The Fan Hitch Volume 8, Number 1, December 2005

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue...

Editorial: Firsts, F.I.D.O.s and Foremosts
F.I.D.O.: Daniel Annanack
F.I.D.O.: Mark Brazeau and Qimmiit Utirtut 
Wolf Problems in Kuujjuaq
Inuit Dogs of Mawson Station
Differences in Mushing: Greenland and Arctic Canada, Part II
Inuit Produced Information Resources
In the News
Book Review: 1000 Days with Sirius
Product Review: 3M™ Precise Skin Stapler
 IMHO: A Time for Action

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
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Book review....

One Thousand Days with Sirius
The Greenland Sledge Patrol

by Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen

reviewed by Sue Hamilton

One Thousand Days with Sirius The Greenland Sledge Patrol by Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen is without question a must-have book, even if you're not particularly interested in sledge dogs, sled dogs or dogs for that matter. Perhaps this is the sort of comment typically saved for closing remarks of a book review, but I can barely contain my enthusiasm. It was a year ago, in the December 2004 issue of The Fan Hitch, that Mikkelsen's F.I.D.O. gave us a tantalizing glimpse into the world of the Sirius Patrol. And it has been an even longer wait for the much anticipated publication of the English translation from his original 1986 Danish Tusind dage med Sirius

Where to begin singing this book's praises? Perhaps it is best to start with its physical 'feel'. I am not a big fan of soft covers as they seem to take a beating in my hands. But the paper is high quality and the covers extra sturdy, making the book surprisingly hefty for its 240 9"x6" pages. The cover photo is dramatic and its overall color perfectly compliments the subject matter - a very cold time and place.

If you think of Mikkelsen's F.I.D.O. as an appetizer, then his book is without question the sumptuous meal. Beginning with 'Selection and Training', he shares with us the process of becoming a Sirius man. Then, chapter-by-chapter, the reader tags along as Mikkelsen describes the progression leading up to a unique experience in all the world: teams of two Danish soldiers and eleven dogs patrolling Northeast Greenland from the beginning of November to the end of May. 

Mikkelsen's tugline is always tight; this insider's chronicle of daily life at Patrol headquarters in Daneborg as well as on the trail leaves no slack whatsoever with respect to a richness of detail.  He thoroughly describes each of the positions within the Sirius society (the Syndicate Man, the Machine Man, the Sparky, the Osmosis Man, the Provisions Man, the Slop Chest Man, the Boat Man, the 'Nordre' Man, the Fire Master, the Cook and, of course, the Dog Man) that all members of the unit must experience.  While dog sledding is the first image that comes to mind when the name Sirius Patrol is mentioned, Mikkelsen ensures that his readers understand and appreciate all facets of the exclusive community, including its rituals ceremonies and traditions, proven successful for more than half a century, without which their hallmark activity would not be possible. 

Some sledge teams are transported each year to the far north of East Greenland
in an Air force C-130 Hercules plane. Mestersvig, 1980        Photo: Mikkelsen

Of course, Mikkelsen pays homage to the most key of players in the Sirius community: the dogs. He details their breeding program, their physical profile, care and use. 

"…with an average weight of between 37 and 39 kg being the norm in a team consisting of animals between six months and five years old… the typical Sirius dog is not a sprinter, since it is not used for sport racing… its build is a reflection of the sledge patrol's need to be able to travel 25 to 40 km per day, six days per week and for periods of up to four and a half months. This traveling will not be just on sea ice or hard tracks but often on stony areas with poor snow cover and through trackless mountain country where the sledge must be hauled forward a meter at a time. Considering that the sledge loads will be between 350 and 550 kg, it is clear that the Sirius dog has become a remarkable draft animal."

Also described is the tradition of puppies being named and assigned to each patrol team. This "Puppy Party" is held twice a year over heaping plates of fried eel and rounds of schnapps. Mikkelsen goes on to salute his own team with details of each dog.

His very first assignment as cook for everyone at Daneborg, a fire at the carpenter's shop, first training runs of the season with wildly eager dogs, traveling on thin ice, a failed attempt at jumping across an open lead; tales, both serious and humorous, abound between the covers of One Thousand Days with Sirius The Greenland Sledge Patrol, giving the reader a real sense of what it means to be a Sirius Man. Nothing I have read elsewhere comes close to this insight. 

"…I had covered more than 7,700 km in the… days I had been sledging… I felt sad now that the end was in sight. Even though there had been grey days and downright bad days, I had never experienced such a total sense of freedom as on these sledge journeys… Some people have asked me simply; "What does it feel like returning home from Sirius?" I really don't know, but I am not certain that I will ever again feel so completely at home as I have for the past two years!"

The book contains sixteen full color plates plus appendices which include an in-depth history of Northeast Greenland (discovery and exploration, politics and government, World War II and the post war period), a list of related readings, detailed sled and tent schematics, and notes from the book's talented translator David Matthews (himself no stranger to polar regions or literary excellence, being a British Antarctic Survey veteran and 'dog man', as well as an award winning writer. See The Fan Hitch, March 2004 ).

One Thousand Days with Sirius The Greenland Sledge Patrol, original Danish by Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen, 1986; English translation by David Matthews, 2005;  ISBN 0-9550773-0-3;  published by The Steading Workshop, email: phone: (+44) 01667 493 492, address: The Steading Workshop, Drummore of Cantray, Cawdor, NAIRN, Scotland, IV12 5XT;  £15.00 + packing and postage (currency converter)

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