Warm Like Melting Ice Day 26
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.
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 25
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,389
The trouble with a rescue operation on Baffin Island, or really anywhere in the northern territories is that the area is vast and the resources are sparse. Even with knowing a plane’s final position after going down, the coordinates may not be easily accessible, as such with the downed Herc. One promising advantage was that the men who went down on the plane were all trained in arctic rescue, thus increasing their chance of survival exponentially. Air support was difficult to call in when storms seems to be queued endlessly. Not to mention that the downed C-130 was the result of calling in air support for a search.
Dagen and the volunteer rescuers from Clyde River hunkered down on the land during two storms. The first had been a blizzard. The snow pounded the tents and iglu in vertically flying white pellets. That was when the three Inuit hunters and their dogs joined the search. When the weather dulled to gray, overcast skies and a slight breeze, the Clyde River volunteers packed up the sleds hitched to skidoos and far-outpaced the three dog teams. But then they came to a boulder field, strewn with rocks the size of small cars. The skidoos had to skirt the field. Although it was tough going for the dogs and sleds, they actually made it through and held the lead until the skidoos caught up and overtook them once again. They set up camp on the edge of a lake of glare ice. Using ice screws, they volunteers secured their tents right on the edge of the ice.
That’s when the second storm hit. It was warmer, less snow, but windier. In the midst of a full gale, the winds blasted the cluster of tents at eighty miles per hour. When they hit, it was hours before dawn, pitch black. Some of the tents began to rip. Once a tent tore, even minor rents in the nylon, it resulted in complete failure. The volunteers lost three tents. Dagen’s dome with its lattice work of poles was designed to withstand winds at base camps for places like Mount Everest. The volunteers who found themselves tentless, grabbed what gear they could, parkas boots, sleeping bags—the essentials of survival—and holed up in Dagen’s orange dome.
Day dawned white, although it never turned into a blizzard. It wasn’t really snowing, just blowing snow. The sky was white as if a dust storm had hit. It blew like dirt and stung like salt. The colors of the tents were muted and the horizon completely disappeared. The sun never really made an appearance although the day lit up like the glow in a snow globe and a silver-looking ball skirted the southern horizon as if substituting for the sun.
The volunteers made sure the remaining tents were kept in repair as the winds tried to rip them to shreds. There would be no traveling that day and Conrado didn’t dare record anything for knowledge that it would sound like audio banshee screaming if he did. Tobie and another young man from Clyde River made a game of skimming across the glare ice, pushed by the winds. The first run had been an accident and Dagen was ready to charge after the Clyde River youth until he finally came to a stop, crawled to the edge and came back to camp, laughing. Now the two boys made a game of the wind and ice.
Later, as they all huddled in the dome tent, barely able to hear one another over snapping nylon and howling gusts, they played at cheek pulling. Now Dagen understood its appeal. They didn’t have enough space to leg wrestle. It wasn’t dark enough for shadow puppets. It was way too loud for throat singing or story-telling. But cheek pulling filled the space of time while they waited out the winds, allowing the men to expend their energy. Somehow they found it exceedingly funny, most of all Conrado. He had such an infectious giggle that once the Texas radio journalist got to laughing, everyone was laughing. All within the confines of the orange dome.
By nightfall the gale peaked and slowed down. They ate a shared meal of arctic char and refried beans. Dagen wondered what Miriam would make of the meal. Conrado thought it was great. “You’ve been holding out on me,” he said.
“Holding out,” asked Dagen as he blew on a spoonful of beans rehydrated with boiling water.
“Refried beans,” he said, settling down on a mat of hides that his Clyde River grandmother had sent with him. It not only provided comfortable bedding, but also insulated the tent from the cold pushing up from the ice it was screwed to.
“Easy protein to pack into the arctic,” said Dagen. He knew it would be a more complete protein had he also fixed the rice with it, but he figured they had plenty of protein with the fish. The beans he had really just wanted for warmth and flavor.
Conrado took another bite, savoring it as if it were something more than camp food. “It needs some sliced jalapenos,” he said.
“Not much into spicy,” said Dagen. “I opted for the mild version.”
“You are missing out my friend,” he said. Conrado even licked his metal camp bowl.
“Good thing we don’t have sled dogs with us,” said Dagen. “That would be their job.”
“Tonight, I’ll be the camp dog.” He looked as his empty bowl and sighed. “I don’t suppose you have any dark chocolate.”
“Ah, no.” Dagen sat in his camp chair. Tobie and two other Clyde River men were chatting in Inuktuk, leaving Dagen and Conrado a chance to talk without pulling at cheeks or yelling over the noise that had accompanied the wind like a brass section. “I’d enjoy a good pipe right about now, though.”
“Pipe? Just roll some good tobacco,” said Conrado. “Of course, I haven’t had a cigarette in ten years. But I think of them fondly, now and again.”
“And I abandoned my pipe a few years ago,” said Dagen. Actually. He had lost his pipe on location in Norway and just never replaced it. He felt like he lost himself, who he was and what he used to enjoy. His dad had smoked a pipe, not often, but enough for Dagen to think it somehow made him close to the man he still missed.
“Gave it up when you went Holloywood,” asked Conrado. Dagen stiffened at that word, but Conrado seemed not to notice. He continued. “I gave up cigarettes when I got serious about radio. Didn’t want to develop a husky sound. Not sure it matters, seems how the biggest story I’ve covered is the one I’m living right now.”
“Regrets,” asked Dagen.
“Not the cigarettes,” Conrado said with a laugh. “Some women, yes, missed meals, definitely. Career? Well, what’s there to regret? I could have been pushing cattle across scrub grass. Maybe I didn’t hit high points, but, hey, the name Conrado Elizonso has been in the media for ten years and not because it was a name mentioned in the police blotter.”
Dagen smiled. “I guess we can also start over, too.”
“Is that why you’re doing the sitcom role,” asked Conrado. “Getting serious about acting, not just a history spokesperson.”
Dagen felt as though those gale force winds just punch him in the gut. “What sitcom role,” he asked fully knowing who was behind such a sneaky turn of events in his career. Could she do that, he wondered with a chill that had nothing to do with his current environment.
“That new show on Thursday nights, coming out next fall. About country boy who inherits a winery in Napa Valley?” Conrado looked perplexed. Dagen had learned that this man readily wore all his emotions openly.
“That doesn’t even sound funny,” said Dagen. “What’s so funny about the wine country. I mean, it’s the country. Why wouldn’t a country boy know about growing things. Maybe not grapes, but I can’t even think what could possibly be funny.”
Conrado shrugged. “Making fun of wine snobs?”
“That’s why I don’t like sitcoms,” said Dagen. “Why make fun of anybody.”
“So, you don’t know about this,” said Conrado.
“No,” said Dagen. “I don’t know about this.”
“Huh,” he said, looking at his empty bowl. “That agent of yours seemed pretty adamant about getting it announced. I was supposed to ask you about it in the interview, but she said she had to be there and that she’d fill in the details.”
“Oh,” said Dagen. Of course, Vina would have to orchestrate her next loop in his noose herself.
“Sounds like you don’t know anything about the detail,” said Conrado.
“Nope,” said Dagen. He got up from his chair to clean up after dinner in their tent. He cleaned up in silence, listening to Tobie and the others. Soon, everyone was getting ready for sleep. If the weather held, they would leave as early as the sun made its presence.
The next day dawned with brilliant pink streaks across the sky that gave way to the bluest sky Dagen had seen since coming to Baffin Island. Once loaded up, they roared across the snow plains on skidoos. Stopping for a quick lunch of hot coffee or lemon water from thermoses and shared slices of arctic char, the volunteers studied the map, their GPS coordinates and figured that the location of the Herc was within reach. Today.
Since their conversation the night before, Conrado had hardly said a few words to Dagen. Not that Dagen noticed, being engrossed in his own thoughts. While drinking hot lemon water, though Conrado asked about the meaning of the arctic circle.
“I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking,” said Dagen. He downed the last of his water and screwed the thermos lid back in place.
“Well, it must mean something,” said Conrado. “What is the circle, exactly?”
“I see,” said Dagen, welcoming an opportunity to slip into scientist mode. “It’s a line of latitude that encircles the region of the north pole. The circle is the southern most point that experiences polar day and polar night.”
Conrado tilted his chin downward and raised both eyebrows. “Okay,” he said, “What’s a polar day or night?”
“That’s the twenty-four hours of daylight or darkness that the arctic experiences. It occurs as far south as the arctic circle,” explained Dagen. “Have you noticed how long the days are getting just since we arrived at Clyde River?”
“I suppose. When it isn’t cloudy, foggy or snowing,” said Conrado.
“Well,” said Dagen. “In nearly two weeks the sunset is already coming two hours later than when we arrived.”
Again, Conrado’s eyebrows shot up. “No, I hadn’t noticed. That’s gaining a lot of daylight.”
“We are speeding toward polar daylight now,” said Dagen. “Well, we should be speeding on our way, too.”
Everyone mounted back up on skidoos. Tobie and the other youth were excited that their journey was nearly at its destination. Dagen hoped they found the survivors in good shape. The journey back would then be before them. Maybe the Herc was able to get radio contact. Maybe another air rescue is on it’s way.
