Tuesday, September 2.
Up early. Already, the town was humming more than it was the day
Yesterday was Labor Day, and they take it seriously up here. We
grabbed a quick breakfast in the town's only restaurant in the hotel.
Mabel, our contact in town, took us in a beat-up pickup truck (no
paved roads - everything
gets beat-up here!) out to the tiny cabin we were to stay in for five
days. Originally, we thought
that we might be taking a small open boat many miles up the coast to a
camp there, but that
was not the case. That would have been the MOST dangerous part of the
trip. It was always
windy, and the water was choppy and, in the middle of "summer," all of
34 degrees F. During our
stay, we saw a monument to three Japanese kayakers who, in the 1970's,
died when their kayaks
overturned just offshore from where we are staying.
Our little green cabin came fully equipped with electric lights (not
working,) refrigerator (no electricity) and
all the comforts of home during an ice-storm and power failure in
winter in Auburn. But there was a mattress, a small couch, table, wood stove,
white-gas lantern and cookstove (just like Boy Scouts!) and a curtain in the
corner with a bucket. This really was better than what we had expected. We
thought we were going to be in a tent.
Standing at the cabin, this is a view of the Arctic Ocean and the
This would be million-dollar-plus ocean frontage if it were on Cape
Cod. What do you
need to do to build a cabin out here? For an Inuit, all you have to
do is bring out the materials
and start building. No land to buy, no permits to get. Nunavut is
owned by its native people.
If one of them wants to build, they might go tell a neighbor (who
might be his uncle or cousin)
"I want to build here." And if the new builder is polite, he will not
place his new cabin where
it might affect the view or the fishing of his neighbor. But if a
non-Inuit wanted to build, it would
very difficult to get permits to do what the natives can do for free.
When they build these cabins, nothing goes to waste. Everything has
to be trucked out from town,
and all that stuff has to be shipped to town from hundreds of miles
south. There is no natural
source of firewood, so every scrap of wooden building material and
pallet gets used to fuel
wood stoves. See those two dark spots in front of the cabin? One is
a very old couch and the
other is the rear seat of a car - more about them later.
Standing out on the point, this is a view back at the cabins. Ours is
the one on the left. There is even
a satellite dish on the cabin. Maybe during the short summer they
bring a generator out to electrify
the place but we didn't see it. We fished off the shore in the
choppy water of the Arctic Ocean, hoping to catch the
arctic char which is a delicious fish similar
to the salmon, but we couldn't get the lures far out enough to
get to the deeper water where the fish are.
For two days, we had an additional guest with us. Old Tom was a cook
and general fixer-upper, who
was with us because the hunting team he was working with got moved to
our territory because
grizzly bears were moving in to where his team was supposed to camp.
The increase in temperatures is allowing the grizzlies to move further north
into territory that hadn't seen them before.
You can see our excellent stove, and our neat plumbing.
There was only one floor mattress and one couch, so I sought to prove
that I could sleep
anywhere, and ------- I did!
Every camp has one of these racks for drying meat and fish. The rack
is enclosed with wire mesh to keep
animals out (more on that later.) They cannot dry during the brief,
very buggy summer but once it cools
below 40 degrees, the constant wind dries the char and caribou very
quickly. Historically, they most
often preserve by drying or smoking or both. I had the opportunity to
taste heat-smoked and (raw)
cold-smoked and dried char, and it was always delicious. Nowadays,
many of the Inuit have freezers,
but they don't have to be ON from November to April.
At the time we left about September 10, the snows and winter winds
were starting. The arctic char
season was just ending. These fish spend their winters under the ice
- many of them swim upstream
into the fresh-water ponds. The Inuit were all looking forward to the
great caribou migration which was
about to start within weeks of our departure. They
wait for the Arctic ocean to freeze in the Cambridge Bay
area and cross south over the ice to mainland Canada, down towards
the Northwest Territories. The wolves
follow them and cross over as well. Grizzlies await them on the other
side. Many caribou drown when they
try to cross the sea ice too early to get away from the wolves.
Eventually all the sea ice gets to around 10 feet
deep or more. It was good we left just before all this was about to
happen. Sometimes it's difficult to
fly out when you wait too long.
We met our senior guide, Clarence. Because we felt at home in the
we were in, he went home to his family summer cabin a few miles
away each evening.
I suppose if we'd been further out in the tundra we would have
camped with him and
gotten to know more about him. He's in his late 30's, and he said
that he's already
considered one of the "elders." Elders are highly respected for
their wisdom, and their
existence is evidence that they have learned to live in this very
If you make a mistake out here in the 8-month long very cold
season, it can kill.
Last year, two teenagers out for a fun ride on a snowmobile got
dis-oriented in a
white-out and were found frozen the next day, only a couple
hundred yards from town.
This is Devin - Clarence's step-son and our assistant guide.
Devin is learning from Clarence and hopes to become a full-fledged
himself someday. I was behind Devin on his 4-wheel ATV
"quad" for five days.
This is Clarence's father, Oomingmak. In the Inuit language, the
musk ox is Oomingmak. He gave Mark a name, and then gave me a
based on being a dentist. The name for "tooth fixer" was long and
complicated, but it got shortened to "Kigo."
Out at Clarence's house, Mark participated in bringing in the
char. During char season, they cast out gill nets about 50 feet
long into the
Arctic Ocean, and char swimming by the nets get their gills
The boat brought in about 8 char that day. Notice that
nobody wears a life vest. There's no point. If you fall in that water
with our without a life vest, you don't have much time to get out.
Clarence displayed a beautiful arctic char before his wife
took care of it.
This is Clarence's wife. She is very good with that curved
wickedly sharp called an ooloo. Every home has one. She can
cut the useful
filets from that arctic char in about a minute.
Clarence's daughter. And this is SUMMER!
The play yard and sandbox. All the toys are there, but you have
your imagination a little to see sand.
Early September marks just about the end of the char season. We
enjoyed having some of the fish every day. Mark was a little crazy about
the char. Given the chance, he had char for three meals a day. All the
Inuit who fish try to put as much of this away for long storage for the
many months they cannot
fish except through 5-10 FEET OF ICE!
More soon: we head out into the tundra
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