In forth grade we read a story about Inuit in Canada’s high arctic, who apologized to seals before they speared them for dinner. From that childhood story until I traveled to Northern Baffin Island with McGill University for 2 years among this gentle intelligent people, curiosity drove my desire to gaze across frozen tundra through Inuit eyes.
Unlike bookish discoveries, Inuit carve from stone, enjoy easy wit and hunt in white outs at 90 degrees below zero. Up beyond tree lines, nothing buffers hurricane blusters, and little slows an Inuit’s delight in northern yarns.
Simple curiosity opened amazing arctic proclivities to share stories as easily and naturally as polar bears fish.
With pitch black days for months in a row, Inuit friend Theo, told stories of his dog team trek 3000 miles from Igloolik to Greenland, gauging wind directions, ocean ice depths, and climactic patterns as accurately as if he possessed a compass in his head. Theo wended our dog team around forty foot pressure ridges, as he recounted daring exploits – some of which are now recorded in Equinox magazine (Vol. 36 No. 36.)
Humor kept interest high on Baffin too – when one blizzard shut down Igloolik’s only taxi, and I found myself thrust into a skidoo with Oonark, headed to the airport, under four bags. The big bag hurled into a snowbank, to grab later. What a ride – over uneven snow ditches, as if headed down Aspen mountain in a ski race.
Snowmobile heaving from side to side, we skidded into gullies over bumps and teetered on the edge of snow banks. I held onto blowing bags, and held my breath. Oonark raced on, undaunted by the tundra’s’ icy obstacles. Not dressed for a skidoo, in sub zero temperatures I was unprepared for the rugged terrain we encountered. I questioned my own ability to hang on, bags flying in the wind, my frozen face, and Oonark’s expression of delight and conquest over the elements.
As my eyeballs thawed under ice formed lids, Oonark burst through the airport door – red-faced and smiling. Hurling my large bag in front of me, she asked. “Any breakables here?” The bag’d flown off the skidoo three times I was told. “No problem.” I shot back, “Could’ve been me flying off that pony!” Looking back, it changed my life.
If you find yourself tanking into rigid routines simply ask, “What more could today offer through a different view?” You likely won’t land on Arctic tundra, or find Inuit circling past frozen bays outside your window. Nor will huskies pull hunters’ sleds, racing past you toward flow edges to capture narwhal, seals, caribou, and possibly a polar bear.
How could curiosity leave you smarter, and headed toward a Baffin-Island-level-venture today?