Just before sunset—at 4:40 p.m.—the Clyde River volunteers spotted the downed plane and smoke rising from the other side of it. The plane had cut a deep trough through the snow that even the two recent storms had not been able to obliterate. The plane seemed tilted with the right wing down and the left wing pointing toward a rocky ridge in the distance. The pilots did a good job of landing the crippled plane down a long relatively flat valley. The other direction might have ended with the Herc slamming into a rocky outcropping that formed the ridge that rimmed the valley.
As the skidoos neared, several men in parkas stepped out of tarp topped snow shelters built against the Herc. All were waving, a few shouted and whistled. Tobie gunned the engine of his skidoo, passing everyone else in the small group of volunteers. He pulled up to the plane, cut the engine and ran, shouting, “Mountie Brindeau!”
Sydney trudged through the snow with open arms and embraced Tobie. Soon all the volunteers were off their skidoos and were clasping gloved hands to gloved hands and patting shoulders. So many questions started and stopped at once, laughter, the kind that comes from sheer relief, filled the darkening night air. The Clyde River volunteers set up their tents near the survivors’ shelters. They all shared the communal fire that night and listened to Alex explain what went wrong, what went right in cool tones as if they had simply been learning how to build a house on their own.
All the men were clean shaven, and Dagen commented on that, not expecting plane crash survivors to be shaving. But Alex explained that they stuck to a routine and kept up survivalist procedures, including shaving.
“How is that part of surviving,” asked Dagen.
Alex said, “A frozen beard leads to a frozen face.”
“I always thought of a beard as being protective of the face,” said Dagen.
Despite the multiple conversations going on, the obvious excitement of the survivors and rescuers both, it was time to plane extraction. Alex had already created several plans, explaining that air support could occur further out if another plane, outfitted with skis could reach them at that point. But the snow had to be flat and hard packed, long enough for take-off, too. Alex also inventoried the survival gear that they had, including sleeping bags, rations and water. The volunteers could easily pack sleds with the extra gear and double up on the skidoos, except for Dagen who was already driving with Conrado.
The next day, the group, now numbering fifteen, set out on the packed skidoos. The sleds also carried the extra fuel that allowed for the skidoos to journey far from towns. Since no one was injured beyond minor scrapes or bruises, injuries were not a hindrance. As they left the valley, the group ran into the three Inuit hunters with their dog sled teams. They all agreed to rendezvous near the point where air rescue might reach them.
That’s when they saw the polar bear.
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 24
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,500
As Laurel Henney sat with one leg crossed over another in the lobby of the Frobisher Inn, she bounced her foot impatiently. Glancing at the roman numerals of her her Rolex watch of champagne gold, she noted that Vina Winslow was six minutes late. The younger woman seemed to have little regard for punctuality, let alone any other attribute of doing business. Vina was spoiled, raised with money and bailed out from any disaster with more money. In Laurel’s opinion, the woman craved power out of a sense of entitlement, not from actually understanding how to wield it.
A low murmur of voices came from behind the long hotel desk crafted of white slabs of rock. Two clerks, probably reviewing room reservations or work shifts. Both had sleek black hair, wore hotel uniforms with big brassy buttons and spoke with French accents, although the older woman looked Inuit. Of course, Canada had a large metis population, so the woman might have a mixed heritage. Not unlike Texas. Laurel’s father’s mother had been Mexican—Grandma Rosa. Many who took pride in their Texas roots disregarded pretensions of ethnicity. Most of the wealthiest families came from the poorest beginnings.
A man in a dark parka with a yellow knit hat walked in the door, stomped his boots on the entryway carpet that bore the logo of the hotel and proceeded to the desk, greeted warmly by both women. He had the look of a worker, a man who made a living from physical labor. Like her father, brother and first husband. Men who had strong hands and a taste for strong liquor to wash away the pain in aching backs and sore knuckles. But they were not strong in ambitions. Somehow they thought working in the oil field was a way to make the big bucks. Laurel had watched the supervisors and big wigs who sometimes visited the rigs where her dad had worked up to be a foreman. They wore watches like the one on her wrist, ticking away the seconds of Vina’s late arrival.
Another man walked in and met up with the first. They seemed to be discussing the room rates with the desk clerks. The Frobisher Inn was no Ritz-Carlton, but it was the finest hotel in Iqaluit and one of the few to have conference rooms. Even still, the nightly rates were high—$215 for a queen bed—a reflection of the remoteness and rarity of such a hotel in a place like Baffin Island. Laborers headed out to the Mary River iron mining project often found all the lodging filled up when they laid over in town. These two men probably came to the Frobisher Inn last. Even with the big bucks they were making, Laurel knew their sort would rather spend it on a night boozing rather than a comfortable bed made for snoozing. If her father was any indication of this sort of man.
Laurel uncrossed her leg and considered getting a cup of coffee across the lobby. She had already had enough to give her a twinge of a caffeine headache, but she felt like she needed something to occupy her hands to ward off the initial craving for a cigarette. The Frobisher Inn was actually one of the few smoke-free environments in Iqaluit, although that was probably a good thing since all the smoking environments had already increased the number of cigarettes Laurel was consuming.
Smoking had been one habit she retained from her rough neck roots. It had proven to be an asset, as smokers formed a sub-group of sorts and it didn’t matter what your sex was in order to belong. Not only that, but smokers liked to talk when ushered to whatever hidey-hole was allowed for their habit. Laurel had long ago learned that casual conversations revealed more important information than formal business meetings. It was how she diligently stepped up the ranks in her career, penetrating even the manliest of climates in her industry. She far out-earned the big bucks of her dad, brother and ex-husband. And that was why she wore a Rolex.
Vina was now fourteen minutes late. Laurel got up and strode over to the coffee after all. Pouring the thick black brew into a white porcelain mug with the hotel logo on it, she noticed a poster advertising some local event. Free appetizers. No cover charge. Promotional prizes. And an Elvis impersonator. There was even a full photo of the impersonator on the poster. Half the text was all symbols representing written Inuktituk. It made Laurel belt out a big laugh. No matter how remote a place, Elvis was still in the building.
Walking back over to the lobby couches of brown faux leather, Vina finally made her appearance stepping off the lobby elevator. Dressed in yet another snug black pantsuit that looked nothing like the tailored lines of the ones Laurel wore, the woman clicked across the lobby on high heels. Laurel might be killing her lungs with tobacco, but she’d die with her feet intact. High heels and boob jobs might be how some woman thought they would make it in this world, but Laurel understood that it was more important to look polished, professional and be a true asset to men. Not a board room bauble. But then again, as Laurel watched Vina click her way to the couches, she doubted that this woman would understand the inner workings of a board room, even as a bauble.
“Ms. Winslow,” greeted Laurel, rising from the couch more out of habit of good business, than any real show of respect. “Do you want some coffee?”
“I’m tired of the swill in this one horse town,” she said with pursed, glossed lips and narrowed eyes. Laurel smiled a friendly smile and thought how Vina really needed to learn to hide her true emotions, but this was a spoiled brat who was probably never told no or denied any crazy selfish request.
“An interesting analogy,” said Laurel. “I doubt there are any horses so close to the arctic circle.”
“Whatever,” mumbled Vina as she flopped down on the couch. If either of Laurel’s teenage boys flung themselves around like that, she’d skin their hides.
Laurel resumed her seat and considered Vina over the rim of her coffee mug. Vina was so intent on protecting her client as if he was her property that it had made Laurel want to figure out how to release Dr. Dagen Starkka from the other woman’s clutches. It had nothing to do with the scientist or even GGP’s interests which were always her biggest concern. No, Laurel wanted to take away this California princess’s prized possession to teach her a lesson in real power. It wasn’t always in a pretty face and poised boobs. It had to do with brains.
“The food up here is fried or frozen,” Vina went on to complain. “Salad’s are a joke. Can’t these people grow lettuce in those waterless vats.”
“Hydroponically,” asked Laurel, settling back onto the couch, crossing her leg, but schooling her urge to bounce her foot. “That’s an interesting idea. In fact, I do believe it is a part of a food project up here.”
“Well, they could use some decent baby greens,” said Vina. “And decent Vodka. Top-shelf is something beyond local knowledge, evidently.”
Laurel let Vina continue to whine. Uncomfortable beds. Quirky heaters in the rooms. Funny smells. Crude men. Snow. Nothing but snow, so ugly. Yes, Laurel let her spew. She thought about why she loathed such women as Vina. It had nothing to do with her own looks. Laurel was confident in her appearance and could have put on such a persona as Vina’s. Clicky fake nails, clicky high heels. What Laurel hated so much about this tactic was that it promoted undeserving women into positions they didn’t earn. Such women didn’t care to sit among powerful men as an equal, they wanted to destroy powerful men to get their wealth. Some wanted security, others fun. But ultimately women like Vina made it even more difficult for women like Laurel to get ahead as a man would.
“Do you love Dr. Starkka?” Laurel’s question jarred Vina’s composure that she stopped in mid rant about how poor the service was at the hotel.
“What did you ask?” Vina’s nostril’s flared slightly, but Laurel remained composed.
“I asked if you were in Love with Dr. Starkka,” she said. “I’m wondering why you are so intent on keeping tabs on the man.” Laurel shrugged and said, “I mean, he is quite good looking, intelligent, I’m sure if he’s a PhD.”
