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.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ilatsiak - 58 - Looking for Agayuq

During the days that followed, people in the camp kept talking about what had taken place. Secretly, they began calling David a shaman. They gave him a new name, but kept it to themselves, not sure what David would think.
Slowly as the days went by, people began moving on to other places for the summer, and David began feeling it was time for him to start looking for Agayuq and Qayaq once again. It was also time to distance himself from the strange things that had happened. Things he couldn’t explain to anyone, not even himself.
He travelled south towards the Fish River, thinking that perhaps Agayuq had gone there looking for him. He had been told that Agayuq and Maneetaq were lonely for him and Qayaq. However, after finally arriving at the mouth of the river about mid summer, none of the people he met there had seen either of them. When an opportunity opened to him, David decided to go kayak hunting along the west coast of Chantrey Inlet with some friends he’d met a year or two earlier. This would get him nearer to King William Island and perhaps give him a better chance of finding his two families.
In the weeks that followed, David truly found himself at home in a kayak. The rougher water of the Inlet and the longer distances they travelled, gave him more skills and confidence than he’s ever gained on the small river and lakes inland. He also learned to care for the craft, repairing the skin and delicate wooden parts are they required fixing. One thing David could not get his companions to do was consider changing the shape of the bow to allow it to run over oncoming waves better that it did. They were also reluctant to make repairs, let alone consider making a full cover, with sealskins rather than the caribou skin covers they were accustomed to using. David suspected they watched his sealskin repair efforts closely to see how they faired. Perhaps they would make the switch later when he wasn’t around.
By the time they reached the point at the northern-most tip of the Inlet, the other hunters decided to return home. They’d been away from their families long enough and then hunting hadn’t turned out to be all that successful. David wanted to continue around the point and westward in hopes of finding his people. Agreeing to separate and meet the following spring, David now set out alone going westward along the coast. He knew he’d be able to cross the strait at the narrows within a few days and from there he could reach the southern shores of King William Island.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ilatsiak - 57 - Stranger Still

The spring seal camp David came across as he headed back to King William Island was situated on the east shore of Ross Strait. The early open water had attracted an unusually large number of people including several well known shamen and David was accepted at the camp where several people had heard of him although his latest troubles were unknown. It was both a time to celebrate the good hunting as well as a time to entertain each other. In the evenings, the shamen in the camp began holding competitions to perform the most miraculous feats for the people assembled. David had had little experience with these shamen, but his recent experience with the little spirit-creature he’d seen made him curious to watch what they did. While his experience had seemed very real at the time, he’d come to the point where he believed what he had seen was only a part of the illness he seemed to be going through.
He watched carefully as one old woman named Paanaktuq took off a mitten and laid it on the floor, all the while saying she had no real powers. However, before long the mitten suddenly came alive and stood up. As it did, it turned into a tiny man, even smaller the the one David had seen. The little man spun around and gazed at the audience. Pannaktuq reached down and picked the little fellow up, but when she did, the man returned to being a mitten. She put both her mittens on and lifted them up for everyone to see. Then magically, everyone was astounded to watch them both turn into bear’s claws. Then she shook them off and dropped them between her legs and they began to scratch the floor all by themselves. Bending over, she picked them up and, as before, they changed back into ordinary mittens. The crowd roared with approval at the magic sight, begging her to do more tricks, but Paanaktuq was a sly old thing and with a twinkle in her eye she refused, claiming that her spirit helpers would not be happy if she made them work too hard.
The gathering then turned to other people known to have powers to entertain and amuse people. Some called to one shaman who was known to terrify people with his tricks, but when they did, it was apparent to many people, especially some of the younger men, that things were getting out of hand and were going too far. However, once excited, especially after feasting on seal after the bleak and hungry winter just passed, enough people were anxious to celebrate no matter what. The shaman watch a few people leave, but then told one of the last men about to leave to stand upright against the wall of the dance-house they’d built for the feasting time. The shaman then picked up a spear and drove it right through the poor man’s chest, out his back and then threw it to the rear of the house. Several other men in the house at the time had to grab the poor fellow to avoid his falling down. The whole place was in shock and began screaming. There was now a rush to the passageway leading outside. Immediately the crush of fur covered bodies created a pile-up preventing anyone from leaving except those at the very front. While the screaming and carrying on was continuing, the shaman calmly picked up the spear and forced it back through the chest wound and out the front of the man’s fur parka. When it had passed right through and out again, the man appeared totally unharmed and was able to carry on as if nothing had happened.
The people still inside who had watched this last event was astounded and horrified. Several of the children ran screaming and had begun trying to break through the icy walls of the, house while most of their parents were too stunned by what had occurred to run after them or stop them. David too was unable to move, but a feeling as though something had snapped inside him seemed to grab him. He began to wail in a loud voice and fell to his knees. From there he crawled around the house, barking at the icy walls now and then, while people tried to get out of his way. As he made his way around, those who witnessed it told stories later claiming that they saw him as he began to grow smaller and smaller and then sink slowly into the snow covered floor. Within minutes he had vanished down through the ice, sinking out of sight completely, the ice closing in behind him as he sank. He seemed to disappear for several minutes, when shouts could be heard coming from some men who were sleeping in another snow hut nearby. David had come up through a newly made hole in their house floor, dripping wet and icy. They screamed as they watched this ‘thing’ in their midst. It had a long seal skin rope in his hand which it began tugging on as though a large seal was attached to the end. It then began yelling at the hole in the ice in a strange language which no one could understand. Finally, with much noise and splashing, it pulled three white men out of the watery hole! They were gaunt and blackened, but otherwise alive and shivering. They all moved towards David with saws and began to cut him to pieces, throwing his arms and legs around the snowhouse to the horror of the men watching from the snow bench. When they had done this, the strange men all turned and staggered out of the house through the usual entranceway.
In shock at what they had seen, the men on the bench pounded a hole through the wall at the back of the house and escaped outside. Surrounding the house were many of the people who had just watched David disappear minutes before from the adjoining house. They retreated in a hurry when they saw the men break through the back of the snow hut screaming that a man from the sea had just been killed by three white men. Those outside were baffled when told that the killers had just crawled out the entrance to the snow house. They’d seen no one leave. Finally someone brave enough volunteered to look into the house to see what was left. There was no trace of either the white men nor the hole through which they had come up out of the water. Instead, they found David asleep on the snow bench. He was perfectly dry and unharmed.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ilatsiak - 56 - Strange Experience

