NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,500
Miriam looked out the window of the twin engine turboprop at the expanse of blue and white. It could have been the prairies of the Midwest in winter, mostly flat with distinct ridges to show where water cut rivulets to form long, low valleys. Nearing the end of March is was still buried in white. Ax was just explaining that they were still over land, somewhere over northern Quebec. He was in the aisle seat next to her, allowing her the window and full view of the northern flight from Ottawa to Clyde River with a brief lay-over in Iqaluit.
“It’ll be expensive to fly live animals north,” said Ax, focusing on the details of the expedition they were planning for next winter. Already Miriam had arranged enough meeting with potential sponsors that Ax had a good start on the funding needed. Although not official, Miriam’s working title was that of personal assistant to Mr. Mathiason, and they were making a logistics trip north to plan the details of the trip. Details that not only would need to be funded, but details that were significant to safety and the quality of education that Ax wanted as a result of the trip.
Glancing away from the porthole momentarily, Miriam flipped through a small spiral notebook decorate with intersecting circles of yellow and turquoise, the same hue as her fleece insulation layer. “First Air charges for live cargo by animal and requires that each be in an individual kennel. At their flat-fee rate per animal based on the extra large size, it will ad up quickly.”
“Damned inconvenient for my old friend to retire as a cargo carrier to Nunavut,” said Ax. “He didn’t even have any recommendations for another hauler.”
“Flying the dogs on a commercial flight from Minneapolis to Ottawa will be about $8,000,” said Miriam. “One of the local dealerships was interested in a publicity shot showing the dogs in Fords.”
“You mean we can drive them all to the airport in a tandem of open-top Mustangs,” asked Ax with a grin. “They could all wear sunglasses.”
“Hmm, probably not if we are gong to the airport in Minnesota in February,” said Miriam. “But a similar idea. If it will cover that one leg of the trip, it will lesson our costs.”
“What’s that you keep telling me? Network for the right sponsor,” he asked.
Miriam smiled. Ax was starting to understand the strategies behind contacting people in his database. It wasn’t just one-sided asking. Networking was a mutual exchange of information. “Yes. If you want your back scratched you have to be willing to scratch backs, too.”
“But I’m not scratching any junk-yard dog,” said Ax.
Miriam understood that Ax was alluding to Green Global Petroleum. He didn’t want backing from the very polluters that were contributing to what he saw as a dying polar world. One that was impacting the region he had spent most his life exploring. Now was time to come out of retirement and protect it. Education and first-hand accountants seemed the logical way for an old arctic explorer to do so, but it took the sponsorship of businesses and individuals to make it happen. Some of the sponsors were junk yard dogs to Ax’s way of thinking.
“Dagen was just trying to be helpful when he suggested that you speak to their executives in Iqaluit,” said Miriam. “They are waiting on some policy announcement and have down time.” Miriam grew up in a household dedicated to food being integral to human justice. Her mothers both advocated for families, elderly, the working poor, undeserved minorities and even indigenous populations living in the inner city of Minneapolis to have access to fresh, whole food. Yet, Miriam also recognized the spins that corporations put on those same foods to market them at more expensive prices. Natural, for instance, was a term much abused in the food industry and the health benefits of organics didn’t align with the budget constraints of those most in need of good food. While climate change and policies was a new arena for Miriam, food justice was an old battleground that prepared her to look at both sides carefully.
“Don’t overlook common ground even with a perceived enemy,” Miriam said.
“Perceived?” Ax raised both wiry eyebrows, but at least he didn’t snort this time at the suggestion of a casual meeting.
“It’ll be a quick meeting during our layover in Iqaluit,” said Miriam. “You don’t have to accept anything. Just explain what you are doing, your purpose and that you are raising funds.”
“And should I ask them their purpose,” asked Ax. “What the hell are three senior executives of an oil company doing in Iqaluit, anyhow?”
“Four,” said Miriam. “Laurel Henney is executive, too.”
“Executive. A glorified secretary.”