“He’s an idiot,” said Vina. “Yes, I will admit that with that fit physique, and those unusual green eyes, that thick hair of his so dark brown, but not black, yes he is handsome. But he’s uncouth. Quiet, as if he doesn’t have a thought in his head.”
“Well, maybe he has lots of thoughts but keeps them inside,” said Laurel. “Being an introvert doesn’t make a man an idiot.”
“He’s a bore, really, but he has a fan following and I’ve not had a client that’s kept a fan following like that, but he won’t see his own potential! Idiot. He can be famous, really famous, like Justin Bieber famous,” railed Vina who was now ready to rant about Dagen the way she did about how poor quality of everything in this god-forsaken-winter-wonderland.
Laurel let Vina go on like that for nearly twenty minutes. She watched people, come and go, the desk clerks chatter quietly to each other. Laurel could hold a conversation, show rapt interest in another person, all the while aware of everything else going on in the vicinity. She also picked out important clues from what Vina was telling her. No, the woman wasn’t in love with Dagen. And while she guarded him jealously, it was so that she could make him into what she wanted him to be. And that was the failing of a woman like this. Vina wanted to change, remake or create a man. Laurel preferred to help one achieve his potential. Vina would eventually have to settle on one of her creations like a trophy wife settling on the winning catch.
But not Laurel. She had many powerful men and she earned the right to stand among them. Vina’s rant made her curious about this Dr. Starkka. Did he have screen charisma? And if so, did it matter. Could he convince board directors of the accuracy of reports with a smile. Laurel had known her share of dry scientists. It was intriguing to think of the potential of a charismatic one. But it would only work if Dr. Starkka was a willing participant. Men wanted to do things their way. They rebelled against tinkering. Potential was always interesting, but it was raw material. Laurel would keep that in mind. Maybe this Dr. Starkka could be a greater asset to GGP. But maybe not.
Right now, all that mattered was playing out this game with Vina. And Laurel always won when she set the game pieces in motion. She came prepared not only with a strategy, but several back up plans as well. Despite her growing need for a long drag of her cigarette, she also had patience.
“So, Vina,” interrupted Laurel as the other woman was going on about how the man ate way too much red meat, “Why are you here? Why not go home to your comforts and just let this Dr. Starkka have his winter vacation with us. We only want him for a few months.”
“Dammit,” said Vina, “Because I got him the contract of his career. My career, really. Daddy says I land this deal and I’ll gain a new level of respect in Hollywood. Not that I need respect. I mean after all, my daddy is one of the biggest television prime-time moguls around. Ever, I’m sure.” Then Vina pouted, pulled out her lip gloss and reapplied a fresh coat and said, “I want daddy to take me seriously.”
“Oh, yes. I understand. Approval.” Actually, Laurel sought a different kind of approval. Her own father never understood her desire to get an education and be among the big wigs. She did hear him brag about her job once, but he couldn’t even accurately explain her position. It wasn’t her father’s approval she sought though and Vina’s desire seemed infantile to her. Let her return to Daddy to cry in his lap. She’d live.
“It’s a great new sit-com, but Dagen blows every reading. On purpose. So Daddy pulled a few strings for me, and this executive producer who owes him a favor agreed to give Dagen the supporting role based on his current work on the History Channel. That and the fact that he has a fan base. He liked Dagen’s rugged looks—the producer’s words, not mine—but it was the look he wanted. And because Dagen isn’t yet prime time, I was willing to negotiate a fee that pleased the executive producer and his budget.” Vina’s eyes were lit up with excitement. Obviously it was exciting enough for her to endure the hardships of this one horse arctic town.
“Sounds interesting,” said Laurel.
“It’s a win win situation,” said Vina.
It was win win for Vina and the production company, but Laurel doubted Dr. Starkka would agree. “So, why are you here,” asked Laurel. “Certainly you could communicate this opportunity to Dr. Starkka other than following him to the arctic.”
“It’s a delicate situation,” said Vina with her pout returning.
Delicate, indeed. What Vina didn’t know is that when she showed up in Ottawa demanding her rights to Dr. Starkka’s publicity, Laurel discreetly asked Dr. Starkka to review his contract with his agent, Vina Winslow. Laurel asked one of GGP’s corporate lawyers to evaluate the contract, to make sure GGP wasn’t vulnerable in any way. There wasn’t anything concerning to GGP’s interests, but the lawyer said it was a nasty piece of documentation. Obviously Dr. Starkka had been naive to sign such a contract. But GGP could easily argue against any claim the contract had on Dr. Starkka in regards to the work he was hired to do and communicate to the public. But Laurel wasn’t going to reveal her hand just yet. “Delicate,” she said. “How so?”
“Dagen won’t want the deal. But I’m going to have the reporter ask him about it and before he can answer—the man is so slow—I’ll fill in the details. That is why it is important that I get to Clyde River, but now both Dagen and this reporter have gone off on some stupid rescue mission,” said Vina.
“But if Dr. Starkka doesn’t want the deal, how will announcing it accomplish anything,” asked Laurel.
“Because Dagen is that way,” said Vina. “He won’t create a scene, not on the air, live.”
“Live,” asked Laurel. “But it’s not live.” Vina just smiled at the statement. This woman was conniving, thought Laurel, but also dependent on somebody else’s ignorance. Laurel could end it right here; send her home to her daddy. But she wanted to Vina squirm, first.
“Well,” said Laurel, “Conrado works for me. He’s now sharing a tent with Dr. Starkka. I’m not so sure the men won’t talk.” Laurel watched Vina consider this situation. Then she added, “I have to get to the airport soon.”
“Are you leaving,” asked Vina.
Laurel could already see doubt eroding Vina’s smug confidence. Now was the time to drive in a different nail. “No,” said Laurel, “We’re meeting a colleague of Dr. Starkka’s. And a friend of his.”
“Friend,” asked Vina.
“Yes, from Minnesota,” said Laurel. “Miriam. Do you know her?” Laurel smiled, kindly as if explaining how to lace-up boots. Vina looked ready to chew leather.
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 23
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.
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 22
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,487
“Whose plane was it,” asked Nolan Fox, setting down his whiskey on the rocks without removing his fingers from the glass. It was an occasional indulgence for a man who ran three miles every day, but holding up in Iqaluit for a week was getting on his nerves. He still ran with ice cleats and face mask along trails packed by snow cats and skidoos.
Laurel Henney was the only woman at the four-top table in the dim, smoky bar called the shack. She had no issues with whiskey or cigarettes, and preferred coffee to jogging. “First Air,” she said, pulling out a last puff of inhaled smoke and grinding the embers out in a heavy glass ashtray, something you didn’t see much of back in the states.
“How is it that a commercial airline in the Territories has a C-130,” asked Barrigton Fleetwod, wiping gravy from both his chins that squeezed fleshy over the tautness of his buttoned white shirt and gold-striped tie. Even Nolan had loosened his red tie in the shadows of this local dive. Three men in black suits with only different colored ties to tell them apart was unusual. The locals stayed clear, figuring this group represented one of the mining interests and that might mean good-paying jobs. It put the locals on their best behavior.
Laurel answered with a snort that would have made her debutante mother faint. “Seriously? With all the build up for mining and exploration? Of course they’re going to have what it takes to fly and keep in business up here.”
“I’m just surprised. Thought they were military planes,” said Barrington, shoving a forkful of gravy-dripping fries into his mouth.
Hunter Ruiz, also with tie loosened and in a different color from his companions—shimmery sky blue—remained quiet. He chewed ice from his third diet Coke, swirling the cubes with a straw. As Green Global Petroleum’s vice president of Health, Environment and Safety, Laurel had expected him to say something about the search and rescue plane that gone down somewhere north of Clyde River, a fishing town barley a blip on an unknown arctic island in the Canadian territories. But then again, Laurel knew Hunter to be studious and absorb information before bestowing it.
Laurel recognized that the men were getting edgy. Lack of sunlight and board room meetings would take its toll on any senior executive accustom to the pace of skittering rats. They continued to dress in their power suits as if the ritual would would speed up policies that wouldn’t even come from this frozen town. Yet, the reality was that the policies would demand cooperation between the established nations of the arctic circle. With Baffin Island so close to American interests, and American interests tied to what potential could be pumped from beneath the melting ice, Iqaluit was a necessary staging point.
Nolan lifted his glass of ice in the direction of the bar-maid, making rounds. He jiggled his ice and she nodded at him, walking over after scratching an order on a notepad with her pen she tucked into an apron. “Any others,” she asked as she stood by their table. Her dark hair was pulled back into a pony-tail to reveal a round face with arching black brows.
Silently, Hunter lifted his glass. She said, “Diet root-beer.”
“No, diet Coke,” he said, looking somewhat surprised.
The bar-maid quirked a smile. “Just seeing if you were alive.”
Nolan laughed. “Another whiskey on the rocks for me, and you too Laurel?”
“Yes, please,” she said.
“These fries are great. Can I get another,” asked Harrington. “And, I’ll have a diet Coke, too.” Harrington pushed his red and white checkered boat of remaining fries to the middle of the table. “You have to try these,” he said to his companions.
