"We'll stop at this iceberg for lunch," the sergeant told me. "But first we do a drive-around, to check for polar bears."
This was a routine two-man snowmobile patrol over frozen Baffin Bay—the French-Canadian sergeant and an Inuit constable. They constituted the entire Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment at Pond Inlet, the Inuit village at Baffin Island's northern tip.
I was just a visitor, along for the ride, swaddled in a borrowed RCMP parka. My hands had started freezing, so the constable loaned me his spare dog-skin mittens—last winter, distemper killed every sled dog in town, and the Inuits salvaged what they could.
After lunch, we roared past more frozen-in icebergs, jutting up like buttes and mesas, blue and green. We headed toward Bylot Island, all that stood between us and Greenland.
A glacier covered the island, and we faced a nearly vertical ice wall.
"Get a good running start," the constable instructed me.
I watched the two Mounties roar up and over. I started up after them, but too slow. Near the top, my snowmobile's treads spun. No traction. I slid backwards, ever faster, toward the rocky scree at the glacier's base.
I squeezed between boulders. Lucky. On my second run, I made it over and saw…more ice.
I saw lots of ice during my stay on Baffin Island. I ate raw seal blubber at Pond Inlet's annual spring on-the-ice party. My hotel was a large Quonset hut, where the nightly menu consisted of Arctic char. I remember purple evening skies and kids riding tricycles in the midnight sunlight. What I remember most, though, is the Inuit constable.
"You might as well call us Eskimos," he told me. "That's what we call ourselves."
He'd been born in an igloo, and raised out on the tundra. When Canada decreed all indigenous children must be schooled, his family migrated to Iqaluit, the larger town at the island's southern tip. He befriended the RCMP officers there, and it led to his career in law enforcement.
So here we are, the constable and I, in Pond Inlet's town hall, to fax a report to the main RCMP post in Iqaluit, and I hear him muttering to himself: "This baud rate's way too slow!"
So complained the man raised in an igloo.
Here's another moment: he's describing Pond Inlet's winter, since spring seems frigid enough to me, and he says it's not the cold he minds, but the weeks of darkness.
"My wife, my kids, me—every winter we take a vacation," he said. "We fly down to the Caribbean."