Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
The wind clawed the sides of Aunix’ tent with fistfuls of ice needles, like a wolf gripping the rump of its prey before bringing it down for the final stroke. The ice screws she had drilled into the ice to secure the guys holding her tent to the ice, slashed and whipped back and forth like the heads of Hydra, tearing the outer fly. Aunix pushed the clumps of ice she collected outside the tent to weight down the corners to keep the wind at bay just a little longer – far longer than she had ever experienced in all her time in the Arctic – hoping that sometime, sooner rather than later, the weather fronts would part and the rush of warm air butting the colder, denser pockets would disperse.
“And then I could sleep,” she said in a soft cloud of breath condensing in front of her face. “Just a little. An hour,” she said. “Thirty minutes. Although, I’ll settle for five.”
Aunix braced her right palm against the wall of the tent as the wind thumped it again, and again, and once more until she shouted for it to stop.
“Just stop, already.”
She caught herself, shaking her head at the crackle of her voice, rasping and snapping as the last pinch of energy ebbed out of her body after three fitful days – soon four – with little to no sleep, little food, and no comfort to speak of as the wind harassed and harangued the Canadian pilot trapped on the ice on a tiny lake beneath a pitch-black sky in the barren north of Greenland.
But the wind didn’t let up.
It clawed and scratched the canvas walls of Aunix’ tent.
It thumped the sides and wrenched the guys.
It lifted the corners.
It spun the fly.
And then, with no warning, not a whisper – nothing.
The wind dropped and stopped.
Aunix took a hesitant breath. She let her hand slide down the wall of the tent, letting it rest in her lap. Aunix swallowed and then took a second, longer, but still most careful breath.
In what Aunix guessed might be the eye of the longest, if not the worst storm she had ever experienced, the guy lines tracked the ice screws across the surface of the sea ice in the last whisper of the wind. Aunix reached for the zipper and opened the inner door and then pushed her head out in a cloud of breath. She looked at her plane first, barely daring to believe it was parked where she left it, but years of flying in the Arctic had paid off, as the wires she had drilled into the ice were fast, and the plane – she closed her eyes for a second as she sighed –it was still there.
“Okay,” she said, pausing for another breath. “Okay. One step at a time.”
Aunix crawled out of the tent and then stood, clapping her arms around her chest to pump a little more blood into her veins. Climate change might have taken the sea ice around the north of Greenland, but it was still too cold for naked skin or poor clothes. Aunix fixed her scarf and pulled her hat over her ears as she surveyed the damage the wind had exacted upon her tent.
“What’s left of it,” she said.
But tents could be repaired with a needle and thread. Not so the plane.
Aunix took a careful tour of the canary yellow plane fixed to the ice. She ran her gloved fingers on the bare metal, searching for the nicks and bites she expected the wind had nibbled and carved out of it with gobs of ice and grit. She allowed herself a sigh of relief as a cursory inspection revealed little more than the stripping of paint. She smiled when assessing the damage to the rudder, nodding as she realised it was a quick fix, not an overhaul. She smiled again when she discovered the wind traps she had spent the extra ten finger-blistering minutes to set up before retreating into the tent, were still functioning, with little more than a thick rime of ice sealing the traps to the frozen surface of the lake. The dull blink of a green light revealed that the planes batteries were full, proving the duplicity of the wind – ravaging with one hand, replenishing with the other.
“An hour,” Aunix said. “Maybe two, and then we can leave.” She looked up and then scanned the far shore of the lake. “If this holds.”
Pockets of calm weather, Aunix knew, could be deep or shallow, and should never be taken for granted. She took a breath, tugged a power bar out of her jacket pocket and chewed as she prioritised the necessary steps she needed to take to take off and push south, and the order she must take them.
“Tent first, so it doesn’t blow away.”
Aunix took another bite of the power bar, licking flecks of chocolate from her lips as she considered the next step.
“Coffee. Strong. Lots of it.”
The repairs, she knew, would go smoothly if she was warm, comfortable…
“And rested,” she said. “But that’s going to have to wait.”
Ten minutes here and twelve minutes there would have to suffice, she reasoned as she finished the power bar and packed the remains of her tent. A flicker of wind flirting with the patch of surface snow at her feet gave her pause, and she stopped until the wind settled. Aunix stuffed the tent into the space behind her seat and then pulled out the cooking gear she needed to make coffee.
“Strong,” she said. “Lots.”
Aunix lit the block of fuel and melted flakes and chips of ice from the clumps she had used to weigh down the tent corners. And then, when the water boiled and she lifted the first cup of hot coffee to her parched lips, Aunix stood up and turned south.
“Okay, Luui,” she said. “I know you’re waiting, and I’m sure you’re worried, but I’ll get there. I’ll make it…” She glanced up at the black sky. “Whatever it takes. I’ll be home for Christmas.”
Such a cliché.
It felt good to laugh.
But coffee was better, and she drank lots of it, planning the next steps in her mind, and anticipating where and, more importantly, when she would touch down to recharge, perhaps even repair, on the long journey south to the tiny strip of dirt in the Svartenhuk Mountains.
“Just hang on, Luui. I’m coming.”
Aunix took another sip of coffee and got to work.
To be continued on December 6
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
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