Nolan’s perpetual frown only deepened. He shook his head. Hunter poked at the fries with a fork and looked at a piece he skewered. “That doesn’t look like a potato,” he said.
“That’s cheese,” said Harrington.
Hunter scraped his fork off into the food boat and set his fork on a napkin. “That doesn’t even sound good. Gravy and cheese?”
Laurel drew out another cigarette. “It’s French Canadian,” she said. “Called poutine.”
“Well, I knew it wasn’t Texan,” said Hunter with an exaggerated drawl. “How can you eat more?”
Harrington shrugged. “It’s cold. You have to fuel up on fats in the arctic.”
“No, you just need to have the proper under armor,” said Nolan. “The right layers, made of the right materials.” Nolan and Laurel had been to the arctic numerous times. Laurel’s strategy differed from Nolan’s only because she avoided the outdoors as much as possible. Nolan had paid big bucks to go on a fully guided rock-climbing trip to Baffin Island three years ago—in the summer when she doubted he needed his under armor. Ever since that trip he acted as if he were some great arctic adventurer. When you had enough money you can pay to go to the places where elite athletes train to go without being more than an average jogger.
“Do you think the C-130 could survive a crash,” Laurel asked Hunter, as she lit up her second cigarette. All four men were responsible for strategies, but each focused on one area; Nolan on international government affairs, Harrington on capital and resources, and Hunter on safety and environmental liabilities. As corporate secretary and chief governance officer of GGP, Laurel advised both board of directors and senior management. It was her job to know what these men thought and act as liaison between the strategists and the backers.
He stared at his empty glass a moment. “C-130s have one of the highest reliability ratings among aircraft. Most likely the pilot is military-trained, even if he flies as a civilian now. A SAR operation is going to be equipped for arctic survival. Question is, did they crash over land or ice?”
“According to the First Air rep I spoke to, their last coordinates given were over land,” said Laurel.
“And did they say send out a may-day that they were going down or making an emergency landing,” he asked.
“That I don’t know,” said Laurel.
“If a Herc falls from the sky, it could be an ugly ending with not many more pieces to scrape up with a garden shovel,” he said, rubbing his clean-shaved chin as if he were surveying such a scene and responsible for putting the puzzle pieces back together. “Yet, if it makes an emergency landing, it could be mighty bumpy, but survive in tact.”
“What SAR operation was First Air running, anyhow,” asked Nolan.
Laurel snuffed out her cigarette and arched an eyebrow as she crumpled the butt into the glass tray. One thing she liked about the arctic was getting to smoke without having to dodge to some unseen nook where smokers were corralled like petty thieves. “Not First Air,” she said. “They loaned the plane to locals and some visiting mounties.”
“Mounties,” interrupted Harrington. “Dudley Doorights on Baffin Island?”
Nolan looked askew at Harrington. “This is Canada, not Alaska,” he said.
“Oh, right.” Harrington mopping at his chin as began looking for his second order.
“Anyways,” said Laurel, “They are searching for that owner of that debris we reported.”
“When we flew over the Walker Citadel along the eastern shoreline,” asked Nolan.
Hunter looked conflicted as he asked, “You mean they initiated a search with a Herc over some tarp floating in the ocean?”
“Poor use of resources,” said Harrington.
“How do they know it warranted a search,” asked Nolan.
“Well, according to what I’ve heard from several sources, there are two local men from Clyde River missing,” said Laurel.
“Two? Poor use of resources, indeed,” grumble Harrington. “You figure the cost of leasing a plane like that, the fuel, the pilots, the SAR team flown in from wherever they came from for two people, the value doesn’t add up.”
“Depends,” said Nolan. “Who are these two men? Local officials? Should we offer aid? Would we look good, riding in to rescue some village mayor and his son?”
Laurel let out an unexpected laugh. All for men looked at her momentarily puzzled. “I went visual on that one, Nolan. You riding up on a white horse like a night in his under armor.”
Nolan, despite the frown, articulated a perfect laugh. Harrington and Hunter glanced at each other, but neither Texan probably knew what under armor was.
“Like long underwear,” explained Laurel.
“Oh,” said Hunter with half a smile.
Just then, the bar-maid returned with their drinks and Harrington’s fries. “Sorry that took so long. Got busy.” It was true. The small square room was near capacity, although not as boisterous as it had been on other nights. Harrington cut off the tips of several fries and scooped up a hot bite, slowly chewing. “So good,” he pronounced.
“To get back to your point, Nolan,” said Laurel, “These were just two common Inuit hunters, no one influential.”
“Well, then,” said Nolan, “I’d have to agree with Harrington. Misuse of appropriations.”
“Do these locals just go out under any circumstances,” asked Hunter. “I mean, what did they do before Canadian mounties and airplanes were available?”
“Well, here’s the crux,” said Laurel. Despite the bar room casualness of cigarettes and whiskey, she was always ready for business. Her casual demeanor not only helped her glean information, it also help in being heard among the power units of a mostly male corporate world. “Popular local history is that Inuit have been hunting on the sea ice for thousands of years.”
“What do they hunt on sea ice,” asked Harrington in between bites of gravy-fries.
“Seal, a kind of fish, whale. Basically aquatic animals that polar bears also hunt. Like you said, fat is part of an arctic diet,” explained Laurel.
Nolan swished his drink at Harrington and said, “You should have ordered the whale blubber.”
Harrington shook his head. “I’m pretty sure this tastes better.”
“So what does a heritage of hunting have to do with current affairs,” asked Nolan, redirecting the conversation back to Laurel.
“They have always hunted in the sea ice. It’s their way of life. But in the past decade more and more Inuit hunters are falling through the ice to their deaths,” she said.
“So stop going out on the ice when it’s thin,” said Hunter.
“But they are saying that they no longer can tell when it is safe. For instance, the sea ice should be rock solid in March. But we saw broken ice and open water when we flew across the eastern fjords.” Laurel took another sip and let the men ponder the connection.
Nolan was the first to make it. “So this is another complaint to global warming, this unpredictable ice and hunters who are dying.”
“Yes,” said Laurel.
“With the jobs and infrastructure mining and oil extraction will bring to Baffin Island, the people can eat delicious food like these incredible fatty fries rather than have to subside on hunting fatty fish and things,” said Harrington.
Nolan added, “It’s a given that the northern ice cap is shrinking. Soon, our governments will be shifting their policies to defending these natural resources that are going to become available. With new shipping lanes and greater tourism, this land is going to be more accessible and less remote than when it was ringed in ice.”
Laurel leaned in toward Nolan. “But you know how locals do not always see the benefits. And, if woeful stories of dying hunters reach mainstream media, the anarchists are going to use it as fodder to flame their public opinion fires.”
“So, what are you suggesting,” asked Nolan, his frown deepening.
“Let’s be open to helping. We already are taking measures to collect scientific data to share with the greater public. We are confirming, not denying, the reality of a climate in flux. Why not help locals adjust, expose some good GGP press, search for a couple of missing hunters and their stranded mounties.” Laurel resisted the urge to light up another cigarette. It was too easy to smoke here.
“What kind of cost would we be looking at,” asked Harrington who looked ready to set aside the fries for a calculator.
“No more than we are already incurring,” said Laurel. “We have a reporter on location, a radio personality known throughout Dallas, and beyond.”
“I thought he was covering our weatherman,” said Nolan.
“You mean our climatologist,” asked Laurel.
“Yeah, that guy.” Nolan took a drink, swishing ice. He was impatient with the pace, yet a man who would wait for the right moment even if sitting still nearly killed him. The indigenous resistance, in the form of their territorial government, to exploration and extraction of natural resource was futile in the long run. But Nolan understood the nuances of politics and putting on a good face rather than ripping the rug out from under the feeble local government that had only existed since 1969, long after other natural resource policies had been penned.
“Our reporter is covering that guy,” said Laurel. “And that guy just volunteered for the rescue of the rescuers.”
“He didn’t take off with all that scientific gear, did he,” asked Harrington.
“I don’t think he’d lug that equipment along for a rescue mission,” said Laurel.
“Then, it’s secure, right,” asked Harrington with a worried brow. “That’s a big investment. For God’s sake, the tent alone cost $5,000.”
“For a tent,” asked Hunter. “Well, I suppose it has to meet safety specifications for arctic conditions.”
“I’m sure Dr. Starkka is responsible with equipment,” said Laurel. “And, our reporter went with him, so it will look like a GGP supported rescue effort.”
“What about that tinsel town bimbo,” asked Nolan.
Laurel had long ago learned to skim over the sexist remarks to stay focused on the important parts of the conversation. She also made sure she never looked the part of a bimbo, with her hair styled short, maintained dark red despite the oncoming crop of gray hairs that only her colorist knew existed. Her make-up and jewelry were counterpoints to the power-suits and ties that the men wore. She made sure she looked like a woman, but a woman who could command the attention of a room of men not through looks or promiscuity, but through her cleverness and useful intelligence. “Yes, Ms. Winslow is still in Iqaluit,” said Laurel.
“There’s a bimbo in Iqaluit,” asked Harrington, looking as eager as he had for a second round of fries.
“Yes,” said Laurel, “She has the looks, but I don’t think she’s the putting out kind, if you get my meaning.”
“Oh,” he said with disappointment.