“Excuse me Mister Macho Snow Bum,” said Miriam in a heated tone. “Laurel Henney is a corporate secretary, which makes her a chief governance officer. She doesn’t just take notes, she counsels the most senior executives of her company.”
Ax looked at Miriam’s notebook, then at her tight, angry face. Her blue eyes were sparkling with emotion. “No disrespect intended,” he said. “Does it bother you that people are calling you my personal assistant?”
“No,” said Miriam.
“I know you do more for me than take notes. Look, I’d been sitting in a office that didn’t serve much more than a closet for old paperwork. Not only have you prioritized and organized that paperwork into a usable database, you’ve kicked me in the ass to get out there and start making the connections I need to get this expedition and project going. I just don’t know what to call you.”
“It’s not about titles, Ax,” said Miriam. “It’s simply my frustration at women being perceived as non-essential to the men who are perceived as the decision-makers.”
“I could call you my chief decision-maker,” said Ax.
Miriam smiled. “No, we get this thing off the ground, it will be a foundation. And when it’s a foundation, I’d appreciate your consideration as executive director.”
“Done,” said Ax.
“You need to consider it more carefully than that,” said Miriam.
“Why,” he asked.
“Because I want this to succeed,” said Miriam. “I believe in what you are doing. I believe in social justice coming in many forms and you are the first person I have personally known to connect melting polar ice to people. All I ever hear is whining for the polar bears, or disgust at cultures who still hunt. Subsidence is real, and melting ice is a threat to that subsidence.”
“With passion like that, how could I find a better executive director,” asked Ax.
“For starters, you could find someone with greater experience,” said Miriam. “And influence is important. I don’t know how influential I am coming from the margins of a lesbian household, old-school co-ops and city gardens.”
“Marginalized people understand better. And you have enough experience to convince me you can do it. Leading a foundation, that is,” said Ax.
“What do you think I understand better,” asked Miriam. The more she got to know Ax, the more she realized that he cared about people the way her mothers cared about those they advocated for. He was much more than a thrill-seeking adventurer.
“You can be a voice for those who have none,” he said.
“Where does an arctic explorer gain such wisdom?” He really did understand her heart. It had been a difficult path for Miriam, going to school in marketing. While her peers had concerned themselves with gaining wealth and prestige, women with polished heels in sling-back while she had callused feet in Tivos, Miriam had wanted to market those same under served groups her mothers fought for the basic right to fresh food. Just as her mothers hit brick walls like school nurses at low-income elementary schools who opposed the women talking to single mothers about organics and gardening because the nurses would rather the kids eat french fries as a vegetable than to educate a parent that french fries may not be the right choice. It was policies versus common rights, her mother Flo said. And Miriam encountered it in the workplace, too. No one wanted to hire a marketer to target groups without a voice. Without a voice insinuated without money. And marketing was all about profits and margins.
“I grew up watching marginalized groups in northern Minnesota fade away,” said Ax. “Dagen’s father was the last of the commies, living on the land.”
“He was communist? I thought his parents were more like hippies living off the grid,” said Miriam. “He said something about growing up, believing in the co-op ideals.”
“Yeah, the red-star co-ops that were created long before the food co-ops of the sixties and seventies,” said Ax. “The Finns that come to northern Minnesota brought those same principles but they were socialist rather than democratic principles. It’s what they thought was best for their community given what they had faced in their homeland. But they met lots of fear and prejudice in their adopted land.”
“Interesting,” said Miriam. “I hadn’t known about that history, but now that you say red star, I recall some old co-op brand from northern Wisconsin.”
“Yep, that was a Finnish co-op that produced dairy and eventually canned goods, after world war two.”
Miriam closed up her notebook and glanced back out the window. Wisps of vapors were swirling off the wing that slanted across her view, but didn’t block everything she could see below. They were leaving land and flying over an indigo blue ocean that seemed cold with streaks of , especially with a shelf of white visible in the distance. “You’ve really given me a dream job,” said Miriam.
“Good,” said Ax. “Cause you’re going to have quite the job making my dream reality.” He leaned toward her, to see where they were. “Up in the distance,” he said, pointing across her to the window. “That’s the flow edge.”
