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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

WLMI Cover Concept

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

WLMI Cover Concept

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.

Warm Like Melting Ice Day 16

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,789


Dagen hung up the phone as Vina leaned against the wall where it hung. She said, “I didn’t know they made these anymore. Does it actually work?”

“Better than a cell phone that doesn’t work at all up here,” said Dagen. “Ax might have some satellite equipment to share.”

“Is that who you were talking to,” she asked, her black rimmed eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Yeah, I called Ax’s office,” said Dagen.

Vina handed him a motel key and said, “I got us a room. Did you get someone to stash your equipment?”

“No,” said Dagen as he walked back over to his pallet with a makeshift bed of duffel bags for a mattress and his arctic mummy bag for bedding. “I’m crashing here.” Dagen sat down on his bags and removed his boots.

“I can’t believe that moronic reporter would take off like that,” said Vina.

Dagen stretched his arms overhead, let out a breath and said, “Oh I don’t know. Maybe being a reporter he thought he’d go after a story.”

“He was hand-picked by GGP to interview you. Laurel Henney said so herself. You are the man’s only story,” said Vina.

“You should leave,” said Dagen, “The closer I get to my research field the colder and more inhospitable the the surroundings are going to be. Do you even know how to survive in the arctic?”

“Survive,” said Vina, “The motel is shabby and the only place that even serves a salad is some dive called The Shack. Thank God they have vodka, or so I’m told.”

“I’m talking about about the elements, proper clothing, places that are dry and don’t serve alcohol,” said Dagen.

“There are such places,” asked Vina, looking skeptical. “You’re just saying that so I won’t go to Clyde River.”

“Ask anyone here,” said Dagen with a shrug, “Clyde River is a dry town and you can get swept away by a blizzard just stepping outside. And there are no motels. That’s why Ax helped me arrange a home to stay at.”

“No motels,” said Vina, “No vodka. What point of no-civilization is this? That damned reporter had better return before you leave.”

“You know that GGP hired the guy. Come on, Vina. He can interview me if and when he catches up to where I’m at. Go back to civilization with the other pretty people,” said Dagen.

“Not until we make your announcement,” she said.

Dagen looked up, warily. “What do you mean,” he asked.

Vina sighed and rolled her eyes. “I wanted it to be a surprise. For you to hear it from a reporter when he asked you about it,” she said.

“What is ‘it,’ Vina? No surprises,” he said, sitting up straight, his muscles all tense.

She looked at him, her overly-glossed lips in a full pout. “You just don’t appreciate all that I do for you,” said Vina. “Oh, look, there’s my taxi. Enjoy sleeping on your dirty clothes or whatever you have in those laundry bags.” Vina turned and left out the front door.

Dagen swore so loudly that the all three people in the lobby turned and stared at him. He stood up, pacing in his wool socks in front of his gear. Would he never escape this woman? What curse was he under that he even met her in that nightclub in Oslo three years ago? He was blowing off steam after volunteering to help handle dogs at a world cup sled race in the north. He made his way back south to Oslo, hoping to catch a cheap flight to the states, low on money and not sure what next.

She saw him, not the other way around. Vina was the sort to attract attention, but not from Dagen. Now he realized that that was why she made it a point to strut in front of him. He wasn’t noticing her. And she had noticed him. After finding out that she was American, he warmed up a bit. Or maybe it was the akvavit, a strong liquor distilled from grains and spiced with anise and cardamom. Maybe it was the poor lighting that failed to show she had no light of her own in her eyes.

Whatever the reason, Dagen woke up in her hotel bed to room service, champagne and a fully made-up Vina in a pale pink satin bathrobe. He’d been with women before, the morning after, but had never seen one fully made over at dawn. His head was throbbing and he couldn’t find his clothes. She said she ordered up something for him, meaning she bought him new clothes. She also had a hair appointment for him and for the first time in his life, he had a manicure. With each step that day, an inner voice cried, “Run!” but he kept stepping. Stepping to Vina’s tune.

Dagen didn’t even know that he had screen test until he arrived at a basement studio in a limousine that Vina hired. That he thought she looked like a dominatrix in a snug business suit of black should have added to his sense of danger. She wore a pale pink scarf around her neck with its short, narrow ends pointing to her pushed up breasts. Somehow he recalled in the murk of his mind from the night before that those breasts stood up on their own, defying gravity.

Introductions were brief, someone from the History Channel was asking Dagen about his knowledge of ice, Nordic history. Vina interjected that he was a PhD. He didn’t recall telling her, but he didn’t recall much from the night before. Then they asked about sled dogs. Of course, he lit up at the mention of dogs and the conversation grew a few more listeners. Of course, he would have been excited over sled dogs. It was in that mood that he stepped up to read a few scripted lines, smiled when the room clapped. Idiot. He had no idea what was happening.

Vina explained that she would work out the details of the contract, set him up in an apartment and get him an advance. Having lived so frugally the prior two years after loosing a government position, his few belongings were stored at Ax’s place in Brimson. And that was a place he wanted to avoid after selling off the family homestead. And Ax. Seems every time he looked at the man, he saw disappointment in his eyes. He imagined his father would look that way, too. So he followed the dog sledding circuit, getting paid for some work, volunteering for others if it meant food and a place to sleep.

The money sounded, comfortable. It sounded like settling down. And actually, once the producers and staff explained the premise, Dagen was excited to host the show. They told him he was a natural on the screen, photogenic. Vina smiled, smugly. She did as promised. She worked at all the details, gave Dagen keys to a fully furnished apartment and even set up a bank account for him with more money than he had ever thought to make even as a tenured scientist. But she also owned his career.

The details were such that she, only she, could say where he appeared, when and for how much. It wasn’t that she needed any cut from him. He’d later find out that Vina came from a wealthy film family. Her mother was a make-up artist on Star Trek and her father produced a series of high grossing television series. Dagen was her find. He was an unknown that she could claim belonged to her.

When filming on location in Norway, Dagen could forget that she existed. Vina shortly left Oslo, chiding him before she left that privileges were hers to give when she wanted. He realized that she was talking about intimate relations and he began to sweat. Without mainlining akvavit, he doubted he’d have interest in those privileges. From then on, he denied himself those privileges.

