I was reading in the news the other day about the ice bridge in Dawson City and how $200,000 worth of engineers couldn’t figure out why there was no ice forming on their makeshift bridge in the middle of winter.
It reminded me of a time back in Inuvik, when the powers that be were trying to figure out why they could not keep ravens from shorting out and blowing power transformers in the winter.
The first thing they did was hire a Swedish engineer who had somehow come up with a way to keep menacing seagulls off their runways. They figured that same engineer could fix their raven problem. They also hired an ornithologist from the University of Alabama who was an expert in raven behaviour. Since the Swede had limited English, they had to hire an interpreter, who was a vegetarian. Back then, Inuvik was not known for its fresh vegetables. They had to put in a special order with a greenhouse in Edmonton, which shipped everything up a cost of a buck a pound.
It was mid-January and the ornithologist from Alabama got frostbite the first morning out. They reconvened to design and build a specially heated hut with a bubbled roof that was ordered from France. Two weeks later, they finally got settled and ready for work.
What they knew was that the ravens, when standing on the transformer, were standing on both the negative and positive posts at the same time. This resulted in the short that knocked out the power and fried the raven. The ornithologist suggested tranquilizing every raven in Inuvik so the birds could be outfitted with special booties make of a non-conductive material designed by NASA for the space shuttle. It took them a day and a half of arguing to realize that there was no way in hell they would have the time or resources to carry out such a task.
The Swede had another suggestion, which was to bait the ravens into landing in a warm tar-like substance. When it hardened into rubber, it would coat the feet of the ravens, thus cancelling any electric pulse naturally occurring within the raven. They studied that proposal over four more days, finally concluding that they would actually be breaking a law that prohibited the handling of wild game.
At this point, the town was going broke trying to keep this operation from failing. They’d burned up the budgeted funds and were now siphoning from the snow removal fund. As fate would have it, it snowed the next day and the day after and the day after that, leaving more than a foot-and-a-half of snow on the street. Motorists were stranded from one end of town to the other. They enacted an emergency measures act and borrowed a quarter of their budget against projected property taxes for the next year, relieving the good folks of Inuvik of their plugged roadways.
During the time it took to enact the emergency measures act and get the cash flowing again, the greenhouse in Edmonton quit sending vegetables up because of unpaid bills and the Swedish interpreter got a bad case of scurvy and was hospitalized for a week.
During the winter in Inuvik, the sun does not come above the horizon for six weeks, leaving the town with little more than a sprinkling of twilight before plunging it into total darkness for more than twenty hours a day. The ornithologist developed the first confirmed case of Sun Deprivation Syndrome and was found walking nude through the local watering hole wearing nothing but large winter boots and a skidoo helmet. He was expeditiously removed from town and remains, to this day, in a mental institution in Mobile, Alabama.
The mayor called an emergency council meeting to deal with the ever-escalating crisis. It was decided that they would abort the operation before the good residents of Inuvik strung them up over the whole debacle. To make matters worse, the town councillors declared a vote of non-confidence and began the process of overthrowing the mayor and senior administrative officer, both of whom they blamed for the entire fiasco. Just as they were about to make a motion as such, there was a great sparking from the power pole transformer directly in front of the town office. This knocked the power out and left them in total darkness. Here, fate reared its ugly head once again, when a dead raven fell onto the hood of the taxi cab that was taking the Swedish engineer to the airport. He ran from the taxi cab, pulling at his hair and screaming blue murder in Swedish. He missed his plane and spent the next two weeks dead drunk. They adjourned the meeting until the following week, but the topic was never brought up again.