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, September 28, 2007

Ilatsiak - 62 - Reunion!

David wandered into the sun-lit fog which drifted across the flat, gravel landscape far to the south of the family encampment at the lake, the sun a blurring disk in his feverish eyes. His illness seemed to be returning, he thought. He stumbled about for what seemed to be hours, falling now and then, sometimes laying asleep for hours, only to begin wander deleriously once again, here and then without direction or destination. He was no longer travelling with the people he had camped with during the summer blizzard. Like others, he had chosen to take a separate route to the lake in hopes of finding game. Ptarmigan were often abundant at this time of year and they were best found by spreading out as they walked.
Finally, all idea of time or place erased from his mind, he slowly realised that he was on the ground, that he’d once again fallen down on another gravel ridge, a bit above the surrounding landscape. He was waking up, his fever gone. He felt new and almost refreshed and knew that he would live. For the first time since seeing the overturned boat and it’s skeletons, he felt somehow the past and it’s horrific events were now falling behind him. He began to focus on Qayaq and his family. He began to see there was a new life ahead for him, the past could disappear, even if not it wasn’t completely settled. These stories, especially the ones which swirled inside his head, could end. He knew that was so, but at the same time, he wished there was another way of ending everything, to completely move away and live free of the terrible past.
Not certain at all where he was, he began walking in a direction chosen only because it seemed to be a good choice at the time and for no other reason. He could recognize nothing in the featureless landscape. Every view in any direction seemed identical. He just had the feeling inside that he was headed back to the camp and his people. As the sun’s glow slid along the western hoizon at the end of the third day of walking since the snow storm, David saw the lake and Inuit tents directly ahead. He began to run towards them and recognizing his father’s dogs, he knew he was safely back home.
Hearing someone approaching their tent from inland, Agayuq and Maneejag camp out to see who it might be. Astonished to see David approaching them, they stood rigid, not knowing if he was real or not. They’d heard from people who had recently arrived that he was coming, but from what they’d heard, they were certain he had died like all the other sailors. This news was wrong. The David the people had spoken of must be somone else.
Noticing everything had so suddenly gone quiet outside, Qayaq came out to learn what was happening. Seeing David walking towards them looking so much like his old self, she burst into tears and started running towards him. Maneejaq wanted to hold her back, but couldn’t even bring her arm out to grab Qayaq’s parka as she ran past. As the two young people raced towards the other, both began screaming and finally reached out and grabbed each other in a warm hug. David was back and he was alive and well!
Finding him so well and obviously recovered after being convinced of his death, created considerable talk among everyone in the camp. This was unheard of. They were still mourning his death and now here he was among them, alive and well once again!
As the account of his recovery spread from place to place, more and more people began to refer to David as being someone special and that he must have shaman powers in the making. To them it was clear that the spirits favoured him. How else could he still be alive? Within a few years, whether he desired it or not, David’s story of miraculous recovery spread slowly but surely. In spite of his denials, people slowly began thinking of him as a powerful shaman. David kept trying to distance himself from this idea of theirs, but it wasn’t easy. In the people’s mind, the die was cast.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ilatsiak - 61 - More Strange Stories

