It's 1921 and you're a woman with serious problems. You've lost two of your three children to illness and the third isn't far off. Your husband, Jack, a local dog musher couldn't hack it and just dropped you and your son off on the Seward Peninsula. The only thing you can do is walk; so walk you do. 40 miles. All the way back to Nome, a Gold Rush town near your birthplace of Spruce Creek. We're talking Alaska, Baby! We're talking Polar Bears and Arctic cold.
Can you imagine!
It's been tough. What's going on in your mind as you stoop down to pick up your son. "Come on, Bennet. Momma loves you. Everything's gonna be alright." Or something like that you say. And you pose the question of Who am I? It's pretty tough to know when you're an Inupiat woman, but raised by Methodist Missionaries. Too bad you didn't learn to hunt and learn basic wilderness survival 101. Without the 101 plain and simple. Cause there'd be no textbooks or tests. Except the "live or die" one.
If, you would have had that chance, you ponder, (because all you can do is ponder when you're walking) how living rough might have been better. It gets you through even if it's as jagged as a big old set of crocodile teeth. Those crocks got it all: the smile and bark, like a dog with rabies and a tree without a stalk, just doing the things they're not supposed to do. Crocks barking and trees floating about in the air without care of ground or root and needless trunks or stalks or whatever you want to call them.
Why you think all this is pretty much clear. Walking and living like this for so long is causing you to lose your mind. Better your mind than your life, you think, as you move along. One-two-one-two. If basic wilderness training were anything, it wouldn't be about learning to cook and sew, study the bible and cook white people food. Nope. But that's where you were. With the Methodists. The missionaries. Hmm.
But here you are walking and pondering. And trying not to swear. Despite the Methodist missionaries. Despite the Bible.
You wind up somewhere. It's a blur. Thing is, you don't have the resources to care for your son. He's got tuberculosis and it's grim. Hard as it is, he has to live somewhere. And that somewhere is Else. The "O" word. Can you even bear to say it to him? Or-phan-a- ... No. You can't. You might say, "Just think of it as a temporary home. Just for now. Until things get better."
They don't. They get worse. You find yourself on an expedition headed for Wrangle Island. You've been hired as a seamstress along with four young men who are gung-ho and all that. Out to prove and that's how it goes when you've all been hired by a guy who didn't care that the team was seriously inexperienced.
How very dangerous it is to go where six months worth of supplies is supposed to be ample in what amounts to arrogant propaganda from a seasoned Arctic explorer named Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a guy who's quite prepared to fund the mission for the benefit of ego or craziness or both, but not set his pretty little feet on the snow of desolation.
There may have been a needling feeling when you met the guy. His name was too long and hard to pronounce. Something. But what could you do. That's not a question. Bennet is waiting in his
How can you travel to Polar Bear country when you'd rather be curled up next to a big spider. That's how afraid you are of those creatures. Would you rather be curled up with a big spider? That's a tough one. Thinking these kinds of thoughts is easy when you're going somewhere so far away it might as well be the moon. The ship has a snazzy name: the Silver Wave. It's even got its own resident cat: Victoria. That can't be bad.
It's clear you need to find good things to think about until the day when you can pick up Bennet and break him out of that jail. Don't think that. Think happy. Remember. Temporary home.
Eventually life falls into a pattern. Eventually, it falls apart. The pick-up ship that was
supposed to come and get you and your gung-ho friends fails to make it. If you knew that the ship called "The Teddy Bear" couldn't make it through due to heavy ice, you maybe would have said more
prayers or something. But something is going to happen that's good. You can feel it. Even though everyone's starting to starve and one of the guys has scurvy or something. Who really knows?
They can't be serious. Leave me here alone to take care of... should his name really be mentioned? When you say someone's name there comes that close kind of attachment. Maybe you just find it hard
to get close to anyone. But Lorne Knight is his name and you're gonna be the one carrying out his shiad. Lookin' after him until it's over.
There's one final thing you need to do to be proper. Write. You use one of the guys'
typewriters. All this snow and death and a typewriter. Go figure.
"The daid of Mr. Knight's death. He died on June 23 rd I don't know what time he died though Anyway I write the daid just to let Mr Stefansson know what month he died and what daid of the month.
Written by Mrs. Ada B, Jack”
Whatever happens next is a lot. And if you go back up to the third paragraph, and you do, you notice that you're about to embark on the real journey. Without the Methodists. You're probably starting to wonder if you hold a grudge. Every time you think about that whole package.
Cooking white people food. Sewing. Methodists.
This is not the end. This is just the beginning. You're taking on Wilderness Training 101 without the 101. That's right, Baby!
You're gonna build a heck of a gun rack. Put it right above the bed. If those Polar Bears come at night. Boom! You'll take 'em right down. And you'll keep Victoria snugged up close at night. She's a cat with nine lives. It's good luck. And that's exactly what you're gonna need. Because they're coming to get you. Eventually another ship will come in. They'll be here. And life will be good.
When I heard the Ada Blackjack story, I was fascinated to learn how much she did with so very little. Where did all her strength come from? She might or might not have held a grudge against the Methodists. But it really is something what she was able to do. It might have been in her blood. Or. It might have been because of the Methodists. Or...