It was after the filming season, when she required that he show up in California, that he realized how deep in trouble he was. Thinking he could take his money and go anywhere, he thought about Brimson. He thought about buying back the homestead he sold so he could finish school with a degree he rarely used. He thought the meeting in California would be a formality, touch base and go wherever he wanted.

But that’s not what happened. Vina presented Dagen with an agenda, including both social and business appointments. Pool parties, more screen tests, lunches with industry executives, interview on Conan, appearances as a spokesperson for the Humane Society. When had he become their spokesperson? He laughed and said, “No way.” Calmly she pulled out his contract. She referred to paragraphs and statutes that he had no idea about. She did own him. Dagen raged out of the room called a list of lawyers in the yellow pages until one agreed to look at his copy of the contract. That lawyer shook her head and asked him why he didn’t seek legal advice first.

Because he had no idea. So he made the rounds on his agenda, lived in a Newport Beach apartment among furnishings and painting he never selected. His screen tests went poorly, mostly because he mumbled through the scripts and glared or looked bored. Vina couldn’t control his acting. Soon he gained a reputation. But the History Channel still liked him, and it became a relief to fly back to Norway to film. Ratings were decent and the Dog Doc had a minor following. But the show canceled. And that was like the first link to weaken in the chain that Vina had on Dagen.

Dagen’s contract also referenced what would happen if he had no current gig, television or big-screen. With the cancellation he was gigless. Dagen searched for a scientific job, anything and in Norway he met several GGP executives who were interested in him collecting some data and presenting it in a series of interviews—radio, television, company podcasts; promotional pieces that were not tied to television or the big screen. He said yes.

Vina had been the one to rage when he said they were done. His contract fulfilled and since he had no television or movie offers, he no longer needed an agent. But there was one clause Dagen overlooked. Publicity. She still had her say on anything he did that was publicity. Thus the current situation of her following him to ensure she was involved in his interviews for GGP.

Dagen shuddered at what she had concocted next. He would not let her trap him so easily this time. Like an arctic fox that lost a leg to a snare, Dagen was stepping lightly.


Warm Like Melting Ice Day 15

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,014


Not long after Miriam hung up the phone with Dagen, Ax returned to the office. She was condensing the contents from several filing boxes into one that would house information useful for building a database for Ax. Many people from around the world were actually a part of the man’s network but he had no idea that such a network existed in his own files of letters, clippings and shared research from one-time grad students who were now in influential positions. Miriam felt as if she had found a Yukon gold mine.

Ax walked into the room carrying two travel mugs, one as green as the Emerald City, the other blue like the depths of a sapphire. He had a big smile on his face that could mean the meeting went well, or that he was relieved it was over. “Got you some water over dried leaves,” he announced handing Miriam the blue mug. She noticed it had the logo of the logistics company Ax just met with.

“Thank you,” she said, taking the mug as she rose from kneeling at the semi-circle of filing boxes. It looked like a make-shift office alter. “Water over dried leaves sounds like autumn rain.”

“Can’t imagine that tea-stuff tastes any better that soggy maple leaves,” said Ax.

“You only say that because your addicted to coffee,” said Miriam.

Ax nodded with a big grin and said, “And a satisfying addiction it is.” He held up his green mug as if to offer cheers and took a swig of coffee. “We got it, Miriam. We got the communications equipment and the technical support. They want their techie to go to Baffin Island, too. In fact, we just got money to reconnoiter the trip.”

“Great news,” said Miriam. “But reconnoiter? Other than the term being one of many GRE words I never thought I’d use, what do you mean?” Last week when Ax and Miriam talked at French Meadow, she told him how she had graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Stout, with a degree in marketing. After several agency internships, Miriam moved to Texas to help establish a non-profit literacy program and learned by fire the ins and outs of marketing a new foundation. She returned to the Twin Cities after one of her mother Flo began to battle breast cancer and took a customer service job at the co-op to look for a marketing position. After only finding marketing jobs in medical devices or agency work, Miriam decided to get a masters at St. Thomas in Non-Profit Management. She was nearly completed with the 21-month program. To be able to help Ax set up a non-profit was not originally what he was going to ask her to help him with. He was interested in her marketing and agency experience. But Miriam convinced him that the best way to do what he had in mind was to set up an educational foundation that focused on climate change and its impact on the regions and people Ax knew from his days as an arctic explorer. He gave her the opportunity to put her GRE words and recent studies to good use.

“Before going on an expedition, we need to scout out the area, decide where we will start and end. Where to resupply along the way or decide to not resupply,” explained Ax. “The tech would come along to figure out what equipment we’d need to send updates and satellite messages that we could put out on social media. Like you told me, social media can be used to push out information and they agreed.”

“What’s in it for them,” asked Miriam, “Not to sound like a skeptic, but why would they offer so much support. They must want something in return.”

“They just launched a big eco-friendly campaign, at least that’s what the company president said. And they want their tagline attached to all our messages and educational materials,” said Ax.

“What’s the tagline?”

“It’s on your mug,” said Ax.

Miriam read, “Extreme communications solutions for a greener world.”

“The equipment will work, so they assure me, Some will be out-dated models put to good use and other devices will be new equipment that they want to test,” said Ax. “Also, they have a complete unit they can set up for Dagen to use.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” said Miriam, “Dagen called.”

“He get to Baffin okay? Is that piranha gone,” asked Ax, referring to Dagen’s agent.

“He made it to Iqaliut, but may be stuck there. Something about his plane taking off early to search for some missing hunters. Elijah isn’t missing, is he?”

“Not Elijah,” said Ax. “No better hunter to read the land and ice than Eijah. No, it’s probably some younger hunters on skidoos. They can go so much faster than dogs, but forget to pause and check out the ice conditions.”

“Well, I told Dagen to go to his house as planned.”

“Good, good. And the agent? She left,” asked Ax.

“Evidently not,” said Miriam.

“That’s bad,” said Ax. “I can’t imagine a woman like that on Baffin, though. Her make up would freeze off.”

“Ax, I wear make-up,” said Miriam with a frown.

“Not like her,” said Ax. “No, that woman has claws so deep into Dagen that if he tries to get away she’d rip Dagen’s arm off all the while looking like some glamor queen ready to claim her crown.”

“He’s a grown man,” said Miriam.

“Even a seasoned hunter can fall into an unsuspecting trap. Dagen didn’t know what caught him until he was signed, sealed and delivered to the History Channel,” said Ax.

