In This Issue....From the Editor: Expeditions
My First Winter Trip in Antarctica
Canadian Animal Assistance Team in Pond Inlet
Sledge Dog Memorial Fund Update
In the News
Book Review: Dog Days on Ice
Behavior Notebook: Transitions
Product Review: The Tick Key
Tip: Flammable Food
IMHO: The Next Great Thing
Wandering re-establishes the original harmony
which once existed between man and the universe.
Anatole France, 1844-1924
French poet, journalist and novelist
Last month I received an email from a young, enthusiastic Scandinavian woman who was seeking some information resources to help organize a four-woman adventure on Baffin Island. The plan was that skis, not dogs, were to be the primary mode of transportation, but that a few Inuit Dogs would be used to help pull supply sleds and serve as "bear dogs".
Modern day expeditions such as these, using ISDs either as secondary support or the primary means of transportation, are enormous undertakings requiring gigantic logistical planning and underwriting (financial sponsorship). Publicity is often a component. Eyes and ears around the world watch (or are even made a part of these endeavors via satellite communications to involve school children and environmental interest groups) as these expeditions prepare, are underway and end, often in success but, sometimes due to nature or other factors, in failure or even in tragedy for humans and or dogs. Regardless of the outcome, there is often follow up with a book publishing, public speaking tours and perhaps presentations or accolades at National or Canadian Geographic galas.
In the golden age of discovery, travel using Inuit Sled Dogs specifically because of their reputation for toughness and resilience carried explorers, cartographers, ethnographers and scientists across huge north and south circumpolar territory. In particular, Inuit Dogs that served in Antarctica at a time when they were the only practical mode of transportation, are still fondly remembered and fiercely praised as being responsible for the success and safety of many dangerous expeditions.
Last month also, I listened as Kevin Slater, co-owner of Mahoosuc Guide Service and an outfitter who for decades has traveled with aboriginal people both below and above the tree line, paid homage to the last and soon-to-disappear generation of full time subsistence hunters. During his poignant presentation at the 2008 Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous in Vermont, Kevin lamented the disappearance of these men and asked his audience not to forget the culture of the era they represented. Kevin’s mentor, Paloosie Koonaloosie, now gone, and Paloosie's ancestors also undertook "expeditions" by dog team, although not motivated as are modern adventurers, but entirely by a way of life – the only means of survival – to follow, find and harvest animals on land, in the seas and in the skies for food, heat, light, clothing and all the materials essential for weapons, sleds and harnesses. Some of Paloosie's contemporaries had options, either to voluntarily remain on the land to continue a subsistence existence or to move into newly established settlements. Sometimes these relocations were not by choice, even though families would have preferred to continue their "expeditions" by dog team as did their ancestors for millennia before them.
Today, Inuit and non-Inuit, living in the arctic, who choose to own ISDs face challenges in undertaking their own "expeditions". Merely to keep these dogs and use them either for hunting, tourism or other reasons for travel, is extremely challenging; not as much as living entirely off the land or achieving the glory of attaining the "Big Nail" (geographic North Pole), but they still face a daunting task all the same. Committing the time and resources – financial, physical and emotional – to keep and use these dogs in a traditional spirit while living and working in a modern society is anything but easy. Just the rules and laws pertaining to the keeping of dogs in the land of their origin can be a trial now.
And then there are the rest of us. Some of us keep Inuit Sled Dogs for tourism, to manage a bush lifestyle trap line or purely for recreational mushing. For some of us, an "expedition" may be outings of short duration where the challenges are to avoid having some off-leash dog foolishly come within striking range of your team or to avoid having you and your team be run down or over by a snow machine. Others in our group undertake challenging multi-day winter camping expeditions, quietly planned and executed, without making fanfare or receiving invitations to attend explorers' club events. Where we share our adventures may be winter carnivals, nature centers, town libraries or The Fan Hitch.
Inuit Sled Dogs have served humans in so many capacities: helping their masters survive in hostile lands at both poles, enabling expeditions of discovery and adventure across thousands of miles of frozen ocean or through nearby wooded trails. In every capacity, they have served us well. I hope that they will continue to serve in positive, meaningful ways and not merely as living relics.
For the New Year, on all your expeditions and wanderings, large and small, I wish you…
smooth ice and narrow leads,