End of an Arctic Dream -- Ramon Gandia 8/14/2009
Thousands of years ago, in an arctic land
It was eeriely silent; perhaps an eagle would have heard the slight swish of the sled runners upon the snow, or the heavy breathing of the dogs. But there were no eagles flying today.
Standing in the back of the sled was a figure, clad in Fur Parka with the hood drawn about his face. His features were hard to discern for he wore a pair of slitted goggles.
The dogs pulled hard, and far in the distance, towards the land of warmth, the midday sun failed to rise above the horizon. A chill hung over the land, and the mist from the panting of the dogs and driver froze and settled after their passing.
Ikituq had seen fourteen summers. His father and mother had patiently taught him all they knew, and soon ... very soon, he would meet the daughter of a neighbor. But Ikituq was not thinking about this. He knew his father was hurt. He had broken a leg on a hunt a moon ago, and now his mother, baby sister and father were huddled in the winter shelter without food. Ikituq had to hunt, and hunt for his life ... and their lives. Responsibility weighed heavy on his shoulders as he drove the dogteam on and on in search for something to eat.
In a land and time when years were not yet counted, numbered and recorded, Ikituq knew this time of the year as the Time of the Starving Moon. And indeed there was very little game afoot. If the spirits willed it, he would find something to eat and bring back. Otherwise, another day or moon would pass without food. But that was the way it was.
Ikituq spied something in the distance. He brought the team to a halt, and laid down in the snow. He took off his snowgoggles and looked hard. That dark speck, was it a rock? Perhaps just a snowdrift around a willowbush? Or maybe a Tutu or Tutuvok? He peered hard, and discerned movement. Indeed, it moved. Now, Ikituq called upon the spirits to favor him. He drove the dogteam into a parallel valley, out of sight of the animal, whatever it was. He travelled upstream and cautiously neared the prey.
Stopping his team, he went uphill until the prey came into view. It was Tutuvok, the moose! The animal would weigh as much as his family and dogs together. If he could only get it! Ikituq could see that the animal was lying down, his day's forage coming to a close in the fading light.
The animal laid in a depression that in summertime would be a creek. His eye followed the depression downhill, and there he could discern a small gorge or rocky narrowing. How could he use this knowledge? He thought hard, and the lessons of his father, grandfather and uncles came to him. He could hear their voices, and the voices of the land spirits urging him.
Ikituq went back to his dogteam and maneuvered them ever closer to the Moose, yet out of sight. He stopped his team and set out the ice anchors so they would not move and perhaps spook the moose. Very carefully Ikituq went uphill and looked again. There, perhaps thirty or forty spearthrows away was Tutuvok, lying down in the snow, his frozen breath like a slight fog around his nostrils. Ikituq watched for a while, and went back to his dogteam to plan and think.
An oil camp, present day Alaska.
Richard stepped out of his private jet. He immediately noticed the cold, foggy, clammy weather. The runway was wet, and the noise of oil rigs and machinery were all around. He stepped into a shelter cabin to wait for his ride to the village.
"What are you going to do?" Asked a roughneck.
"I have to fly to that Eskimo village and straighten things out," he replied. "I have to offer them jobs."
"Jobs are good," replied the worker, "its what the people want."
Richard grinned, and his eyes sparkled with excitement. "Yes, its what they want, and what we want them to want."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we are here drilling for oil. We have to spend a lot of money to come up here, spread out our machinery, and drill for the oil. We need workers. We need technicians, cooks, maids, roustabouts, errand boys, you name it. What we do is list all of these jobs and see which ones can be filled in by the local Eskimo villagers. You'd be surprised what some of them can do!"
And he continued, "Now, the thing is ... the thing is that we need those workers. If we couldn't get them here, we would have to bring them in from Tulsa or Dallas. But if we get them locally, it costs us absolutely nothing extra. And in return for not spending an extra dime, we can suck their oil right out from under their feet!"
"But," said the oil worker, "that is exploitation!"
"Not so. Once it is sanctioned by the government, or even the Native Corporations themselves, it is all perfectly all right!" concluded Richard.
Just then, there was a commotion outside ... a helicopter was landing. When it came to a stop, the pilot stepped outside and shook hands with Richard.
"The weather is bad over at the village," said the pilot. "Anything we can do for you in the meantime?"
Richard thought about this. The pilot and helicopter were his to command, and his name was law in this place. "Sure, if we have time to kill, how about a hunt?"
As Richard rummaged through his luggage for the rifle he had brought, the pilot said, "We can't hunt by helicopter. It is illegal. I can't do that."
"Listen you little good-for-nothing," shouted Richard. "If I want to go hunting, I go hunting and you do as I say!"
The pilot, thinking about how flying jobs were to hard to get nowadays, and the mortgage on his house, and his pregnant wife, finally gave in. "Ok, we go." And with that, Richard and the pilot got into the helicopter and travelled inland.
Ikituq finally decided on a plan. He put a few items in his backpack, and unlashed the spear he carried. This was a straight piece of wood, very rare in this treeless country. The tip was made of sharpened ivory. It was a bit longer than he was tall, and was very hefty. He had several spears, but this is the one he chose.
