Across the Sea Ice to Siuraarjuk: Hector's Odyssey
Across the Sea Ice to Siuraarjuk: Hector's Odyssey
By Nancy Wachowich
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Finding Hector a hood
Today was expedition day. The production is shifting from shooting indoor scenes in sets built around the settlement to shooting outdoor scenes at a location "away from it all". A convoy of Isuma cast and crew was to depart at 2 pm and travel 2-3 hours by snowmobile and sled across the sea-ice to Siuraarjuk, a traditional hunting camp on Baffin Island, where many of the outdoor scenes for JKR would be shot. The weather was cold. Really cold. Now, for those of you who did not read my first blog, I brought my six month old baby Hector with me on this fieldwork trip. Hector is a sturdy, barrel-chested, big little baby. He was born in Aberdeen, a cold and windy port-town in Northern Scotland. Hector is used to the cold. He is used to the wind. But on a day when it is already -25 C (the mean temperature in Igloolik that week), wind chill while traveling on the sea ice by skidoo can make it seem like -50 C. This was extreme. I knew Hector needed a much warmer amautiq (women's parka with a larger hood for carrying babies) covering him on this journey than the one I had with me. Despite my efforts to borrow one (calling on friends, the community radio, etc. etc.), we had had no luck. Hector had no hood to ride in.
Sleeping bags rolled and duffle bag packed with polar fleece, note-paper, and jars and jars of baby-food-- and wearing caribou fur pants and kamiks (boots) myself-- I bundled little Hector in layer upon layer of fleece under his snowsuit and brought him down the hill to beach road where qamutiks (sleds) were being packed with supplies and equipment for our time out at Siuraarjuk. The High Definition camera was being securely fastened on a sled built particularly for its transport. Carrying my own precious cargo, I approached Micheline Ammaq, the Isuma office administrator and crew-member in charge of the design and production of JKR fur costumes. Micheline was not hard to pick out among this slew of travelers. She was wearing fancy caribou-skin kamiks with neon lemon yellow leggings, a yellow parka and hot pink leather gloves. She could have walked a Dolce Gabbana catwalk in that outfit. I explained my dilemma to her. The fur costumes were already at Siuraarjuk, she told me, otherwise I could have borrowed a traditional fur amautiq for the trip. I persisted, holding my helpless swaddled child in front of her in the manner of a desperate, pleading mother. "Right, we will arrange something", she said, and took off on her snowmobile in a flash of yellow and pink.
Micheline reappeared ten minutes later, this time wearing yellow snowpants and a bright purple amautiq with green tassles. It was an extra thick traveling amautiq that she had made for her daughter, Bonnie. Bonnie was not traveling out to camp until Wednesday, so she would not need it right away. "Your baby will ride with me", Micheline declared. She grabbed Hector and directed Bonnie to follow her inside the Isuma building. I ran behind. Inside, and with breakneck-speed efficiency, they stripped Hector of his outer-wear, took off his touque, and slipped him inside Micheline's purple amautiq. Hector looked up at me a little befuddled as he was slipped into her hood. "What's going on now?" , he seemed to be asking. Once he was properly positioned in the small of her back, the outer hood was pulled up over Hector's head. That was the last I saw of my baby. Micheline darted outside and climbed on to her snowmobile. No time to spare. The expedition was leaving. "Alright then" she said to me, "we will see you somewhere on the sea ice for tea!' She zoomed off with Hector, a lump in her amautiq hood.
Micheline the strong
Now, many mothers might be anxious to see another woman burn off with their baby on a snow machine across a stretch of frozen sea ice. But, I knew Hector was in good hands. I have worked in Igloolik on and off for eight years and one thing I know about Micheline: she is a formidable woman. A skilled seamstress and avid hunter, her namesake is Ataguttaaluk, a celebrated figure in Igloolik's history who makes a cameo appearance in the JKR film. Ataguttaaluk was dubbed by the whalers " the Queen of Igloolik". In the early 1900s, Ataguttaaluk's family became stranded on the land. Her husband and children starved to death and Ataguttaaluk survived by eating pieces of their bodies. She was rescued by passers-by on the brink of death, eventually married again, raised a family, and was renown throughout the region ever-afterwards for her tremendous strength and courage. Micheline, the contemporary reincarnation of a man named after this woman, was raised as a boy for the first part of her life. She was taught land skills as a little girl by her brother, her uncle, and her grandfather. She can hunt, butcher and skin caribou, walrus, seals, wolves and polar bear. She can set fish nets, build an igloo, pitch a tent, fix a snowmobile, and administer Isuma office affairs. She raised her six kids in outpost camps around Igloolik. She is a fast driver and a card shark. In a few words, she is tough. Way tougher than me, that is for sure. As I climbed into the waiting Sila qamutiq, I decided that if anyone was going to carry my son across the sea ice in my place, I wanted it to be her.
The ride across the sea ice was cold, windy and very very bumpy. With six heavily-clad Sila crew-members squished on to the qamutiq, we found ways of accommodating and readjusting our intermingled arms and legs to make the ride more comfortable. I was lost in thought and facing out to the side, at one point, staring out at the expanse of ice, when a purple flash of fabric appeared in my view. There was Micheline and Hector, overtaking us on our left. Speed demons, both of them. She expertly absorbed a bump in the trail by leaning forward on her snow machine and bracing herself with her legs. They were air bound. I saw her hood bounce as the skidoo skis returned to the ground, and thought of the wee little lad, huddled up inside. Then they were gone.
An hour later and it was tea-break time in the middle of the ice. Snowmobiles and qamutiks and dog teams (also being run across the ice to Siuraarjuk) were assembled. Cups and thermoses and snacks were being pulled out and Coleman stoves were being lit. I looked around at the gang of people laughing and talking, but Micheline and little Hector were not part of this glacial picnic. Instead she was off in the distance, a purple and yellow figure on a white landscape, surrounded by a pack of snarling, enormous wolf-like sled-dogs. She and Hector were untangling the leads of her brother's team while he had tea.
Finally at Siuraarjuk
We arrived at Siuraarjuk a few hours later where a base camp of tents, a cook house, etc. had been been built to accommodate Isuma cast and crew for three weeks of filming outdoor scenes. Our journey complete, the Sila crew disentangled our limbs from each other and joined other "expedition" members looking for our tent. I thought of my baby's adventures, racing across the sea ice, battling sled-dogs. Micheline padded over to me and pulled a sleeping Hector out of her hood. I wrapped him in his outer-gear. "Does your baby have a cold?", she asked me. "He has been snoring the whole way".
Over and out.