NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,674
To grow up on the land is to know shadow and light. Sometimes there is great darkness and other times, great illumination. To see the light of day again is the hope in every heart. Especially living on the land. Everywhere you step your foot is either on rock, snow or water and the world is a striation of black and white. Ice waterfalls cling to cliffs, water pools in both rock and ice. Even the soapstone carvers chip away black rock to reveal white underneath.
Elijah grew up in this chiaroscuro world, living for the hunt. He learned to carve soapstone, but it was rigging a harpoon and hitching the dogs that excited his hands the most, so he would tell Lucie. She remained unimpressed, taken early by fancies of a world full of colors. Where Elijah grew up on the land, moving across rock, snow or water from camp to camp, Lucie grew up in a white clapboard house with a red roof. If she goes back far enough to the place where earliest memories live with the many thoughts in her mind she, too, can remember living on the land.
Fluttering in her mind are the shadow dogs and birds her father cast upon the white walls with his hands in front of a light. It must have been a snowhouse that far back, and the light that of a cooking stove. Like Elijah’s family, Lucie’s had also lived on the land. But when she and her older brother were five and seven, they moved to Cape Dorset. Her mother wanted the children to go to school, which both of them did.
Elijah would tell Lucie that Cape Dorset was Kinngait, which meant a place of mountains. She remembers her father showing her the old rings of stones that their ancestors left from living there since the time when birds and humans began to walk upright. Those birds would have been ravens, Elijah’s black birds. Again, back to black.
Sometimes Lucie wondered if it had been her mother who sought color first and then pressed for the children to go to school. It was in 1952 that her mother began drawing the thoughts in her head that she had for ideas to embroider on the skins made into clothes. But in Cape Dorset she worked with a man from the south who gave her drawings to a soap carvers instead and then taught them how to roll paints onto the carving and carefully apply thin sheets of paper. Rubbing would transfer the paint to the paper and Lucie’s mother would see her thoughts become full colored expressions.
Although her father continued to hunt, like Elijah the man lived best on the land, Lucie’s mother created more and more fanciful prints as if the addition of color to black and white had unleashed spirits in her head. Soon, other Inuit were learning the printing techniques and Cape Dorset was reborn from a seasonal hunting village into a thriving artist community with a cooperative that sold the prints to the outside world.
Bursts of orange, globes of yellow, swaths of blue over green colored their walls as prints hung to dry like arctic char on a drying rack. Old stories became colorful and new stories emerged. Lucie’s father would still entertain the family that grew with the addition of two more brothers with hand shadows on the wall, black and white.
It was frightening the first time Lucie left Baffin Island to go to school in the south, but for the first time in her life she saw trees. And many of those trees were like her mother’s art, changing colors from light to dark green to orange, yellow and red. Winter was a return to black and white, it seemed for any land that knew snow, even in the south. Lucie learned to type letters on a black box with many metal keys; a typewriter. Although she did not like making mistakes in school, secretly she loved the red pen that one of her teacher’s used to correct mistakes. It was color against black and white.
Lucie never did develop the artistic talent of her mother although it seemed that every other person in Cape Dorset could draw. But she did learn how to make apple pies in the south and from that time forward, she would always make sure she had dried apples, flour and sugar for pies.
Then came that awful day when she returned home after her final year of school. Lucie’s father was still out on the land; caribou were moving north. When he and her older brother returned with several hides she wondered at the other man with his own sled and dogs. The dogs were mostly white with black hairs in their pointy ears and eyes lined so thickly in black it looked as if one of the cooperative artists had inked around their eyes. Lucie longed to tie red sashes around the necks of the dogs.
This man with the black-eyed white dogs was her husband, so her father said. Husband? Even her mother had stepped outside their house, smiling, greeting Lucie’s husband. It cannot be, she thought, wanting to run and hide. Elijah, how shy he actually was in that moment, and her so fierce. She yelled like a polar bear trapped in a crevasse. And trapped, she was. She could type, speak English and French, bake apple pies and wear many colors, but her parents had arranged marriage for her.
“I am Elijah Ujarak,” he said to her in the midst of her yelling. She stopped. Embarrassed that she had caused the expressions of wide-eyed worry on both her parents and a few neighbors who stopped to stare at her. Rock. Of course he’d be named after a rock. What else was there in this black and white world?
Lucie glared, then said, “Well, my name is Lucie and as your ears can hear, I speak fluent English. If you wish to speak to me, Mr. Rock, you’ll need to address me in English.”
“English,” he said none-to-fluently. Then in their native Inuktuit, he said, “You can teach my mouth English and I will teach your mouth how to chew seal skins to make mukluks.” Her father and brother, even the peeping neighbors, all laughed. Her mother put an arm around her shoulders and coaxed Lucie back inside the house.
An arranged marriage had to be followed. Although all manner of escape teased Lucie’s mind, she believed it to be so. The next transport of cooperative art and Lucie could hide among the colored prints and carvings. She could type. Maybe the Canadian government could hire her. After all her teacher said there were many jobs for typists who made few errors and could fill up the blank page. Or she could fly away on the fantastical blue and green bird her mother had just printed fifty copies of.
Not that she would love this Elijah, but she would do what was required. As for the man, he seemed to give his dogs far more attention than her. She began watching him with the dogs, feeding, pulling out great tufts of hair as summer came on and teaching them commands. “You want to teach my dogs English, too,” he had asked her one day as she sat on a rock watching him work with the dogs.
“Your dogs have no color,” she told, thinking of nothing else to say.
Elijah nodded. “What colors do you like, Maki?”
“My name is Lucie,” she said. She was short, true but no shorter than any other Inuit female. Then she added, “Red. I like red.”
“A good hunter you would make,” he said, “Spilling red blood across white snow…”
Angry, she got up and left Elijah among his white dogs as they stood on the black rocks. Lucie had never thought of red that way. She had loved the blazing colors best in her mother’s art because they felt warm, like the dancing hues of a fire. Blood! Leave it to some hunter to think of that.
Several weeks later Elijah walked into her mother’s house as she was preparing dinner and handed her a soft leather pouch that was full of something like tiny beach pebbles. “Open it,” he said.
Walking over to the low table her mother often used for drawing, Lucie sat on the floor and spilled out the contents of the pouch. Hundreds of glass trade beads about the size of a bird’s eye scattered across the table. They were old, some were chipped and every last one of them was red.
“What will you do with these red beads,” asked Elijah.
Lucie just shook her head. She didn’t know what to say.
“I am braiding strips of seal hide to make new dog lines. Would you work with me and we can add red beads to the lines,” he asked kneeling beside her. She began to run her fingers through the mass of beads, wondering at the color and how it caught the light. “I am sorry I said red was the color of blood. It is not a bad thing, but you must have different thoughts about red.”
For the first time, Lucie smiled at Elijah. “I have seen women use these beads, too in their embroidery. Not many do that any more. Everyone seems to draw,” said Lucie.
“I don’t see you draw,” said Elijah.
Lucie shook her head and said, “I don’t have my mother’s hands.”
“Then learn the way of the beads. I am a good hunter and can provide you with many hides,” he said, sounding as if that had been the pitch he gave her father for her marriage vows.
“Is that what you told my father,” she asked. Lucie looked at Elijah, his face now so near to hers. His eyes seemed gentle, but maybe a bit sad. Or was that her own sadness she was feeling?
“No,” he said, “That is what my father told your father.”