“He’ll call back. He left the number for the airport pay phone, but said something about hiding. Must be from her,” said Miriam.

“Good boy, then. His survival instincts must be kicking in,” said Ax. “So tell me, anything useful in these old boxes.”

The mood lightened as Miriam said, “We found gold, Ax. I can build you an awesome data base and you can network among it.”

“Huh,” said Ax, “Not sure I’d call that gold, but I’ll trust your survey skills.”

“It’s going to work, Ax,” said Miriam.


Warm Like Melting Ice Day 15

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,114


“Miriam, is that you,” asked the caller on the other end of the line. Miriam had to stepped around a haphazard maze of filing boxes in Ax’s small office above the coffee roaster to answer the phone on his desk. She hadn’t expected to hear Dagen’s voice.

“Yes, Dagen, it’s me,” she said hold the phone close as if she could touch him.

“Ax must have offered you a job, then,” said Dagen.

“We worked it out. I’m going to set up his office, dig through files to set up a database, teach the old dog a few tricks called processes and file for foundation status,” said Miriam as she sat down in Ax’s chair.

“Is that all,” asked Dagen.

“No,” answered Miriam, “I’m also going to find him an office chair that doesn’t feel like sitting on an unyielding rock.”

“Ah, well, unyielding rocks are going to be my furniture soon,” said Dagen. “Is Ax there?”

“No, he’s meeting with a potential sponsor,” said Miriam.

“Really? He hates that,” said Dagen.

“Yes, and I told him he’d just have to get over it or he can pack up his not-so-tidy office and go back to Brimson and avoid all the potential sponsors he would like.”

“Ouch. You’re putting the whip to him.”

“I believe in what he wants to do, but it means going where he’s not comfortable. He agreed to being uncomfortable and I agreed to set up office and foundation. If it works out, he’ll offer me a more permanent position,” explained Miriam.

“Well, Miriam, I’m not sure I agree,” said Dagen.

“What do you mean,” she asked, sitting up straighter in the chair.

“Coming out of retirement. What’s he trying to prove? That the elderly can can go on expeditions, too,” said Dagen.

“If you were here right now I think I’d kick you,” said Miriam. How could Dagen be so insensitive? Ax spoke of Dagen like a son, yet Dagen acted as if he hardly knew Ax at all. “Are you so out of touch with Ax that you don’t know his purpose for coming out of retirement,” asked Miriam.

For a moment, there was static silence. Then Dagen said, “I didn’t even ask him why. I…don’t…know where I’ve been. Just off doing my own thing. Yet, I can’t say I have enjoyed it the way I know he loved his expeditions.”

Miriam wasn’t sure what to say. She told him, “Ax will be back in an hour or so. Are you someplace where he can reach you?”

“Yeah, give him this number. It’s to a pay phone at the Iqaluit airport. My pallet of gear and supplies take up most of the lobby, but my duffel bags make a fine bed,” said Dagen with a laugh that sounded forced.

“Are you okay,” asked Miriam.

“Fine, fine,” said Dagen, “You know, it’s typical logistics for traveling in the arctic. It’s a minor miracle to get transportation and weather to cooperate. I’ll wait,” he said.

“Did your agent go back to California,” asked Miriam. “Ax said something about her going to Ottawa.”

“No,” he said, his voice tight.

“Look, if you have something between the two of you, just say so,” said Miriam. “I’d prefer honesty.”

“There is nothing. For pete’s sake, the last thing I need is another jealous blond on my hands,” said Dagen.

“Excuse me,” said Miriam, “I’m just having an open conversation here. One, I am not jealous and two don’t ever refer to me as a blond. I am more than the color of my hair.”

“I know,” said Dagen, “I know, you are much, much more than anything I’ve ever let myself know. I’m sorry. Miriam. Maybe one day I’ll tell you how I got wrapped up in all this celebrity stupidity, but right now, I’m just waiting it out. Waiting out the storm.”

“This is new for me,” said Miriam, “I’m just not sure where I stand and yet we just met, so it’s not like I’m trying to put demands on you. Ax is worried, and I suppose he has me worried, too.”

“Ax has seen me crash and burn. Tell him I’m all right. I’m coming back through Minnesota,” Dagen said. “I want to see you again. If you want to see me, that is.”

“Well,” said Miriam, “Your celebrity status is blinding and all, but, yeah I’d like to see you again.”

Dagen laughed, “You know really, on the scale of fame and such, I don’t think I even hold B-list status. Okay. I’d say keep in touch, but unless you have satellite communications…”

“We might,” said Miriam, quickly, remembering that Ax had said if all went well at the meeting, the company would supply all the communications technical support, including a link to current research already established on Baffin Island. That meant they could get Dagen hooked up at his research site.

“How’s that,” asked Dagen.

“A possible sponsorship with tech support for live communication,” said Miriam. “Dagen, what Ax wants to do is put a face to climate change. Scientists are calling what’s happening on Baffin Island the canary in the cage, but Ax wants people to know that the canary is a community of people, and his future expeditions are to introduce the people of Baffin to the rest of the world. Satellite communications is key.”

“You know, Ax always talked about his Inuit guides and their families and towns. I guess all I paid attention to were the stories about adventure and dogs,” said Dagen.

“Well, now is your chance to meet those people,” said Miriam, “And just so you know, Ax said he hasn’t heard back from the guide he arranged for you, but when you get to Clyde River, go to his house as planned.”

“He isn’t missing, is he,” asked Dagen.

“Not that I know of. I think Ax said he goes seal hunting this time of year. It takes something like 150 seals just to feed a sled team of dogs over the year,” said Miriam.

“That’s a lot of seal meat, but having fed many huskies over many years, I understand,” said Dagen. “I ask because the plane that was scheduled to take my gear left early to search for a couple of missing Inuit hunters.”

“Oh,” said Miriam, “I’ll mention it to Ax, but I don’t think that would be his guide friend.”

“Good, then. Well, I smell angels not of heaven and I’m going to hide. Tell Ax I’ll call again. And congrats on the new temporary job,” said Dagen.

Miriam was not sure about the comment on angels or hiding. “Okay, then, take care.”

“You, too. Bye.” He good-bye seemed abrupt, but Miriam tried not to think on it too much.