“What are we going to do about her and those contract demands,” asked Nolan.
Laurel smiled and sipped at her whiskey like a cat holding cream. “Oh, I have that all figured out.”
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 21
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,882
“If you’re going to crash a C-130 in the arctic, do it in the winter, I say.” Alex poked at the fire on the open wall of their half snow-cave, half lean-to. To their backside was the Herc itself, but in order to produce a heat source, the search and rescue team had to build several makeshift shelters that radiated from the fire built in the middle. Alex, one of the pilots whose name was Hamilton Prevette, and Sydney occupied this shelter.
Alex continued as if he were lecturing a class of cadets. “In the summer, most likely there won’t be any snow to cushion the impact.” he said. “That’s because 80 percent of the land north of the arctic circle is free of snow. If you do crash land in snow during the summer, most likely you’re in Greenland.”
Sydney was not so sure he’d call that a snow-cushioned landing. Judging by the jarring to his spine and backside, he’d call impacting the tundra ice pack with a 80-ton plane a brutal mat slam. And he hoped they were not so far off course to be over Greenland. Unlikely, but crashing had been an unlikely thought, too before yesterday.
“The other reason is more significant,” said Alex who was now heating up three cans of soup in their cans. “No mosquitoes.”
That was one Sydney could agree to, having spent several summers on Baffin Island. He had heard that there were ten times more mosquitoes per square mile here than in any tropical region. Never before had Sydney seen clouds of mosquitoes. Yes, he was glad they were dormant, but the snow, plunging cold and predators were worrisome enough. “Hope we don’t see any polar bears making their way to the sea ice,” said Sydney.
“Might be fortunate for us if we do,” said Alex, stirring soup with a metal spoon. It was beginning to smell delicious. “A polar bear would be enough meat to sustain all of us for bit longer than our canned rations.”
“Don’t eat the liver, though,” said Hamilton. His brown eyes looked sleepy, which concerned Sydney. The pilot had conked his head during the crash. Alex had cleaned up the wound and applied butterfly tape to close the worse part of the gash. But he probably had a good concussion.
“Why not,” asked Sydney, hoping to keep him alert with conversation.
“Polar bear livers are poisonous,” he said. “Learned that in training for the RAF. Flew plenty of times over the arctic circle. First time I ever crashed. Yes, better that we had snow to cushion the impact.”
Sydney shook his head. The front ski on the Herc had snapped and the impact dug a trench half a mile long. He supposed if it had been rocky terrain instead, the damage to the plane would have been worse. But a crash was still a crash. And it got them further away from finding any trace of Moe or Elijah.
Hamilton began to nod off, his chin sloping toward his chest. “Do you think we should keep him awake,” asked Sydney.
Alex barely glanced at the man as he continued to stir each can in succession. “He’ll be fine. Downright snug in here.”
“For now, by the fire but we can’t go burning all our diesel fuel. We’ll need to conserve it,” said Sydney. When they crashed, one of the earliest orders that Alex gave was that someone collect the diesel before it coagulated. That was after discerning any injuries and making sure the engine fire was out. Of course, that right wing dug into the snow, snuffing out any fires.
The pilot jerked his head up. “Diesel,” he said. “That’s probably what happened. The diesel froze in the line of the right engine we had shut down. Caused a fire trying to power up, caught the other engine on fire before we shut it down.”
“Well,” said Alex, “At least we had enough engine power to get up this far and enough time to call in coordinates before the wind interfered.”
That was the main reason they decided to stay put. They were not within walking distance of any village, mine or base. With their coordinates known, they could dig in. If they had flown so far off track without any communication outside, no one would think to look for them over the land. They had survival gear, including the tarps snapping overhead and sleeping bags, food, water and fuel to burn in a common fire that served three shelters. Keeping part of it open was important to avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Soup is done,” announced Alex. Using his arctic glove like an oven mitt, he picked up cans of soup, setting one before Sydney and Hamilton. The third he held in his glove and at with a spoon clutched in his bare hand.
Sydney had already removed his own mittens, so he used one as Alex did. He blew on the first spoonful of soup, vegetable beef, and savored the hot bite as it filled his mouth with tangy-salty warmth. Never had canned soup tasted so good.
Hamilton did not touch his, as he was nodding off again. Sydney reached over and nudged the pilot’s parka-clad arm. He startled awake. “Eat some soup,” Sydney said.
“Oh, yes,” said Hamilton. “I was just letting it cool.”
“It’s best hot,” said Alex, “but be mindful of the can.” He held up his can, showing the glove he used to do so. The pilot nodded at him and took out a glove from within his jacket. “Good,” said Alex.
From behind the Herc, the wind howled like a beast from the elders’ stories. No wonder the Inuit of Baffin Island came up with such fanciful tales, thought Sydney. Not only the noise, but the long stretches of time in the dark and the cold to contemplate the noise.
That night, lying awake on his back, cocooned in an arctic sleeping bag, tugged tight with a draw string around his face, Sydney thought of Elijah. The winds howled, but snow merely swirled outside the shelter as they were protected by the plane from the full blast of the straight line winds.
Alex was asleep. His snores a testament to that fact. Hamilton didn’t snore but his breathing seemed slow and even as if asleep. As many times as the man had nodded off at the cooking fire, he didn’t doubt that he would be slumbering now in his bag. Sydney had expressed concern to Alex about Hamilton freezing. Normally a person woke up before freezing, but with a possible concussion, Hamilton might sleep through such impulses. Alex didn’t think so, but they agreed to wake him up during the night just to check in. Ask him his name, wiggle his toes. Alex set his watch for the first observation.
Other than the wind, it was so cold and empty, this night. Sydney wished he could dash off to sleep as easily as the others but his mind kept coming back to Elijah and the broken sea ice. Why did it open up that way? Had Elijah any warning? Where could he have gone but under. It was not a comforting thought. And Moe? What became of him. Maybe he really did go out to sea on a flow of ice, past Greenland. And what of those in Clyde River? Bad enough they had to wait on news of two missing loved ones, but now the search and rescue crew needed rescue.
“This is one way of thinking,” said Elijah. Sydney sat up. He was on a comfortable pad of hides within a dim iglu. He must be dreaming. Elijah was sizzling caribou on an open flame spit that many Inuit hunters used, packing stove, spit and fuel on their sleds. It smelled better than the canned soup. Sydney remembered that anytime Elijah disagreed, he didn’t really argue. He’d graciously acknowledge the point and then offer another. Two different ways of thinking without judging one right over the other.
“Thinking about what,” asked Sydney. He watched Elijah turn the spit, stop and then makes shadow puppets on the wall. He was smiling at Sydney like he were a boy to be entertained. Each shadow animal took form on the ice wall, each hide a black and white pattern of geometric shapes. As each animal took form, it ran in circles around the inner walls of the igloo. A seal chased a fox, a raven dove as if swimming and a narwhal flew across the highest pitch of the roof. Mesmerized, Sydney watched.
Elijah sat back and ate caribou, handing Sydney hot, greasy strips that should have burned his fingers but didn’t. In silence they watched the dance of the shadow animals on the wall. “These belong here,” Elijah said. “I am Inuk. I belong here.”
Sydney knew that Inuk was the singular for Inuit. Somehow that thought penetrated his mind in the dream-state as he watched the animals and ate caribou. “Where did you get the caribou,” asked Sydney, licking his fingers.
“The ravens feed me,” said Elijah. “They belong here.”
“The ice,” said Elijah, “It belongs here.” Suddenly, they were standing on the sea ice. Oddly, Sydney was in his dress reds and hat of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. White ice stretched for miles in three directions. White, solid, cold. Turning, Sydney was surprised to see the Walker Citadel rise up like a black fortress of rock, a hulking ruin of an ancient castle transported to the ends of the earth.
Sydney said, “This is one way of thinking.”
“Yes,” answered Elijah as they both stood on the ice. Elijah then turned to face Sydney, “But the ice is warm.”
“Warm,” asked Sydney, not understanding. “But the ice is cold.”
Elijah stomped with one foot on the ice. Sound reverberated as if the world were a drum and the ice its skin. The black and white shadow animals appeared, illuminated upon the black wall of rock.
“But the ice is warm,” said Elijah and he stomped again and the ice caved in, sucking the shadow animals down into a whirlpool of spinning black waters with chunks of floating ice, sea ice broken up, swirling with the animals. Elijah went down but then rose up from the middle of the widening pool as a huge white bird.
Sydney stood in his uniform, standing as if above the melting ice and sucking whirlpool. The white bird circled over head. Soon the mountains broke up like the sea ice, and the land sucked down into the whirlpool, too. The earth itself turned inside out and drained away. Sydney saw buildings, cars and planes, all black and white like shadow animals, but all breaking up and disappearing. And all went dark.
Sydney woke up with a startled jerk and gasp. It was as pitch black as the end of his dream. So real. It felt so real. But what was real was the silence and the darkness. The wind had stopped. Sydney thought about his dream, could almost taste the savoriness of the caribou.
In the darkness, a thought occurred to him; Elijah’s way of thinking. If the arctic broke up and melted, would the rest of the earth endure?
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 20
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.
