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, March 05, 2010

Ilatsiak - 84 - Patsy's Discovery

Patsy pushed open the door of the Hudson’s Bay post store and nearly bumped into Angutinquaq coming up the stairs. “Hey, what’s the hurry?” he said.
“Look at this, Patsy. An old book!” The young man was obviously excited about his find. “Found it way over by the cross over to Adelaide. It was just lying there on the ground. It looks really old. Think the trader will be interested in it?”
Patsy looked at the book. It was old alright. The thin leather covers were mostly chewed off and the pages nearly bleached clean. Little of the writing was legible anymore, but a few pages were, the ones near the back. “I don’t know. Better ask him what he thinks.”
Patsy continued down the few stairs and crossed over towards his small house in Goa Haven. He’d come a long way he thought to himself. He now worked as a clerk for the Hudson’s Bay Company and was in line to replace the present trader in the fall. He was looking forward to being in charge for once. For one thing he'd do if he was the trader was keep that book that Angutinquaq was taking in to show the trader. He was sure it was valuable, but he knew the trader wouldn’t think so. He’d probably give the kid a couple of dollars and then throw the book in the trash. Patsy decided to check through the bins before he took them to the dump for burning later that day, after the store closed.

Sure enough, the little book was in the trash when Patsy took out the bin. He slipped it into his pocket.
Later that evening, Patsy opened the book so see what he could make of it. Most of the book was impossible to read as the ink had faded long ago, however, in the back, it was obvious that someone else had begun writing in it. The handwriting was quite different and while the earlier faded hand was in cursive and had a certain flowing style, the new writer only printed and had just a rough idea of spelling and other grammatical features. The book’s two writers were nearly impossible to read, but for different reasons.
The first part seemed to be a medical journal, or at least it contained notes about various illnesses and their cures. It was the sort of stuff a medical doctor might have kept about his practice noting how various treatments had worked on patients and so on. The new writer, on the other hand, seemed to be keeping a diary of events. The entries were not consecutive, but spaced over several years until they suddenly ended. The earlier ones were each signed ‘David’, but near the end they were all signed ‘Ilatsiak’. Patsy put the book down and smiled. He spent years looking for the old shaman he'd met at his father's trading post, but in vain. He had simply disappeared. Even his son didn't know what exactly had happened to him. He didn't even seem to know much about his father. Either that or he wasn't about to tell Patsy what he did know.
Now suddenly the answer was in his hand. The old shaman had been on Franklin's lost expedition in the mid 1800's. he wasn't a shaman at all. He must have worked with one of the ship's doctors and kept notes. Amazing...

• • • The End • • •


Monday, March 01, 2010

Ilatsiak - 83 - David's Tracks

Kudluk wasn’t surprised when his father didn’t show up later when the group stopped to rest, but when there was still no sign of him a few days later, he decided to hunt for basking seals back along the route they’d taken from the trader’s cabin. The sled tracks were still visible even with the melting that had taken place, making David's trail was easy to follow.
By the time the sun was high in the sky, Kudluk came to the area where he had last seen his father. He could see where his tracks veered off to the north, but it was clear that he had not turned completely around back towards the traders. Instead the tracks headed straight north and then began edging towards the east. David smiled. The old guy was headed to the ice edge to look for seals! Why had he not thought of that?
Another few hours and David could see the dark blue line of open water in the distance. His father’s dog sled headed right for it.
Kuduk first became concerned as he passed over several ice cracks. None of them were moving, but he knew they soon would be. This was a dangerous area and the likelihood of an ice flow breaking off from the main ice was high. To make matters worse, there was no sign of his father other than the tracks which continued to lead straight to the water.
Then he saw the thing he feared the most. His father’s sled tracks continued straight out at the ice edge. He was out there somewhere on an ice floe, drifting with the wind and the current. If the floe was large enough, he might make it back to the main ice when the tide turned. If not, well, he’d rather not think about that. It was at least two days ago...
Kudluk realised it was futile to remain at the ice edge. He didn't have a kayak and there was no ice to be seen out on the open water. It was also dangerous as he could suffer the same fate. Urging his dogs, he turned and retraced his route, relaxing only when he passed over the last crack. It was beginning to move slightly.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ilatsiak - 82 - Turning Around

A half days journey away from the trader’s cabin, David allowed his dogs to slow down instead of keeping up with the others. For a while Kudluk jogged along side David’s sled, but then began walking as it went slower and slower. He was hoping that David would say something, but he didn’t. Finally he asked where they ought to camp. The snow was getting soft in the spring sunshine, so it was probably better to camp early and then continue on in the evening when the snow froze again.
David suddenly looked up as if he had been dozing. “Camp where you’d like.” He said. “I’m in no hurry... I’m thinking I might go back to the trader’s.”
Kudluk was struck by this idea. He had thought his father was anxious to leave the place. What did he want to return there for? Kudluk mentioned a spot a little further along the coast and said they’d stop there for a few days. He then ran ahead to catch up with his wife and their sled.
David was almost surprised he had said what he had to Kudluk. In fact, he had no idea of where he was going, but it certainly was not back to the traders. Once Kudluk had caught up with his family, David slowed his dogs to a stop and began rummaging around for some dried caribou meat. He was hungry and needed to think. As he chewed the hard, dry strip of meat, he watched Kudluk and the others disappear into the whiteness ahead. He signaled his dogs to turn left and headed out to sea.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Ilatsiak - 81 - Strangers Bring News

