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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ilatsiak - 77 - Uyaraluk's Warning

Living in Uyaraluk’s camp had been good to David. The months of traveling had helped to erase his memories. Even Qayaq had returned to her old happy self. Now with several years of living in their new home, there was little for them to complain about.
The lives of the people in Bathurst Inlet, much like theirs, was again one of seasonal routine, which played themselves out with a quiet annual rhythm which he and Qayaq found to their liking. The memories of their oldest son had faded and became replaced by the birth of their daughter. With the passing years their children grew up, Kudluk married a girl he had known most of his life and their growing family added to David’s pleasure as he moved into his elder years. He and Uyaraluk had become the closest of friends and were seldomly seen outside of each other’s company. Qayaq complained now and then of missing her relatives along the river they had left, but realised they would mostly be gone now, so many years had past since they had last seen them. There was little point going back. Still, it pained her when she thought of them.
These days came to an end when Uyaraluk died one morning. He had been showing signs for several weeks that something was not right, and while he was one of the oldest in the camp, no one expected his death. It was as if he had been a part of the daily life of the group for so long, it was unthinkable that he could leave them. David was more than a bit shaken when his grand-daughter appeared in their snow-house and just stood there, afraid to speak. Finally she turned and left. The tears in her eyes told both David and Qayaq than something had happened which was ominous. He got up and pulling his boots on went to see what it was. When he broke out into the sunshine and stood up, he knew instantly. People were blocking up the entrance to Uyaraluk’s snow-house, and others were preparing to leave the camp. He had died, just like that, with so little warning.
David stared at the snow-house. He had not slept well. Uyaraluk had come to talk with him earlier in the evening. he had told him a story a young hunter had brought him the summer before. It was about a ship he had seen, sailing in the waters north of Bathurst Inlet. The man had watched the boat swing into Cambridge Bay and not come out. During the following winter, the hunter had gone into the bay to see what had happened to the ship and found it still there. He had then discovered white people on the ship who took him inside and for several days they spoke together and ate strange food. Uyaraluk was very impressed with these stories because only once before had he met anyone who knew white people and that had been David. He had never spoken of this because David had performed many seances where white people seemed to come up out of the water beneath the ice and scare people into behaving themselves. He was afraid of what David might think of these new white people. He also remembered that it had been partly the fear of white people that had brought David and Qayaq and their grieving family to his tent long ago on the Fish River and they had decided to leave and come to Bathurst Inlet. Now he was old and felt he had to warn David that white people were coming back again after all these years.
David stood for quite a while, no one moved towards him or spoke. They knew what he was thinking. These two men who had been friends for so long, most people didn’t even remember seeing them in the time before they had been friends. David moved to the side of the snow-house and sunk his bare hands into the walls of snow. He held them there as he wept for his friend. Finally when no more tears would come he pulled his hands from the snow and looked at them. They were dry and still warm. People who saw this would speak of the magic in this man and how he was so special to them. It was men like him who made their lives special as well, holding out to them the strength and courage to live in a land which could seem harsh at times even to a people who could imagine no better place.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Ilatsiak - 76 - The Move

Uyaraluk was a traveler. He had been born in the Bathurst Inlet area far to the west along the coast, but even during his childhood he became known for wandering ways. His parents were always having to go searching for him and even began calling him ‘Wanderer’ as a nickname. As a young man, he was no different and in his early twenties, he slowly began making his way eastward sometimes following coastlines, but more often rivers inland. He didn’t seem to have any particular destination in mind or need companions for these voyages of discovery, but occasionally a woman would join him for a while and by the time he ran into Qayaq’s people on the Fish River, he had several children and two wives to look after them. He and David hit it off right from the start and the two families were nearly inseparable, fishing together and ranging over the tundra in search of caribou each fall. It was rare for them to be found apart and in a way David blamed himself for heading up-river to fish without his friends this one time. Perhaps his friend would have noticed the children getting into danger along the river’s edge and been able to prevent the tragedy from happening.
When the news spread about the loss of Tulugak, Uyaraluk knew it was time to head back to Bathurst Inlet. He didn’t know why, but suddenly it was clear to him that returning home was the thing to do. He began to wonder about his own family and more and more was anxious about how they were. He made up his mind to return as soon as traveling was good again in the spring. He decided to talk with David and see if his family would join him. It would do them all good to get away from this river which had caused so much trouble recently. He was sure David would want to come. His own family was gone for the most part and Qajaq did not seem to be recovering from Tulugak’s death as she ought to be. She needed to be somewhere she could begin again without the constant reminders the river kept providing every time she look at it.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ilatsiak - 75 - Uyaraluk