David wandered from camp to camp around the Boothia Peninsula all that spring, but never found Agayuq or his camp. Many people knew him, of course, the number of people in the whole area was small and most people were known to each other at least to some extent. Still, Agayuq’s whereabouts were a mystery.
During David’s wanderings, he continued to have bouts of doubt about himself and strange dreams and fits.
When the rivers began to melt and flow freely again, he went fishing alone on one of the small streams which flowed towards the sea. David had always been intrigued with the way fish could be caught using a kugivuq, the two-pronged harpoon which held the fish on two sides while the center barb impailed it. Made of springy caribou antler material carefully carved to shape and laced onto a shaft, it was a very clever and effective fish catching tool, but it required a certain amount of skill, something he didn’t have at that time.
David lay on the ice ledge beside a small rushing stream, intently watching the fish in a quiet side pool swim up to the stones under the ice below him where they could be speared. As he was peering intently at them, he slowly realised that he in turn was being watched. Assumming it was one of the local people come to watch his ineptitude, he paid no attention and continued to practice his fish spearing skills. But when he heard a noise he didn’t recognize he turned and saw what seemed to be a small child-like creature appeared to be standing looking at him. It was not a child, but a tiny adult person about two feet tall. Taken by surprise as he was, David let out a yell and turned to run, nearly falling on the slippery ice along the edge of the stream. As he regained his balance he stopped, then nearly fell a second time. The spirit creature seemed to be accompanied by other spirits but David could not clearly see these others. They seemed faint and nearly transparent. He was very much afraid of them, and when they approached he tried to back away, asking the closest one if he was going to die or was he already dead. The spirit, if that’s what it was, who seemed to be a youngish man about his own age, said no. He went on to tell him that he would live to be an old man, in fact, saying he would live to be one of the oldest.
The spirit then took the kugivuq from David, made a quick jab into the water, and caught a tom-cod for him. This he swung right up to David’s mouth, spear and all and told him eat it, fresh and cold, still dripping with the water it had come from. The young spirit person then told him that by eating this fish he had by the act gained special magical powers which only shamen possessed. He was told that these powers would gradually become apparent to him over time as he learned more.
The spirit then told David to walk back to his camp, which he did. All the while the little person kept talking to him, explaining that he had been sent to work together with David for the benefit of the Inuit. He was also warned by the spirit never to eat the intestines of any animal, only meat and fat. When they arrived closer to his camp, the spirit seemed to go faint, slowly disappearing. David sat down beside his tent, stunned by his strange experience. What was going on in his life, he wondered. Was he going mad? Perhaps it was time to cross over to King William Island, find Qayaq and see if he could return to a more normal life. Surely her calm, caring touch would heal him and stop these crazy experiences and dreams.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ilatsiak - 55 - David Disappears

