Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022 (Now available for pre-order from Amazon)
Northwind was not the only Arctic wind. Luui knew several, if not all, by name. The katabatic winds common in the mountains rarely stuck around long enough to earn more than a passing comment, usually about their strength, as they rushed down the mountain valleys, rattling the hunters’ cabins, toppling drying racks and scattering dried fish across the beach. Loose sledge dogs hoovered up the fish while the hunters grumbled and cursed, picking up the pieces of the racks and hammering them into place once the wind had exhausted itself further out to sea. Luui rarely made their acquaintance. Which she supposed was all right, as it was equally rare to hear a good wood about them.
Southwind was less of a nuisance than Northwind, and generally took things easy, unless challenged to blow harder than expected when chill air arrived to cool down the more pleasant temperatures the winds from the south enjoyed. Luui knew Southwind, and its cousins, though not by name, as her focus was often on Northwind and Northwind alone.
But there was one cheeky little wind who Luui knew well. Naalanngitsoq, the naughty wind, was Luui’s wind of choice when she was travelling. She – all the interesting winds in Greenland were female –would arrive all of a sudden with an apologetic bluster, swirling a pinch of snow into Luui’s face, or tapping her on the back of the head with an unexpected, but sincere, welcome flurry. The trick, Luui had learned, was to expect Naalanngitsoq to arrive at any time on a journey, and always when she was tired, ready to camp, or even fully exposed when relieving herself in a snowy hollow. Especially then. It didn’t do to curse or complain, as Naalanngitsoq would simply bluster away as if offended. The time and energy required to call upon Naalanngitsoq when Luui needed a little wind to fill a sail or dry her clothes, could be better used on other jobs. So when she sneaked up on her, Luui made sure to laugh, to praise Naalanngitsoq for another prank well played, and then invite her to walk with her for a while.
When Luui started to sweat on the steep climb through deep snow up a side valley in the Svartenhuk Mountains, it was Naalanngitsoq who blew the top layer of surface snow ahead of Luui, clearing a path. When the crust was too thin in places to support Luui, it was Naalanngitsoq who gusted here and there, testing the way, revealing the thicker patches of firm snow and guiding Luui up the valley. Of course, there was the teasing of Luui’s hair, the sudden and unpleasant dump of snow down Luui’s neck as she walked in the shadow of a large boulder, but these things were expected. They were part of the agreement in an unspoken contract based on the principle of if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Naalanngitsoq guided Luui through the mountains, and in return, Luui accepted the naughty winds pranks and peculiarities. They didn’t converse as such, but Luui found Naalanngitsoq to be a good listener, especially when she wanted to talk about the more difficult things she struggled to share with the Qamallarlutik, and even Aunix.
“It’s not like he can’t come,” Luui said, as she picked at the wound that was Tuukula Angakkuarneq, the deceased shaman, and Luui’s father. “I think he chooses not to come. It’s like he’s testing me…” Luui knocked a boulder of ice to one side with a swipe of her ice axe. “Again.”
Naalanngitsoq blew through a narrow channel near the top of the valley and dumped a flurry of snow on Luui’s feet. It was the wind’s equivalent of a Hmm or a Right, perhaps even an I understand, which would be difficult to believe, as Luui didn’t understand why Tuukula chose to remain in the spirit world, without a single visit.
“For a whole year,” she said.
The channel steepened, forcing Luui to cut steps in the ice with the spade-like adze at one end of the ice axe’s head. She worked slowly but surely, letting Naalanngitsoq wick the sweat away from her brow with gentle gusts. Luui put up with the ice socks with which Naalanngitsoq coated the tips of Luui’s hair, resisting the urge to brush them away as they knocked gently against her forehead. Striking a balance between sweating and freezing and freezing because she was sweating was more important. Luui left that part to Naalanngitsoq as she finished each step, climbed it, and cut the next.
“If he wanted to,” Luui said as she neared the top. “I mean, if he just asked, I could always send Âmo to pick him up. You know? If the journey is too hard. If he’s gotten so old that…”
Luui stopped talking as she reached the top of the valley. She held her breath before the sight of cirques and peaks, sharp summits, and swathes of black granite walls chequered with square patches of snow took it away. The Northern Lights drifted across the black sky, teasing the corners of Luui’s mouth into a smile.
“Oh, Ataata,” she said. “See what you’re missing.”
Luui said nothing for several long minutes until Naalanngitsoq brushed her cheek with a handful of snow. Luui shivered and then shook her head to break the spell of the north.
“Right,” she said, as she tugged a jacket from the pack slung across her shoulder. Luui zipped the jacket to her chin, tucked her ice axe into the straps on the pack, and then studied the path along the ridge towards the steep sides of Qaqqaq.
A flicker of something – perhaps a welcome flurry of snow from one of Naalanngitsoq’s cheeky cousins – caught her eye and Luui squinted at it for a better look. She cursed herself for not bringing a telescope, or even a pair of binoculars. But they were too heavy.
“And besides,” she said. “I’ll find out soon enough.”
Naalanngitsoq clutched at Luui’s breath as it steamed in front of her face. And then, the naughty wind slapped at Luui’s body, rocking her off balance, forcing Luui to dig her boots into the snow.
“Hey? What’s gotten into you?”
Naalanngitsoq twisted away, scoring a path of snow from the granite ridge. Luui watched as the wind twisted the snow into a funnel. The funnel – thinner at the bottom with a great, wide mouth at the top –lurched toward Luui, rising up and arcing down like some great beast rippling towards her.
“Oh,” Luui said as she suddenly understood. She turned to stare at the southern slopes of Qaqqaq and swallowed before putting a name to the beast Naalanngitsoq pantomimed before her. “Aassik,” Luui said.
As Aassik, the giant worm, ravaged the southern slopes of the ever-growing mountain, Luui tightened the strap of her pack, and took her first step along the Svartenhuk ridge to meet him.
It was a him, as, unlike the winds, all the giant worms in Greenland were male.
To be continued on December 10
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
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Dave Bennett says
I loved the anthropomorphism of the many types of wind in Greenland, and really enjoyed the relationship that Luui and Naalanngitsoq share! First ‘sentient’ winds, and next, Giant Worms??! What an imagination!! :o)
Christoffer Petersen says
Thanks, Dave. I’m going to take the credit for the sentient winds, but the giant ice worm is right out of Greenlandic mythology. I just gave it a different purpose. 🙂
Ana Catarina Palma Neves says
Yes, the description of “human-like” winds is fantastic indeed. But then, it gets a little bit confusing for me because in Portuguese the winds are male and the worms are female… 😂
Christoffer Petersen says
Ah, yes, I can see that might be confusing. 🙂