I think all who were privileged to be in attendance at Ian Tamblyn’s presentation to the CNS on February 21 would agree it was much more than a talk. To borrow an expression from the 1960’s, I can only describe it as a “happening.”
Ian spoke from the heart and completely without notes for the first half of the evening - relating how he first came to be in the Arctic - what it was like at that time - and very significantly, how it has changed. We felt his passion for the beauty of the landscape, glaciers and animals, and for the uniqueness of the people of the Arctic - but we also felt his rage over the world’s seeming indifference to what is being lost.
Ian is an artist and does not compartmentalize. His thoughts, impressions, and emotions flowed from anecdote to image to scientific fact. Starting in the Western Arctic, he took us gradually across the North to Greenland. And he took us back and forth in time also, because, he said, when you are in the Arctic you are always in two levels of time - geological time and temporal time.
Geological time is evident in traces of billion-year old creatures, in the trees on Axel Heiberg Island that were fossilized millions of years ago, and in ancient human artifacts such as a 2,500-year old polar bear amulet. The amulet emerged recently on a beach and, as Ian put it so well, it forms a tangible link between geological and temporal time. And now there is even a third level, he added, this current time of drastic change in the Arctic.
He showed us slides with stunning photos of giant icebergs which are now gone and the like of which will never be seen again. The glacier fields from which they came have shrunk and only small, fractured icebergs are now “calving” from them. Over and over again, he told us stories of the animals that were so plentiful when he first went up to the Arctic, and have since declined so drastically in numbers, many to the point of endangerment.
Ian talked about communities that are losing homes to land erosion and told us stories and showed us photos of the people he had met in the Arctic, and we felt that we had met them too.
By the end of the first half of the evening, he had managed to make us feel that somehow we had been with him in the Arctic and understood something of its mystic beauty. We shared his anger over what is being lost.
For the second half of the evening, Ian performed a few of his own songs about the Arctic, and really, what could be better than that? The songs added to the northern spell he had cast over us. My favourite was one he called “You Are This Place.” Ian had shown us a slide of an Inuit hoop drummer. “This is the heartbeat of the land” he told us. The Peruvians have their pan flutes - the heartbeat of the Andes, and the Scots have their bagpipes - the heartbeat of the Highlands. Even New York City has its hip-hop - the heartbeat of that city. In Ian’s “You Are this Place”, we could hear that the hoop drummer really was the heartbeat of the Arctic.
“Shaman Drummer” by Billy Gauthier, Inuit artist