Kudluk finished and slipped out of the tent. David listened as he heard his kamiks crunch over the gravel beach until he reached the snow and went silent. It had been Kudluk who had been with his brother when he had fallen and slid into the river. He had alerted them with his cries. He had seen everything, yet was now silent. It was as if by not saying anything, it would stop it from happening and things would be back the way they were. Yet it had happened. As the two were watching the water rushing past in the stream, the ice shelf they were on had suddenly given way. Kudluk’s watched his brother slide into the water and before he could react, Tulugak was swept away in the current. Within seconds he had moved beyond reach and then without even a chance to turn and scream, he’s been sucked under the ice lower downstream and disappeared. It was all over so suddenly.
Without looking up David began, “We’ll move back down to Uyaraluk’s camp tomorrow. I want to hunt with him for a while. He knows where the caribou go in the Fall. Maybe we’ll hunt seals together this winter.”
Qajaq said nothing. She raised her eyebrows slightly in acknowledgement, that was all. It would do them both to move away from these memories. It would be good to follow Uyaraluk for a while. To go to a new place, perhaps further west. Uyaraluk had mentioned once that he had never heard about people going hungry until he began to fish with the Ukti’miut. In his opinion this river they were on was a place of troubles and the sea where it ended was worse. People were always dying there, fighting and behaving in ways which were bad for people. It would be good to go to his land for a while, if only to see what it was really like.
Ilatisak picked up the bowl of fish remains and the sealskin used as a cutting surface, crawled out of the tent and walked down the slope to the river. He slowly began to wash out the bowl. It was made of copper sheet, sheeting taken from the wreck of the Erebus. His mind slowly formed a picture of the man who had taught him how to shape this soft metal into useful objects like the bowl in his hand. He saw the older man’s knarled hands, his kindly bearded face, the much dented, wooded bench he had worked on all that winter in the candle lit confines of the ship. David had not thought of this man for a long time and it surprised him how clearly he could picture the scene. He tried to think of the man’s name, but it would not come to him. David swirled some river water in the bowl to give it a final rinse, then suddenly stopped. The swirling water was too vivid, even for him. He pictured once again his son in the water of the river, too far to reach, moving down into the rapids, being swirled to his death in the fury of the falls below. How had that happened so fast? Again, as they had been doing since the accident, his eyes filled with tears and he raised his hand to rub them off his face. His eldest son was gone. The river had taken him. That was all. Life must go on as it always did. Life was hard, it gave and it took away. One must move with it, not fight back, not change what would happen. David took the copper bowl and threw it out into the current. It’s lip caught a bit of water, but then landed upright and sailed with the current into the first of the foaming rapid where it disappeared for good.
He finished washing the sealskin with some loose snow then dropped it outside the tent to dry in the sunshine and went to look for Kudluk. He would tell him about moving to Uyaraluk’s. It wasn’t good to be alone for long in troubled times like these.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ilatsiak - 74 - Return to Fish River

