NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,487
Moe Ipeelie limped to his cabin door. He twisted his ankle crossing over the rock face of the fjords. He had to abandon his skidoo, after casting off his sled and most of his gear. Not all his gear. His tarp caught in the wind and one of his empty coolers rolled away. He kept essentials. Moe knew how to live on the land, although he preferred modern rigging he easily carried the knowledge of his ancestors who lived in these extremes for thousands of years. Food, water, shelter, warmth and transportation. If you knew where to step, your feet could serve as your transportation. But Moe had been trapped in a less than ideal spot.
The dog with him had been a hassle at times. Especially trying to find a way over the fjords once the sea ice broke up. He’d made it to a narrow bay that held, but he had left his sled at the place he intended to hunt. It was normal for him to leave his sled, even his skidoo and walk out to scout the blow holes or any seals he spotted in the distance. Elijah was going to meet up with him, but the dogs, of course, were slower than a skidoo. He never did see Elijah and hoped his older friend had made it to his own narrow bay sanctuary since Elijah would have been traveling, and not hunting. When hunting, you walked away farther from the rock cliffs.
This one dog was all Moe ever saw of Elijah. She had been wearing her harness and a chewed strand of seal rope. Moe recognized the dog. She was the young one, her first trip out. Elijah called her Maki. It was the same named he called his wife and they always had a dog named Maki, as it was some joke between the married couple. But an affectionate one. Often Maki was a name they bestowed on a dog they had affection for.
And that was not typical. Huskies were not the pets that people in the south made of dogs. In Clyde River, everyone who had dogs kept them in a community pen. You were responsible for feeding your own dogs and often everyone contributed frozen seal to the purpose. Sometimes a hunter had to shoot over the heads of dogs fighting for food or position. The dogs created their own hierarchy and some were quite fierce. Those dogs were certainly not pets.
Hunters looked to their dogs like a work animal. They had a purpose and it wasn’t to curl up at your toes by the hearth fire. The dogs slept outside, often staked out onto the ice in a circle around tents or iglus. They warned off wandering polar bears and signaled any new arrivals. If it snowed hard, the dogs curled up into their own furry balls and let the snow bury them into their own mini iglus. Some southerners were shocked to see the dogs treated in such a way, but it was how they had always worked with dogs.
Of course, each man was his own and some found more companionship in the dogs especially when living long on the land. Children often played with dogs, to get familiar with these community companions. Elijah was tough and smart, something Moe knew first hand. But he was soft for his wife and occasionally one of his dogs.
This Maki-dog was one. She looked like the others in Elijah’s care, white with black lips, black nose tips and rimmed eyes. They looked like some offering from wolves and polar bears. Elijah’s father had preferred the markings and so did Elijah. Everyone in Clyde River and beyond knew Elijah’s dogs. They were big and stocky, too. Sometimes the southerners that Elijah guided for would ask about buying a dog or puppies. But he never did sell any. Once he gave three to the man from Minnesota who had stayed with Elijah and Maki while making trips by his own dogs to the North Pole. But that was the only exception.
As Moe limped into his cold cabin, he set about finding fuel that hadn’t gelled. He had a tiny bit yet left in his pack, and he could thaw some of what he had in the cabin. Funny, to think of burning fuel first before thinking of food. But he had food and would get some seal stored outside for the Maki-dog. He knew he should leave her outside like any other dog, but he’d need to find rope. He also had to admit that this dog had become a close companion to him during his difficult trek back to his cabin. And just because he made it here didn’t mean that the ordeal was over. Clyde River was two days away by dog sled and he neither had a sled or a team. He no longer had a skidoo. He would have to hope that other hunters would come here, seeking shelter or maybe just games and stories.
