

“I feel like we could be sharing stories for hours” said Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island Park ranger Ricky to me one evening after we had chatted about our homes and cultures out on the rangers’ porch. I walked back to Signal’s House with a smile on my face, hoping that we would continue the conversation. Time has passed since that evening, we have shared more stories, and on a rainy day like today, it feels like just the time to tell you one more – a story about stories.

I grew up in a place where every patch of land, every object and every dent in the house walls has a story behind it. Some of them I was fortunate to hear from my grandparents, others I could only imagine. Back home, everybody talks about villages like mine, Tyurkmen, in past tense – stories full of nostalgia about everything villages used to be and everything they are not anymore. Such stories could easily wrap you up in the past, cast a shadow over your attitude towards the present – many villages are now abandoned, traditions are lost, stories are forgotten. Some say villages will never again be the rich cultural centre they once were.  Even if we hear about old traditions, we don’t always engage with them.

There are still, however, days when people take out their old traditional clothes, full of colours and intricate embroidery, and gather to dance together to the rhythms of bagpipes, accordions, drums and flutes. My favourite part comes later in the celebrations when we share stories late into the night – some we hear every time, others are new. I love them all. Listening to them, sharing them, writing them down. I think that the best kind of stories need little embellishment from the truth, for there are so many incredible places, people and events all of them worthy of being remembered. Of course, I love to read great works of fiction, but for me those cannot quite compare to the power and privilege of hearing a story first hand from people who hold those stories dear to their heart.

Here on Qikiqtaruk, stories are a constant part of our daily routine: stories of past adventures of the field team: “Did I ever tell you about the time that the bowhead whale came into Pauline Cove… or when the radio got lost out on the tundra and we tried to use the drone to find it…”. Stories about the past and present life on the island from the rangers. Stories about the findings of our research. Fieldwork and stories tend to go hand in hand – funny stories liven up those moments when no field plan seems to work, and evenings after a day’s work can quickly go from quiet to lively chatter. Stories are how we communicate both our daily lives and our science.

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Sharing stories and a meal on Qikiqtaruk

From one end of the world to the other, stories about how the world around us is changing and about the connection between people and land make me feel at home. Some of those stories have been scientific stories: a clear structure, many numbers and frequent reminders of why those numbers are important. Scientific stories take many shapes – journal articles, reports, presentations, computer code, blog posts and more. Just like a good story, a good scientific paper takes you on a journey through what we know, what we don’t know, and what it all might mean. Sure, there might be more graphs and less pictures than your usual story, but as a whole, scientists are professional tellers of very precise and accurate stories about how the world around us is changing and what that might mean for people and places.

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Villages like mine, Tyurkmen, are changing, and so are communities all around the world. Ecosystems are changing, too. A story that is happening right now out from the Arctic tundra of Canada to the abandoned agricultural lands of Eastern Europe. Perhaps it is in sharing our stories of the past and present, be it through numbers, pictures or words, that we can better understand processes of change around the world and what they will mean for all of us now and in the future. As the day is coming to a close here on Qikiqtaruk, I feel happy and privileged to hear stories about the island’s heritage and to be able to collect information on how Qikiqtaruk’s environment is changing – a new story in the making.

By Gergana Daskalova

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