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Before you begin reading, turn on some music: Mark Isham.
Our county had no high school of its own so students had to be bused out of the mountains of eastern California into a valley of northern Nevada. The bus ride was an hour each day, each way. Buses can be socially awkward spaces, especially for socially awkward teenagers, and I just wanted to sit alone. If I had to double up, L was a safe choice.
No one wanted to sit with L, saying she smelled. Despite the efforts of our grade-school teachers to explain certain cultural norms for the local indigenous Washo families, many wrinkled their noses. But she could flash the warmest smile that lit her brown eyes and she’d welcome another reader at her side.
It was L who introduced me to Farley Mowat’s books. Upon his death in May of 2014, The New York Times hailed him as “the champion of the far north.” Through Mowat’s stories, I was transformed to arctic places where wild wolves were less viscous than the people who sought to eradicate them and where I met the Inuit through his compassionate filter.
As a writer, The New York Times says this of him:
“He wrote with great range, from light, humorous fiction to historical accounts and dark tales of injustice, from children’s stories to tales of exploration, whale hunting and deep-sea salvaging.
But one theme remained constant: humanity’s relationship with nature, one in which he frequently cast people as a devastatingly destructive force.”
You might say that Mowat planted the seed for my interest in climate fiction–a genre that explores the impact of anthropogenic climate change. But it would be the music of Mark Isham that fed the seed. In 1983, Disney produced one of Mowat’s books for the big screen: “Never Cry Wolf.” And Isham supplied the haunting score that still can touch me deeply.
Filed away in the recesses of my mind was the note-to-self, “One day write about the Inuit in the Arctic.” Then in 2007, I was at a conference and learned about Will Steger’s Global Warming 101 Expedition. Through serendipity my eldest had applied for a scholarship to go as an exchange student and was accepted. The following year I hosted Inuit students at my home for dinner. My desire to write about this place and culture reignited.
Now I had a garden on Arctic stories growing within me. And still Mark Isham spurred me on. I wrote a short story in a 24-hour story slam and the editors invited me to present it. I held onto the potential and let it flower last NaNoWriMo into a project I titled, “Warm Like Melting Ice.” My mock-cover borrows a photo from the exchange students of the Global Warming 101 Expedition. My music of choice while writing was Isham, of course.
Over the years I’ve owned the album you are listening to in various forms–record, cassette, CD and itunes. While it has musical scores from several movies, I equate them all with the arctic. I played it as I designed my concept cover; I’ll play it as I revise. Have you ever found music to connect with your writing?
Last week, Rough Writer, Sarah Brentyn, let her inner Darth Vader out to write flash fiction. Now I’ll hear the Imperial March every time I read something chilling from her. And that set me on this course about how music can move our writing. How it can reach into recesses long passed over to pull out a forgotten story idea that had grown to novel proportions.
Judging by the shared music over the past few weeks on blog posts, I don’t think I’m alone in this influence. So I’m curious to hear your stories this week and, if available, link the music that influenced your flash when you submit it. Youtube has just about everything. It’s up to you if you want to include a song with lyrics, but try to be influenced by the sound rather than the words.
July 16, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story influenced by a musical score. Where do you drift, hearing the notes? How does it fire you up to grab the story and hurl it into existence? Or is it gentle, and leading you into lyrical pastures of green? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 22 to be included in the compilation.
McCandless Rides by Charli Mills
Hooves pounded in the distance, hollow like ancient kettle drums. Sarah heard Cob riding his leggy blood red bay with main as black as his owner’s thick hair. Only Cob rode so recklessly down the mountain. No one was about the store this time of evening. She was only there to tally the books. Sarah set her ink quill aside, shuffled the accounting notes for her father’s business and smoothed her long hair that was artfully coiled at the back of her head. Hers was lighter than his; ‘chestnut’ he called it, when he had stroked her uncoiled locks.
Written to The Lone Wanderer by Antti Martikainen
Rules of Play:
- New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
- Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
- Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
- Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
- If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
- Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
- Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
- Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
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- First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.