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 19
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,947
Dagen finished a second piece of warm apple pie, something he hadn’t thought to encounter in Clyde River. Lucie was sitting with him at the kitchen table and five other elderly woman, even older than Lucie who seemed to be about a similar age as Ax, all watch him from the cluster of chairs and couches in the living room that opened up to the kitchen. They all were smiling, which made Dagen nervous, as if he were supposed to do something more than swallow warm bites of sweet apples and flaky crust.
“Thank you, Lucie,” he said, pushing the plate away before she could ask him if he wanted another piece. “Where do you get apples up here?”
“I order several cases from a man in the south. He grows the apples on trees and dries them. They keep very well up north.” Lucie cleared his plate, setting it in the sink of the small kitchen.
“She doesn’t made her pie crust from muktuk no more,” said one woman from the couch as the others laughed.
Lucie shook her head and sat down at the table with Dagen. “No,” she said, “That was a mistake. I had learned to make pies in the south when I went to school. I had flour and needed some kind of fat to make the pastry. Muktuk was bad.” She wrinkled up her nose. “Now I order shortening. It is expensive but doesn’t taste like seal.”
“Apples and seals probably were not meant to go together,” agreed Dagen. Since arriving, he came to realize that one of the missing Inuit hunters was indeed, Elijah. He felt unsettled, but understood why. It awakened childhood memories. Dagen glanced at the women in the living room and remembered the Brimson neighbors, all women, most of Finish descent like his parents, who came and sat all night with his mother when his dad failed to return from fishing Lake Superior.
“Do you break dance,” asked a woman who sounded like she was clicking her teeth even as she spoke English. She must have been at least eighty years old with snowy-white hair and a crinkled face.
“Break dance?” Dagen was surprised that she would know about an urban style of dance from America. “Um, no,” he said. “Do you?”
“A little,” she answered. “Mostly I scratch records.”
“Oh.” Evidently cheek-pulling had competition here in Clyde River. “Where did you learn to break dance,” he asked.
“Those kids. They asked the elders to plan something for them because they have nothing to do,” she answered.
Lucie explained, “We have a community organization in Clyde River. Suicide has become a growing problem, and we do outreach with the youth in town to get them interested in something good. They heard about break dancers that came to Iqaluit and asked us to bring them here, too.”
Several of the woman began talking in Inuktituk, a few laughed, others nodded. Lucie told Dagen, “They thought these break dancers were imitating seals when they flopped around on the floor. But the kids liked it.”
“What do the kids like about it,” asked Dagen. “Don’t they have other dances, too. I saw some dances that the students in Ottawa did.”
“Yes,” said Lucie. “But this dancing seems to hold a voice for the youth. The kids are like those without a voice. Not all have been south, many have, though or they see things on computers. They are like silent people up north. The dancing of their elders doesn’t seem to fit and the kids feel that they have no fit in this world.”
“I think I can understand,” said Dagen. “I grew up in a rural place, it wasn’t even a town, really.” Brimson was nothing more than a community hall surrounded by family homesteads that dove-tailed logs into snow-tight homes, barns and saunas. Farming was poor, and many families supplemented logging and sparse hayfields carved out of the forest with fishing on Lake Superior. Many families left as children grew, but a few dug in like his parents. Sisu.
“In the south,” asked Lucie.
Dagen had to smile at that. Growing up in Minnesota, he was keenly aware that he lived “up north.” It was odd to think of it as in the south. “In northern Minnesota, but, yes, south from here.” Once a week, he would take a sauna with his dad. His sisters would take one with their mom. He never thought it odd until it hit him in college that every person he knew grew up showering. Yet, sometimes he craved the deep pore-cleansing of a sweat-bath followed by lathering soap and cold splashes. He could almost smell the hot cedar as the wood walls would bake and how good the warmth felt against his back. Ladles of cold water washed away the sweat and soap. A shower couldn’t compare.
“Did you want to dance differently than your parents,” asked Lucie. Her warm brown eyes held his green ones firmly, as if she really did understand his internal struggles he didn’t even know how to speak out loud.
“I think so,” he said, looking away from her gaze. He got up and walked over to the sleeping dog on the floor. Squatting on his toes, Dagen reached gently for the dog and began scratching behind her ears. She stretched her neck forward, pointing a black nose away from Dagen.
From the kitchen table, Lucie said, “The dogs were my solace, too.”
At first Dagen didn’t move. Who was this woman who seemed to be able to fish out feelings he had long submerged. He couldn’t really accuse Ax of talking about him to Lucie because these were feeling he never even shared with Ax. And Ax was the closest person he had in a life where he tried to keep people at arm’s length. But she was right. He reached out to dogs. Still squatting and rubbing the old dog’s ears he turned just enough to look back at her. “Why do you say that?”
She laughed heartily as if Dagen had delivered the punch line to a big joke. “I know what it is like,” she said. “My parents came in off the land when I was a very young girl. My older brother was barely of age to go to school. My mother wanted that for him and there was a school at Cape Dorset. My mother found her artistic skills were of use there, too. But I wanted more of the things I learned in school. Letters that became words, words that became ideas alive. I discovered that I loved to type by the time I was old enough to go south for more school. Ah, the south,” she said looking away as if remembering something she long for like apple pies.
Dagen thought about that for a moment. Although he could hardly compare Brimson to a village in the arctic, he could see how his generation was like an end for the life his parents and grandparents had tried to carve out in an unyielding land. He opted for college, to escape the endless swaths of white pine and trails of lakes. Like Lucie, he wanted to learn more. “But what did you want to do? I mean, if you loved learning and typing, what did you want to do with that?”
Lucie shook her head, smiling. “I don’t know. Maybe, I was like these kids, just trying to find my voice in a new and different world.”
Dagen had wanted to be away from his old world, if he could think of it as that. But he realized that he had no idea how to really fit into the new one, other than that he wanted to see it. “Why did you come back,” he asked.
“It was summer. School was over. I returned to my parents and discovered that I had a husband,” she said.
“You mean, your parents married you without your consent?” Dagen had heard of arranged marriages, but he didn’t think they still existed.
Lucie sat up straighter, pursed her lips for a moment, then said, “It was expected. I don’t mean I expected to return to a husband, but once learning that I had a husband, it was expected that I do the right thing.”
“And the right thing wasn’t to run,” asked Dagen, sitting down on the floor so he could continue to rub the dog’s ears and talk to Lucie.
“No, the right thing was to honor my parents. Honor my husband and his family,” she said.
One of the women from the couch added, “We do not write down our laws, but we have laws in a way. Just like you would not break a law that a Mountie would arrest you for, you would not break a law that was given to you.”
The old world, Dagen thought. Not unlike what sisu was to the Finnish. You did what was right no matter what. You ran the race no matter how hard the course. You kept the homestead no matter how rocky the soil. “I guess I chose to run away,” said Dagen. “Not that my parents arranged a marriage for me, but they left the family homestead to me, their son. And, I sold it.”
Lucie nodded as if understanding the stiffness that came over Dagen. She said, “If I knew how, I think I would have sold Elijah back then, too.”
The women laughed and Dagen relaxed, laughing, too. “So how did you manage to stay married, then?”
Lucie smiled broadly. “After ignoring him didn’t work, he ignored me by going hunting for long times, too, I think I got bored. When kids say they are bored, elders act like there is something wrong with them, but I know that boredom. Snow, games, singing, it can seem boring after seeing trees and riding in cars and airplanes and typing.”
A few of the women shook their heads as if Lucie were as hopeless as the youth. She continued, “So I started to walk the shoreline, taking the runt that Elijah left behind. She was a smart dog and liked the open water. She even learned to fish. I think Elijah was always looking for ways to get me interested in something other than my boredom. I was not good at art, didn’t learn a lot of the traditional skills because I grew up off the land. But I really got to like that dog. Elijah saw.” She began to tear up, looked away and sighed.
Thinking about it, dogs had been an escape for Dagen, too but not from boredom necessarily, but from missing his father. Had his father lived maybe he’d be chopping down white pines and hauling in a catch of whitefish from the big lake right now. “Dogs can fill empty spaces,” said Dagen.
“Yes,” said Lucie. “Really, I met my husband through the dogs. I learned to love him through the dogs. And I will remember him through the dogs.”
Dagen didn’t know what else to say but, “You have sisu, Lucie. It is a special kind of courage my elders knew.”
From outside, over the howl of the wind that had continued to pick up after the sun rolled over into the western horizon, the whine of a skidoo grew louder. A headlight beamed in the window then turned off. Someone seemed to pound up the front steps quickly and then the door flew open without a knock.
It was Tobie, covered in fresh snow as if dusted in powdered sugar. “The mounties’ plane crashed,” he said, breathlessly.
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 18
Nano WriMo Word Count: 2,013
The L382G Hercules, affectionately called the “Herc” and better known as a C-130, was a tundra workhorse. From pilots who fly them to airborne paratroopers who jump from them, it is arguably the best plane ever built. Its hulking frame can carry everything needed to supply an arctic island such as Baffin. Since the first C-130 in 1954 to be outfitted with skis, these planes have served scientists, communities and rescue operations at both poles. The Herc on loan from First Air was equipped with skis for landing on Baffin Island’s runways of ice and makeshift tundra landings. With a crash rate much lower than commercial airplanes, they are usually a safe plane to fly.
