December 27, 1911
Stefansson lives off the carnivore diet when not at his home base in Langton Bay, where he has stored flour. He also consumes some rotting whale meat and describes the difficulties of fishing with a net in 40 degrees below zero.
My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 24
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Dr. Anderson accordingly set out December 27th for the Baillie Islands with two sleds and accompanied by Palaiyak, Tannaumirk, and Pannigabluk, the last named of whom had made up her mind to sever her connection with our party. They went by way of Langton Bay to pick up provisions for the journey, for we had there considerable quantities of flour and other “civilized” foods which we had bought from the Teddy Bear. We made it a principle to live on the country when we were anywhere else than at Langton Bay, and to live at Langton Bay on the stores we had purchased and which we kept there, for indeed there was nothing else to live on at the place except the whale which had now been two years dead (thawed two summers and frozen two winters), and was therefore not so palatable as it had been the year before. By this I do not mean to say that it was unfit for food. We did, as a matter of fact, cut up some of it to eat, and that by choice rather than through necessity. The Eskimo found it an agreeable change of diet from the fish, venison, and baking powder bread, and I found it not particularly distasteful, although I preferred the monotony of the venison to the change to rotten whale.
While Dr. Anderson was gone we at the home camp altered in no way our ordinary habits of life. There was not much daylight for hunting, so Ilavinirk merely tended his traps and the fish nets. Tending fishnets is not, by the way, the most pleasant occupation imaginable in an Arctic January. The nets were set underneath the ice, which had now become about four feet thick, and it took considerable work with a pick every day to make a hole so that the net could be hauled out, and when it was hauled out the fish had to be disentangled from the meshes with the bare hands. Sticking your hands into ice water when the weather is something like 40° below zero, and especially if the wind is blowing, is as unpleasant a job as one can well undertake. We have to use the bare hands also in skinning the caribou which we kill in winter, but that is not nearly so serious a matter, for whenever your hands get cold you can warm them by sticking them inside the body of the animal you are cutting up.
The fishing was gradually getting poorer and poorer. The outlet of the lake had frozen to the bottom early in the fall, so that we knew the fish were still in the lake, but somehow the three kinds other than the fresh-water cod seemed to get sleepy and sluggish towards midwinter and to cease swimming about. Possibly they were, in a way, hibernating in the deepest parts of the lake. The “ling” ( as I believe the fresh-water cod is called) seemed to get more active as winter advanced, so that while in the fall these cod had been no more than ten percent of the catch, by Christmas a single net would frequently contain a dozen cod and only three or four of the other kinds of fish. Finally towards the middle of January the ice had become so thick and the fish so few that I agreed with Ilavinirk in thinking it was scarcely worthwhile to continue.
Of course it is only after having tried it that one can learn how best to do such a thing as to winter under the conditions which we had to face. During the few days while we were building our house in the fall we noticed that Back’s greyling were running down the creek past us in continuous streams day and night. Had we not been in such a hurry to build the house and had we put up a fish trap instead, we could have taken tens of thousands of fish at our very door; but when the house had been built and we turned our attention to the fishing, the run was already over. Had we to winter again in Coal Creek we could, on the basis of this knowledge, rely on putting up tons of fish in the few weeks immediately preceding the freeze up. It took us some time also to find the best fishing places in the lake. With plenty of nets, ranging from a 27-inch to a 5-inch mesh, a large quantity of food could be gotten together while the ice is thin the first few weeks after it forms, by setting the nets in the right places.