Warm Like Melting Ice Day 14

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,564


At the first clearing of the storm, after three days of winds clocked at 60 knots per hour, an L382G Hercules roared over Clyde River. Even students from the school clambered out of the front door at the noise the plane made banking and then landing at the towns airstrip of ice.

RMCP Sydney Brindeau in his official red parka and mountie hat pulled up on his skidoo to greet the plane. It was on loan from First Air as part of the renewed search and rescue effort to recover the town’s two missing Inuit hunters, Moe and Elijah. Sydney had been able to convince few superiors or partner associations to assist, but one of his call led to several others that gained them use of the Hercules, additional RMCP, a helicopter and a Kodiak raft. All were in the massive cargo bay of the plane.

RMCP Alex Kincaid stepped down after the door hatch and stairs opened. “Sydney!” The man’s deep blue eyes twinkled from deep within his parka hood and his voice resonated like the engines that had just died down.

“How are you Alex, good to see you,” returned Sydney who had once trained with Alex. “Has it really been 10 years?”

“Nah, it was just yesterday,” Alex said. The men clasped hands and shoulders as other mounties stepped out of the plane, followed by a well dressed civilian in a trench coat and black knit-cap.

“Who is this,” asked Sydney.

Alex looked at the civilian who was standing at the top of the steps, scanning the horizon of Clyde River. “That’s Conrado Elizondo. He’s from Texas, way, way south of here.”

“Is he with one of the mining companies,” asked Sydney.

“No my friend, the U.S. media has arrived with the Canadian Mounties,” said Alex who then waved to the man on the steps. “Conrado! We have arrived. Come on down.”

Conrado hesitated and said, “But this looks like the place we just left.”

“No, I promise you, this is not the place we just left. Clyde River here is much smaller,” said Alex.

“It’s like the desert. Only white. And deadly cold,” Conrado said before descending the steps with two heavy looking black cases.

“Conrado, I want you to meet an old friend and fellow mountie, Sydney Brindeau,” Alex introduced. “Sydney, meet the voice of Dallas, Texas, Cornado Elizondo.”

“Good to meet you,” said Sydney. “Are you covering our missing hunters?”

“Not exactly, but when I caught wind of the story I thought I’d come along,” said Conrado, hunching his shoulders and puffing great vapors of breath. “It’s cold!”

“Conrado was already planning to ride the Herc here with your scientist who is coming to town,” explained Alex. “We commandeered the plane early. Seems the scientist won’t arrive in Iqualit until 1 p.m. today and we needed to head out before the next storm blows in.”

“He can catch another flight,” said Sydney.

“Well,” said Alex, “He’s got equipment and such. But the rep at First Air said he didn’t need the Herc per say just that they were going to run the Herc up north for another errand so it fit their logistics. The scientist may have to wait another day.”

“Or two,” said Sydney, “If this next blast hits us tonight.”

“What’s with the weather,” asked Conrado. “Doesn’t seem like global warming after all.”

“The weather is unpredictable on Baffin Island, but we could always count on there being ice,” said Sydney. “We still have grand blizzards, some even fiercer than most years, but then we get periods of no snow and incredible melting of summer ice. This is the first time that a shelf of sea ice has broken up so early. And now these storms on top of that. It’s extremes in the weather from year to year that indicates climate change.”

“You sound knowledgeable on this topic,” said Conrado.

Sydney looked up at the school yard where most of the kids were milling around. Probably an early recess due to the arrival of the plane. He looked back at Conrado and said, “When you serve a community that is caught in the extremes, you pick up a thing or two.”

“So tell me,” said Coronado, “What can you say to a person like me from Texas who thinks melting ice might be a good thing for your community?”

“I’d say let’s stop talking and start enacting our plan to find two missing men who are in danger because of melting ice.” Sydney then looked at Alex and said, “Let’s get back on the Herc. I’ve got maps and some key points I want to fly over.”

Alex said, “Conrado, if you’ll excuse us, we have our mission to attend to. We’ll discuss the results if they are newsworthy. Hopefully it will be nothing more than two Inuit hunters holed up in an iglu.”

Conrado watch as the RCMP all climbed back up the stairs. He turned toward a low building which must be the airport lobby. He walked that way, his recording equipment and extra clothes hanging in the two cases that pulled uncomfortably at his arms. When Conrado got to the doors they were firmly locked.

The pilot had fired up the Hercules and it was already taxiing into position on the runway. If you could call a stretch of smooth ice a runway. The engines gave thrust and the lumbering plane took off none-the-less. “Now what,” said Conrado to himself. He set down the two cases and began peering in the windows. From behind he heard giggling.

“Hey, do you know when they open,” asked Conrado. The three boys about seven years-old each wore brightly colored jackets and hats. One boy smiling with both top front teeth missing just shrugged.

“Is there a taxi service in town,” he asked the boys. “I’d like to find a hotel.”

The boys chattered together in a language that sounded like clicking teeth to Conrado. Then they ran off. “A lot of help, they were,” grumbled Conrado. He looked again in the windows, looked for a sign that might post hours, but nothing seemed to indicate that the building was going to open. Conrado pulled out his cell phone. He already knew it would have no service, but it felt comforting just to hold it in his hand for a moment as if he were not so far removed from civilization.

Laurel Henney of GGP had personally requested that Conrado cover the company’s efforts to measure any true indications of climate change. “Hearsay of natives hardly counts for anything,” she had told him. In her opinion melting ice was merely a cycle and GGP would take advantage of what they were calling “low ice” to access any hydro-carbons that were inaccessible during times of “high ice.” She said that they had scientific evidence that melts like this had occurred before. It was all about fluctuation. Anyhow, their scientist would pull cores to prove those fluctuations and maybe even predict how long this one would last.

Conrado heard a motor coming closer and around from the back building a man pulled up on a snowmobile. Like the boy who had left, this man smiled with two missing front teeth, only he was missing his permanent ones. “You need a ride,” he asked.

“Yes,” said Conrado, “is there a taxi in town?”

“I got a skidoo,” said the man.

“A skidoo,” asked Conrado, not understanding.

“My sled,” he said, pointing to his snowmobile. “Get on.”

“Ah, my cases…” said Conrado turning toward the two black cases on the ground.

“Grab them and get on,” said the man, still smiling his toothless smile.

“Can you take me to a hotel,” asked Conrado.

The man nodded and said once more, “Get on.”