Stormy weather had been raging for three days and life inside the small collection tents was beginning to become wearisome for the inhabitants. David had managed to catch up with this group who were also headed to the lake for the fishing season. They were a mixed lot, some he knew, but many people were new to him as they were Netsilik people who lived usually on the east coast of Boothia.
The weather forced everyone to remain inside the tents. The elders had told all the old stories at least a couple times and the children were starting to need things to do. Magical string figures, the game of catching a small weasel’s skull on a pointed stick to which it was attached by a short length of caribou sinew no longer held their attention for long. Still, venturing outside while the winds whipped up the unusual mid-summer snow into a blinding whiteness could be deadly. Children were scolded every time they moved in the direction of the tent entrances. Elders told them the stories about the unfortunate people who had ventured out just a few paces to relieve themselves. People who never returned, lost forever in the swirling winds and snow. In the white-out, blowing snow conditions they had not been able to find their way back the few paces to the entrance again and wandered about until they died. Blizzards could be very dangerous at any time of the year.
Some people began telling stories again, but this time a strange quietness lay over the audience. These were newer stories, stories which, because they told of dead people, were usually avoided and kept away from children’s ears. But, once again, the strange white people being seen in the area had brought these dreadful stories back to life and the older people began to speak of them as if to understand them, to explain them to each other. An middle aged lady told the story about her family’s meeting 40 or so of the strange white men dragging their boat along the southern coast of King William Island about a year or so ago. They must have come from the frozen-in ships as they were called. They were the only white people to have come in recent years and the only ones ever to have came here to these lands to the west. Oh, how miserable they had looked, how black their lips had been and how worn out their faces were. She told how they could not speak the Inuit language, but had gestered that they were hungry. She told of how the people had offered them a seal to eat, and that afterwards they had all camped together for the night, but how many people had been afraid of them. They could see the desparate look about these white people. They could not be sure what might happen, what these strangers might do. Nervous and fearing for their safety, the people made the decision to move further along the coast and wait to see what the ship people did. They would try and catch another seal and leave it for them to pick up.
So early the next day they quietly slipped away from the unfortunate ones who would surely die soon without more food. To the Inuit, it was clear that to stay and help them would have brought disaster to them all. There were strange men among them who seemed to be irrational and had to be restrained by the others for some reason she didn’t understand. They had yelled and shouted at them. She told of how frightened they had all been and that was why they decided during the evening that it was best not to stay to try and help the strangers too much, but instead to leave them alone. It had been last summer, she went on, when no summer had come, when hunting had been poor and many people were going hungry, especially along that coast. The group never did leave any food for the ship people, she said. They bearly caught food for themselves. No caribou had come across to Kikitarjuk during the summer and even the geese had not stayed long. Her story reminded them of how the cold icy storms had raged one day only to be followed by rainy weather and sleet the next, creating an unending season of misery for all. This summer wasa turning out to be little better, everyone agreed.
The adults in the tent listened quietly. No one wanted to hear the story, but no one was brave enough to stop the teller. They sat and waited for it to finish. David waited in the silence that lay over the people in the gloom of the tent after the lady stopped speaking. Everyone seemed to have their own memories of those times so recently passed. David couldn’t help but think of the overturned boat he had seen so recently. Was this the same group, he wondered? Then another man began to speak softly and slowly, often clearing his throat and stopping as the memories came back to him. He spoke of a later time, sometime during the early fall, after the woman had seen the strangers. He told of his going to the half sunken ship, one of the frozen-in ships belonging to the strangers which had got free of the ice and had came down to Ootugoolik to the west of the Adelaide peninsula. He had gone there with Kunana, a friend of Agayuq’s vaguely known to David, who had apparently been there several times to get wood to make a a sled and other things. He told of the wonders they had found there and of seeing a dead man inside the ship, big and heavy and dressed in dark strange clothes made from skins unlike anything Inuit had ever seen. Now that ship was gone, sunk when a fire started after a loud explosion. Many people had visited that ship and have wood and other things from it. Now it was gone, they were disappointed to have lost so many of the wonderful things it had contained.
David said nothing as he listened to these stories, but he was curious that everyone seemed to know so much about the ships and their crews, yet he had learned so little. Were people keeping the truth from him? Once again, he decided to get Agayuq to open up and tell him all he knew when he found him, hopefully at the lake.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ilatsiak - 60 - Goodsir's Book

David began to realise that the rumours about strange white people in this area during the past year were perhaps more true than he had believed they were when he’d first heard them. Meeting Cozier and Ashram and now finding the boat with the bodies inside did suggest that sailors had spent the fall and winter in the inlet to the Fish River. People had said because the men looked so ill they had not dared to approach their camps or have much to do with them. When the few who had lived through the winter finally left, everyone had breathed with relief. However, David was becoming more and more aware that if he wasn’t already the sole survivor of the expedition, it was certain that he would probably soon be all alone, the only member of the two crews still alive. It seemed very possible that everyone else was already dead or would be very soon. He sat down and just stared downwards as if already dead himself, watching as the ground slowly lost any shape or colour. Then slowly, as though he was in a dream he could see himself himself walking away towards one of the slight ridges he had been complaining about. He watched himself lay down on a sealskin he’d been using as a seat in the kayak. As he sat watching, he saw his spirit-creature standing by the boat. He was shaking his head and then he spoke. “Leave this place. It is not a good place. It is where people fought and killed and then ate each other. Leave soon!”