Qayaq followed the many tracks in the snow that led back to the old camp. The trail was wide and easy to follow as the spring snow had been packed hard by the people who had made it only a few hours before. When she arrived, she found all the houses still intact except theirs. It was completely distroyed. There was no sign of David. Qayaq was distraught. She sat in the ruins and cried, until she suddenly thought, if there was no body, David must still be alive! He didn’t die at all... Yet, where was he?
Finally she got up and began heading back to the new camp, but suddenly she stopped. Tracks! Of course, there would be tracks. She could follow David’s tracks and follow him. She returned to the camp and began searching. She walked completely around the old camp, but the only tracks she could find were those made by the villagers she had left with. How could that be, she wondered? David had not come with them. Where could he have gone? Maybe he was dead and had somehow been taken away or something. It was very confusing.
Once again, she slowly circled the old camp, but nothing, no tracks led anywhere except to the new camp. Sadly, she headed back, baffled by this discovery. By mid morning, she was back with the family who had befriended her. She slipped into her sleeping robes and closed her eyes.

* * *

David was determined to find Agayuq and find out what he knew about the ships. Somehow, knowing the truth would put an end to these spells and let him get on with living in this land. While he couldn’t remember everything, he knew that he had had a breakdown of some sort at the Matty camp. He knew enough of the people’s ways to know that they feared anyone who had acted as strangely as he had. They would quickly distance themselves from it fearing that the irrational behaviour could endanger the whole group. So when he woke up after everyone had left, he smashed down what was left of the snowhouse and began to follow their tracks knowing they would not go very far the first day. When he found their camp, he quietly hitched up his dogs to his sled and headed eastward. The people would take care of Qayaq. When he had found Agayuq and settled his mind with whatever news he could find, then he would return for her.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ilatsiak - 54 - David's Illness

The plan had been to leave the camp at Matty Island in the morning and continue looking for Agayuq and Maneejaq to the east on Boothia Peninsula. However in the morning David was obviously not well. He had tossed and turned in the night, forcing Qayak to replace the caribou sleeping robes several times. Finally she got up and began heating up the remains of the seal soup they had been eating the day before.
David drifted in and out of sleep, sometimes yelling in his sleep. Qayaq didn’t understand what he was saying as he spoke English or Gaelic, but it was enough to worry her. When it was light enough, she went around the camp to speak with the other women to see if they had any ideas on what she should do. Finally, it was decided to ask an older man who was known to be a part-time shaman, only to discover that he was out hunting. When Qayaq returned to their dwelling, David was stark naked and washing himself with snow he had taken from the floor of the house.
“What are you doing?” Qajaq asked, surprised at his behaviour.
“Go away! Get out of here!” he yelled back. Qayaq was shocked. She had never seen him acting like this. It was very impolite in her experience for anyone to raise their voice. She turned and fled. As she exited the entrance, she could already see others coming to see what was happening. They rushed over and hustled her into another snow house close by.
“What’s happening?” they asked.
“I don’t know...” Qayaq buried her head in her hands. “He’s very strange. I don’t know.”
Over the course of the next few hours, all kinds of bizarre noises and yells came from David’s igloo. When the shaman finally arrived back from hunting, he was immediately asked for help. By this time, David had broken several windows in the walls of the snow house and was throwing all their belongings outside. The shaman instructed everyone to bring skins and to cover the igloo. He entered the snow porch and suddenly everything went quiet inside. In a few minutes he came back outside.
“We must remove the skins and get ready to leave this place. He is dead.”
Qayaq was stunned. Dead? What was happening? She burst into tears and ran towards the snowhouse, but as quickly she was grabbed and held back. “No! We must leave. Now!”
Someone held Qayaq while everyone rushed to leave and within the hour, the whole camp was deserted. Only the shambles of David’s igloo remained, but it was silent and seemed empty of life.

