Frank saw the twin engine plane first as it emerged from the clouds, flew passed rust-colored hills, over the village's fresh water lake, and rumbled passed the parking area, engines spitting and coughing. The aircraft touched down on the brown runway, dragging a plume of fine sand in its wake, finally taxiing to a stop in front of the terminal, where Captain Hutch, Chief Engineer Richie and I were waiting, accompanied by Mayor Frank and the Hamlet's financial officer Eric, both key local contacts -- now friends -- who have helped us during our brief stay in Arctic Bay. The plane disgorged its contents -- 10 passengers, plus our Arctic expedition leader, Ken Burton, copious amounts of luggage, boxes and boxes of provisions, and 2 nervous dogs. The sleepy airport -- there was no one here when arrived an hour earlier -- slumbered to life and all of our gear, as well as the boss and his friends, were whisked from the plane to the armada of waiting vehicles. Things that we take for granted "down south" are often more problematic here in the high Arctic. It was only through the kindness and generosity of our hosts that we were able to piece together the number of vehicles required to make this transfer successful.
About two hours before the plane was due, Frank phoned me. "The taxi van has a blown tire," he said matter-of-factly. I shuddered. "And remember I told you it's a holiday weekend, well, one of the drivers of the truck is, shall we say, unable to assist us due to ongoing festivities at his home." My knees felt a little weak. A twinge of mild nausea crept in to my stomach.
"What are our options, Frank? The boss and his wife, 8 of his friends, our expedition leader and all the gear is arriving in a couple of hours."
"I called Eric from the hamlet office and he says he got the keys to another van. It was bought by a tour company down south but they lost their manager."
I feel a surge of hope.
"Can a couple of our crew drive your trucks?"
"That shouldn't be a problem."
By the time our convoy reached the shore, a few low grey clouds offered some light spits of rain. But big breaks in the cover, allowed thick shafts of sunlight to strike the surrounding hills and illuminate the red cliffs in a haunting russet hue.
Ethan, Mark, Hugo, and Markus expertly managed the transfer of people and luggage. The children who have been shadowing us every time we came to shore were on station and tousled with each other to be part of our "bucket brigade" - the line we formed to transfer the boxes and bags from the back of the truck to the waiting tenders.
Great voyages of exploration often begin with ceremony, to ensure the success of the endeavour. This expedition would be no different. Captain Hutch had arranged a wonderful surprise for our ship's company. We all assembled in the aft cockpit, where Frank and his wife Lea, Eric and two young women, dressed in colourful costumes were waiting. Eric introduced himself and told us a little about the history of Arctic Bay.
"My wife Lea, was born not far from here. Her family moved in to Arctic Bay in the late 60's. Until then, Lea spoke no English," Frank explained. "The discovery of rich iron ore deposits is what really transformed Arctic Bay. A mine was opened in the mid-seventies and for a time was very successful. Quite a few of our locals were trained to work in the mines, which really helped our economy." Frank fielded a few questions: we learned about ice and hunting and the scourge of alcohol. He then pointed to the two young women who had accompanied him out.
“This is Molly Oyukuluk and Inga Mickpa and they are going to share with you the Inuit art of throat singing.” Molly and Inga stood up shyly. They faced each other, grasping one another’s arms. From the depths of Molly's throat, originating deep within her abdomen, emerged a low, guttural sound. Inga then broke in to a kind of huffing and whooshing sequence, creating a rhythm for Molly to follow. All of our mouths fell open, as none of us had ever heard anything quite like this before. Wolfie, the German Shepherd, cocked his head, staring intently and offered a low moan. He had to be escorted from the cockpit as he was clearly either very interested in joining the performance or agitated by the sounds he heard.
According to the National Geographic website, Inuit throat singing, or katajjaq, is a form of musical performance uniquely found among the Inuit. The traditional form consists of two women who sing duets in a close face-to-face formation with no instrumental accompaniment. Frank had explained that the art of throat singing was developed for fun and competition among Inuit women while the men were off on hunting expeditions. Once the duet begins, breath control is essential, as is a steady countenance. Whichever performer laughs first or runs out of breath at the wrong time loses the game.
Molly and Inga rock and sway from one foot to the next to keep time. Growls and raspy cries create a strange hypnotic rhythm. Molly seemed to create the pattern, leaving silent gaps for Inga to populate with her own rhythmic pattern. We hear voiced and unvoiced sounds, through inhalation and exhalation. Molly loses pace first and starts to laugh. Inga giggles as well. We join in the laughter too. We are treated to several rounds, including one called the Walrus.
Frank’s wife, Leah Qaqqasiq, is next to stand. She is a deacon at the local Anglican church, and a respected Inuit community member. She has a broad dignified face, that seems connected to a rich, ancient past. She has brought her red Bible with her. In the local Inuktitut language, Leah offers a prayer. The only word we understand is “Rosehearty” but then Leah recites the prayer in English; it is a prayer for a safe voyage and a bountiful trip. “Preserve, we beseech thee, all who travel by water, (especially those people for travelling by water in this Rosehearty boat), we pray for them…surround them with thy loving care, protect them from every danger, and bring them in safety to their journey’s end.”
A perfectly timed “Amen” comes from our team, and this Rosehearty adventure is underway.