Wed March 16
Blue skies again as I peer out the 7am window. It’s a ski day, I think, wanting to explore more of the country side. Skis in hand, Barb and I start out of town. We stop to talk to Simionee, who demonstrates proper technique with a harpoon, its detachable head and toggle system, an effective seal killing device. He asks how many children I have and is surprised to learn none: using sign language, he then demonstrates with a graphic wiggle of his finger how despite his age, his plumbing is still in good working order. I’m not sure how to interpret this intimate detail - is this is an invitation, a mere statement of fact or encouragement that its never to late? I take the easy way out, smile, shrug my shoulders, point to my skis and nod good day.
Our destination is to follow Soper Channel up into Soper Lake, a few kilometers north from town. Before long, Barb decides to turn back, so I continue on my own. I don’t mind, despite the frigid wind blowing into my face. From the top of a hill, I scan the countryside below for any sign of caribou. Evidence of a four wheel track scars the ridge top, I follow along, coming to a dead caribou. In the distance, four live caribou graze, pawing snow away from nourishing lichen. These gun shy animals are hard to approach, altered to my presence although I’m at least a kilometer away on the hill opposite.
At my feet, frozen blue berries, desiccated by drying winds are the size of caribou pellets. They must be immense in the summer! The rock has been ground and pulverized by elements and wind into a fine, almost sand like texture. Orange lichen seem to be the glue that keeps the soil from the wind’s non stop grasping. In the distance, the 1pm town siren sounds and I return for lunch.
Later, I head in the opposite direction, towards the town water supply. Again, skiing proves very rough due to the hard wind packed snow and lumpy piles. At the lake, an inukshuk marks the summer shore, skis are temporarily parked there and I continue on foot. Another group of three caribou are grazing on an adjacent ridge, perhaps this time my stalking effort will be rewarded with a decent photograph. The sun is heading towards the horizon, its only 4pm but days are short. Overhead, the bi weekly plane circles, coming from Iqaluit, the landing strip below. I take in the 360 degree panorama, frozen Pleasant Inlet to the west and to the far south, ice bergs caught in McKellar Bay.
It is absolutely silent except for my breathing and a light wind. Suddenly I’m very aware of my solitude, no one knows my whereabouts and dusk is fast approaching. However, it’s magnificent to be in this full glory of an arctic winter. I’m reluctant to leave, shatter the spell and return to the comforts of town. In an effort to prolong the feeling, I return via longer route, crossing the frozen lake to the dump road. Augered waste at each hole, haphazardly piled, indicates where someone had been ice fishing.
Climbing up for a view, I find a low rocky ridge. The sky is glowing orange along the west horizon, the snows a wash of pastel mauve, purple, blush and pins. A sheltered hidey hole protects me from the wind, I lean back, padded from the cold by my thick parka and pants, waiting for what ever will happen next.
Eventually, two figures present themselves at the inukshuk. Judging by their height and size, it seems to be George and Barb. Donning skis, I descend the slope, zig zagging to avoid rocks and bare patches. It is them, and with a quick ‘hallo’, I shush quick back to town for dinner. Ravenous and wind bullied, eyes burning from the glare of the sun, I loved every solitary minute.
Pitsiula and Mattoo have brought over more carvings. They are interested that we are from Hamilton as they both spent time at the TB Sanatorium up on the mountain – its now a long term care facility but a small bronze plaque highlights its past use. Mattoo talks about life on the land, he’d like to be either a guide or a prospector…I’m interested to hear about his polar bear encounter which he shot at 16 years (guessing he’s about 45 now). Later Pitsiula returns with some raw seal meat – its very dark red and the blubber is white/orange…orange?? I try to keep an open mind but its not appealing (or is it because my belly is full and I’m tired) – the texture is like uncooked liver, smooth and silky. Tentatively, I sample a small raw piece, chewing it carefully – its cold and doesn’t have much flavour. Finally, I can stay awake no longer and stagger off to bed.