By France Pinczon du Sel.
Eric is the king to keep surprises. At lunch time for my birthday, Liza's arrival is unexpected... for me. And in addition to the seal skin and the wolf fur she gives me as a present, she is offering me the best: sharing her hunting experience during the afternoon! So we leave both of us looking for seals, who now are more and more laying down on the ice. Several times we stop at some reasonable distance, Liza supports her rifle on the windscreen of the skidoo, aims and shoots. Seals can be as far as 300m. Sometimes the seal dives too quickly in his hole. Once, she succeeds. But the animal, wounded, slides in his hole. So we come very close and wait for the animal to appear again; he needs to breeze. Liza is ready to shoot, and me to pick it up. Five minutes later I can hear blowing and breezing, more and more loudly, through the bloody slush. Then the seal's nose appears. Liza picks then shoot, we loose it, I pick again. Then while Liza is looking for the tuk to secure and put the catch out of the water, I try to hoist it but the skin tears again and this time, the seal sinks! I'm learning by making mistakes... A seal is too heavy to be hoist on the ice with a simple hook. Later on, we wait at a breezing hole. I learn the distance, the shooting position, not to be seen but to be able to shoot enough vertically. And above all, patience and silence. Liza can sea from really far any kind of life on the sea ice. I feel her pleasure and experience... She is hunting since she is 5 years old! Soon, I hope, I will use what I learned with her this day. Even more since this special day brings me the dreamed tool: the ulu, the Inuit women's knife, used to process the seals skins, also to eat the meat. Aksakjuk, Liza's husband, needed three days to make it. So it's Eric's present, in complicity with our best friends in Grise Fiord. The very nice Léonie's draws with so beautiful parcels also marked my 42 years birthday!
Then comes the weed end, at the village. Eric flies with Tom to Resolute, for some measurements on sea ice all the way to Vagabond. They are joining Christian Haas, for who we are working since last summer. After he left, we flew over Vagabond with the film crew, with some Inuit friends. Aurore slept from the beginning but Léonie could admire with us the magic land, colours of the evening, and notice how our four dogs where surprised to see the plane turning so many times around them!
On Sunday, I could join by skidoo a group of people going for a trip to the top of the mountain over Grise Fiord, passing by the glacier behind. Some of them drive with their skidoos on some very vertical tops to run high speed down... Scary! Good and nice escapade... without the children! By 4pm, attaching again the qamutik to my skidoo, I was glad to bring a happy little group of kids to the picnic, at the end of the "ice road". Families are used to fix out nicely and so fast everything they need: stoves, food, snow to melt, frozen seal to eat on ice, pieces of caribou... Everyone is cooking, nice atmosphere, little bit strange on the slippery ice... we are sliding as much as walking. Kids are sliding, playing hockey... Then suddenly food is ready, everybody join around, pray and bless the food, leaded by Aksakjuk. Then, we have the delicious meal. Coming back at 8pm, with all these children, happy in the qamutik.
Aksakjuk told us about his past in Grise Fiord. His history, as well as Liza's, since they are kids, are strong and impressive. They gave to us a new light about all what we could hear about the amazing story of Grise Fiord inuit "relocation".
A salinity and temperature recorder was deployed yesterday, in the middle of South Cape Fiord, five meters under the ice. The instrument was launched in a seal hole, it was easier than drilling a hole by ourselves! Measures occur automatically every two and half minutes, the recorder will be recovered just before ice breaking up, in July. In addition, every three days, the instrument is lower at 10m, 15m, 20m, 30m and 50m to measure water salinity and temperature at these useful depths.
Now, at midnight, the sun is going behind the nearby mountain, but is still high above the horizon! We will have to wait until the end of the summer to see a sunset again. With spring conditions (-22°C in the morning, -10°C during the day), the whole family can now go for longer trips, for scientific measurements, or for picnics, most of the time with the dogs.