But this is the arctic.
RMCP Alex Kincaid had been leading search and rescue efforts—known as SAR–for nearly 15 years. While the Royal Air Force had its own fleets of SAR planes across the regions, and the RMCP had theirs, it was not unusual to organize missions in cooperation with other agencies and local volunteers. With the cooperation of First Air, Alex was able to get a team to Baffin Island quicker than if he had to rely on official transportation. The helicopter on board actually belonged to the mining company at Mary River, and they volunteered its use since it had not yet left Iqaluit.
The only thing not cooperating was the weather. First, the melting ice that led to the unseasonable break up and endangering two local hunters, followed by a series of back-to-back blizzards. And now, with the intermittent clearing in between storms, temperatures had plummeted.
Kincaid’s priority was to get to the proximity of the last known location of the two hunters to fly a low circle pattern to look for survivors, debris or any evidence of what had happened to the two men from Clyde River. All before the next blizzard hit, which could bring winds up to 60 knots per hour.
With a basic crew of five mounties trained in SAR and Arctic Survival, each was at a viewing station with all eyes on the sea ice. As per standard procedure, in an effort to conserve fuel, the pilots cut the two inboard engines as the Herc flew its circle pattern.
Syndney Brindeau, the RMCP stationed at Clyde River had already been on the initial volunteer SAR mission and he verified that they were over the area of sea ice break up.
“That’s Moe’s hut, against the cliffs,” said Sydney to Kincaid. It was barely discernible in the snow and the smokestack was inactive. No tracks in or out of the cabin could be seen in the pristine layer of snow and the skidoo tracks from Sydney’s last visit had filled in with blowing snow.
“I don’t see where the ice broke up,” said Kincaid. It looked flat, white and solid from the air.
“It was right as we turned the bend at this fjord,” said Sydney as they passed over the ice. It looked normal, like it should look this time of year. “If I hadn’t seen it myself, I might doubt the break up, but Alex, I tell you, it was like spring thaw and no way we could cross it even walking, let alone on skidoos.”
Alex nodded, keeping his eyes trained to the passing sea ice below. He glanced at his clipboard with a section map that had red circles around the locations of Moe’s cabin, the break up and the area that Green Global Petroleum had reported seeing a blue tarp and a red item like that of a plastic food cooler. Both were typical items of gear that hunter might have during spring sealing.
“Did you say that Elijah Ujarak was seal hunting in the traditional ways,” asked Alex.
“Yes,” answered Sydney. “He took out his team of dogs with a sled. I asked his wife if he had a rifle and she indicated that he left it at home, taking his spears.”
“Would he have had a tarp and cooler?” Alex asked the question that Sydney just now realized had been nagging at him. Elijah tied down his gear with hides, using braided seal rawhide. He remembered Elijah showing him how he cut the hard-as-drum-skin hide around and around to get long narrow strips that he then braided into stiff rope.
“Come to think of it, I don’t recall Elijah ever using coolers,” said Sydney. “And he used hides for covering his sled.”
“So what do you make of the debris that the GGP plane saw,” asked Alex, continuing to keep his eyes scanning the sea ice below.
“It could be Moe’s,” said Sydney. Unlike Elijah, Moe hunted with a sled pulled behind his skidoo. It would be more likely that Moe would have items like a tarp and cooler.
“We’re approaching the coordinates now.” Alex still could not discern any unusual attributes to the ice. Not that he doubted its unseasonable break-up. But the recent storms and current blast of cold had erased the evidence of an earlier melt. It looked like normal spans of sea ice.
“What now,” asked Sydney. He hadn’t realized how tense he’d been holding his shoulders until he let them sag in disappointment.
“We keep flying the pattern, low and ever-widening the circle,” said Kincaid. “We keep looking.”
While Sydney watched the endless expanse of white with ridges that intersected at wild angles like a crazy quilt, both men were silent. Sydney knew the statistics regarding the success of a search and rescue this late after men went missing, and the unspoken truth was that it had become a body recovery mission at this point. Yet, even that seemed implausible. The situation reminded him of the Inuit legend of the narwhal. It had been Elijah who told it to him over coffee and apple pie that Lucie always seemed to have in reserve.
A blind boy had saved his mother and sisters from a polar bear attack. The mother was not grateful and treated the boy poorly, withholding food from him that he could not see she had.
One day after his brave but unrewarded rescue, the boy went down to the bay with his sisters. A loon took him and dove deep into the waters. Three times the bird brought the blind boy up for air and upon the third rising the boy could see. Having regained his sight, he saw all that his mother had denied him.
So when the mother asked the boy to spear her a beluga, she asked for a small one that she could manage. Instead he speared the biggest one he saw. Unable to pull it in, his mother was taken beneath the sea with the beluga. As she was drawn deeper and deeper, her long hair twisted into the tusk of the narwhal. Today the narwhal are surrounded by beluga just as the blind boy’s mother had been.
Sydney reflect upon the knowledge contained in the story; that Inuit hunters were keenly aware of the habits and characteristics of the animals they hunted on land and sea. Yet, he also thought of another truth hidden within the story. The arctic sea did not give up its dead. If Elijah and Moe were not found above, they would not be found below. What kind of closure would he be able to give to Lucie?
After flying the entire pattern without seeing any color or movement other than two dark seals that rose out of their ice holes, Kincaid announced that the search had ended and they would discuss options back at Clyde River. The pilots fired up the two engines they had cut earlier with some noticeable sputtering.
“Nothing to be alarmed about,” said Kincaid when he noticed the worried frown beneath Sydney’s mustache.
Understanding how diesels and fuels coagulated easily in the extremes north of the arctic circle, Sydney was concerned. He was about to say so when one of the SAR crew shouted, “Fire!”
A fire aboard a C-130 flying above sea ice was a huge concern. Sydney scanned the area for an onboard extinguisher when someone else said it was an engine.
As if the verify the dilemma, one of the pilot’s announced over the intercom, “Everyone to their stations, strap in, we have to ditch two engines.”
Strapping in next to Kincaid, Sydney asked, “We can fly without them, right?” After all, the plan had circled for over two hours without two engines.
“Depends,” said Kincaid who seemed as calm as someone boarding a ferris wheel. He began flipping through maps clipped beneath the one of the search area.
Sydney tried to remain as calm, but his stomach felt like one tight knot that wouldn’t unclench. “Depends on what,” he asked.
Kincaid looked up from the maps. “One side or the other,” he said. “If we lose two engines on one side…” He looked up as the plane noticeably pitch downward to the right. “Yes, I think we may have lost two engines on the right wing.”
“Hang tight folks and keep strapped in,” said the pilot over the intercom. “We are going to make an emergency landing.”
Below the solid sea ice didn’t feel so solid to Sydney. He doubted this beast of a plane called Hercules could crash land on it without busting through. The other option looming before them was a black and white wall of cliffs and glaciers rising up out of the sea ice like ancient behemoths frozen in time. Only Clyde River and Pond Inlet had landing strips. Which was closest, wondered Sydney.
Kincaid unstrapped his buckles. “Going to discuss where this landing might take place with the men in the cockpit,” he said. Taking his clipboard of maps with him, Kincaid left Sydney who was extending a stiff right leg as if he could balance the listing plane with willpower. It wasn’t working.
Over the roar of the remaining engines, Sydney could hear murmuring from the other men. He wished he could be as calm. What had he learned about C-130s? He knew of their reliability. He tried to bring to mind previous arctic plane crashes. Those were frequent, especially among smaller aircraft. Inexperienced pilots, impatient pilots, foul weather, of course weather was mostly foul up here.
Kincaid strode back to his fold-down seat next to Sydney’s and handed him a water bottle. “That’s the stiffest drink on board,” he said. Sitting down, he twisted off the lid of his own bottle.
Sydney’s mouth did feel dry, but he merely clung to the bottle with both hands. “These planes don’t crash too often, do they?”
“Not often. We’re closer to Pond Inlet, but they don’t think we can make it. Pilots are going to try to clear the fjords and mountains to find something less craggy and more solid to land on.” Kincaid drank from his water bottle.
“At least they don’t break up, like smaller aircraft,” said Sydney.
“Oh, they do break up. Hercs aren’t impervious to impact, although it may just be a tail that breaks off or maybe we just bust out the skis or lose the nose, a wing or both,” said Kincaid.
“That’s not reassuring,” said Sydney.
“What’s reassuring is that we double-checked the Arctic Survival Kit on board before leaving Iqaluit and it’s everything we need to survive.” Kincaid motioned with his own water bottle to the one Sydney clung to. He said, “Drink up.”
Sydney just looked down at the bottle in his hands.
“Come on,” said Kincaid, “You don’t want to get dehydrated.”
Suddenly another story came to mind, this one of English origin, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. In his mind he recited, “Water, water every where and all the boards did shrink. Water, water every where and not a drop to drink.”
Sydney twisted the cap off his water bottle as he noticed the plane lowering, still listing to one side. At least they were no longer over the sea ice. But would they clear the mountains?
