Northern Circuits and the Virtues

I have become a firm believer that doing circuit Court teaches (or reinforces) for you the Virtues.

Acceptance – besides the acceptance of your own fate that I talked about in my last entry, anyone who has travelled on court circuit is intimately familiar with this virtue. Face it, lawyers are Type A’s and they do not enjoy being “weathered out” unable to accomplish the circuit. Worse yet, being “weathered in” by a blizzard that could last days, far from home base, with only the supplies you’ve packed and what might be available at the Northern store – not much fun. Those who accept the weather, planes going mechanical, ice jams in rivers, and the other circuit hazards have the best time of it. You learn to bring that book you’ve been intending to read, a laptop, a deck of cards for those times when the weather, the planes, the ice and water refuse to co-operate with your schedule – basically anytime between September and June.

Bravery – you know you are a northern circuit pro when your plane almost hits a pingo (look it up – they’re fun and fabulous) in low cloud, flies suddenly and steeply upward, and, finally landing through the same low cloud, you get off the plane concerned only that your files may have toppled over in their case. Bravery is simply business as usual.

Caution – is what is required to walk for eight months of the year without falling on ice and breaking a hip. We are all very practiced with this virtue.

Curiosity – you have to be curious about that huffing you hear off in the bush behind you. If you ignore it, the bear just might sneak up behind you and that is never good.

Defiance – we learn to defy the worst of the weather – -50C will not stop us from flying into a community for Court (unless, of course, it also comes with 70k not winds and a 10 m ceiling).

Determination – see Defiance.

Devotion – those of us that stay in the North for any length of time are devoted to the work that we do, the land, the people. Either that or we’re just really, really adventurous…

Discretion – when you have to take your Court shirt off in order to get beneath a vehicle to replace it’s blown tire, and still arrive in Court in a reasonable state of dress – you just have to trust those you are traveling with to keep that secret. Otherwise, the whole system breaks down.

Flexibility – see also Acceptance. You really cannot be too uptight about the 9 hours you are going to wait in the very small airport while mechanics try to deal with ice damaged parts on your flight. Really. You will get to the circuit on time or late or you will get home on time or late. Seriously, take a deep breathe and take out that book. This virtue also helps you navigate icy ground without breaking a hip.

Focus – you have 50 new appearances, 22 trials, 5 preliminary inquiries and a dozen sentencings to accomplish in 3 communities in 4 days. Not a problem when you have this virtue!

Forgiveness – this virtue is an imperative in the North, where we live in close quarters and are sometimes “weathered in” together for days at a time. Really, almost everything can and should be forgiven… almost. Taking photographs while one is repairing the vehicle without their Court shirt on … unforgivable … sorry, but that’s the way it is.

Generosity – being more serious here, I have never lived in a place that has demonstrated on such a regular basis such generosity as the North. We help each other here, without question and without judgment. It’s critical.

Gentleness – see Caution & Flexibility – you learn quickly to be gentle with your joints while navigating ice. If you fall and you see that you are about to take someone else down with you, you should do your best to fall on them gently, so they have an opportunity to practice forgiveness.

Gratitude – is what you feel after the 9 hour wait for airplane parts is over, when another pedestrian falls gently onto or into you, when the forecasted 5 day blizzard peters out on day 3, when the ferry or ice road finally reconnects Yellowknife, Behchoko and Fort Providence with the highway south, when the wolverine or polar/black/grizzly bear you startled walks away and when your traveling companion, who turned the camera on you while you were repairing the vehicle in a state of half-dress, realizes there is no film in the camera.

Honesty – you’re on court circuit – anything other than honesty is simply not an option. You can probably exaggerate about the size of the bison you saw driving along the highway but that is about as far as it should get.

Humbleness – you will be quickly humbled when you’re half-dressed under the car or when you’ve fallen into that nice elderly gentleman who is bound to forgive you. It is just not the right time for pride.

Humour – see Humbleness, Gratitude, Acceptance – all lessons best taught with a touch of humour.

Impartiality – you learn, when you are weathered into a small hotel with a dozen other travelers, limited food and water, no showers and the blizzard is going to last for three more days it is simply not a good idea to take sides.

Industry – in the Arctic, we do what we have to do to make it through the worst of conditions. Brush fires have to be managed, search and rescue teams have large areas to cover, your roofing tiles cannot wait another winter for repair, and court circuits must be completed. Besides, a failure to keep busy generally is what leads to dreaded cabin fever – not pretty.

Innocence – do I really have to explain this in relation to court circuits?