Our friends cameramen, on board for two more weeks, didn't hesitate to become temporary baby-sitters to allow France and me to go together for two long rides in the surrounding area. A first one in the mountains: what a pleasure to discover our environment from the closest summits (700m)! Another one up to the end of the fjord, at 30km from the boat, with the icemeter: glaciers are tirelessly pushing the pack ice, which is loosing its shape and rolling in a spectacular way, without disturbing the seals, more and more under the sun.
De plus en plus de tanières de phoques sont ouvertes, beaucoup de traces et de restes témoignent des festins des ours. Et depuis déjà dix jours, on aperçoit des phoques sur la banquise. L'un d'eux s'est même installé au soleil à 500m de Vagabond. Tout en écoutant les résultats du premier tour de l'élection présidentielle, sur RFI, nous comptons une bonne douzaine de phoques aux alentours du bateau !
En attendant un nouveau capteur de température et de salinité, en remplacement de la bathysonde, je tente de dépanner la bouée océanographique Ukiuq qui n'envoie plus ses données aux élèves et enseignants du projet [Sentinelles More and more seal dens are open, many tracks and leftovers are telling about feasts of polar bears. And since about ten days, we can sea seals on the ice. One of them even set up in the sun at about 500m from Vagabond. While listening to RFI, to the results of the first ballot of presidential election, we count about twelve seals in the area around the boat!
While waiting for a new temperature and salinity sensor, to replace the probe, I try to repair the oceanographic buoy Ukiuq which is not sending any more data to the students and teachers of project Ice Sentries.
Interview of Eric Brossier, by Sébastien Panou, in Dimanche Ouest-France newspaper.
Wednesday, I drive Léonie to the school Spring Show, in Grise Fiord. The cameramen are with us to film the event, almost all town is gathering in the gymnasium!
Léonie is quite sad when Ariane is leaving by plane, the next day, but she is happy going to school for two days. The film crew takes the opportunity of our stay in town to meet some of our friends. Jimmy is welcoming us in his Arctic College office, Larry is showing us how he cuts a seal to feed his dogs, Aksakjuk is checking his seal net (no seal on that day), and Kavavow is leaving with his dog team for a long polar bear hunt.
Saturday evening, we meet again with France and Aurore, on board Vagabond. Temperature is mild (-10°C), light is beautiful, new snow is glistening in the sun.
For two days, Vagabond is full. Cabins are all busy, so Alfred and Etienne are staying in the wardroom. They are doing a report for Paris-Match, they also came to cover an important Canadian Rangers exercise, end of April. So they are about to join Resolute Rangers searching for our friends Grise Fiord Rangers (Liza, Jason, Imooshie et Jarloo), hidden in a secret place somewhere on Devon Island. A military plane (see inside) is used for safety, for patrols resupply, and to transport journalists, because this operation is given a wide publicity in the media.
Alfred and Etienne also brought a new satellite antenna, replacing the one damaged by cold early March. As well as Easter eggs, cheese, red wine, books for the girls... and a pile of Paris-Match magazines! When driving back to Grise Fiord airport, by snowmobile, we enjoy the new ice road from the old village up to town, across the fjord Grise. Etienne, the photographer, manage to get from the pilot of the plane to fly above Vagabond. The boat is almost on the Grise Fiord - Resolute Bay route.
Many hunters are out hunting during the week-end, and I often stop to have a chat with those I meet on my way. Imooshie and Terry went up to Vagabond to show a baby seal to Léonie. They found it not far from the boat, lost on the snow far from his den. In their sledge, three more young seals, one of whom one was killed by a polar fox. Terry tells me how, a few days ago, when approaching a female polar bear, they scared her two cubs. So he took them both on his knees, on his snowmobile, and brought them back to their mother!
Daylight is now permanent. On 15th April, light at midnight is as much as light at noon on 3rd February.
