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Maneuvering a sled through tons of rock is a challenge for the musher as well as the dogs.

White Wolf and the Easter Bunny

Date: April 16, 01
Position: 66.38N 95.48W
Weather Conditions: Cloudy, slight wind from northwest, -5C/22F

Happy Easter! It is Easter Sunday, and like many other people of the world, we have decided to take a day off. No, actually it doesn't really have to do with the fact that it is a holy day as they say in Denmark, it is simply because the dogs are tired and need a rest day. We are only 60 some miles from our next destination, Gjoa Haven, where we will spend a couple of days, but the dogs have worked very hard to get us this far, this fast, and since we were not jolted out of sleep by the usual morning howl started by Timber or Peto, we knew we better just stay in camp today. It is a fine day for a rest, too. The weather is almost too warm for traveling. As a result, the dogs are enjoying just laying on their backs and relaxing - although they did give us a howl a few hours ago.

We have to admit that we are both laying on our backs enjoying the rest, too. The last week we have pushed hard. It is light out until almost 10 o'clock at night so we can travel longer increasing our average mileage to almost 30 miles a day! Yesterday, we came onto the Arctic Ocean; however, we have crossed a lot of varied terrain to get here. We have done a lot of hard hill climbing. For a couple of days, we just kept going up and up, and then, really fast down! We have gone through huge wide open valleys where it seemed like we could see forever, and of course, chasing lots of caribou all the while.


Paul with Choko in the lead mushing up the river valley.

The dogs have pulled hard over and around hills covered with loose boulders. At one point, we even had to unload Mille’s sled because it got so stuck on a massive rock! We have gone through narrow riverbeds with very high banks where we blessed our luck that it was not windy as it would be easy to get blasted on a blustery day. Other times we passed by large cornices of snow, which we were careful not to pass under. One section of the snow would easily bury us if it fell. We crossed the Arctic Circle, but didn’t take a picture because it looked like every other piece of land we have been traveling on. (There is no fancy sign that marks this imaginary line.) The Arctic Circle is a line of latitude where exactly 50 nautical miles north and south are the limits of 24 hour sunlight and 24 hour darkness. This is due to the fact that our earth tilts on an axis towards the sun in the summer and away from the sun in the winter (speaking from a northern hemisphere point of view of course).

Then we made it out onto the Mistake River!! Remember in one report when we talked about always taking the map names into account. Well, Mille thinks this river was named because it seemed very low with many large sandbars. Paul thinks the name originates from the fact that the Mistake River runs fairly close to a much larger well traveled river called the Back River, and it would only take a small mistake to accidentally end up on this river. As a matter of fact, we know of one great explorer who did exactly that many years ago, when he traveled this area with the grandparents of our dogs. Yep, that was Will Steger back in the early 80's. He, and his team mate Bob Mantell, actually got somewhat lost in this area and even ran out of food. ( Join Will Steger to chat more about this and his other incredible expeditions in the Heroes and Dreams collaboration Zone chat coming soon). This was before G.P.S. was invented to navigate. We can definitely see how easy you could get confused by the numerous valleys, hill tops, and flat featureless terrain. We have seen plenty of animals that could be hunted in a survival situation. There are definitely lots of animals around.

We even had a wolf in camp! It was really the only cold night (-30F) we have had the last week, and it was dark out with no moon. At about 1 o'clock in the morning, Timber started barking his very distinctive warning barks, and a few minutes later Cassie got really mad with somebody, while the rest of the dogs set into a roar of noise. When we got up from the sleeping bags, and out of the tent we saw a big beautiful snow white Arctic wolf. He seemed kind of curious about the dogs, but nobody seemed in a friendly mood. Not even Timber who once played with a wolf before.

One of our female dogs is in heat, and we think the wolf came in to check things out and find the cute female with the nice “perfume.” Well, unfortunately for him, the first dog he went to was Cassie who was at the end of the stakeout chain. She is spayed and does NOT appreciate male attention, which we guess she then explained to the wolf. Cassie can be very feisty - Poor wolf! After about half an hour of visiting, he decided to move on and disappeared silently into the night. The wolf was actually bitten while visiting!


What do we do on days off and at night? Well, if we don't, read, write, eat or sleep ..Paul might be making a "Chocolate Brownie" experiment from pulverized cookies and water! Yummy!

One animal we did not see, which Mille was really hoping to track down was an Easter bunny with a big chocolate egg! "It's the first thing we are doing in Gjoa Haven - buying the BIGGEST egg they have got.” Easter is one of Mille’s favorite holidays when in Denmark, because of the huge amounts of excellent food. Family and friends will gather for what they call "Easter Lunch" and sit down to eat for 5 or 6 hours. Paul loves the holiday, too spending time with family and going to church. Along the route from Baker Lake to Gjoa Haven, we met quite a few families traveling by snowmobile to spend time with their relatives in Gjoa Haven for a regional hockey tournament and to celebrate Easter.