Justice – Self explanatory as well.

Kindness – for the same reasons we are impartial and generous, we are kind. Remember – no one wants to sit out the storm with a Meany!

Love & Loyalty – see Devotion.

Majesty – defined as “impressive dignity”, this is how you should try to recover after falling into the forgiving elderly gentleman. You should really just try to salvage whatever dignity remains, no matter how little.

Moderation – the avoidance of extremes – moderation in all things is a word to the wise in our extreme climate. Doesn’t really need to be said, does it?

Obedience – When the pilot who is taking you through heavy cloud or is about to land on ice gives you instructions – you learn to obey. Seriously – obey the pilot who has your life and limbs in his/her hands.

Openness – If you come North to be a circuit lawyer you are going to live in a very small town. It’s all open and if it isn’t, they are going to make up rumours about you anyway. You learn to go with it. You really don’t have anything to hide.

Patience – I’ve mentioned the 9 hours wait for airplane parts. Enough said. Read that book you brought along. You should also be aware of something I call community time. South of 60 measurements of time have a different meaning in the Arctic. It’s confusing at first, so pay attention. “I will meet you at 2 p.m.” really means “I will meet you after I walk the dog, pick up some groceries and the mail, stop and chat with my neighbour’s co-worker who I will happen to run into, and clear my deck of snow. If that happens to be somewhere close to 2 p.m. then great, otherwise it will be at some other time, probably on the same day.” Understand now?

Peace – this is what you will look for after five days of being “weathered in” together with the same 12 people and after that shrieking wind finally dies. Ah, peace.

Prudence – the prudent person would not take out a camera while you are half-dressed and changing a tire. The prudent person would then be forgiven.

Reliability & Responsibility – Self-reliance is the order of the day in the Arctic. You will need to know how to change tires, how to keep yourself warm in all situations, how to build a fire, build a shelter, repair a snowmobile or boat engine motor, and a hundred other skills that will ensure your survival in the event that the plane you are traveling in has to land far from an airport or some other misfortune comes your way. If there are people with you who lack some of these skills, you take responsibility for them. Period. Just the way it is. Even when fortune favours you, on circuit, reliability and responsibility are as high standards as honesty – not an option.

… and if you don’t have a reliable foothold on the icy pathway and you fall into the forgiving elderly gentleman and happen to break his hip – take responsibility. It’s a good thing.

Sensitivity – sensitivity is what causes the prudent person to never have a thought of capturing your half-dressed attempts to change a tire on film. The sensitive and prudent person has no need for forgiveness.

Sincerity – while you are trying to regain some dignity after your fall into the elderly and forgiving gentleman, and especially after you’ve broken his hip, you would be wise to be very sincere in your apology.

Sobriety – Your sincere apology and acceptance of responsibility for the elderly gentleman’s broken hip will be taken much more seriously if it is offered in a sober state. This makes it much easier to be forgiven and, with your co-ordination and dignity now intact, you can gently help your victim into an ambulance. Bonus.

Spontaneity – Lawyers are Type A’s (in case you’ve forgotten given the length of this post). We are planners by nature. However, the weather, mechanical failures, errant wolverines and bear, ice jams, thaw and break up will all mess with your plans. You will quickly learn to be spontaneous – taking opportunities not necessarily offered by your schedule to accomplish some of the circuit work. Either that or you read that book. Either way – you should feel a sense of accomplishment.

Steadfastness – see Reliability & Determination

Strength – this helps you get the tire replaced on the massive truck with the blown tire. It also helps you not immediately hurt the traveling companion with the camera. An assault would not be a good thing, especially while you are traveling on court circuit. Assault – bad. Get it? Bad. Not good.

Toughness – The dry air and cold wind will pretty much take care of the tough. Stay out in it long enough and your skin will be as tough as leather.

Tranquility – see Peace.

Trust – if you are not the person with the skills described in Reliability & Responsibility then you quickly learn to trust the person who does have the skills. You should also trust the pilot that you are obeying. Finally, you really need to trust that your traveling companion will not be tempted to photograph your half-dressed tire changing adventure. If the travelling companion proves that trust unfounded, trust yourself to forgive anyway. It will make the remainder of the drive more pleasant.

and finally…

Trustworthiness – see Reliability, Steadfastness, Honesty, Responsibility. Strive to be a traveling companion who will not take indiscreet photographs! Commit to being spontaneous and take advantage of the opportunities that the blizzard affords. Promise yourself that you will always be gentle when falling onto or into someone else. It’s really the only way to live.


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