Approaching his favorite dog, he spoke to him. "Saaliuq, I am untying you. I want you to sit here until I call you. You are my best dog. You are not the leader, because the leader is my father's dog, but you are my dog." Ikituq petted Saaliuq, and drew a circle in the snow about the dog. "Stay!" Ikituq said, "Stay!"
Now Ikituq walked and ran down the parallel valley. Sunlight was fading, but the moon had come out. The moon had a very powerful spirit, but Ikituq hoped that it would favor him tonight. Downhill and away from the team he went, and soon he was out of sight of the dogs. Saaliuq stayed as commanded, and none of the dogs barked. It was all right.
After some distance, he went uphill and looked. The valley that had Tutuvok was before him. The rocky ravine very close, and the moose a speck in the uplands lying down. Very carefully Ikituq went into the ravine. Ikituq now inspected his sorroundings. The rocky cleft was quite narrow, perhaps three times his height across. On one of the rocky faces a starburst pattern of white stone shone in the moonlight. It was very beautiful, and Ikituq knew there were powerful spirits here. He bided his time. And after many breaths and heartbeats, the moon moved behind the rocks and all was thrown into darkness. Yet, the valley upstream was bathed in moonbeams and he could still see the resting moose.
Ikituq stood up, and at the top of his voice called: "Saaaaliuuuq! Cooome!" And up the valley the dog perked his ears, barked and charged down the hill. The dog, seeing the moose at that moment, chased him downhill wagging his tail and barking in joy. The moose would have nothing to do with the dog. Was this a wolf? Or what? So the moose also took off at a trot down the hill. The dog did not have a chance to catch the moose, so Saaliuq barked the louder, and the moose ran the faster.
Down in the cleft, Ikituq got ready. He could see the charging moose. The cold weather created the slightest of breezes coming downstream, and he knew the moose could neither smell nor hear him. He prepared a spot, pushing snow aside until the bare ground showed.
As the moose charged in between the rocks, Ikituq, whose eyes were accustomed to the dim light, leaped forward and put the heel of the spear into the ground. The charging moose was blinded by the sudden dark and could not see what awaitened him. And he impaled himself into the strong, wooden shaft of Ikituq's spear. The spear shaft snapped in half, but the work had been done. The moose fell, kicked, shuddred laid still.
Ikituq looked at his kill. When Saaliuq arrived he said "Saaliuq, my faithful dog, you have done your part. Let us eat of the heart, and thank the spirit of Tutuvok for giving us of his flesh, that you and I, and the other dogs and my family can eat and pass the time of the Starving Moon."
And after the dog and master had feasted and rested, they went back to the dog team and brought them to the kill site where all ate in turn. The remainder of the animal was lovingly wrapped in his own hide and strapped to the sled. Ikituq drove home, and his eyes could see, in the distance, the faint twilight of the sun, the stars shining overhead, and was that a Raven there in the distance keeping pace with him? Everything was right. The spirits had favored him, and the cycle of life would make another turn.
Alaska North Slope, present day
Richard poked the pilot. "There!" he said into the intercom. "That looks like a moose foraging in the willows."
"Yes, I see it, "replied the pilot. "But there is no place to land."
"I can shoot it from in here," replied Richard.
"Not really. The chopper vibrates too much. You won't hit anything."
"Well, look over there," said Richard. "Look downstream and you can see that the valley narrows down to that rocky cleft. You can drop me and my gun off in there, and herd the moose to me with the helicopter."
"A moose is very large," said the pilot. We will not be able to fit it all in here with us."
"I don't care. I don't want the whole thing. I just want the head and antlers! Look at the rack on that thing! They boys in Dallas will freak out when they see that hanging in my office!"
Not bothering to argue, the pilot dropped Richard off at the cleft. Richard could see that it was in shadow, and that he could hide from the moose there. So he waited, while the pilot flew a wide circle upstream and began swooping on the moose. The moose, alarmed by this flying contraption, went barrelling down the stream, towards the unseen but awaiting Richard and his .375 H&H Magnum rifle.
The moose got nearer and nearer. Richard was not an experienced hunter nor a good shot. But the moose was going to be so close that it would not matter. Once again, the superior intellect of a white man would get the best of moose, game or dumb villagers.
Just as the moose charged into the cleft, the sun peeked over the rocks, throwing all into brilliant light. Richard flinched and his shot went wild. He did not have time to work the bolt action again. The moose saw him and vented his wrath on Richard. The antlers gored him, and the hooves caved in his chest. The animal disappeared downstream away from the nagging helicopter sound.
Richard laid on the ground, and looking up at the rocky wall he could see a pretty quartz pattern that looked just like a starburst. "Well," he said to himself, "I missed the moose but I can have some frikking eskimo workers come here and carve this out for me so I can hang it on the boardroom." And then, as the life ran out of him, darkness took his spirit and his dreams came to naught under the arctic sun.
Copyright © 2009, Ramon Gandia.
I wanted to write a story where perseverance, faith, sprituality and generosity meet --through the magic of synchronicity-- greed, avarice, prejudice, materialism and narcissism. As I love and live in the arctic, I thought the judge should be the land and its timeless nature.
I love this story, and I hope you like it too.