Way out in the bay, anyone with eyes to see could make out a tiny speck slowly making its way through the ice fields. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. Soon it would be possible to tell who was coming. Even at this distance, a person’s stance on the sled was recognizable to the small group assembled at the semi-circular array of snow houses along the bay. David listened to children as they called out that there was a dog sled out on the bay coming in their direction. It unnerved him slightly and it got worse when he could hear it was strangers arriving. People unknown to the camp could mean trouble. He wondered if he should get up and go see the sleds for himself. His family would expect it as he was the oldest by far. Still he lay on the snow-house bench and seemed to have trouble making up his mind what to do.
David listened to the camp people begin to speak with the strangers. Now the origins of his discomfort became clear. There was talk of white people in the area. People with a ship. People looking for Inuit. He decided to remain where he was and watch what would happen.
Over the course of the next few days, there was much chatter among the camp people. None of them had ever seen white people although like many people they had heard lots of stories of these dog-faced people from some distant land fat to the south. Before long, many wanted to go to their camp and see what they were like close up. It would be an adventure, but at the same time others held back fearing it may be a trap of some kind.
Then Aupaluk and his family left, heading west towards the white people’s camp. The time of indecision was over and many people, including Kudluk decided they too would travel west. It was clear however that David was concerned about them going. He decided to have a special snow-house built so he could think about what the coming of the white people meant.
As he sat in the small snow-house David felt rather foolish. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He tried to concentrate on the situation and as he did so, he began to feel waves of panic sweep over him. He saw Aupaluk swirling into the water, massive blocks of ice being flung into the air and piling one on top of the other. Aupaluk was madly trying to save his wife and their children, but the water currents were too strong and the breaking ice too confusing to do anything for them. David had often had powerful dreams, but this one seemed to come from the very depth of his soul. He could only see the horrific scenes around him. Everywhere else appeared to be black and formless. Without being aware of it, he suddenly stood up, bursting right through the roof of the snow-house. In his panic, he angrily pushed aside the snow blocks in front of him and began running towards the camp, yelling for everyone to get ready to leave. He remembered yelling to them that they must hurry to save Aupaluk and his family from certain death.
The days spent at the white man’s camp were not at all what David was expecting. In a way, he had assumed he would be recognized by the traders. He expected he would have to speak English, a language which he no longer thought he knew. As the time passed and everyone treated him as an Inuk and even called him by his Inuk name, he found himself relaxing. He enjoyed speaking with a young clerk named Patsy and began to tell him some stories. Some of them were true and others he embellished to make them more interesting. He remembered telling Patsy that the traders boat was quite small to be in these waters. He also told them the boom was broken, although he couldn’t remember the word for ‘boom’ and called it the ‘thing which makes the boat go’. Not very satisfactory, but it seemed to please Patsy.
The last night they were there, David watched the white men playing dominoes. It seemed to set him off for a reason he couldn’t pin-point. Finally he got up and scattered the dominoes across the room and left. When he arrived back at Kudluk’s he announced he would be leaving. The next morning everyone had left the trading post and was on the way home.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Ilatsiak - 80 - Summer Voices