* * *

David paddled in brilliant sunshine, westward. He was getting closer and closer to the narrow strait leading over to King William Island. The sea was almost dead calm and he knew it was the perfect moment to cross over. Just as he edged the boat over to make the turn out to sea, he caught a glimpse of another boat coming towards him. He put on a burst of speed to close the gap and soon was talking with them. It was so good to see people again. Best of all, they had seen Agayuq and Qayaq only a few days before, at the Big Lake. All smiles, David left and within a few hours was building two matching rock towers to rest the kayak on, high up out of reach of any animals hungry enough to eat the precious skin covering. That job finished, he began walking inland, following the trail to the Big Lake.
As he reached the top of the ridge just above the same cove where he had landed the kayak, David’s attention was directed, suddenly to something reddish lying on the ground off to hs left. Turning slightly he headed that way until he could see it was a faded red coloured squarish shape. Then as he reached, it saw it was a book! It had been years since he’s seen a book. He bent down and picked it up. The print on the cover was too washed out to make out the title, but most of the pages could still be read. At first he hoped he might be a diary so he could find out what had happened to the ships, but turning the pages he realised it was a medical text, sort of like a first aid guide. Disappointed he dropped it to the ground and looked around for others, but seeing none, he changed his mind and picked up the book again, noting for the first time a name written on the inside cover: Harry Goodsir. David’s heart gave a skip. His friend had been here perhaps and dropped his book! Flipping rapidly through the pages, David found many of them had notes about various medical advice Goodsir had added. There were also comments about the plants and animals he had noticed since leaving England. Nothing had been added about the fate of the crews and, of course, nothing to explain why the book had been left on the ridge. It must have been dropped accidently by whoever had been carrying it as they passed along the ridge. Without really thinking about it, David put the book into the rolled up sealskin he was carrying over his back and once again headed towards the lake.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Ilatsiak - 59 - The Boat

He looked around the bay that first evening, trying to locate himself in the vasteness of this land, seeking a spot to safely land the kayak. As he did, David found himself thinking thoughts of his far-away home. It had been a long time since he’d had thoughts like these. How this place was so different from those rocky heath-covered hills which surrounded Stromness where he had roamed as a child. How had he come to this place? It was so flat, so endless, so opposite in appearance from his homeland on the Orkney islands where it was so easy to place oneself between sea and hilltop. Here both the land and the sea stretched seemingly without change in every direction, waves ofwater or rock, it didn’t seem to matter so few places more predominant than the other. There were so few signs of man’s presence. Did he miss the signs of man’s habitation which led into the distant past, the stone monuments and dwellings? It was hard to say. It all seemed so long ago. How long ago was it, anyway? He could hardly remember how many winters had passed since he been in this place so far away, living with the Inuit. In this land all seemed empty. Only the occasional ring of stones hinted of an campsite. There were no permanent dwellings or monuments except for the few ‘inukshuit’ he had seen marking an occasional human presence.
He felt his heart grab hold and tighten in his chest, a lonely, gripping clutch. He let his eyes fill up with tears. They began to run down his face warm on his cheeks before they could drip off. His face in his hands, he sobbed alone into the endless land that stretched out before him. Overhead the drab, rain clouds drifted steadily eastward in the chilly, raw wind which had begun to blow from the north. It seemed the wind too wished to depart from this lonely place and head to the warmer south.
David’s mind suddenly plunged once again into the horrific scenes of his former comrads he had been running from. Screaming for the searing images in his head to end, he quickly landed the kayak on the sandy beach before him, carried it up above the beach. Not caring or thinking about it, he began to run towards a slight ridge behind the shoreline ahead. Such stupid ridges, so unridge-like, it was a mockery to call them that. Not like the bold ridges of home. These were nothing; only cruel, ungrateful killer ridges which offered no protection or shelter to any man. Then he tripped against a dark lump on the nearly bare mud and gravel ground and fell flat against it, his sealskin boots offering no traction on the slippery surface. Scrambling to his feet the lump took shape in the fading light. It was a man’s body. Who? What was a body doing here? David stared at the body or actually the loose collection of bones that seemed bundled within the dark clothing, wondering why he had been out here so far from any camp. He reached down and picked up a watch and then saw that it was on a chain around the man’s neck. A watch? Why did he have a watch? He dropped it into the mud. David ceased to care.
As he turned he realised for the first time he had been yelling and screaming. Was his illness back again, he wondered? Was it his shaman illness as he was beginning to call it? He stood and blankly stared back at the man lying there. The body was real. It was no spirit-creature. Looking around, he suddenly saw that one of the ridges he’s been comparing to that long ago home, was actually the hull of an overturned boat. So the man had come in one of the ship’s boats and died here. Why? David slowly approached the boat. Coming around the stern, he peered under the overturned hull. Several other bodies lay there, all dead and not much more than skeletons under some blankets. It looked like animals had broken some of the skeletons apart. Leg and arm bones seemed to have been pulled off and were scattered in a rough pile at the bow of the boat.
There was nothing left for him now but to keep on going. It was over, for some reason the expedition members were dying everywhere. Terrible things had happened both here and elsewhere. David wondered if Crozier and Asham had originally been with this group and had somehow managed to get away and live. It certainly looked possible. After all the boat would have easily accommodated a couple more people and there seemed to be lots of supplies, although none of it was food. Crozier had been very evasive when David had asked how he and Asham had come to the Fish River area and he was even quieter about how and where they had made it through the past winter.