Snow inukshuk making, seal skin sliding, harpoon throw... and of course, Easter eggs hunt, around the frozen pond in town. This festive Easter Monday ended up with all kind of games in the gymnasium. Ariane, Hugues and Adrien could join and film these events, they arrived last Saturday for six weeks of shooting, to make a documentary film for French TV (produce by L'Envol).
Liza hunted a polar bear on Saturday, with Norman, north of Devon Island, they came back very tired on Sunday evening. The following day, she showed us how to prepare the skin, and how to cook the animal's feet, a highly sought-after dish here.
Tuesday evening, we were back on board Vagabond, with the film crew, after an almost five hours trip for the film needs. Beautiful light at sunset, but everyone was happy to get inside Vagabond with +15°C on arrival. Aurore and Léonie were very excited coming back home!
Yesterday, while I was doing usual scientific measurements, I could follow big polar bear tracks, new, up to two seal dens. It's the season for baby seal hunting, polar bears love them, humans too! Since a few days, ptarmigans are coming from south, spring is here. There is now enough light at midnight, we don't need lamp anymore, and temperatures are increasing, slowly: -32°C in the morning, -19°C at lunch time!_
Welcoming Ariane Le Couteur and Hugues and Adrien de Rosières (L'envol productions), for six weeks, for shooting two documentaries that will be shown on TV at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 (France 5 and France 3 / Thalassa).
Conditions idéales, aujourd'hui, pour enfin gravir la pyramide qui nous nargue depuis notre arrivée, il y a exactement six mois. Lemmings, renards et lièvres m'ont précédé. La vue est superbe. Décidément, nous avons choisi un très beau site pour hiverner !
Demain, je retourne au village, où j'ai laissé France, Léonie et Aurore le week-end dernier. La banquise est couverte de petites congères de neige, depuis la dernière tempête, il faut maintenant près de trois heures pour parcourir les 50km en motoneige. Bientôt, nous pourrons profiter de la piste que les villageois vont tracer sur la banquise jusqu'à l'ancien village, de l'autre côté du fjord Grise (10km). Pour cela, la mairie m'a demandé les épaisseurs Best conditions, today, to climb the pyramid which has been taunting us since we arrived, exactly six months ago. Lemmings, foxes and hares got there first. The view from the summit is great. We really found a nice spot to overwinter!
Tomorrow, I'm going back to the village, where I left France, Léonie and Aurore last week-end. Packice is now covered with snow drifts, since last storm, and we need almost three hours to cover the 50km by snowmobile. Soon, we will enjoy the ice road that will be made until the old village, on the other side of Grise Fiord (10km). For that, the hamlet asked me about the thickness data; a minimum of 120cm is needed.
France is resting, getting rid of dizziness; she is also going to sewing and kamiks (skin boots) lessons. Léonie is happy going to school and playing with friends. Aurore is pampered by Liza, and also the nurse who had to treat her after a nice stunt!
Jean Gaumy left this morning, by Twin Otter, after having integrated discreetly with life in the village for a week. Before that, his stay on board "allowed him, according to a process carefully non scientific, to check the inevitable limits between reality and fantasy" (from the guest book). We will share soon on line some of his pictures!
Last Friday, a delicious feast was organised by Meeka, mayor of Grise Fiord, to celebrate the end of nutrition course. Tomorrow will start Easter holidays and games...
So, meanwhile, I'm alone on board. Nice weather, no wind, the silence is as fascinating as evening lights. We wish this season would last. I watch a fox passing on the shoreline, short and quick steps, always on his guard. Temperatures are increasing slowly, and I even managed to take a coffee outside (-15°C at lunch time)! While doing scientific routine measurements, I met tracks from a female polar bear with her two young cubs, whose tracks are not even bigger than dogs tracks. They might have come out from their den not long ago. One night, I was waken up by little knocks, as if someone was at the door... When I got up, I scared ravens that were eating our piece of muskox meat on the front deck!