Carefully, Conrado stepped a leg over the back of the seat with one case in each hand. The man pulled out and Conrado thought he was going to fall over backwards. But he didn’t loosen his grip on his cases. Following a ling line of electrical poles and silver piping, Conrado thought maybe this was a road. They passed boxy houses and a few cargo containers with chimneys. It reminded him of border towns. Finally the man pulled up to a blue house with yellow-trimmed windows.

“Here,” the man said.

“A hotel,” said Conrado.

“Here,” the man said again. He turned off the engine and slid off, taking one of Conrado’s cases and walked up to the door. An elderly woman with hair as white as the surrounding snow opened the door, smiling. The man set down Conrad’s case and went back to his skidoo. He said to Conrado before leaving, “Grandma take you in.”

Conrado looked to the smiling woman who began motioning for him to enter, her tongue clicking in that unknown language. “Grandma,” said Conrad. He was not sure how hotel got misinterpreted as Grandma’s House, but he had no idea how he was going to explain it to Grandma who was now leading him to a back room. She opened the door to a bedroom and motioned for him to go in. Not the hotel room Conrado expected, but after his first meal with Grandma who made the most delicious fish soup he had ever had, he smiled as he watched her prepare fried donuts. This will do, he thought.

Warm Like Melting Ice Day 13

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,103


Most of the passengers on First Air’s Boeing 737 200C salivated at the first warm wafts of baking chocolate chip cookies. Most. Not Dagen. No matter how strong the aroma of baking grew, or how often he stuck his nose over his uncapped thermal coffee mug just to breathe in its dark roast fumes, he couldn’t escape the scent of Angel. Dagen decided that when he died and met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he would request eternity in Hell if angels really smelled like the obnoxious perfume that Vina wore. He couldn’t escape it.

“Would you like a fresh-baked cookie,” asked the flight attendant, a short woman with a bobbed haircut and soft French accent.

“Thanks,” said Dagen, wishing he could somehow block both nostrils with the gooey cookie. Dagen was on a flight with an iron mining construction crew. Like him, the passengers had gear beyond the typical carry-on. The 737 was configured into a combination passenger and cargo plane. In the rear of the plane was a kitchen galley and 24 passenger seats with comfortable leg room. In front of that, between passengers and pilots were five massive pallets. The plane had an overall payload of 31,000 pounds and could land on ice strips as well as gravel. The only downside was that this plane would continue from Iqaluit to the site of the Mary River Project which would be the world’s most remote iron ore mining site when complete. That meant he would have to see that his pallet was transferred to another flight to Clyde River which was on the opposite side of the western shore mining site.

All of Dagen’s scientific equipment had been carefully packed back at the Green Global Petroleum headquarters in Texas. While he was delayed in Ottawa for two days, he had gone over the master inventory lists and checked a few critical pieces to make sure he had everything he’d requested. Nothing was missing and he even felt a shiver of excitement at having all this equipment available to him. It was like getting every single Christmas gift you circled in the Sears Wishbook as a child. Dagen understood Ax’s qualms about him working for GGP, but at least he would get to collect scientific data unhindered by budgets and resources. He was going to Baffin.

“What’s Baffin Island like, Ax?” Dagen was just 14-years-old when he asked that question. At that time Ax was the biggest man he knew, both in size and fame. And Dagen was his summer dog yard helper, cleaning up after 60 huskies specifically bred for hauling large sled loads within the arctic circle. Everyone knew Ax. He was even on the cover of National Geographic.

Dagen still remembered the answer, “It’s like a black and white movie come to life and sometimes you get to see blue. And when you see blue often it’s a lot of blue. Other times you can’t see your hand in front of your face, the snow blows so hard. It’s cold, beyond any cold you’ve felt in Minnesota. But the people are warm.”

Three times Ax had set out from Baffin Island to achieve his dream of being the first arctic explorer to reach the North Pole by dog sled. And three times he had failed. Mostly people knew Ax because he was the American addition to an international expedition to the south pole, a world away but just as extreme. Ax tried to leverage his status to get sponsors for his dream, but the man who could curse at huskies in five different languages found he had little to say when getting to know possible backers. Occasionally an outerwear company would hire him as a spokesperson and Ax would use the money to haul sled, dogs and gear to Baffin Island where he would set out. On the fourth try he made it. By then Dagen was 18-years old and looking to go to college in Michigan. Ax was the one who encouraged him to go into science when Dagen would have skipped college and started his own dog yard with his sights on the Iditarod.

“Adventure is no good without knowledge,” Ax told Dagen. “Fill your head first, then go see the world.” Ever since then Dagen’s idea of seeing the world was above the Arctic Circle. But this would be his first time to Baffin Island to meet the 11,000 people Ax had grown to love. Not that Ax knew each one personally, but he saw the Inuit as the face of climate change when other people in western society only talked about melting ice and the economics of natural resources.

Dagen could smell her approach before he saw her. Vina held out her hands as she strode down the aisle clasping the back of each seat. How Hollywood had ever intervened upon his adventures he wasn’t sure. He felt like he had been clubbed across the head and swept away on a pirate ship with no way off but to jump and drown in the sea.

“Enjoy your cookie,” asked Dagen, knowing how she loathed sweets. He kept his jacket and day-pack on the seat next to him.

“Do you mind,” she asked motioning to the seat next to him. “Those cookies smell hideous. How can anyone eat that stuff?”

“Yes, I mind. I told you, I need time to prep for the interview,” Dagen said, referring to the radio interview that GGP’s people had set up for him upon arrival to Iqaluit. Not that he liked interviews, but he couldn’t wait to get this one completed so he could point Vina in the direction of California and be done with her. Two months of peace and quiet on the ice with no intruding nasal assaults by Angels.

“Well, I’m just headed to the restroom, anyhow. Remember to smile even for radio. Listeners can hear it in your voice,” she said walking away toward the galleys and closet-sized bathroom that he was pretty sure had just been vacated by a burly iron crewman who looked as if he’d been out late partying the night before.

From behind, Dagen could hear Vina ask a flight attendant, “Is there another bathroom on this plane?”

 “Your pardon, Miss but it’s the only one,” came a reply in French accents.

 “God, but it reeks,” said Vina, followed by the sound of a slamming airline bathroom door.

