That’s a photo of Ennadai Lake in the Nunavut province of Canada, well after that the provincial name of “Mackenzie District” (in place when Farley Mowat wrote “People of the Deer” in about 1950) got lost out of native respect.
It’s about 200 miles west of central Hudson Bay.
Apologies for all the “a” thingies and the rather apt “alarmy” thingies. I could only find photos stamped with corporate graffiti.
I wanted a photo of what Farley Mowat called “The Little Lakes, located about 40 miles northeast of Ennadai, and about 60 miles northwest of Nueltin Lake.
But I can’t find any photos of “The Little Lakes.” Partly because “The Little Lakes” were names given by the deceased inland eskimo tribe called “Ihalmuit.” And the lakes, which I finally tracked down in that almost name-free region of Canada, using Google maps, only names one of them. The northwest one. Hick’s Lake. And no photos came up in a Google image search.
But here’s a partially name-labeled satellite photo. Using Google Maps.
The Ihalmuit that Farley Mowat became a tribal member of, before writing his book, were reduced to living only in that area. This after decades of plague, destruction in the face of a Capitalism they didn’t understand, and the slaughter of the massive caribou heards they depended on. During that period of tragedy, the endured a reduction in their population from thousands to dozens. The tribe vanished altogether soon after Mowat’s book, the remnants reduced to working in canning factories and to the sadness of cultural death.
Here’s a photo of their approximate full range, 50-100 years earlier. Note the labeled Ennadai in the bottom left.
Their range was not so square, but I can’t replicate the egg-shaped diagonal oval, top end northeast, bottom end southwest, that I see in Mowat’s book. A map drawn by him.
Well maybe I can find it in a Google image search….
Jesus how ironic. Only the right side of the map can be found. The half including not the land of the People of the Deer, but the legend, Hudson Bay, and Churchill (the white man’s settlement on the bay).
No reason I can’t use my computer to take a photo of my hardcover copy of the right (being left) side of the map. Still figuring out this tech stuff….
There we go.
Will miracles never cease.
Anyway, I’m bringing all this up in a blog post because, as usual, the book fascinates me with its chronicle of a true community. People who love and respect and would do almost anything for each other. Powerful bonds we scarcely know in our time, in part because too much peace and safety makes us slack (the Canadian Barrens, especially in winter, always keep death close at hand), and partly because of the tightly knit people.
The instant feeding of guests.
The powerful love of spouses, natural beauty, and the innocence of children.
And of course, the potent bonding that comes with long nights of storytelling and song singing by the (tiny, poor-for-burning-caribou-fat-lamp) fire.
Like the way war can be awful and yet bring people together in wondrous ways it’s possible to miss, the creature-comforts-scarce and almost terrifying lives of the Ihalmuit once again seem to me, in many ways, envious.
And, once again, I want to visit that land. Even, as it is now, bereft of “The People.”
As to the people again?
Amazing the love of hard work, with no resentment, because it’s in support of the beloved community, and not something that only matters because of the cash one is paid for it, regularly.
The way, without time for “art for art’s sake,” art is always wondrously woven into the work of daily life. The perfect clothing made by masters from parts of many Barrens animals that is their real homes, the kayaks, and the cookware.
Not to mention the hunting equipment.
And of course the primal, particularly to men, energy in killing for survival, not for sport. The acceptance of death on a mass scale, of caribou, for survival. And the sense that that made the caribou in a very real sense the mirror image of the people. It’s a true blessing to appreciate, deeply, the source of one’s food. And to work for it: by killing, prepping, storing and cooking.
I have a relative, my mother’s cousin, who own’s “American Flatbread,” a pizza company. And he’s written extensively about this. Supermarkets can tragically distance people from valuing foot. And that harms us in real ways.
OK. Gotta take a break. Will get more into the bonding magic of songs, stories and campfires later. Maybe tomorrow.
And in the meantime, I go on existing feeling very alone and without real community.
As do many of us.
I contemplate just how to deal with this problem, trying to face it head on instead of drinking.
I just found this resource online. A website called “Fellowship for Intentional Community.” It’s a national, or worldwide, resource for all kinds of intentional communities: eco-villages, communes, co-ops, and co-housing. And more.
Here’s the primary photo on the homepage.
Not a bad photo. Way to represent!
But back to “People of the Deer.”
A few more detailed examples would be good. I’ve been kinda telling and not showing, which is usually a writer’s idea, but I’m realizing works very well in many other aspects of life. There’s even a law about it in “The 48 Laws of Power.”
So, the first example relates to that, illustrating how showing and not telling can be a very good way to protect the feelings and ego of a community member.
In “People of the Deer,” Ohoto I believe is an Ihalmuit man, a “song cousin” of Farley Mowat (hard to translate, but a kind of deep brother, a reflection almost) who Mr. Mowat tasks one day with helping him. The help is in setting and collecting some traps Mr. Mowat needed to use to catch animal specimens of the Barrens for use in, say, museums. But he didn’t explain this to Ohoto, and so Ohoto believed Mr. Mowat wanted to catch the only animals he saw value in trapping: foxes, wolves, wolverines, deer maybe. But Mr. Mowat used tiny traps, being interested in tiny animals, like mice and lemmings.
