It is very hard work and the wall part of mine that I laboriously complete is very lopsided and almost immediately topples over. But as always I’ve learned something by my lack of success. The Zen teachings take that to a higher level by expressing, ‘The barn has burnt down, good, now I can see the moon.’ Looty explains that in a white-out or in a blizzard, you might have to shelter for days, even weeks and an igloo will save your life.
A person can live without food for weeks, without water for days but in very bad conditions one can only survive for a few hours without shelter. Igloos are usually temporary and are not intended to be permanent homes. A skilled hunter using his snow knife can fashion one in less than an hour. He could easily add a window using pieces of clear ice or even the stretched intestine of a seal.
Maps Of The Arctic Photo Gallery
We breathe and drink in the inspirational and heady atmosphere for a long time but eventually time starts to exert its own pressure and we must return. We drive back on the ski-doos and I am exhilarated by the thrill of driving at speed along these seemingly endless plateaux amidst such natural monuments to creation. At times we race each other but mostly it is just the joy of harmonising within this beautiful land. We are back at the co-operative hotel in time to see the final preparations for Luis before he takes off on his hunting trip (I really want to call him Big Louis from Detroit but feel he may not appreciate it, so just address him as Big Al and he seems to like that). Larry isn’t ready yet but the huskies are anxious to move and are making more of a din than usual. I’m told it will be a half hour yet so decide to stroll through the village.
It doesn’t take long. There are only a small number of houses and various wooden shacks, put up without an eye for design or harmony. There are plenty of ugly oil drums scattered around and it’s clear that the main priority here is wind and cold protection. Out of season it must indeed be desolate and barren and certainly not a place to spend the usual holidays. However, some people do spend their lives here and never travel away. It makes me think of Siberia and similar frozen territories and the hardy and resilient peoples that also live in such inhospitable places. But to them it’s home and they survive in their own way. Many people in the past have visited Britain and wondered how we put up with our weather. To us it’s not so bad and we are not fazed by it, so presumably similarly are the Inuit and the Siberians. Of course a benefit of global warming to us in Britain has been the increase in temperatures over recent years. In London we now rarely have more than a few days snow each year, whereas in the past we regularly had snow for several weeks. Some of the Inuit houses have several polar bear skins stretched on racks outside, being prepared for sale. The bear’s head is first removed for cleaning, then replaced at the end of the process. A very ignoble end to one of the most magnificent animals of the world.
I hurry back and Larry is finally ready. He has replaced two harnesses he wasn’t happy with and has the one huge sledge (called a komatik) piled high with provisions, their tent, extra clothes and of course Luis’s deadly guns. The sledge is about four metres long. Larry chooses his dogs for this trip in rotation, harnessing the leader first before tying on the others. Those left behind scream and howl even more intensely in protest. Surprisingly one of the dogs taken has only three legs but I’m told is a first class bird dog and is still fast enough to keep up. Larry’s wife uses a long whip to try and keep the dogs in order but they still tangle themselves up in all kinds of ways and have to be continually sorted out. Generously she lets me try the whip the cord of which must be over six metres long. It has a metal attachment at the end, primarily to help the balance but it must also sting fiercely when it strikes the skin.
Luis is resplendent in a wrap around red jump suit, large, flashy French glasses, and his hunting knife prominent on his right hip. He takes the high front position and waves majestically at us. I wave back but still hope he is unsuccessful. Larry leans forward, cracking his whip and the huskies strain against the harnesses and ropes and start off at a very fast pace towards the north-east. Looty tells me, much to my delight, that Larry has an unsuccessful record as a hunter and it is likely they will return in two or three days without having killed a bear. Shortly another hunter sets off in their general direction hoping to meet up later to see if they need any help. We can now set off ourselves to explore and try to find some animals. But our shooting is with camera only.
We set off in our ski-doos towards the west with the intention of looking for animal tracks. I am the last in line, which enables me to lag behind, then put on bursts of speed to catch up. It is so exhilarating and really great fun. I enjoy the wonderful sense of absolute freedom in this vast land of snow and ice. It’s absolutely magical. We travel in this manner for many kilometres and I wouldn’t miss this for anything. Sometimes we pass through huge tracts of totally flat terrain, other times we cross rougher areas of rock and stone, often covered in all kinds of lichens. A couple of times my ski-doo gets stuck in a snowdrift on the rocks and I have to get off to pull it free and then restart the engine. At times I am so far behind that I wonder if they would find me if I couldn’t restart the ski-doo but I always just manage it. At a stop for water, I ask Looty whether sometimes he finds it difficult to know the way. His eyes twinkling, he tells me, ‘Inuit never get lost but occasionally the path wanders.’
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