Dagen heard one man say, loudly for all to hear, “Man, Oscar, what did you eat last night?” The rest of the passengers, about 15 men all headed to Mary River, erupted into laughter.

Warm Like Melting Ice Day 12

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,961


“If global warming is real then why is it so cold,” asked Vina as she breathed out great trails of vapors from within her fox-trimmed parka of camel-brown. She was trying to keep up with Dagen’s brisk strides and frustrated that her lips felt cold and dry. Yet, applying her perfectly pink gloss outside resulted in the product turning gummy. She hoped global warming were real and that it arrived in northern Canada soon. Tomorrow, even.

Vina wasn’t sure if Dagen answered her or not the way her parka muffled sound. She really didn’t care to hear the answer anyway. Global warming might flood Florida’s coasts or melt Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, but to a California girl who worshiped the sun on sandy beaches, a little more suntan oil and a few extra bikinis was all she’d need. Vina felt like she was walking in a tunnel, and the strands of fur blocked her view of most everything except Dagen directly in front of her.

“Really, Dagen. Would you just stop a minute,” she shouted. He paused, momentarily, but then turned left to cross a street. Everything was encrusted with snow and Vina had had to buy not only this monstrosity of a jacket, but also snow boots. Snow boots! What ridiculous looking, bulky, ugly boots. Of course, none of them came with any kind of heel or sleek cut. At least she found a black pair. Trying to coordinate her winter survival wardrobe was proving to be frustrating.

At last, Dagen walked into a building, out of the stabbing snow and searing cold. Immediately Vina’s owlish brown sunglasses fogged over. Thrusting back the tickling parka hood, she hastily pulled off the glasses, blinking her eyes to adjust to the temperature change. Outside the double-glass doors, a bus pulled up and two hooded youth got off and walked down the street.

“Did you see that,” said Vina, pointing a black-mittened hand at the departing bus. “A bus, Dagen. A bus. To this place. You said, there were no buses. I said, let’s take the limo. Oh, no. You had to march me four blocks down treacherously icy streets in a full-out blizzard when I could hardly see or hear a thing. And the bus came here. Dagen… Dagen, where are you going?”

Dagen approached a man in a gray vest who had just stepped out of the open office door to the left. The only hair on the man’s head was a black mustache. “Dr. Starkka, good to meet you,” he greeted, reaching for Dagen’s hand. “Ax speaks highly of you.”

“Good to meet you as well, Mr. MacDonald,” said Dagen, smiling. He was taller than most men, and always better looking. Vina new veteran actors who were jealous of how easy Dagen was to film or photograph. If he would only let her direct his career, Dagen could be a star, not just some History Channel celebrity where even trailer-park pawn store owners could gain such status.

“Angus,” he said, “You can call me Angus.”

“Good. And call me Dagen. And this is my agent, Vina Winslow,” Dagen said acknowledging Vina for the first time since stepping off the bus into a blasting storm of snow.

Vina extended a limp, ungloved hand, “Ms. Winslow, will do,” she said. Never get friendly with the locals or soon they’ll think you’re on equal status.

“Well, let me tell you briefly about Nunavut Sivuniksavut, and then we have a lunch and performance to share with you,” said Angus.

“And when does the press show up,” asked Vina.

“Ah, no press,” said Angus, looking to Dagen for confirmation.

Dagen shook his head, “No press,” he said, “My agent seems to think I’m seeking publicity outside my contractual boundaries.”

“Oh,” said Angus, “Just information, pizza and some fun with our current students.”

“Well, then perhaps I should call the Ottawa Sun, let them know…” Vina started to say before Dagen excused himself from Angus, grabbed her elbow and walked her over to the far corner of the lobby.

“Look,” he said to her in a whispered voice, “It’s one thing for you to follow me and see for yourself that I’m not doing any publicity on the side, but quite another to turn my work into some sort of three-ring media circus.”

“Dagen, darling, do calm down,” Vina said in a sweet voice, not pulling her arm away from his grasp. “No need to get physical. We can do that in private.”

Abruptly he dropped her arm as if he realized he were holding the paw of a polar bear. “It’s best that you go back to your hotel. As you can see there is no media here. I am not cheating on you.”

“Poor choice of words, Dagen,” she said, pushing away thoughts of some hometown harlot. No, she was the one here with him, no need to flush her own cheeks. “I’ll be a good little girl and watch daddy Dagen work.”

“Grow up, Vina,” was all he said as he walked back to Angus. How he had ever signed onto this nightmare of a woman was beyond him. “That’s settled,” he said to Angus. “Please, let’s look at the center.”

“Is there some place I can freshen up,” asked Vina.

“The restrooms are down that hall, to the right. We’ll be in the multipurpose room just past those doors,” said Angus.

Dagen nodded with a half-formed grin. “Good idea,” he said, “You’ve got…” he motioned at his own face as if miming the dreaded melt of make-up. Vina’s eyes were smudged a tad, but they grew large with alarm as she mouthed an unspoken “Oh,” and walked quickly to the restroom.

As Angus showed Dagen around the youth center, he explained how Nunavut Sivuniksavut had gotten its start back in 1985 to prepare Nunavut youth for new education and job opportunities that came with the newly formed Nunavut government.

“Our courses center around land claims and Inuit history,” explained Angus, “They are small as we only have about 40 to 50 students. But it’s accredited.”

“How long is the program,” asked Dagen.

“Two years. It prepares young people from across the vast region of Nunavut to go onto college or work. Importantly, it gives them exposure to modern city life.”

“I see,” said Dagen.

“Also, it allows for them to share their culture with the modern city. You’ll see at the performance we have planned,” said Angus.

“Well, I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience,” said Dagen, not remembering if Ax told him that they would perform.

“It’s part of what we do, sharing our heritage. The youth have pride in that. And we’ll get you prepared for visiting Baffin Island in case someone wants to throw a leg or pull a cheek,” said Angus with a grin beneath his mustache.

“Sounds intriguing,” said Dagen.

Angus approached the doors to the multipurpose room and already Dagen could smell hot pizza wafting from within. Vina was no where to be seen and Dagen hoped she would spend the next hour at least troweling make-up back onto her face. After getting over his appall at seeing her at the Ottawa Airport he had remained cool and distant. The only tie she had to him was publicity and that was the last thing he wanted. Although, after talking for 45 minutes on the phone to Laurel Henney of Green Global Petroleum, he realized that Vina had already raised a stink. First he’d collect the data, then he’d focus on whatever media outlets Vina and Laurel devised for him to share it.