Once everyone was asleep in the new camp set up several miles away, Qayaq got dressed and began walking back to find David.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ilatsiak - 53 - The Girls’ Tale

Qayaq listened to the two little girls rattle on and on with their story. They would giggle, then quickly go serious and wide eyed as it came rushing out of them. It reminded Qayaq of when she was little and would go exploring the tundra while her paretns were busy. She too had been used to wandering about and knew that almost her earliest memories were of walking along the raised beaches behind her parents spring camp when they were camping on the Matty islands. She happily recalled the hours being with her older sister who would usually be carried their younger brother in the pouch of their mother’s amautiq. They would hop from one beach level to the next trying to catch lemmings and sik-sik, the ubiquitous ground squirrels that lived in holes in the rocky ground. Their walks would be their only play. As they walked they both chewed leather to soften for boot soles for their mother. It seemed she never had enough soles for everyone’s boots, especially in the summer. The rough ground and sharp rocks along the beaches were very hard on the soles during the those months. Their mother was constantly at them, telling them to remember to switch boots each day to prevent holes from developing too quickly.
The girls were telling a story which happened just after the family had made the crossing from their winter camp in Boothia in order to be at the inland fishing camp during the summer. It had been several years since they had joined the fun and visiting that always occurred at the lakes. It was a feature of their annual cycle that everyone looked forward to. Qayaq smiled, thinking she too had loved the lakes. That was where she had met David.
She focused back on the girls’ story. They were talking about not being familiar with every part of this coast, but that they were certain that whatever it was they could see had to be something new. It took them about half and hour to walk close enough to get a better view. All the time her sister held back. She was much more timid and felt they should not be going closer to the unknown thing by themselves. They really should be asking the elders instead. They would take care of whatever it was. Whatever was there was very new and strange and certainly was not put there by Inuit. They decided to be safe turned for home.
Qayak listened more attentively as the two girls told their story. From their description it reminded her of David’s stories of the boxes he had been told to guard, boxes which had come from ships. She wondered if she should get him so he could listen to the girls too, but then some puppies crawled out from under the caribou skins and the girls stopped talking and ran to pick them up. Next they were outside, holding the puppies in the air, making their legs more so they would learn to run fast when they grew up.
When David returned she repeated the girls story to him. They then asked the girls’ father for more details. He informed them the girls had seen the old pile of boxes left on the beach several years previously by the white sailors. There wasn’t much left there now because the sailors had taken it away. He then told how David’s father, Agayuq had discovered the boxes and wondered about them. There were stories from other places years ago about boxes piled on the beach so Agayuq returned to the camp and reported his find, no one was too surprised. They had already heard the girls’ story as well about these new boxes. Several days later, acting on the advice of the older men in the camp, he and several other men began walking down the beach in the direction of the boxes the he had seen. The elders had been quite excited on hearing the news and hoped the boxes would be as rich as the others had proven to be years ago. Four men had been chosen to go and look at the boxes and for the qallunait who had probably put them on the point. They quickly covered the ground and found hundreds of boxes of different sizes laying neatly piled on the beach above the high tide line. Piles of other materials, rope, cans and other strange things lay heaped around the boxes. There was a sense of haste about the place as though the spot was quickly chosen, the work done in a rush and then those involved had made a quick retreat. This was not noticed however by the Inuit as they picked their way through the various items they saw.
There was no sign of any white men if it had been they who placed the boxes on the beach. As well, the beach stones born no tracks that were clear enough to provide clues. They could see the marks in places which boat keels had made, but not being familiar with such heavy boats, they didn’t understand what they were. The elders had been strict in telling the men not to open any of the boxes, nor to take anything. While little was known about the white men who left the boxes, what little was known was that they had very different ideas about sharing than did the Inuit. It was thought that they were not fully human yet in that regard.
One day, later in the summer, he man continued, when Agayuq began cutting up the remains of a seal he had just caught, the two dogs he had out hunting with him picked up a strange scent and stood pulling at their traces, yelping at the distant point to the west of them. Agayuq, alerted, began to smell the same odor as well. It was coming from the point where the boxes had been found. Finishing quickly by caching the three seals he had caught that day under some snow, together with the cut portions intended for the dogs, placed onto the large seal skin he had been using as an improvised sled, he set out walking towards the point. He hadn’t gone far before his eyes, trained by years of hunting to pick out the slightest movement in the landscape, were able to pick out at least four and possibly five people at the boxes. They were dressed in strange clothes and while they looked like men, they certainly did not look like anyone he had seen before. They must be the qallunait the elders talked about having seen years ago to the east. They also had left boxes on the beach in several places.
“Agayuq stole one of those white men and rasied him as his own...” the father of the girls stated. “Now that boy lives far away with the Fish River people so he won’t go back to the qallunat.” David and Qayaq smiled to each other, keeping their secret to themselves.
“And where is Agayuq now?” David asked.
“I don’t know,” the man answered. “Maybe gone looking for his son. He misses him a lot!”


