NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,958
The three Inuit men bundled in tawny furs and hides from the depths of hooded parkas to the soles of knee-high mukluks introduced themselves as Simeon, Alvin and Theodore. Only Alvin spoke English so he did the introducing. Conrado asked him twice to repeat last names but the reporter could not speak them correctly into his recorder as if his tongue was twisted inside out. He didn’t want to sound like those who told his mama to slow down and speak English when she was speaking English. It’s all in the ear Conrado knew, but his ear wasn’t finely tuned for the songs of language coming from this frozen desert island. He couldn’t understand those who spoke French, either. He nodded so much these past three days that he had a crick in his neck. But he was certain the one who spoke English just gave him the three names of The Chipmunks.
“Simeon, Alvin and Theodore sashay up in traditional sleds pulled by dozens of huskies. Our tents are set up for the night as this rescue team by land grows larger. Yours truly has joined the mission, along with Green Global Petroleum’s climate scientist, Dr. Dagen Starkka.” Conrado spoke into a microphone that looked as furry as the hood of an Inuit parka. It was to block out as much back noise as possible. With the winds snapping at the colorful array of nylon tents that looked like orange and red poppies in a field, Conrado doubted the quality of the sound he was getting, but could filter it out later. At least it sounded authentic.
As Conrado continued to speak into his recorder, the three men began rolling snow as if to make a snowman. Not that he was familiar with the art of snowman construction having grown up in south Texas, it was the only thing he could think of, other than snowballs. These were looking too big for snowballs.
“Our new arrivals set out to make a snowman, perhaps to relieve tension from the day of mushing across tundra snow and ice. Folks, think east Texas, but all white like that frost built up in an old freezer.”
Dagen walked over to Conrado, keeping silent behind his lime-green neck gaiter, listening. Shaking his head, he pulled down the gaiter away from his mouth to interrupt the reporter. “They’re building an iglu,” he said.
“An iglu…an iglu? Like the thing Eskimos live in?” Conrado turned off his recorder.
“And not Eskimos, that’s a misnomer. Inuit are in Alaska, too. So are Yupik. Indigenous cultures in the arctic have lived in such snow structures for centuries. Keep in mind, these are people who hunt and they use what building materials are at hand. In summer camps, though they would construct tents of hides, securing them with rock rings. It will only take them about 30 minutes to build the place they will sleep tonight. That’s no longer than it takes for me to prepare my dome tent,” said Dagen.
Conrado fumbled with his recorder held between his bulky fur mittens. “Let me get this back on. Okay,” he said, “Repeat what you just said Dr. Starkka.”
Dagen was regretting coming out to fetch Conrado, but he also wanted to see who pulled up, having heard the whine and yip of huskies as well as the distinct calls of those who ran sled dogs. No matter the language, “Whoa,” sounded alike. Tobie had told him that it was three hunters who still lived a nomadic life across the land. Now he found himself the subject of an impromptu interview. He didn’t mind so much as Conrado kept to their agreement only to discuss him as a GGP scientist and not refer to his acting exploits. So Dagen repeated his explanation of iglus as used by indigenous peoples of the arctic.
“Dr. Dagen Starkka stands before me clad as orange as a tangerine from sunnier climes,” intoned Conrado into his furry microphone, “with a green scarf wound around his neck in tones of limes.”
“Actually, it’s called a gaiter,” said Dagen. “Conrado, are you craving citrus by any chance.”
“Dagen, “ he said away from the recorder, “I’m missing sunshine and warmth and the things that make citrus possible.”
Dagen nodded and said, “You need to drink some lemon water. I’ll heat us up some.”
“Lemons,” said Conrado, almost dreamily, “You have lemons?”
“I have lemons.” Dagen looked over at the three men who were already forming the lower half of their iglu. The dogs, still hitched to sleds that probably carried their dinner of frozen seal, all laid down in the snow, ears and noses pointing in the direction of the hut builders. “Let’s go inside the tent,” offered Dagen.
“Ah,” said Conrado, his round face falling into a frown, “The nylon is too noisy. Just a few more questions and then we’ll go have some of that lemon water. Real lemons, you say?”
“Just a few,” said Dagen. “And yes, real lemons.”
Conrado nodded swiftly, putting on his game face. “Dr. Dagen Starkka, stands before me like a splash of morning orange juice. His tent, is the same hue looking as if a orange grove has miraculously sprouted on Baffin Island. Dr. Starkka, tell me about your tent.”
“Well, the dome is a double-walled tent of coated nylon. Aluminum poles form a lattice for durability which will be tested tonight as this blizzard hits.”
Conrado interrupted. “That’s right folks, yours truly is facing a blizzard in the arctic. How do you suppose this mother of all tents will fare in the face of flying snow?”
“I expect it to hold up like the mother of all tents that she is,” said Dagen. “The other searchers have smaller tents, but everyone has something specifically made for this extreme environment. With the proper gear, you can live safely out here. I mean look at that iglu which is nearly complete. They will probably be the warmest of all and it’s made of snow. But they know how to construct it for living purposes.”