Most Inuit today are Christians. The churches in Gjoa Haven are the Anglican Mission and the Roman Catholic Church. The missionaries and churches came with the establishment of the villages in the 1950's and 60's. Before the arrival of the western churches, the spiritual tradition was "Shamanism." Shamanism is very common in all hunting cultures around the world, probably closely related to the people's attachment to the land and the environment. In traditional Inuit society, the Shaman was seen as a doctor-advisor-healer and could be a man or a woman. Sometimes a camp could even have more than one. The Shaman was not the camp leader, that honor went to the oldest person in the group, and experienced hunter and trapper.

Inuit camps did not have chiefs like First Nations. To be a Shaman, or an Angatkuaq, as it is called in Inuktitut you had to be able to have visions and see spirits. Each Shaman had spirits known as tuunngait. This could, for example, be a beloved and wise family member that had passed away. In the spirit world, the expression of the good and the bad and the ugly played a major role. In other words, there are good and bad spirits. In some Inuit "tribes," they believed in the existence of Naarjuk, a supreme being, somewhat equivalent to the Christian God, who made earth and water. All Inuit seem to believe in the spirit of the Sea. Here, she is called the Nuliajuk, and is half human, half fish. When hunters are not catching any seal, it is because they have made her angry and she has called all her animals home. Then, the Shamans must go there to see why Nuliajuk is angry. Only then was it possible to catch seal again.


Mille's spare time this week was spent repairing harnesses chewed by Disko!

The Angatkuq identified bad spirits and where they were located, as well as who was causing sickness, bad weather or sparseness of animals. The worst of the bad spirits was called a tupilak. The saying is that the Angatkuq would have to physically kill this one outside, and that the blood that would cover his or her arms afterwards, could only be washed off by urine. There are not many written accounts on this spiritual world, and it is not easy to get elders to talk about this topic as they know it is looked upon with great skepticism. Many of them were taught while growing up (with the western churches) that these beliefs and practices were evil. Today, Shamanism is practiced by some, often alongside Christianity, since the focus seems to be on the healing powers - but most often it is practiced in secret.

Luckily, this was of great interest to the Greenlandic explorer Knud Rasmussen who traveled throughout the Arctic by dog team in the beginning of 1900's to explore and describe Inuit Culture. His books are some of our favorite reading material. Knud was very skeptical of the Shamans powers, especially the ability to physically fight the bad spirits, until he sat in on a ceremony where the shaman was trying to find a solution to a problem and finally found the bad spirit in one particular person in the audience. Knud describes how the Shaman, while in a trance, basically attacked this person, lifting him off the ground, above his head, and strangling him with a physical power unbelievable for the small Shaman. As the Shaman returned from the trance, the man he just strangled wakes up, not knowing what just happened to him.

The traditional Inuit explanation is that the Shaman had traveled to a "different world,” had found the problem and was fighting the bad spirit present in the igloo. The Inuit traditionally talk of different worlds much like western religions. According to traditional Inuit belief, the Earth is the center of the Universe. Above it were several, sometimes up to four or five, different layers or "worlds." These were often associated with a particular heaven or "land of the dead" but always with spirits. The celestial sphere, or the sky, where the sun and the moon (who are also spirits) are placed is called Qilak. In form, Qilak is a solid arching canopy, sort of like a solid dome. In the regions of Qilak, live the various spirits. Nowadays, Qilak has the additional connotation of the Christian Heaven. The region below Qilak, which encompasses the Earth, its atmosphere, the air, the weather, and various other phenomena such as rainbows and the aurora [atoz/arora] is known as Sila. As a spirit, Sila was one of the most powerful and constant forces confronting Inuit in their day-to-day existence. Knud Rasmussen describes it as "a great, dangerous and divine spirit" that "lives up in the air out in the universe, between sky and sea, hovering over earth; from there it threatens mankind through the mighty powers of nature, wind and sea, fog, rain, and snowstorm." Silas commanded immense respect and was not to be provoked in any way. Today, people still identify Sila with the weather. It is still to be respected and carefully watched. We can identify with this being out here. As you might have realized by now, reading our reports, we think about weather pretty much all the time because you are so dependent on it.


Disko earns the "Polar Husky Star" for being the most persistent "chewer"! Besides this bad habit, Disko is an excellent and very kind Polar Husky. Only a little more than a year old he is a very hard worker running with his team mate "mighty Spook" on Mille’s team. Spook is a BIG guy, but Disko has befriended him with his gentle and kind personality - always being playful and kind.

The Shaman solves problems by traveling to these different worlds through spirit songs and by talking to the spirits by performing rituals. Again, if you read Knud Rasmussen’s descriptions of what he has seen and experienced you might start to wonder...There is no doubt that the Shamans - the Angatkuq - had and still have great healing powers and medicine knowledge, and maybe they are able to see beyond what most of us can!? What do you think? Sometimes when you are out here in the elements even the wildest things seem possible. Actually that is probably part of why we are out here. We simply get a major kick out of the incredible stuff we experience! Take a look at the "On Top of the World" collaboration zone for more on this topic and share your thoughts. We are also having a chat about this topic next Friday at 2 pm EST. Talk to you then!! ( By the way, by then we should be standing on the Rasmussen Basin, named after Knud Rasmussen himself..)

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