Monday, May 22, 2006

Fishing Camp

When I woke up with the wind was trying to roll the tent over, but a few hours later, having worked hard banking up gravel berms on the tent's windward side, the wind seemed to peter away to nothing. I rushed to stow the camp into the kayak hatches and launch. I was off again, but for how long? Soon the wind began making cat's paws on the surface. I pondered whether I could make it across the open bay, a distance of perhaps two or three miles. I decided to chance it. The head of the bay would take all day to make good what crossing directly would give me in less than an hour.
Reaching the far shore without too much drama, I discovered high gravel banks with no place to pull up a kayak to camp. The wind fortunately blew straight off the high shore leaving me to paddle in the lee. I plodded along the shore as it slowly curved away to the left, mile after mile of monotonous grey shoreline.
Finally I saw something different, a slight point of land up ahead with just enough level ground to pull ashore. Within the hour I was rounding it, looking into the mouth of a small gushing stream tumbling downwards to the sea. Just beyond the far shore were three white tents and a bunch of people looking in my direction. I headed towards them.
Two of the men waded into the water to catch the bow and guide it around the rocks lying in wait on the bottom. As soon as it was shallow enough, I clambered out and promptly slipped and fell in the water. I'd been paddling too long and the stiffness in my legs didn't add much gracefulness to my entry into the Inuit fishing camp!
I was helped up and managed to shake hands and say hello with everyone while the men kindly carried my kayak to shore. I was invited up the beach to the larger tent to have tea. They were the first people I had seen since leave the village of Hall Beach almost a week ago. It was good to have smiling faces and conversation again.
It was also a chance to try out my very rusty Inuktitut as the adults spoke only a few words of English and the children who did understand some English were far too shy to speak above a whisper and that only to their parents. I struggled for words long forgotten after nearly 30 years of being away.
I was offered one of their tents that evening and accepted. During the night the wind rose again and I could feel the tent beginning to give way. I went out and started adding extra stones to the guy lines. Soon everyone was out doing the same as the wind continued to rise. We all got up several times, but eventually there was a roar and screams, then laughter and cursing. I ducked out of the tent to see the large tent had completely disappeared leaving people and their belongings sitting out exposed to the elements. Parents were up quickly grabbing things and weighting them down with rocks, children were sent running after items which were heading off across the landscape.
By the end of the day most of the larger items had been recovered and the tent put up again, but it was decided to repair a small wooden cabin which was close by. We spent the next day working on this. We repaired the leaky roof and chain-sawed a hole in one wall so we could put a window, frame and all into it to give us some light. All eight of us, adults and children bedded down on the floor together, family and stranger in a big pile of bodies and sleeping bags. In the midst of all this the lady of the 'house' produced tea and bannock nearly non-stop, we continued to fish and the wind continued to blow.
Five days later when the wind finally ease up a bit, the big freighter canoes were loaded and my new family headed for home across the open water. I watched the sea dancing in the wind for several more hours wondering what to do, then decided that the wind had dropped enough. I could manage the crossing as well. I left and arrived several hours later in the midnight sun to greet old friends on a familiar arctic beach. Tikipunga!


bonnie said...

That's wonderful.

Michael said...

I think I'm falling in love... with your kind words! ;-)