On the Tundra

These pictures were made using the same poster paint as all the other paintings. When you use a very wet brush, it comes out looking like watercolor. It gave the effect I wanted here.

“Refugees” was painted in the fall of 2009 in response to something happening in my real life. Most of the others were done in a batch, about a year later, to illustrate the backstory. A few more came along still later as codas. There will probably always be one more.

They are generally shown in narrative order.

Light in the Dark

a light in the distance

We have darkness.

When there is no light anywhere, you can see everything. You can see the glinting that means there is something different under the snow. You can see your snow house glowing from miles away. You can see a spark on the far side of the lake, and know that you are not the only person in the world.



If you don’t exist, you can’t be dispossessed.

This picture was not originally painted as part of the “Tundra” series, so it isn’t a perfect visual fit. But the technique matches and it’s got a place in the story, so I included it in this group.

If It Comes any Closer
We Will Have to Kill It

four spears against a bear

Those who can carry a spear have to protect those who can’t. The adult is motion­less because she is too scared to move; the child is motion­less because that is what she has been taught. You can tell the difference.

It will be better if the bear quietly decides to go about its business.


two of one, one of another

It’s not a culture clash, just a language mixup—the kind of mistake anyone would make if you’ve got two men saying to one woman We’re (both) inuuk, you’re (one) qallunaaq. If the mistake can get straightened out quickly and painlessly, all is well. Otherwise it might escalate.

Unexpected Meeting

two travelers come face to face with a botanist

One moment you are walking across the tundra, days or weeks away from the nearest human settlement. The next moment you top a ridge— and all but trip over the botanist on the other side.

Geothermal Research Station
No. 2, Nunavut

staff and visitors at the reseearch station

The dream: battery-powered snowmobiles that run silently and are recharged from an infinitely renewable source. It is not the only dream.

One way or another, everything is about to change.

First View

two people standing by an inuksuk looking at the distant village

When people talk about “the inuksuk”, this is the one they mean. It marks the first place you can see the village when you approach from the south, coming from the research station.

In real life you wouldn’t be able to see the village so clearly. It’s a few miles away, with a couple of intervening ridges and valleys. At that distance, people would be about the size of ants moving along the far wall.

There Used to Be More

the abandoned village rediscovered

There used to be more of us. We used to have more villages.

But this was never one of theirs. That’s the only thing they can be sure of. They brought in a shaman to spend some time on the site. He was confident it was abandoned from natural causes, not because there was anything wrong with it. The village may have been inhabited by an earlier group of caribou Inuit before the missionaries got to them.


a fishing holiday

Sooner or later, a visiting outsider will cause trouble. And then there is no choice but to send her away. At least for a few days until the whole thing blows over.

But no matter what your guest has done, she is still your guest. You cannot expose her to danger and hardship. The best thing is to send your son along to take care of her. The tundra is in bloom, and there’s good fishing.

Three of One,
Nine of the Other

three of one, nine of the other

It should not surprise anyone to learn that the word for “winter”, ᐅᑭᐅᖅ (ukiuq), is also the word for “year”. After all, there is at least three times as much of it as of the summer, ᐊᐅᔭᖅ (aujaq).

Sometimes you have to make compromises.

She Said Yes

a moment of rejoicing

Now and then you have to cut loose and indulge yourself for just a moment.

It’s a little bit of an open question whether she really said Yes— or he simply set it up so it was impossible to say No. But the result is the same.

Don’t Forget the Ptarmigan!

off to go hunting

This one’s more frivolous than most. It goes without saying that he is leaving rather than returning. Duma would never come home empty-handed.

There really ought to be a couple of children in the background. But maybe they’re having their naps. There will be less commotion if ataata leaves quietly while they are asleep.

I Want to Go Home!

one sobbing adult, two puzzled children

The program was called, predictably, Living Traditions. It had two goals: to “integrate us into the economy” and to help young people understand their background.

Understand, yes. Appreciate . . . maybe not so much.

Nine Years Later

two parents, three children

Sometimes a non-native speaker will go to inordinate lengths to avoid dealing with the dual number. It won’t work, though. There may be three children, but there are still only two parents.

Artistic license: If you have paid close attention to the backstory, you will realize that I fudged it a bit. By the time the non-dual child is big enough to be carried in the back of an amauti—she has to be able to hold her head up, which takes a couple of months—it would no longer be winter. There might still be snow on the ground (consider that the pivotal scene in Atanarjuat takes place in May or even June), but you definitely wouldn’t be building any snow houses.