Canadian Ctories

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Location: Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada

I'm a father, a seakayaker, a guitarist, a writer, a geocacher and a lover of all things arctic. I try to dream big, journey far, kayak well, and above all, cherish my family and friends. I believe in self-sponsorship, Team Zero and being as carbon neutral as I can.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ilatsiak - 41

David ran to him and crouching over, turned him over to see who it was.
“Oh my God....Mr Goodsir! What...are you...”
The man was dead. His face was bearly recognizable, the blackened lips pulled back showing his long teeth and receeding gums, his skin darkened as if by boot polish, but more likely from the brilliant effects of the Spring sun.
A cold wave passed through David. He let the body down again into its snowy impression. It was still possible to see that several men has passed this way, their footprints were visible for the most part. It was easy to see that wherever they were headed, they were in trouble as not a single path was straight, but rather each one staggered left and right in a zig-zag pattern.
What to do? David felt the hot tears run down his cheeks. Of them all, the good and the bad, Goodsir had been a friend and he had always felt perhaps there was a future for them once this trip had been completed. They had talked about being back in Scotland and of some of the things they might do together once they had returned. But that was finished now. Goodsir was dead.
The tracks in the snow led southward across the bay to the headland on the mainland beyond. David went to retrieve his dogs and returned, rolled Goodsir’s body onto the sled and then turned around and headed north. The tracks of the ship’s men wandered here and there, seldomly coming together. It was almost as if they had been trying to stay apart from each other, yet had been afraid to be totally on their own. Now and then he came across discarded items in the snow; two cups, a notebook, a spoon. He picked up each item as he found them.
The sun lowered itself into a grey bank of cloud just above the western horizon casting the land into shadow. The tracks became harder to follow now as they disappeared in the failing light, but David let the dogs keep them in view. As they reached the land, the winds started to pick up and he began to look for a spot to build a snow house. He could feel the weather changing. It would be best to be protected inside a warm house out of the wind once it really got blowing.
As he lowered the last block of snow into the keyhole at the top of the snow dome, David could feel the rising wind gusts trying to grab the block from his hands. He knelt down to the level of the floor and cut out a door and crawled through it to the outside. Circling the little dome of snow, just large enough for two men and some storage, David began to cut slices of snow off the edges of the blocks and slide them into the cracks where they came together, sealing any holes in the house walls, That done, he turned to look at the dogs and knew they were hungry. They hadn’t had the seal he remembered he had been stalking. He had no choice. He dragged Goodsir’s stiff frozen body over to the snow house and laid him in the snow trench where he had cut out the snow blocks for the house. He would have to bury him in the trench for the night. But the dogs watched his every move. It was no use. He knew what they were thinking: they were hungry. David pushed the body of Goodsir through the opening in the snow house and returned again outside for his caribou sleeping skins. He would cover Goodsir with them and sleep in his clothes. He wished he had caught a seal to feed the dogs. He could tell they were in a bad mood.
The wind blew all night and right into the afternoon of the following day. David spent most of the time sleeping. There was nothing else to do and besides the recent experiences had exhausted him both mentally and physically.When he finally woke up and decided to look out, the storm had passed, but the day was overcast and dull. Living with the corpse of his friend had not been pleasant and David found himself fitfull and uneasy. His mind kept asking questions that he couldn’t answer. What had happened? What had happened to change Goodsir’s appearance so much? The blackened lips, the missing teeth? Where were these men going? Should he have followed the prints heading south? Why had they left the ships? It was obvious the men were sick. Goodsir was unwashed and filthy. His face had been sunburned badly in the harsh sunlight. Was that scurvy? David had heard people talk about the dreaded desease, bit had never actually seen anyone suffering from it.
He roused the dogs, but decided it best to leave Goodsir in the snowhouse until he spoke to Agayuq. Blocking the entrance, he made a small hole in the west wall. Having done that, David knew, no one would use it now. Even in his short stay among the Inuit, he had seen death come to their camp several times, and knew the customs of the people when someone died.
He headed along the coast just below the ridge which ran overlooking the sea ice hoping to catch a glimpse of any other men. Maybe they could tell him what had been happening. As he search the coast line and the hours passed, he saw not a single person, not a trace of anyone having been along his route homeward.