23 August, 2000

I had a restless sleep with the nightly activity of an old folk's home. I got myself out of bed at 8am to eat some delicious oatmeal and then went back to my room and slept until 11am. I could hear Josh and Dr. Radtke in the other room and so dressed and went to find out the plan for the day. Again the word from the helicopters was that they were grounded due to the fog. They were hoping to make one flight later that day. There were people stranded at Thule Air Base and they would be the top priority when the flights resumed.

Outside there is a slight drizzle; Josh and I went to the grocery store to get some plastic bags for the trip and then checked out the route to the craft store named Ultima Thule. Ultima means farthest north. Pytheas of Massalia around 325 BC used the name Thule to name an island he discovered it six sailing days north of England. It is generally believed that that island was present day Iceland. After reconnoitering, we decided we could pull/push Dr. Radtke's modified chair to the store, but getting in the building may be a problem.

We returned to lunch which was ox tails, vegetable soup, and custard. I hadn't seen any lettuce since being on the air base. It is not part of the local cuisine, in fact I had not seen people eating any fresh vegetables here.

We then progressed to Ulitma Thule, whose hours are from 1-2pm on Wednesdays, not quite the same store hours as a 7-11. This was my first time helping to get Dr. Radtke into the chair and helping to pull/push. We finally worked out the idiosyncrasies of the new crew and I ended up pulling and steering as Josh became the keel, giving support directly by the chair. (See pic of chair.)

Arriving at the Ultima Thule we were helped by two men, who were trading inside, to move the chair with Dr. Radtke into the first floor of the building. The inside was painted a burnt red purple with many interesting things displayed where ever we looked. Most were crafts made from the inedible parts of the animals that are the major food items in Qaanaaq--walrus, seal, polar bear, and narwhal. There were also arctic fox pelts. Things were not cheap ranging from $8 for a bear claw to necklaces up to $100 and a polar bear skin over a $1000. Of course for us, it is illegal to bring into the states items made from marine mammals. This hurts the Inuit trade in these crafts with US tourists; since these people survive on the hunting of these animals for a food source, they think it an unfair practice. There were some things made out of reindeer that we could purchase.

Some of the common carvings were creatures representing a tupilak. The tupilak is a man made creature whose mission is to find and kill a specific personal enemy. The maker of the tupilak used parts of various animals--bones, teeth, skin, beaks, claws, skulls, but most important was some bit from the intended victim. Hairs or shavings from nails were the easiest items to obtain. These bits of personal tissue made it easier for the tupilak to track down the victim. When the tupilak was physically finished it was given life by rubbing the tupilak against one's genitals and then to place it into a river or the sea to track down and kill the victim. The tupilak was a sure killer, but the maker ran one risk. If the victim was stronger in magical power than the maker he could reverse the tupilak, which would then inevitably return to kill its maker.

Josh checking out the terrain over which we have to pull the chair.

A shot of Dr. Radtke bundled into the chair on the tundra. One person walks behind Dr. Radtke and pushes. Out of view is the square metal frame inside which the second person will walk and pull.

Arctic fox skins. These were the reason that Knud Rasmussen set up the first trading station at Thule. Although Rasmussen is a national hero, he is controversial in some circles for establishing a trade based on the hunting of animals not used as food, which took time away from securing food and eventually the independent lifestyle of the Inuit.

Closest I got to a polar bear.

Josh holding a polar bear claw attached to an ivory carving.


Marie-Stine Hansen, one of the proprietors of Ultima Thule.

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