Maki-dog curled up on the hide by the stove. Moe sat down on one of two chairs at a table. Across the room was his bed, which never looked so good as it did now. First heat, then food. Last time Elijah was here with his team, he kept an eye on this dog. Twice before he had caught her chewing on the seal hide rope of her lead. Once he even had to repair it as she nearly chewed it through. Such actions would often gain a dog the cuff of a hunter’s hand, but Elijah silently repaired the damage and kept watch. She was young, not yet out of that stage where dogs would chew up useful things.
When they left the cabin, Moe knew that the lead was in good repair. Possibly, if Elijah had stopped to scan for seal signs, or walked out onto the ice, Maki-dog could have resumed her chewing. That would explain her escape from the sled. Moe hoped that it was an escape. The other possibility was that Elijah’s sled broke through the ice. The dogs would be able to swim to land or ice. But what Moe saw was ice breaking away from the cliffs. Where would dogs swim to? He knew that Elijah’s sled would float for a time. But was it long enough time?
For some reason, Moe seemed to think that it wasn’t enough time. And the sea-ice was land. If that land fell, the hunter on it would go, too. It nearly happened to Moe. Yet it seemed to be repaired, like a chewed upon rope, re-braided. Never had Moe seen such a thing. Never had he heard such a story. Moe was determined to deliver this Maki-dog to Elijah’s Maki. It was all that was left of Elijah, he was pretty sure. In fact, he had hoped to arrive here to find an iglu built by his friend waiting.
After his meal, Moe thought he heard a plane over head. But he was too tired to step outside. Too disappointed not to find Elijah. Too warm finely, not to disturb Maki-dog. As he dozed off he recalled a childhood story about the littlest sled dog. He could still hear his grandmother and another elder singing it in a throat song. He now had the littlest sled dog. Brave. Loyal. A good dog. Little.
When the search plane returned to Clyde River the spotters reported seeing smoke from Moe Ipeelie’s cabin which created a big stir. Sydney pounded on the door of Lucie’s house. Inside he could smell apple pies as if they were attached to her waiting, but he also heard laughter and a guitar.
“Sydney,” she said, welcoming the mountie. “Come in, take off your clothes.”
A woman giggled from across the room, an attractive, bright-eyed woman with hair like those of the hip-hop instructors who had visited, only blond. Dr. Starkka was sitting close to her on the couch and looked as if he could sit next to her a long time. He seemed to be smiling for no apparent reason. The big man, playing the guitar he recognized as the famous explorer, Ax Mathiason, not because he personally knew the man, but because he recognized him from National Geographic posters. Conrado was sitting on a chair in the living room circle drumming his fingers on his knee while balancing a plate of nearly gone apple pie on the other. Despite the small space Tobie was dancing in the hip-hop style with several other youth from the community standing or sitting.
Tobie stopped mid-step when he realized it was Sydney. “Our Mountie,” he shouted. Sydney had not adjusted to the near-hero status he, Alex and the other survivors had gained since returning to Clyde River two nights ago. It seemed ridiculous to honor officials from a plane crash who added more worry to an already concerned community. But as Conrado explained, “You survived man, you are a hero.”
Sydney disagreed with the status, believing Conrado, Dagen and Tobie were the heroes more so than he. None the less the community was planning a celebration for their return. And a funeral. All had reached the sobering conclusion that after six weeks, Moe and Elijah were never coming home again. Lucie was surrounded by people, elders, youth or visitors and she seemed to be coping, even offering comfort to others when she was the one who should be comforted. Maybe baking pies and welcoming the steady stream of people to her house was best for her right now.
But it made Sydney’s official duties feel awkward. “Hello, Mrs. Ujarak,” he said.
Ax stopped strumming and all faces turned to the RCMP standing by the closed door in his parka, wishing he could be anywhere else, even back at the site of the Herc crash.
Lucie handed a piece of pie to Ax, who was now leaning his guitar upright against the arm of the couch. “Mrs. Ujarak, is it,” said Maki, her hands kneading the edge of her black sweater with red embroidery. “This must be official, Mountie Brindeau.”
