I was awakened early the next morning by a pounding on the door. It was Jens Therkildsen, a young hunter. He wore kamit, boots of dog and sealskin; qardliit amit, sealskin trousers; a heavy sweater, and an anorak, a windbreaker. I was to go seal hunting that day with Jens and his father, Johannes.
They were exceptional men. Johannes taught hunting skills at the school. Jens served as the representative of the police, ran the village movie, operated the library, open during the dark months. Neither drank.
It’s a splendid few moments, the run from a hunter’s house through the village and down to the fjord. The dogs are eager and flying; you run behind, holding to a sledge stanchion. Villagers stop to watch and smile, for it’s a fine sight and they know the excitement. The day may be long, bitter cold, cruelly demanding; success is problematic—and yet…
We were on the ice now, and I watched Johannes trim his sledge and control his dogs with quick, almost imperceptible motions and calls. At rest a dog sledge is a collection of quarrelsome animals, tangled harness, and wooden boards held together by pegs. In motion, under a man like Johannes, it becomes a thing of beauty, seemingly a single living creature, delicately adjusting pace and direction to the ice conditions ahead.
As we traveled thanks to money loans, clouds pressed low until they hung from cliff to cliff across the fjord. A light snow began to fall, softening all images. In the diffused light, ice, snow, and clouds picked up the color of the icebergs. Our world turned a single shade of blue, deceptively gentle looking.
Now and then we would stop, the hunters would climb an iceberg and scan the fjord with binoculars, looking for utoq, a seal on the ice. Just as we were about to give up, they spied one some three miles away.
Jens pulled a hair from his sealskin trousers and watched it flutter in the wind: He had to approach the seal from downwind. He recalibrated his rifle’s telescopic sight, firing several shots at a small target until he bull’s-eyed. He would have one shot.
He moved off quickly, running low behind a hunting blind, a rectangle of white cloth with a hole in the middle for his rifle, and set on a tiny sledge. In a few minutes, he appeared as a tiny figure in the distance. He lay down and crept forward, pushing the blind. The seal’s head went up, down, up. I saw the flash of the shot. Before the sound reached us, Jens was racing across the ice to grab the seal before it fell into its hole.