Warm Like Melting Ice Day 17
NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2,037
Vina was left behind in Iqaluit, fuming mad and most likely to scald tender ears with her hot words. The small cargo plane that First Air coordinated for Dagen’s drop at Clyde River was not a passenger plane, but Dagen could ride in the jump seat. Vina would have to wait for a regularly scheduled flight and because of a pending storm, tomorrow’s flight was canceled. Not to mention that she had not worked out housing arrangements to which GGP’s corporate secretary, Laurel Henney, told Vina to “stay put.”
Vina was not the sort of person to be told that. But it made Dagen’s day to see her face flamed red, her glossy lips pursed, and he nearly shouted for joy when she stomped her booted foot as he stepped out onto the icy tarmac to get on the plane without her. He hoped that by the time she did arrive in Clyde River, he would be on the ice.
“Don’t you dare do that interview without me,” she shouted as he walked through the door and stepped out into the blast of cold air. Already the wind was picking up and it clipped at the plane over the course of the two-hour flight.
The sun was making its circuit across the sky. Although it was appearing longer each day as spring progressed, it still cut a low swath as if it could not climb to a normal zenith and back. So it merely rolled across the sky, east to west casting what looked like a permanent sunset glow behind the lengthening clouds stretched across the sky like tendons.
Below was white with outcroppings of black that marked a tumble of rocks, big as mountains. The pilot flew across land and turned north at the eastern shore of Baffin Island. Dagen could see out the front window and the sea ice that spanned below was a breath-taking sight. Unlike the land, the texture of the sea ice rippled and cracked, like the mottled markings of a seal. Snow drifts formed ridges along cracks making the design an 3-D image.
During the flight, Dagen scanned a few reports he had printed out in Minneapolis, but merely stashed away until now. Satellite recording of the arctic sea ice began in 1979, a NASA project. It was comparative data that measured the thickness of ice from one year to the next and relatively speaking, the ice had been uniform for the first 20 years. But the first decade of the 2000s recorded an abrupt decline, followed by the lowest ice spans ever recorded in 2011. That was just last year.
Dagen searched for another report and this one addressed the growing concern over the release of methane gas. He had teased Miriam about some of her craziest co-op shoppers, since she claimed he was in the top 10 with his question about green milk, including a band of concerned citizen that picketed the co-op in an effort to pressure management to ban all meat. The group expressed concern about the methane released by cattle into the atmosphere. While it created several jokes about flatulent cows leading the increase of greenhouse gases, methane was a real threat.
According to one report, methane emissions were already at an unprecedented high elevation. The problem with methane is that it’s more efficient—25 times more according to some studies—than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming. Most of the methane has existed frozen beneath the arctic seas. Until now. It seems that melting sea ice might have already triggered the thaw of methane and in a bad-cycle scenario, its release will lead to faster ice melts. Dagen read the perspective of Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge who stated:
“The present thinning and retreat of Arctic sea ice is one of the most serious geophysical consequences of global warming and is causing a major change to the face of our planet. The scientific community has drawn attention to the risk of dangerous climate change if the world does not reduce emissions of carbon dioxide – a worthy and critical objective. However, I wish to point toward a much more immediate problem that does not seem to be recognized among the climate change community at large: This is the problem of rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice, and likely consequence of catastrophic methane feedback.”
It was something he would need to consider in his data collections.
Thumbing through printouts, Dagen came across the one about Kivalina, Alaska. Ax had given him this one. It was about a whaling town soon to be submerged. What Dagen wanted to see were the areal photographs taken in time-lapse to show the disappearance of sea ice then land surrounding the town. Government officials were trying to relocate families and activists were clamoring for social justice. Dagen was looking for anything data-worthy, ignoring what he called “white noise.”
The problem with the data was that it was all so recent. Ax told him to consider the stories if the Inuit that went back 5,000 years, but that was not scientific proof. How did he know their stories went back that far? He thought about his mother’s stories of Finland passed down from her mother. Yet those stories didn’t go back any further than his mother’s mother. He was skeptical of Inuit stories actually being as old as 5,000 years.
He glanced back to the report on the methane gasses, read further until he got to the part of a new study on sea algae. He would have to look that one up. According to the article, the study of the sea algae added 600 years to the record of sea ice. He wondered about other ways to extend the record. Maybe Ax’s Inuit friends would have some sort of local knowledge that could be measured unlike oral histories. He would look into that. Hopefully he wouldn’t be in Clyde River long, but maybe his guide would have some insights as they traveled over the ice.
The pilot announced the approach of Clyde River over the steady pulse of the prop engines. Dagen nodded. He looked out the window but couldn’t see anything yet that signaled civilization. Shoving his mass of papers back into his daypack, he dropped a report. Grabbing it, he recognized the GGP logo. It was an acknowledgment to information regarding the 2011 melt and the thawing methane. The official response was to file an exploration plan in light of the opportunity presented by the thawing of navigable arctic waters.
How is it, the GGP was going to use the data he collected? Dagen had been so focused on finding a way out of his contract with Vina, getting back into the science community, that he hadn’t taken pause. If they had filed for rights of exploration, then it sounded as if they had already decided no matter the results he turned up. Or would they try to twist his data to support their efforts? No, he had just been around Vina’s conniving for too long. Companies like GGP were in the public’s eye and sure, they would want to present a positive light using words like ‘opportunity’ and focusing on issues such as economy and jobs, but they wouldn’t be a soulless as a Hollywood agent.
The plane banked left and Dagen saw the outlines of small houses dotted across a flat iced-over bay with black rock outcroppings. It looked like a place huddled against the extreme elements without indulgent embellishment or buildings built as monuments to power. It was a simple village squatting upon snow and ice. This must be Clyde River. The pilot descended and they landed smoothly on the airstrip.
Taxiing up to a low, flat building that looked like a box of crackers, Dagen zipped up his parka and snugged the hood. The temperature was in the 20s, below zero, that is. It was still light out, but looked as if it were a cloudy twilight.
“We beat the worst of the winds,” said the pilot, a freckled-face woman in her mid 40s with clear blue eyes. Her co-pilot opened the hatch and released the stairs.
“Thanks for a smooth ride,” said Dagen. “I’ll see the station manager about my gear. They said back in Iqaluit that he’d help unload and store it until I depart.”
“You betcha,” said the pilot, “We’ll be crossing over to Mary River for a cargo lift and if we leave within the hour we should still be good on the wind. Storm will most likely hit tonight.”
Dagen paused and looked at the pilot, “Are you from Minnesota,” he asked.
“Most people figure me for an American, but ya, sure, I’m from Minnesota. Elk River. My grandpa was an air force pilot and before they closed the field at Cape Dorset, he was stationed on Baffin Island. My Dad flew for Delta and I guess I got the pilot gene, too. Always interested in the arctic after hearing Grampa’s stories. Never a dull flight up here,” she said.
“Gentlemen first,” said her co-pilot also a woman, but with a hint of an Inuit accent.
Dagen slung his full daypack across one shoulder and stepped down from the plane. At the doors he was greeted by man in a First Air uniform. Three young men, all Inuit in parkas and hats stood within. The station manager spoke to them in Inuktitut and they all nodded and two headed out to the tail of the plane. The other went to a small garage and came out with a forklift that had huge tundra tires and chains.
“We’ll store your pallet in the back,” the station manager said.
“It should only be a day or two, weather permitting,” said Dagen.
“That and your guide is not in town,” said the station manager.
“Elijah Ujarak,” asked Dagen. “Is he out on the land still?”
“Maybe. He and another hunter are missing beyond a place where sea ice broke up,” explained the station manager.
“Sea ice. Breaking up in March?” Dagen hadn’t seen anything that early recorded in the reports he had looked at on the plane.
“It is unusual. They may be stranded beyond the break up,” said the station manager.
Looking at maps and talking with Ax over the years, Dagen understood that the eastern shore of Baffin Island was all fjords and cliffs. The sea ice was important for hunting and had always extended far beyond the craggy line of land. “Were they out far,” asked Dagen.
“Don’t know,” the man said with a shrug. But the first skiidoo party to look for them said they couldn’t get past. The ice broke away from the cliffs.”
This might be an area that Dagen could investigate. But with his guide missing, he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to get out there. Or anywhere. And he wanted to be gone before Vina figured out a way to slither into town like the Grinch. “How do I get to Lucie’s house, Mrs. Ujarak,” asked Dagen.
“Tobie will give you a ride when he’s finished unloading,” said the station manager.
“Starkka? Dr. Dagen Starkka,” came a loud voice from across the room. A man had entered the front doors but he was so deeply buried in a traditional Inuit parka with downy wisps of fur that Dagen couldn’t see him. But the man’s voice carried the distinct drawl of Texas warmed with a hint of Hispanic undertones. This must be the GGP news reporter.
“Yes, it is,” replied Dagen, “And you are?”
“Conrado Elizondo,” said the man, removing a huge furry mitten that extended to his elbow. He put out his hand to shake and Dagen noted that it was toasty warm.
“Nice mittens,” said Dagen.
“Grandma wasn’t impressed with my southern clothes,” he said, “And now I am warm with a full belly.”
“Who is Grandma,” asked Dagen.
“Dr. Starkka,” he said, “I have no idea, but the women feeds me like a mewling babe, doesn’t speak a lick of English or Spanish, but she’s my newly adopted Grandma. You are going to like Clyde River.”
Looking out at the expanse of flat snow and boxy houses, Dagen was skeptical.