Temperatures plummeted to forty below. Eskimo dogs pulling the gamutik freight sled pounded like pistons as they trotted in and out of sight through blowing snow and the violent swirl of 50mph winds. Heads bowed against the storm, Titus Allooloo and I either ran alongside the sled or rode it on straightaways.
“We have two options,” Allooloo said. “We either make it—or we die.”
My friend Allooloo, a native Inuit, and I had been dog sledding hard since we left Pond Inlet on Canada’s Baffin Island and cut between frozen mountainscapes toward the vast expanse of Arctic Ocean that separates the world’s fifth largest island from Greenland. Ice clung to furs and eyebrows and my mustache. We resembled Abominable Snowmen.
This powerful land is nothing if not a reflection of the Inuit belief that time is infinite.
Allooloo stopped the dogs and pointed south toward an escarpment whose outline I could barely make out through the blowing snow.
“Up there!” he shouted above the howling winds.
“Up there” meant the stone-and-sod remnants of a “trading post” constructed more than 1,000 years ago by Norse seafarers, Vikings who had made contact with the Inuit and their Thule ancestors long before Christopher Columbus “discovered” the New World. As an amateur archaeologist and journalist, I came North to better understand life above the Arctic Circle when life was still primitive and raw.
The Inuit were formerly called Eskimos, from a word that means “eaters of raw meat.” They had learned to survive and to thrive in one of the harshest climates on the planet.
Allooloo and I had covered a total of some 50 miles by dogsled over a period of ten hours by the time we reached a crude shelter from the storm in a tribal hunting shack overlooking the ice floes of the Arctic Ocean. For the next few days we hunted seals for meat, tracked and watched polar bears and explored the region. I soon understood why Eskimos were called “eaters of raw meat.”
We were butchering a spotted seal we killed at a breathing hole in the ice when Allooloo pointed at the spread of blood and offal. “Now we eat the liver—raw.”
“Because it’s good.”
My wife Donna Sue claims I will eat anything.
Allooloo knifed off a chunk of raw liver still steaming in the freezing air and stuffed it into his mouth. He watched me slyly to see if I would go along. I shrugged and sliced off a portion for myself. As Crocodile Dundee so famous observed in his movie, “You can live off it, but it tastes like—”
Well, you know. . .
Author of more than 50 books and novels, Charles W. Sasser’s latest works include A Thousand Years of Darkness, with a new SciFi, Sanctuary, to be released early next year. He is also writing Back in the Fight, the thrilling true story of Ranger Joe Kap who lost a leg in Iraq and has remained in combat as the only amputee in the military who still goes to war. Look for it soon.