After the death of his wife Qayaq and his friend Uyaraluk, David moved in with Kudluk’s family and began following the seasons with them. He was an elder now as well as being a shaman, although he never willingly accepted the latter role. He did what he could to help sick people when called upon. Without realising it, it often used techniques he seen used back in Scotland or on board ship and was often rewarded with some success. When his fellow Inuit didn’t recognize his healing methods, naturally it seemed to them to be the magic of the shaman at work. When they did understand his methods, he was still a shaman, but using a lighter form of magic, at least in their opinion.
The years passed quietly with Kudluk. For several years, David lived with a women chosen for him by Kudluk’s wife’s family. They were worried he was getting lonely and had no one to assist in the daily work that needed doing. She was a great help to him in a domestic way, mending his clothes and preparing his meals, but that seemed to be all. It was mostly a marriage of convenience and not one of love or procreation. After a few years, she departed for a younger hunter who would give her children. No one seemed to mind, least of all David. He simply moved over to David’s house and stayed there.
Eventually, and in spite of the taboos prohibiting it, David decided to remain near the seashore rather than take the long march inland each summer. Most people would have been harshly criticized for making such a move, but being a shaman had it’s privileges and David often took advantage of them. He wasn’t sure why he particularly like being near the shore in the summer, but the excuse he told himself was his old legs could no longer walk as far has the people would have to go. He would only slow them down as they hunted the inland trails.
Each morning, David would take a shorter walk often to the highest point of land where he would sit and stare out to sea. In the spring, he stared at the sea ice and watched as it slowly melted in the warming sunshine. Once open water came in August, watching the water in all it’s moods gave him great pleasure. There were times when he’d fall asleep at his lookout and even a few times when he’d suddenly waken thinking he’d seen a ship or heard the voices of sailors on deck. It was never to be, however, or so he’d think. Was it his failing eyesight? Perhaps his ears had picked up sounds of a ship sailing past. Perhaps it was only in his head. David could never be sure. He was getting old and tired. It was difficult to distinguish his dreams from his real life anymore, but even that didn't seem to bother him. Living alone, there was no one to complain.
The afternoons were better. He often went fishing at the weir, but there were also times spent renewing equipment which would be used during the coming winter. He would pass whole afternoon making toggles for the dog harnasses using the pile of antlers stacked near his tent. He was never lonely, but always looked forward to Kudluk’s family returning in the fall when his grandchildren could be close once again. For his part, Kudluk wasn’t happy knowing his father was alone. There were few dangers other than bears, but still, he wished David would join them or at least camp upriver closer to where the family would spend their summers. David would hear nothing of it, however, so for many years that was the summer pattern.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Ilatsiak - 79 - David's Vision

Inside the snow-house, David set about his usual routine to get in touch with the spirits. It took two days for them to come. He was beginning to worry that he had been abandoned by more than his wife and friend. The spirits seemed to have left him as well. However when they came to him, it was very vividly. He saw a little ship, frozen into the bay and several people dressed in fur clothing worked around her, coming and going. No Inuit people could be seen near her. The men worked at strange white platforms out on the ice, some of which had little doors which would swing out. The men would then take something out look at it carefully then begin to swing it at arm’s length. Finally they would replace the object, close the door to the box and return to the ship.
David wanted to see the men more closely, but had trouble. The spirits kept fading the vision he had and other than a brief glimpse of the boat, he was able to see nothing that made much sense to him. In the end, he knew that this boat would leave in the summer and never come again. He would never meet the people on it, but in some strange way these men would meet him, or at least people, he had known as children. In one of his visions, the boat was in another place, a place he had known with his father Agayuq many years ago. At first, he saw men standing on this ship speaking to Inuit people on the ice below. Then the scene abruptly changed. Everyone was out in the snow and were crowding around the white men, grabbing at them, pulling their clothing and shouting and laughing. They would called them “Kablunaq” and stare into their faces, then try to stroke their beards and feel their arms and chests as if trying to discover what they were. David woke up from these visions exhausted and confused. What was he seeing? He couldn’t be sure. It was disquieting and disturbing, yet he had the feeling that these men were not to be feared. There were not looking for him as others had seemed to be.
When Kudluk returned for his father, he found him asleep. He entered his snow-house and began to cut off slices of frozen caribou from the leg bone he had left. “This old man has forgotten to eat...” he mumbled to himself. “He’ll starve to death if I leave him alone too much.”
The sound of someone with him slowly came to David’s ears and brought him awake. He saw Kudluk and smiled, his eyes had a sparkle to them which Kudluk found almost amusing. “You have come, my son. Good. It is time to return to the camp. All is well. Uyaraluk is happy in the spirit world. Life must go on now.”


Monday, February 01, 2010

Ilatsiak - 78 - Musk Ox People

In the days which followed there was much to do. First came the move in order to let the dead spirit find its peace in its new world. Staying put would only make the transition more difficult for it if they remained in the area. Finding a new spot to build their camp took three days and then the men were forced to begun hunting again. The new area, while known to the men, still took time to produce seals and David was busy reassuring people that their choice had been the right one. But after the settling in period was over and life began to adjust in the absence of Uyaraluk’s familiar figure, David had time to reflect on the coming of the whites again to the area. Why was it, he wondered, that they kept following him? Was it he they were looking for? But why him? He decided to find the young hunter and question him about these people and find out what they wanted here.
Uyaraluk had mentioned the hunter’s name, but he was not known to many people in the camp. He was from a group of people living further to the east, people who were called the Musk Ox people because of where they lived. It was too far to travel to visit this man and besides, who knows where he might be at this time of the year. The Musk Ox people were known to be wanderers and could be far inland or even on Victoria Island. Instead, David made a shorter trip to a islet out in the bay where he like to go by himself and confer with his spirits. By this time he had several spirits who would visit him regularly and from whom he could sometimes extract bits of useful information. He got Kudlik to take him out there and build a snow-house. He then left promising to return in a few days. Since the death of Qayaq about two years previously, David had come to depend on his son Kudluk and his family. It was a comfortable arrangement and one which made the loss of his wife bearable. He missed her every day and sometimes pleaded with his spirits to take him to see her if they could, but they never did. Slowly David realised they would not, but he had Kudluk and his family to remind him of her.