Walking into the room that looked like a large classroom or small cafeteria, several tables and chairs were pushed aside. It seemed that every face was smiling at Dagen and each smile was genuine. Dagen smiled, one hand in his pocket with his blue Patagonia jacket hung in the crook of his arm, and he offered a quick wave with his other hand. “Hi,” he said.

The room reverberated with bigger smiles, return waves and greetings in what sounded like several languages. Two women approached and Angus introduced them as teachers. “We started with two and now we have six,” he told Dagen.

As Dagen was shoving his third slice of cheese-gooey pizza, greasy with pepperoni, Vina glided into the room, her parka discarded somewhere else. She was wearing a snug black pantsuit and black heels. Heels? Dagen wondered where her boots went. She was so blond and tan she nearly glowed among the students who seemed awestruck. Nothing in their studies had prepared them for her, Dagen was certain.

“Ms. Winslow, would you like some pizza,” offered Angus.

She looked at Dagen before responding, make-up all in place and her lips glittering pasty pink in the overhead lights. She smiled or pouted, which Dagen was never really clear. It was as if she didn’t have full control of her own lip muscles. Vina turned back to Angus, and asked, “Is there salad?”

“No, no salad,” he said.

“We got some arctic char in the freezer,” offered a young man with the faint wisps of a mustache and thick eyebrows above lively brown eyes.

“Char,” asked Vina, “Is that like Swiss Char?”

Dagen stifled a groan. “Chard is a plant, he said, “Char is like arctic sushi.”

“Sushi,” said Vina. “I like sushi, actually.”

The young man gave a big smile then hustled off to a kitchen in the behind a counter. Dagen leaned back against the table that held the remnants of pizza and waited to see how this was going to unfold. Maybe having Vina around would be entertaining after all. She was always so certain of her power to control a room, but this room was different.

With a small plate in hand, the young man returned with thin slices of dark red char. He handed it ti Vina with a smile.

“It’s not wrapped around anything,” said Vina. “Where is the rice?”

Angus answered, “This is how we eat arctic char.”

Delicately Vina picked up a thin slice between two fingers. “Do you have any wasabi,” she asked.

The young man shook his head and said, “I do not know this wasabi.”

“It’s green,” said Vina, “Like paste. Spicy.”

The young man shook his head again and Vina plunged the entire piece of semi-frozen fish into her mouth. With her other hand she kept her mouth covered as she chewed. Several of the young woman covered their mouths too, and laughed.

Vina walked away from the boy, past Dagen and said, “I have to wash my hands now.”

“Get them ready for cheek pulling,” said Dagen.

Vina stopped at the door and turned around. “What,” she said, looking at Dagen.

Angus who was now standing next to Dagen nodded and said, “Yes, cheek-pulling. Like this.” He then wrapped his arm around the back of Dagen’s head, spoke to Dagen to do the same and then each man grabbed the other with a crooked finger inside each other’s mouth and began tugging.

Vina stared at the spectacle. The young man still holding the arctic char on a plate walked over to her and said, “Want to try?” She pushed through the doors and spent the rest of the afternoon in the bathroom.

Dagen enjoyed the dances, leg wrestled with several young men and was in awe of the throat signing between pairs of girls. He even pounded a skin-drum and learned a few steps of a hunter’s dance. His cheeks were sore after several rounds of the game but if it chased Vina away he’d offer to cheek pull with every person he met.

Warm Like Melting Ice Day 11

NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,845


“I never think to come into this place,” said Ax, sitting back in his chair at French Meadow Bakery. “I suppose I stick to the mid-town area, where I can walk or bike. But the bus was easy to get here. Have you been to the Global Market, Miriam?”

Miriam kept her hands folded around the outside of her mug. Even with her fingerless mittens of purple and red that one of her roommates had knit for her, and the warmth of the hot African Skies herbal tea, Miriam’s hands were cold to the bone, sucking up all warmth. “No, I haven’t,” she said, “But where I work, they get in hand-rolled tamales from one of the shops.”

“I know which ones you’re talking about. Often have three or four for lunch,” said Ax.

Miriam considered what it would take to polish off two tamales let alone double. But then again, the man hulking in the seat before her looked like Paul Bunyan come to life in his senior years wearing, a thick buffalo plaid flannel that looked like a great blue and black swath of checkerboard material. “One’s about my limit. I like the ‘green firecracker chicken.’”

“Spicy, that one,” said Ax. “This cup of meil is great. Don’t find meil too often.”

“What is meil exactly? I don’t drink coffee, so it’s not familiar to me,” said Miriam.

He looked at her with both bushy white eyebrows raised over thick black-rimmed glasses that looked retro, although Miriam suspected they had been his same frames since the style was first introduced. “No coffee? Where did you grow up?”

“Uh, Minneapolis,” she said.

“In a basement? Did your parents not let you out? How do you grow up in Minneapolis and not drink coffee?”

Miriam smiled at the thought of describing her mother, a self-proclaimed earthbound soul making the city green. Of course, back in the 1980s that meant Florence, Miriam’s mother, was into the co-op movement and keeping the old victory garden in south Minneapolis thriving. So she shrugged and said, “I grew up on tea and in co-op aisles and city gardens.”

“Did your parents get involved in the co-op wars?” The way Ax asked about the labor tensions of the earlier co-ops made Miriam momentarily imagine her mother mixing peanut butter with a rifle slung across her back.

“Flo was involved and her partner Gabe,” said Miriam. “But I wasn’t born until after all that and really I just remember endless buckets of peanut butter and Gabe always cutting and wrapping cheese from the small factories in Wisconsin. I still love co-op cheese. I guess it’s really Wisconsin cheese. But no cheddar is alike from the different makers. I think people don’t realize that.”

“Is Gabe your father,” asked Ax.

“My other mother,” answered Miriam. This was the point in every conversation where she gauged whether or not to say more. She was good at reading body language, seeing the discomfort people tried to hide at learning that she was raised by two women who loved each other. To her surprise, Ax didn’t flinch, or even readjust his seat. “My father was a University student, helped out two women who wanted a child, and went on to become a lawyer in Seattle. I’ve seen him a few times.”

“Are they still living, your mothers who don’t drink coffee? Didn’t they support the fair trade movement,” he asked.