Sydney felt the tears welling up in his own eyes and he nearly cursed out loud. He swiftly removed his cap, having forgotten to do so upon entering. He took a deep breath, managed to center himself in calm. “They have officially called off the search for Elijah.”
“Thank you for looking so hard, Mountie Brindeau,” said Lucie. She smiled but he could see the tears pooling. It remained silent for several long moments.
Finally, Ax, who rose from the couch to tower over Lucie, but hug her to his side anyhow, broke the silence. “They recovered his body, then?”
“Well,” said Sydney, “Not exactly.”
“Then why call off the search,” Ax asked. Several faces, some of the youth with tears already wetting cheeks, looked hopefully at Sydney.
“The plane spotted smoke coming from Moe Ipeelie’s cabin,” explained Sydney. “As they flew lower, they saw two sets of tracks, but the second turned out to be animal, not human.”
“A wolf followed,” said Tobie as if it were somehow significant.
“Not a wolf,” said Sydney. “But it was Moe and one of Elijah’s dogs.”
Lucie nodded and said, “Maki, I knew she’d figure her way out of any situation.”
“Moe says the same thing,” agreed Sydney, confirming that the dog found was Maki, Elijah’s youngest sled dog.
“Moe!” Tobie’s eyes widened. “Moe was really on a flow?”
“Not exactly, but Moe did get stranded in a bay that remained intact when the sea ice broke up,” said Sydney. “His eye-witness statement confirms that the ice broke all the way off to the cliff face at the Walker Citadel.”
Dagen shook his head. “That’s unprecedented.” He knew all the popular time lines for climate change based on current greenhouse emissions, but an incident of this magnitude exceeded those. He knew he would need to take samples on the eastern shore and try to collect data to explain what happened. Although that would be small comfort to a widow and a village.
Ax asked, “How did Moe make it out?” He was familiar with the terrain.
“Seems that he found a passage through rocks and ice and traveled over the top of the fjord cliffs,” answered Sydney.
“Where did he find the dog,” Ax asked.
“She swam up to the span of ice that Moe had retreated to when the ice began breaking up,” said Sydney. He took a deep breath and continued. “Moe says that Elijah was going to meet him at a certain point. Moe left his sled there, and managed to race his skidoo into the narrow inlet. He waited for Elijah after the dog swam to the shelf of ice for many days. He left, hoping that Elijah was similarly stranded.”
“Is it possible,” asked Dagen.
“We already searched by air,” said Sydney. “We found no signs and we flew over every nook and cranny between Moe’s cabin and where Moe sought safety. We confirmed that the tarp and cooler were lost by Moe, from his sled. Moe’s skidoo was still in the inlet, but we missed it when flying over in the Herc.”
“Could you have missed Elijah?” asked Elisappee through her tears.
“No,” said Sydney. “Different search pattern was followed once we understood what we might be looking for was closer to the maze of fjords.”
“How did Moe get the dog over the terrain he had to trek,” asked Ax.
Sydney said, “Moe was determined.”
Lucie smiled and Ax hugged her tighter into his side with one arm. “Elijah said was a determined dog.”
“But how is it that she broke free from the team and sled,” asked Dagen. One of the dangers of breaking through the ice with dogs pulling a sled was that if one plunged in, they all did.
Ax answered. “Elijah runs a traditional fan hitch. No trees out here to run dogs the way we do in tandem the way we do in the states.”
“That, and Moe said Maki-dog had been chewing on her lead whenever Elijah stopped,” said Sydney. “The weight of the sinking sled could have snapped the frayed line.”
As planned, Clyde River held a celebration. And a funeral for one of their beloved elders. Tarps spread across the community center at the airport where residents brought chunks of country food—slabs of seal, fish, caribou. Many pies were baked and other foods prepared. The town shut down.
More than ever, Dagen realized the impact of global warming in this scientific canary cage. Except, now he knew that the canaries had names.