Anyway, Ohoto came back with a curious bundle of moss, carefully wrapped. He seemed shy, but when asked about it, he opened it up to show his song cousin… the paw print of a wolf beside one of the tiny traps.
Sorry. Couldn’t find a photo of one in moss. But the Barrens have ample snow.
Mowat (it just occurred to me that using “Mr. Mowat” but only “Ohoto” could come off as an anti-Ihalmuit “micro aggression,” and so toodles, Mr.) had no idea what his song cousin meant. Eventually he either figured it out, or Ohoto explained, and Mowat then tried to explain the baffling concept of a museum. Ohoto realized he’d assumed that this white man who did not know the land was more naive than he was, probably felt embarrassed, and let the issue drop.
And then Mowat goes on to explain “The Law of Life,” which is hard to explain, but allowed the grand community of the Ihalmuit, its interaction with the nature of the Barrens, and, among other things, almost forbade the interference in another person’s affairs unless the person’s actions endangered the community.
Here’s the brief text from the Wikipedia entry on “The Law of Life,” which not coincidentally references Daniel Quinn.
“The Law of Life is a term coined by author Farley Mowat in his 1952 book People of the Deer, and popularized by Daniel Quinn, to denote a universal system of various natural principles, any of which tend to best foster life—in other words, any of which best guides behavior that tends toward the reproductive success and survival of some particular gene pool. The idea posits that, in general, the most fit organisms instinctively behave according to some natural rule (often, these rules vary among and are specific to the species). Since every organism has some instinctive “law” it can follow to be the most reproductively successful, this very notion is a sort of law itself, true of all living beings: thus, the Law of Life.
In his 1996 novel, The Story of B, Quinn writes, ‘A biologist would probably say what I’m calling the Law of Life is just a collection of evolutionarily stable strategies— the universal set of such strategies, in fact.’
Quinn points out that this is a physical law, like gravity, not a commandment like “thou shalt not kill” nor a legislative ruling like “pay taxes”. As he puts it, the latter two are written where only man can read them (in books), and that they can be changed by a vote, while the Law of Life is written in the fabric of the universe and cannot be broken. Those who do not follow the law simply won’t live.”
Hence, Ohoto realized he’d broken that law, trespassing (as the wolf paw hadn’t, in the tiny trap).
More modern than Mowat’s, surely. But it’ll do. Mowat wasn’t all about sketching nature and useful tools in “People of the Deer,” the way John J. Rowlands was in “Cache Lake Country.” Mowat only sketched the occasional Ihalmuit face.
Another example of community love in “People of the Deer.”
Children of the Ihalmuit treated their children with incalculable love and tolerance, with no corporal punishment, and basically letting them do whatever they wanted, trusting them to want to emulate the older tribe members they counted on as they grew. In fact, at one point, Ohoto almost became angry once when Mowat asked about the lack of corporal punishment (anger being a major transgression), and asking how any sane adult could turn a “man’s strength” against the weakness of a child.
Mowat let the issue drop.
But that’s not the example I meant to detail. The one I did mean to detail had to do with the utter seriousness with which a child’s desire to take on adult duties, to help, to “grow up,” were treated by Ihalmuit adults. If a child of six wished to go out and shoot ptarmigan, he would not be laughed at or humored. He would be treated with utter seriousness, given a small bow made that night with utter seriousness, and sent off with the utter seriousness of an adult going off to hunt for his family. If he succeeded? Adult praise. If he failed? Good humored adult jibes. And so, unlike in our culture, the onset of adulthood was not damagingly delayed, as we see in so many forced-to-stay-children teenagers, rife with resentment.
Snow-covered tundra can be called “the arctic desert.” So live with it.
A last example, and kind of a sad one, has to do with putting the community’s survival above love and selfishness.
The harsh, harsh life of the Barrens, especially during the disease and starvation after Kakumee brought disease back to his people and traders destroyed the Ihalmuit focus on the deer (read the book), would often force terrible choices on The People. Who lives, and who dies, in the face of great danger and starvation?
Of course The People adored their children. But who is most valuable to the community in the moment? The hunter who gets it food. So he must live first. Second? The young women, still of child bearing age. After that, the elderly and the very young.
Sad but true.
The specific example?
See “Dead Child Lake near the top of the “full range” map from the book? A grave there, with memorials and gifts, commemorated the young wife who, trapped far from other settlements with her baby in the winter, and with little food because her hunter husband had fallen ill, had, in order to survive the almost impossible trek to another encampment… to leave her child to die in the snow. She could not have made it with the child, no one else could go, and she was too starved to feed the child.
But she made it to help, brought help, and saved her husband. And they both lived to raise many healthy children after that horrible winter.
That’s a modern memorial called “Mother with her Dead Child.”
Sadly, the Ihalmuit mother from the above story had to leave her child to die. To be cared for only by the wolves, foxes and wolverines.
I suppose that about does it for this blog post.
The writing process is dead, as abandoned rather than completed as any piece of writing. Like a child of whatever age. Maybe many edits would make it more wise. More elderly.
Please don’t just like it if you like it. Comment, and above all, share. 🙂