Gardening Tips for Seedy Characters: Week 45

The Calculus of Cold

As part of my Northern Immersion experience, my daughter and I keep Nunavut CBC on all the time. This means that more than 50% of the programming is in Inuktitut, a language said to be the second most difficult in the world to learn, next to Icelandic. It is a beautiful language to listen to, even in complete ignorance.

Iqaluit. (Photo by Aaron M Lloyd, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Iqaluit. (Photo by Aaron M Lloyd, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

I was unsurprised to find that occasional English words like “President Trump” and “Pan-Pacific Partnership” crept in, but I was startled to hear all numbers spoken in English as well. This, I was told, is because Inuktitut has no system for cardinal numbers more than one, two, many, many.

It is easy to believe that when the first people of the Arctic were doing the careful arithmetic of survival there may have been little time for what we call “higher mathematics.” A pat answer, but unlikely, given the stark nature of the fractal geometry of the landscape. A fractal is a mathematical shape that is repeated at different scales. In this way, the shape of an ice pan is a smaller image of the shape of the larger ice flow. The hills are larger cousins in shape and texture to the rocks and boulders that comprise them. Surrounded by the glorious mathematics of the land, I realize it would be churlish — not to say wrong — to think Inuit culture is lacking in that regard.

It was another kind of math that took Rosie and I to volunteer at the local soup kitchen. As the temperature was dropping, the numbers of the hungry rose. The head chef murmured to me to serve so that the food prepared would feed everyone who had shown up. An experienced volunteer stood at my elbow, coaching me in a whisper, “Give that one more, for her container, she has three kids at home. He’s been sick, give him extra soup.”

It was a kind place and I didn’t feel out of place with my joking manner. Everyone got enough, with some coming back for seconds. It was like most soup kitchens this time of year, I expect, doing a grim calculus of how many are going hungry, including children, and how to feed them enough to get by. Unlike most soup kitchens, though, this one served seal meat stew along with the vegetables, salad and buns and the strong, rich, greasy broth did triple duty: staving off hunger and cold while giving the people a sense of home.




Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.