The Fan Hitch Volume 10, Number 4, September 2008

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue....

From the Editor

In the News

Ladies' Ellesmere Vacation

Sled Dog Physiology: Non-Invasive Techniques

BAS Vignette: How Do You Say Good-bye?

Sledge Dog Memorial Fund Update

Report: The Chinook Project in Kimmirut

Bannock revisited

Book Review: Land of the Long Day

Behavior Notebook: On Being a Social Facilitator

Tip: Dealing with Those "Dirty" Boots

Index: Volume 10, The Fan Hitch

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Peter and his lead dog Whisky, share a tender moment.
                                                            Noble Collection

How Do You Say Good-bye?

by Peter Noble

I had said my goodbyes to colleagues staying on base but had one last call to make.  I headed away from the huts, not in the direction of the transport to the relief ship, but in the opposite direction to a place I visited regularly, the dog spans, the summer home of my other Antarctic friends.  It was a calm, sunny and relatively warm day of around -5°C and all fifty five huskies were tethered individually to the long wire "spans".  A few were standing but most were curled up into fluffy balls, noses well tucked in, for minus five on a bare nose is still chilly.

Fourteen of these beautiful, powerful, loveable beasts had, in various permutations made up my nine dog team and hauled my sledge with its tent and equipment  many hundreds of miles, to places I still dream about.  How do you say good-bye to such animals.  Animals that not only made the journeys possible, but made them enjoyable and less lonely.  Animals that in the midst of the harshest weather, gave we "doggymen" confidence and companionship.

I surveyed the spans but several of my old friends were absent.  Whiskey, my old lead dog had been retired the year previous but was then redrafted when we were short of leaders.  I had already entered negotiations to bring him home to England for a well earned retirement but he had died in harness.  Perhaps it was a more fitting end than suffering the heat of the tropics, or indeed of England.  Also the paucity of snow and the loss of his four legged comrades would have been hard on the old fellow.  The other absentees included, the old men Skye and his brother Stroma, the gentle bitches Chalky and Snowy.  I had run with them all, but they had suffered a more cruel and humiliating fate than Whisky - shot on orders from England.  No gratitude, no retirement permitted, not even a humane injection, and no vet to administer it: just an army issue revolver, a box of cartridges, and doggyman who was given the evil job.  No one dared ask what he felt… either answer would have been distressing.  I could visualise the line in the inventory: "Item, husky, surplus to requirement and written off."  I had wept with anger and sorrow as the gun shots rang out in the uncannily still polar air.

I now cast my eye over the spans again.  How do you say good-bye?  I gazed at those wonderful dogs, so full of energy and vitality, yet now so quiet and peaceful.  "Good-bye my friends," I called.  Nothing moved.  I tried again: "Thanks for all the marvellous times together and the amazing places you took me."  Nothing, I didn’t have any food for them and I didn't have a sledge or harnesses; why should they respond? My eye lifted to the distant invisible icy graves of those discarded friends, and I felt an unexpected sadness.  I took a deep breath, put my head back, and with my best  attempt at the Husky tongue, I howled.  There was silence… I howled again and felt rather stupid… more silence… then one dog, I don't know which, put back his head and howled also.  There was a pause, an anticlimax, what had I expected? But then the cry was taken up by another dog, then another and another.  More and more dogs began to hang their plaintive melodies on the still air until every single wonderful animal was howling.   I waved, unable to speak as I walked away, homeward bound, the tears flowing freely down my cheeks, and after forty years, my eyes still moisten when I think and write of that parting.

An excerpt from "Dog Days on Ice - Antarctic Exploration in a Golden Era" by Peter Noble and published by Reardon Publishing price £14.99, plus postage and packing, to be on sale in the new year (or possibly for this Christmas!).  Purchase direct from Peter Noble or Reardon Publishing.

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