There’s plenty of time before Harry is due back and I set out for a walk and another tour of the village. It’s totally deserted, no one to be seen. Presumably the children are still sleeping after their long hours playing out on the ice. It seems that there is nothing for any of the inhabitants to do and therefore they only come outdoors when there is something going on. I knock on a few doors and ask for Larry’s house, the hunter out with Luis. I am directed to it and it is no different from any other. One of his children answers the door and tells me his mother is also away, crosscountry skiing. Without either of them being there I don’t want to intrude and leave to wander some more around the village or the town, although both are overstatements really. It’s really just a hamlet and it seems worthwhile to knock at a few doors to introduce myself. When will I ever pass this way again?
One Inuk I meet is particularly hospitable and invites me in for tea. He has been here all his life and remembers when it was very different and much harder, without any comforts. It still seems pretty difficult now, so I can guess it must have been a very tough life indeed in past times. He tells me that nowadays most Inuit bury their dead in the ground, although the permafrost, just under the surface of the ground, is so hard that often they need to use blow torches and even heavy construction equipment to break through. Previously the traditional way was to wrap up the bodies and leave them to the elements. With a wry smile he tells me; ‘Long ago we used to put our houses below ground and our dead above ground. Then the white man came and told us to put our houses above ground and our dead below ground. We’ve never been warm since.’ He’s a delightful character and reluctantly I leave his home as I want to explore some more.
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I ask at some other houses if there are any carvers in the village and eventually am directed to one particular house. The owner doesn’t speak very much English but he also invites me in and offers me more tea. Through the translation of one of his children I ask if he has any carvings to sell. After some hesitation he brings out two carvings of a polar bear and a seal. He feels they are not worth selling but to me they are very evocative and full of artistry and I persuade him to sell them to me. He asks very little and I pay more, hopefully a fairer price. He also has two more major pieces, very heavy sculptures in rough black and grey stone, an Eskimo and a larger seal. I would love to buy them as well but they are too heavy to carry on our flights, where weight is always a consideration and of course here we need to carry our own bags. Anyhow I already have the pieces I bought on the way in at Iqualuit Airport. Reluctantly I refuse and say goodbye to the family and the father is happy to accept some chocolate I have with me for the children. In return he shows me a tiny wooden sledge he has built for his son and offers to build one for me. I tell him that we expect to leave in two hours and he tells me to come back in one hour. I also call in to see Looty but his son tells me he is sleeping, possibly preparing himself for his hunting after we leave, as he will not then sleep for several days.
I return to the co-operative and show everyone the things I have bought. Then Cecil the owner of the lodge comes to see us with bad news. He has had a message from Resolute, presumably on behalf of Harry Hansen, that the airport there is closed and the pilot cannot take-off to pick us up and take us on to Camp Hazen. He will telephone through if there is any change. We wait around and the hours pass but still no news comes through. Everyone starts to speculate and decides that it’s because of me and my waking Harry in the night, that he’s not coming and I cannot easily argue against that. Fabian is particularly morose and starts (or continues) drinking. He is the leader of our expedition so it’s really up to him to contact Resolute directly and chase up our aircraft and I have to let him handle it. He promises he will keep phoning through but he’s in a bad mood and continues to blame me. Erik and Penny don’t say anything, after all it’s Fabian’s show, but I feel they probably think the same.
In the circumstances I decide to go out again and wander around for a while before returning to the house of my carver. He has the sledge ready and I buy it. His son has a different toy sledge and I ask if I can buy that as well. The carver says it belongs to his son so only he can sell it. It’s a gracious way of putting it and I ask the son if he is willing to sell his toy. He’s very keen and I presume his father will easily make him another one. On the way back, half-hidden in the snow, I find the skull of a muskox and wonder if I could or should take it back with me to London. It reminds me of a visit, many years ago now, to Much Hadham, the home of the internationally acclaimed sculptor Henry Moore. He had all kinds of skulls lying around in his spacious studios and used them to create some of the powerful sculptures for which he is so famous. I decide to take it with me and to ask Looty or Cecil whether I can keep it.
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