Miriam laughed and said, “Yes, they did, but if they drank anything dark, it would have been some aged Chinese tea. And yes, they just celebrated 30 years as a couple. They hope one day they can marry.”

“Might be with some of the legislation pending. Minnesota is progressive that way. I’m hoping for some meaningful climate change laws, ones that would also create clean energy jobs for people in our state,” said Ax. He paused, then added, “Still can’t believe your mothers would raise you without coffee in the home. Seems un-Minnesotan.”

“Dagen certainly likes his coffee,” said Miriam, wishing she could think of anything else but the man who kept filling up her mind. His soft green eyes, slanted smile, long slender fingers.

“Ah, that boy does like his coffee,” said Ax. “I’d take credit that I introduced him to the brew, but growing up on one of the last Finnish homesteads in Brimson, I think he was nursed on the stuff.”

“Boy? How old is he,” she asked.

Ax blew out a sigh, looked into his empty mug, then said, “Twenty, but I know that’s wrong. Just can’t believe he’s 35-years-old. We’re going to be the same age soon.” Ax rose and said, “I need another cup of this fine meil. You want some more hot water for your wimpy leaves?”

“Sure,” she said, handing him her cup, then tucking her hands into her armpits. It was so cold today. High below zero. It didn’t matter how far below, one or 20 degrees. The snow still squeaked the same and the air made your nostrils stick each time you drew a breath.

“Oh,” said Ax, pausing as he started toward the counter, “Meil is coffee, milk, honey and nutmeg.”

Miriam nodded. Actually that sounded like a drink Flo would concoct only it was with the almond milk she’d make each morning. At night, she’d heat up what was left of the milk, sweeten it with raw honey and strike a nutmeg against a metal file for those aromatic flakes that became the smell of bedtime to Miriam.

When Ax walked back with two full, steaming mugs Miriam was staring at the ice-glazed windows. “Brisk day, isn’t it,” said Ax.

“Seriously? No I call this down-right cold. I question my sanity sometimes, staying in this city. I dream of warm places,” said Miriam.

“Then go,” said Ax.

Miriam clung to the cup like it was a living coal and she a block of ice. “I did. Went to Austin, Texas and worked with an agency there,” she said. Slowly she smiled, looked at Ax who pulled his mug away to reveal a meil mustache and said, “It was too hot.”

Ax laughed. “Something we learn as we go through life. No place is perfect.”

Miriam nodded. “So, I take it you’ve known Dagen since he was a kid?”

“Since he was born. His mother had him at home. His sisters, too. I tell you. Miriam, he comes from sisu,” said Ax.

“Sisu, isn’t that a finish word? I think there’s a sisu marathon up north. It means tough or courageous,” said Miriam.

“Something like that,” said Ax. “Some say it means ‘guts’ but really it’s about finishing what you started no matter what. He was born into sisu, but sisu is what tears him up.”

“I don’t understand,” said Miriam.

“You know, if we are going to have this talk, about Dagen, and then talk about what I really took a bus over here to discuss, we need to order food,” said Ax.

“I really don’t need to pry about Dagen. I was just curious and now that I’ve met him and he’s literally a world away, I was looking to stay connected,” said Miriam.

“How do I say this without sounding like an interfering old man,” said Ax. “Dagen’s like a son to me. He’s had heartache and hardship but pushed through. True sisu. But that boy can attract the worst women.”

Miriam didn’t say anything, but Ax shook his head at her anyhow, indicating that he didn’t mean her.

He continued, “Really not-nice women. Maybe it’s his looks or that he’s laid-back or that he’s a lonely man, or all of the above. But women want to control him, and he really is free spirited like those of his heritage. Instead of meeting better people, he stays above the arctic line as if the ice shelters him. Really, I think he’s running from the guilt that he sold his mother’s homestead. It was that or drop out of college. He stayed in school, but lost his anchor to home. That place was his parents’ sisu and I think it shames him that he let it go.”

“This is really personal,” Miriam said, “I think I’d kick either mother in the shins if they talked so openly about my pains in life to Dagen.”

Ax sighed. He said, “That’s what I meant about not sounding like an interfering old man.”

“Let’s order lunch and discuss the other topic. Dagen said you might have a job proposition for me,” said Miriam.

Ax nodded. “You order lunch and I’ll order breakfast. Then we’ll talk shop,” he said.

Both walked up to the front counter. It wasn’t so busy because the lunch crowd wasn’t yet descending not to mention that many people were not wanting to go out into the cold. Miriam ordered a Wild Acres turkey burger with a side of avocado. That was one thing she loved about Texas, avocados. She now liked them with eggs, sandwiches and even breaded and fried.

Ax ordered not one but two breakfasts. He ordered the blueberry corn pancake and the Cajun hash-browns. Then he added a third meil and excused himself to go use the “boy’s room” as he called it. Miriam shook her head at the counter attendant who commented that Ax could pack away the food. They both surmised that being an arctic explorer must have altered his metabolism. Miriam thought if certain co-op customers realized that going to the arctic could super-size your fat-burning capacity, they’d be looking to go on the “arctic diet.”

Ax walked back over to their table that now had a laminated placard of Marilyn Monroe to alert their server when their food came up. Miriam had grabbed silverware, napkins and a large bottle of Tabasco sauce. Ax eyed the Tabasco and asked, “Pick that habit up in Texas?”

“Yes,” she said, “That and avocados.”

“I once visited a friend there and we had grapefruit every day. Giant ruby reds. So good, but nothing I get here in Minnesota, even at the co-ops, comes close.”

“I understand,” said Miriam, “I’m still waiting for someone to create the ‘avocado of the month club’ so I can relive the ones that I ate in Austin.”

When their plates arrived, Miriam almost suggested that they move to a bigger table to accommodate all of the food Ax had ordered. He handed over Marilyn Monroe to the server, arranged a few things and announced that it would all fit. Miriam was doubtful until Ax dumped his Cajun hash browns on top of his blueberry corn pancake and handed the plate to the server who looked startled.

“I’m not sure those flavors will blend well,” said Miriam.

Ax just smiled, poured the entire single-serve pitcher of pure maple syrup over it all and handed that to the server, too. Just as Miriam took a big bite of avocado, Ax said, “Dagen’s in trouble, Miriam and he needs a friend.”