After the death of old Agayuq the following winter, David and his family decided to re-visit Qayaq’s former home. It had been several years snce they’d seen her relatives and she wanted the children to meet them and visit her homeland. They took a different route, crossing easily over to the Boothia Peninsula and then headed southwards to the Fish River.
It was a happy time, traveling in the spring was easy and they were lucky to come across a small herd of caribou not once, but several times enroute. Joining up with Qayaq’s relatives proved more difficult, but eventually they found them and settled in for the summer. David happily went fishing and caribou hunting with Qayaq’s uncles and their friends. Life was good.
They remained in the area that winter and as spring arrived Qayak was anxious to visit her famil’s old fishing weir further up the river from their winter camp. David and Uyaraluk his hunting partner and their families decided to move together, but suddenly Uyaraluk decided not to move just yet. So within a few days, David, Qayaq and their two boys were out of their aging snow-house and back into caribou skin tents several miles up the river.
The tent was erected in its usual place beside the fishing weir that Qayaq’s family had come to so many times over the years they had been together. It sat on one of the few patches of bare ground, the rest still cloaked with the winter’s snow. The river rushed past, swollen with new melt water, the snow banks gradually melting back to the shorelines. As they approached, no one could be seen. David and Kudluk, coming in from a walk over the surrounding hills, realised that Qajaq must be inside. They bent over, pulled aside the door flap and entered the darkness.
She sat at the very back of the tent surrounded by the smoky darkness without even her lamp lit for light. As his eyes made the adjustment to the low light, David could see she had been crying, even though it had now been two days. The same pain spread across his chest tightening his lungs making it hard to breathe. Still, he said nothing. Kudluk simply sat on the left side of the sleeping area normally reserved for strangers and visitors. He too had no words to say to his mother. He picked up one of the thick char and began to carve it into steaks about two inches thick. David looked at the metal knife-blade and turned away. Reaching under the pile of articles behind where he sat, he felt for and then pulled out a stiffened piece of sealskin already darkened from being used many times as a cutting surface. His movements brought him again face to face with Qajaq. Even in the dim light he could see the puffness of her face. Her eyes and nose were reddish from being wiped so many times. He turned and reached for one of the raw fish steaks, then offered it to her. She just wrinkled her nose. She wasn’t hungry.
He bent the O-shaped portion backwards on itself so the gleaming pink flesh turned outwards. He began to slowly peel it away from the silvery skin with his teeth. It was still cold, moist, fresh from the weir. Kudluk ate as well, first turning the fish slice inside-out and then with his fingers inserted into the loop of flesh, he began eating, slurping silently in his corner. His thoughts seemed so far away. Still no one spoke. It was too soon to acknowledge what had happened. Words would come later if they would come at all. Now it was time to be together and collectively heal, bathed in the closeness of each other’s company. For them life would continue. It had to. To survive was everything in this land.
As each man finished licking the flesh and fat off each piece of fish, they would turn the skin back right-side-out and discard them into a sort of rounded metal container. David had never learned to eat the skins and he watch Kudluk discard them as well. “Odd,” he thought to himself, “He is so much more like me. He is the oldest son now, but he is so much more like me than his lost brother.”


Monday, January 18, 2010

Ilatsiak - 73 - The Walk Home

During the long walk back to the camp, both David and Tulugak noticed that Agayuq seemed more talkative than usual. He told stories from his childhood, pointing out various features on the landscape, some real and others seemingly imagined. Both David and Tulugak would look at each other when the old man’s stories began to get more and more fantastic.
After stopping to eat, Agayuq suddenly announced he was too tired to go on. He’d decided to camp on the stop and continue later. He tried to encourage the other two to go on alone. He’d be alright. Of course, they were in no hurry so all three made themselves comfortable on the ground and were soon asleep.
Tulugak woke his father with a slight shake. “Ataata, grand-father’s gone...”. Looking up, David saw the old man had indeed left while they had slept. They hastily collected their things and headed out wondering where he had gone. Not far ahead, on a slight ridge they could see Agayuq, lying down. As they came closer they began picking up items which the old man had mysteriously discarded. Reaching him, they realised he was dead. For some reason he had wanted to be alone at the end. David found that confusing and sad, but in a way it was so like him. Independent to the end. Always hunting for something different.
They placed Agayuq’s body in the bear-skin and rolled it up. Then they placed rocks over it, burying him in his last bear. It all seemed so fitting, but both men had tears streaming down their faces as they worked. It was hard to walk away towards the camp, still a day’s walk ahead. What would they say to those waiting for them to return?