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ilatsiak - 52 - Return to King William Island

When the sun began to return to the land again and wasn’t permenantly draped in darkness, David and Qayaq began to move northwards. In was time to return to King William Island and see Agayuq and Manneetuq and their children once again. They walked along into the growing hours of daytime as their five dogs pulled the sled. There were furs on the sled, good thick winter ones for his family if they could be found. David let his mind settle on their whereabouts, remembering the old seasonal movements and imagining the group’s snow-houses arranged on the sea ice off the eastern coast of King William Island , probably just off the Matty Isles or maybe they were up somewhere on the Boothia Peninsula perhaps at one of the favourite hunting spots he’d visited with Agayuq in the past few years. The journey took them northward up the west side of Chantrey Inlet, passed Montreal Island and then westward along the coast of the Adelaide Peninsula.
The weather was good for travelling, the hunting was getting easier, no longer requiring hours peering down at a breathing hole, waiting for the seal’s return. Female seals were grouping to get ready for the yearly pupping time making it easy for the dogs to locate their lairs in the rough ice found wherever the wind and tides had tossed the ice pans into piled heaps and then frozen into hundreds of little ice caves during the winter. Before long they reached the crossing spot at Peabody Point where the coast of King William Island could clearly be seen across the ice of Simpson Strait David debated whether to go back eastwards or continue more to the west. First he would go to the hunting camp at Malerualik. This was a favourite camp to hunt the caribou that regularly migrated from the mainland to King William Island each year. But they found place was deserted. Not even a collapsing snow hut could be found anywhere. In the old days, there would always have been at least a few families here, but things seem to have changed for some reason.
Should he return across the strait to check out Qadlunarsiorvik on the west side of the Adelaide Peninsula? Who would be there at this time hunting the large bearded seals that like to feed there? Finally he let his instinct direct him to the north and east. That was the best bet, he thought. His people would not linger in this area, but head to their own hunting grounds, he reasoned, however after several days of travel they were surprised not to see any signs of people. After passing Booth Point and turning towards the northeast, David and Qayaq began to wonder where everyone might have gone. Another few days of travelling and they would stop at the Matty Isles. Surely some friends would be there who would know.
David wondered again why it was that his people seem to be avoiding the west shores of the island. It was apparent that people never stopped in the Booth Point area anymore if at all possible. Qayaq had hinted that was had always been one of those taboo places in the stories of her people. The more he began thinking of the west coast of King William Island, the more each thought would send shivers down his back. Suddenly, he felt he would vomit. Why would this be? He had no memories of that coast. It seemed unreasonable to have these dreads and fears. The same feeling came over him as he rushed passed Booth Point. In his haste, he wondered at the foolishness of his rush yet these feelings were part of the folk-lore shared by most of his new family and friends and they were beginning to affect him as well. He had no idea why it was happening, but suddenly found himself thinking of his brief meeting with Crozier. Something was all wrong. Why would Crozier be heading southward with just one man? Why had he obviously not wanted to talk to David? It was clear he had wanted help getting south and only then would he be prepared to speak of what had happened and why he was alone, except for one man. Very strange, thought David.
Continuing northward passed Gjoa Haven, they hurried up the low and monotonous coastline towards the Matty Isles. Once again, these favourite hunting camps were deserted. Not a single sled track could be found, not even from a solitary hunter venturing out far from home. They crossed Rae Strait knowing their people must have gone up the Boothia Peninsula somewhere. A picture of where they might be began forming in his mind. He could see about 30 snow huts huddled together, the hills which formed Cape Victoria in the background. His mind began to drift as the sled undulated over the hard packed snow drifts. The steady pacing of the dogs added to the loss of sensation. David knew he was beginning to drift off, when Qayaq suddenly shouted at him, “Look, sled tracks!”
Suddenly awake, David peered at the dog and boot tracks crossing their trail. They led off to the left towards the southernmost of the Matty Islands. Finally, people! They would get some news about what was going on.