One of my favourite and most battered books is Roland Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth. When I inherited my team of dogs in Uummannaq, Greenland, I experienced a sharp learning curve, and even sharper canine teeth. Along with the seven dogs, the hunter threw a frozen seal into the bargain. The deal was I would look after his dogs for the winter, learn to drive a team, and he would pick them up again in the summer.
He never came back.
That seal though… the idea was I could cut chunks out of it, and feed the blubber to the dogs when the temperature dipped below minus 17 celsius. This happened a lot, but not before the seal knocked me off my feet every time I opened the shed door. Seals are very streamlined, and, with its flippers frozen to its sides, my seal shot out of the shed like a torpedo every time I braved the weather to feed the dogs. Something had to be done.
I found the answer in Huntford’s book. Amundsen and his men shot seals in Antarctica when preparing food caches for their race to the pole. The trick was waiting until the seal was frozen and sawing off the flippers to make a flat base. The Norwegians made a food depot, using the seals – noses up, flippers at their sides – as the walls of the cache. I read this passage three times before I put down the book and grabbed my saw.
The dogs howled as I went about my work, turning my torpedo into a four foot high popsicle with long, leathery whiskers. I rolled the seal into the shed and slid it into the corner. The dogs chewed on the flippers and blubbery chunks after dinner.
Life in the Arctic is all about firsts. This was the first time I had owned a team, the first time I sawed through a seal, and the first time I truly felt I was following in the famous Norwegian’s footsteps.
Curious or horrified? You can get a flavour of Greenland by reading The Ice Star, available for Kindle eReaders, Kindle apps, and in paperback from Amazon: