Snowmobiles sleigh us through snow covered mountains and tundra hinterlands to a small colony of igloos, where we shall sleep tonight.
Immediately we notice a toilette made of snow, with a green bag hanging under a plastic seat. A “loo with a view” for sure.
Anders, our host, responds to the laughter. “We pack out everything we bring in,” he explains. “Let’s gather in the cabin for lunch and orientation.”
“There will be two guests to an igloo. If it gets too cold tonight, feel free to snuggle-up in here.” The cabin has no water or electricity but does have an indoor compost toilet and oil heat. After a smorgasbord of rye bread, smoked fish and reindeer, it’s time to burn off lunch with a snowshoe hike.
The trail crosses a frozen lake and up through a mountain pass, where our labors manifest into yet another unearthly viewpoint. The massive Jakobshavn Glacier creates most of the icebergs that drift in the northern hemisphere.
Many of these behemoths linger, stuck to the bottom sometimes for years before making a slow drift southbound through the channel of a thawing fjord.
This shoreline grows larger each year due to rapid ice melt, forcing fishermen and their sled dogs to traverse farther hauls to get to the ice and drill holes for halibut fishing. A common catch could exceed 200 pounds of halibut. They fish in the traditional manner – no shacks or heated huts, and sleep on a dogsled wrapped in sealskin. With no wood anywhere to make a fire, I’d be sleeping under a pack of sled dogs!
Back at the shack hungry and thirsty from snowshoeing, Mare and I are pleased to find beer available. A few cold ones accompany dinner of musk ox stew. Then, we sit around the table while Anders tells stories of Inuit folklore and myth from early Greenlandic people as far back as 4000BC. There are many variations of these stories, passed by word of mouth for many years. Some of them make no sense at all. Others have a moral. I’ll share a short mythological one:
Malina and her brother Anningan grew up together. Late at night, Anningan snuck into Malina’s room and had sex with her, incestual rape. She couldn’t see his face and did not know who assaulted her. Next time he snuck in she soiled her hands with seal oil to mark him.
Once she identified him as her brother, she ran into the sky and became the sun, full of life and warmth. Anningan didn’t give up and chased her into the sky. He became the moon, a cold lifeless body pursuing his sister into eternity.
Anningan catches Molina once in a while and rapes her again, resulting in a solar eclipse. He spends so much time chasing her that he often forgets to eat and gets thinner, causing the different phases of the moon.
The Sun and the Moon despise each other, as well as other human beings of the opposite sex. During a solar eclipse, Inuit men are not supposed to go out. During a lunar eclipse, women stay in. The Sun goddess and Moon god represent poisonous spirits that spew disease upon anyone who offends them.
After watching the northern lights, we crawl into our igloos. One guy in our group gets stuck in the cave-like opening, and his wife digs him out. Each igloo contains a shovel inside in case snow buries the opening.
Our bed consists of a reindeer skin on top of a twin bed size block of ice. First, we slip into a bag liner, and then into the sleeping bag. No sleeping naked tonight for me!
Someone with claustrophobia would have a difficult time. Going out to pee takes a lot of work, so you wait until you can’t hold it any longer. We sleep well. Exhaustion helps. Where else on earth could a tourist sleep in an igloo?
The musher negotiates about ten ropes, with a pack of magnificent Greenlandic dogs running on the end of each rope. I can’t figure out how he keeps the ropes from tangling, as the sled glides through snow and bounces over tundra boulders for several hours. Yeehaw!
Thank you, Abundant Universe.
Ron Mitchell and Marilynn Windust