Miriam watched as the plane neared the flow edge. Chunks of ice floated, visible from the plane at its cruising altitude of 9,000 feet. “Isn’t that where the polar bears hang out,” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” said Ax. “That’s the best hunting for seals, too. Inuit hunters will take kayaks along the flow edge. Very dangerous.”
“I don’t think I’d want to encounter a polar bear while in a kayak,” Miriam said.
“I wouldn’t want to encounter the shift edge of ice,” replied Ax.
Once over the flow edge, the sea ice became a rough-cut mosaic of blue and white with a powder blue sky illuminated in the background. The closer they got to Baffin Island, though, the more overcast the sky. As the turboprop dropped altitude in preparation of landing, the terrain became black and white with treeless, rocky mountains protruding from canyons of white ice. As the town of Iqaluit neared, Miriam could see box-houses, clinging to ridges and low hills. In the overcast light they looked as gray as rocks. It was not what would be expected of civilization, yet they were not quite at the arctic circle. Clyde River would probably be even more desolate.
The pilot announced the local time as seven past noon. Their flight to Clyde River would leave in two hours. Laurel Henney had agreed to meet with Miriam and Ax at the airport, which spoke the casualness of the meeting. To Miriam it seemed that the GGP corporate secretary was simply interested in gathering information. She did not expect that there would be any formalities beyond introductions, a few questions and a fare thee well.
Miriam noticed a few passengers bracing for the landing. She wondered if they knew something she didn’t, or if they were among those many travelers who didn’t like take-offs and landings. Not that she was a frequent flyer, but Miriam didn’t mind. Of course, she rather liked roller coasters and the extreme rides at Valley Fair back in Minnesota. The landing strip looked like any other as it came in to view and Miriam relaxed in her seat as the plane touched down.
Ax must have been thinking about the touch-down, too as he said to Miriam, “Well that was probably less exciting than the landing the mounties had.”
“A few people are braced as if anticipating that kind of landing,” said Miriam. “Dagen promises to get us caught up on the details of that story once we get to Clyde River, so he says.”
“Ah, well, some folks are not keen on flying,” said Ax.
Passengers gathered their belongings, putting on heavy coats, hats, checking pockets for gloves like business travelers might check for cell phones down south. Miriam still thought it odd to think of Minnesota as down south. Ax convinced her to stuff a day-pack, schooling her on the essentials to bring, how to layer and how to stay warm in this climate. He handed Miriam her new pack, stuffed with extra thermals, her new three-layer system of gloves and plenty of dry socks. Having backpacked and canoed into the Boundary Waters, Miriam already knew how to exist on two pairs of panties. With her pack and parka, she was set for Baffin Island.
Slowly they followed other passengers off the plane. The airport was not big at all despite being the biggest airport on the island. It was easy to spot Laurel Henney. She had to be the one with layered auburn hair, cut neatly to her shoulders, revealing ear lobes that sported simple gold post earrings. She was dressed in a woman’s pin-striped navy pantsuit with a dark red turtle neck sweater. Not a bulky sweater, but a sleek, ribbed one that sported tasteful, but expensive twisted gold chains. Her pants were crisply creased, but slightly flared at the leg to accommodate chocolate brown boots with a sturdy winter tread. Miriam was impressed at how well she seemed to pull off a practical, but commanding business look for the arctic.
But it wasn’t just how Laurel was dressed that gave her away. It was the four power suits who stood with her. It surprised Miriam to all five GGP executives meet her and Ax at the Iqaluit Airport. She thought this was going to be a casual meeting. From behind her, she heard Ax quietly grumble something about standing out like a red fox in a chicken coop.
Laurel smiled warmly as Miriam and Ax approached, but as Miriam drew closer she was surprised as the wafts of heavy perfume that assailed her nostrils. One thing Miriam learned in her short marketing career was that you toned down both make up and scents. Laurel seemed too savvy for such a freshman mistake. Then a woman suddenly stood up from the row of seats to the left and snarled, “Dagen is not allowed girl toys.” She was the one that reeked of perfume.