Friday, 7 December 2018

The Lamp, the Ice and the boat called 'Fish' : an Arctic Yuletide gift

The Lamp, the Ice and the boat called Fish is an illustrated book that tells an Inupiaq inuit tale: the story of the Karluk journey in the Arctic Sea as seen by a native girl's perspective.

The Karluk (=fish) was one more whaler steamboat stuck in ice and then sunk as attempting an adventurous expedition in the far North. She sailed from Nome, northern Alaska, as part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. Departing in 1913, the Karluk sailed north and stopped at Barrow (*), where a native Inupiaq family with a newborn girl, Mugpi (Makpii), joined the crew aboard to help with their knowledge and capabilities in Arctic ice surviving. 

But after Barrow the Karluk was stranded by compact ice, then drifted westwards across the Chukchi Sea and finished sinking near Wrangel Island. Most of the crew from the ship set out for a journey through 130 km of pack ice to reach Wrangel's solid ground. There they built a camp and fought to survive, hunting and fishing until rescue finally came in September 1914. But few had made it. Disease, canned food poisoning, cold and accidents had taken the life of most. Among the 14 survivers was the Inupiaq family of four, and the ship's cat !

Several serious books tell the story of the Karluk expedition; but the perspective of the native girl is what matters in "The Lamp, the Ice and the Boat Called Fish", an adaptation by Jacqueline Briggs Martin for children/teenagers with fantastic illustrations by Beth Krommes.

Winter came early in 1913,
and soon the captain
was steering the ship between huge chunks of ice

- some as big as houses.

The crew and scientists used boxes and barrels
to build the walls of a house on a large ice floe

not far from the ship.

One day in January 
Kurraluk, Kataktovik, and five of the crew left to find Wrangel Island.
The Inupiaq men knew how to travel ove sea ice with dogs and sleds.

She had to wear goggles, too. Otherwise, the sun and snow
would cause snow blindness. Some wore goggles of amber glass.
Makpii didn't have to wear so many clothes
because she rode inside her mother's parka.

One morning in September
Qiruk, Makpii and Pagnasuk fished for tomcod
and caught enough for breakfast.

Of course all ends well for Makpii, her Inupiaq family and the cat !

Have a cosy, friendly, happy Yuletide !

(*) now Utqiagvik