“Just how large is this grand orange dame,” asked Conrado.
“Uh, she’s a big girl. We have room enough for eight sleeping bags and our cook stove, and hanging gear,” said Dagen. “When I will be out collecting ice cores and data, the tent will be big enough to serve as my arctic office.”
“Arctic office,” repeated Conrado. “With weather so extreme, what do you expect to find in regards to global warming, Dr. Dagen Starkka?”
“Climate change has more to do with weather extremes. Greenhouse gasses might produce an overall increase in global temperature, but we will experience it more and more in weather extremes. For example, just two weeks ago the sea ice was observed to have broken up. And since then, this region has been battered by a series of blizzards. That’s extreme weather.” Dagen silently motioned with his black arctic mittens toward the orange dome tent that was fading as the sun cast only a few embers against the southwestern horizon.
Conrado nodded. “So no bikinis on the beaches of Baffin Island. Not just yet. Conrado Elizondo, over and out.” His eyes widened and fumbled once again with his recorder and microphone. “Is it warm in our orange?”
“Not really, but we’ll survive and get some hot water going,” said Dagen. He glanced at the furry microphone and asked, “What kind of animal did you kill for that that cover?”
“My mic muff?” Conrado looked at it between his mitts and said, “A muppet.”
Dagen laughed and both men headed back to the tent. Dagen waved at the men building the iglu and they waved back without pausing. Now they were finishing the last blocks that would form the roof.
“Amazing, really,” said Dagen. His words were muffled from behind his gaiter that he had pulled back up over his nose. While on skidoos, Dagen wore an arctic balaclava that had a removable ventilator for breathing in the extreme cold. It kept his entire head protected when worn with goggles. Dagen remembered photos of Ax with ice-crusted beard and eyebrows. Ax had told him that only happened when he paused for lunch. A frozen beard soon leads to a frozen face. Dagen was grateful for the advances just in the past ten years for arctic outerwear.
In the tent, Dagen fired up the platform stove, making sure the vent hole was open. Soon the two men were seated on camp chairs and sipping hot lemon water. Conrado removed his elbow-deep fur mittens and cupped his hands around the mug. He breathed in the lemony steam. “Ah…,” he said, “You don’t know how good the simple things are until until life gets tough.”
“I feel that way about coffee, but it’s important to prevent scurvy out on the land,” said Dagen.
“Grandma makes good coffee,” said Conrado.
“Here or in Texas?”
“Both,” answered Conrado stretching his legs out in front of him on the nylon floor of the tent. “Except the Grandma in Texas, you have to be careful of eggshells. I tell her we don’t have to drink cowboy coffee just because we live in the Lone Star State.”
“Are you hungry,” asked Dagen.
“Do we eat like astronauts out here?” Conrad scanned the tent. It didn’t seem big enough for eight, but he saw the other tents that were smaller and a few looked like caterpillar cocoons.
“Kind of…more like dried food rather than dehydrated. We have arctic char, that Tobie brought. You eat it semi-frozen.”
Conrad nodded. “I’ve had some. Not bad, actually. Interesting texture when partly frozen like that. So, no dehydrated ice cream.”
“Sorry, fresh out of that one, but I could make you Finnish ice cream,” said Dagen. “Or more hot lemon water.”
“Not too much water,” said Conrado. “Not sure I want to be whizzing in a blizzard.”
“Ah, no, no whizzing in a blizzard. I have an extra pee bottle you can use.” Dagen got up from his chair and rummaged through gear packed up in a holding shelf. “Here,” he said, handing Conrado a nalgene bottle.
“It’s a water bottle,” said Conrado, examining the bottle with a raised eyebrow.
“Don’t confuse it with a water bottle,” said Dagen. “Remember, lemon water is not yellow. But you’ll need it when the driving snow hits.”
“Why did we come out when we knew a blizzard was coming,” asked Conrado.
“To get as far as we could,” answered Dagen. “At least we know the coordinates of the plane and they did manage to crash on land. You can’t take another plane out in this and then hunker down and keep going in between breaks. But you can, living the way the Inuit have lived out here in winter.”
“Why didn’t they do a search like this for the two missing hunters,” asked Conrado.
“They did, so Lucie tells me,” said Dagen. “But when they came to the broken up sea ice they couldn’t go any farther, so they needed to call in a plane search. But that’s when all the storms started up, back to back.” Lucie had explained the thwarted efforts without frustration or even fear. She seemed sad at times, but kept hopeful. Yes, she had sisu, thought Dagen. She’d make a better Finn than him.
A howling ensued from outside. Conrado looked at the tent walls, worried. “Double-walled, you say?”
“Uh-huh,” said Dagen who was also listening.
“Wolves,” asked Conrado.
“No,” said Dagen. “It’s the huskies. Probably dinner time for them. The hunters will stake out the dogs in a circle around camp. They are like an early warning system.”
“They’ll warn us of wolves?” Conrad’s brown eyes were rimmed with white as wide as he had them open.
“No, they’ll warn us of polar bears,” said Dagen.