The Frozen North
Author’s name [Richard Mayde] supplied by the transcriber.
In some chapters, there are very few paragraphbreaks therefore the illustrations have been positionedas close as possible to their original position in the book.
There are 18 illustrations within the book withoutaccompanying captions, so I have used the individual captionsfrom the Table of Illustrations and have placed thembeneath each illustration.
I have retained the title ‘Greenlanders’ in the Table ofIllustrations page 67, plus retained the illustration title as quotedin the body of the book as, ‘A Young Man. A Young Woman’.
Page 54: The word ‘they’ has been added to the sentence.....the danger would be greatest, they made with their dogs....
THE FROZEN NORTH.
THE FROZEN NORTH.
DODD, MEAD, AND COMPANY,
Copyright, 1876, Dodd, Mead, & Company.
Press of Rand, Avery, and Company, Boston.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
|1.||A Russian Carriage.||Frontispiece|
|2.||An Old Woman of Greenland.||PAGE 9|
|3.||The Barren Grounds in Summer.||14|
|7.||The Edge of a Pack.||30|
|8.||Lifted by the Ice.||32|
|9.||Among the Icebergs.||33|
|10.||Encounter with Icebergs.||40|
|11.||An Arctic Scene.||40|
|12.||A Greenland Glacier.||43|
|14.||Seal-hunting on the Ice.||50|
|18.||An Unpleasant Experience.||62|
|24.||Danish Settlement in Greenland.||81|
|25.||The River Jokulsa.||85|
|29.||Travelling in Iceland.||98|
As we travel northward,leaving the sunny landsof the temperate zone, wecome after a time to mightyand seemingly endless forestsof pines and firs. Mile aftermile, they stretch away in alonely silence. The wintrygale that rages among themis answered only by the howlof the wolf, while a few bears,reindeer, and the arctic fox,alone of animals, find a homein their snowy depths.
Gradually as we go onward the trees aremore stunted, gradually the pines and firsgive way to dwarfed willows, and soon wecome to the barren grounds, a vast regionextending about the pole, and greater in sizethan the whole continent of Europe.
The boundary line of these barrengrounds, is not everywhere equally distantfrom the pole. The temperature of arcticlands, like that of other climes, is affectedgreatly by the surrounding seas and byocean currents. In the sea-girt peninsula ofLabrador they reach their most extremesoutherly point; and as a rule they extendsouthward where the land borders on theocean, receding far to the northward in thecentre of the continents.
All this vast territory is a frozen waste,its only vegetation a few mosses and lichens.[Pg 11]The few weeks of arctic summer do notallow the growth of even shrubs. As weadvance through the forests the trees aremore and more dwarfed. Soon they becomemerely stunted stems, for though they putforth buds in summer, winter is upon thembefore wood can be formed. On the shoresof the Great Bear Lake, it is said that atrunk a foot in diameter requires four hundredyears for its formation.
A more desolate scene than the barrengrounds in winter, it is difficult to imagine.Buried deep under the heaped up snows,with the winds howling across their drearywastes, and an intense cold of which we havelittle idea, it is no wonder that almost noanimal, save the hardy arctic fox, can find asubsistence upon them.
But no sooner does the returning sun[Pg 12]bring the short weeks of summer than allthis is changed, and they are the scene ofvaried life and activity. Vast herds of reindeercome from the forests to feed upon thefresh mosses, flocks of sea-birds fly northwardto lay their eggs upon the rocks, andto seek their food in the rivers teeming withfish, while millions of gnats fill the air inclouds, enjoying to the utmost their shortlives.
And their lives are indeed short, for it isalmost July before the snows are gone andthe hardy lichens can send forth shoots, andby September all vegetation is again beneathits snowy coverlet for another long ninemonths’ sleep. The reindeer have, beforethis, made haste to seek the shelter of theforest, the bears have disposed of themselvesfor their winter sleep, the birds have all[Pg 13]sought the milder region southward, and allis again silence and solitude.
It is due to the snow, that at first seemssuch an enemy to vegetation, that even suchlow forms of life as mosses are able to existon the barren grounds. Before the intensecold of the arctic winter has set in, they areburied deep beneath its warm folds. Outsidethe wind may howl and the cold growmore and more severe till the thermometermarks for months forty degrees below zero;beneath the snow an even and comparativelymild temperature exists. Dr. Kane foundthat when the outside air was thirty belowzero, beneath eight feet of snow it was twenty-sixabove zero, a difference of fifty-sixdegrees.
Great as are the barren grounds, or tundri,as they are called in Siberia, the arctic[Pg 14]forest region is far greater, for it reachesaround the globe in a broad belt, nearlya thousand miles in width. Few indeed are[Pg 15]the occupants of these great tracts, comparedwith the more favored southern lands. Thepoverty of the soil, and the severity of theclimate, prevent the growth of crops, andman is offered only such subsistence as canbe gained by hunting and fishing. In consequencethey are inhabited but by scatteredtribes of savages and by hardy trappers,who brave their dangers for the rich bootyto be gained from their many fur-bearinganimals.
Of all the four footed inhabitants of theseforests, by far the most interesting is thereindeer. What the camel is to the nativeof the desert, the reindeer is to the Lapp,or the Samojede. While it cannot comparewith its finely formed relative the stag, itis excellently fitted for the situation in whichnature has placed it. Its hoofs are very broad,[Pg 16]forming a species of snow shoe, which preventsit from sinking in the drifts and allowsit to leap and run with the greatest swiftness,while the squarely-built body, short legs andbroad hoofs are of the greatest help in swimming.The most surprising thing about reindeeris their sense of smell. For the greaterpart of the year, their food consists entirelyof mosses which are buried beneath the snow.These they uncover with their feet, havingfirst discovered their existence by their scent,and no case has ever been known, wherea reindeer has made a mistake and dug formoss in vain. They are easily domesticatedand taught to draw a light sledge, though itis said when overloaded or otherwise maltreated,they turn upon their persecutors withhorns and hoofs, and force him to take refugein flight. In many countries, as for instance[Pg 17]Lapland, they form the chief article of wealthand are owned in herds of thousands. Unfortunatelyan epidemic disease often appears,and the wealthy proprietor sees his wholeherd die in a single season, while he himselfmust resort to the uncertain occupation ofthe fisherman for support. Besides the reindeerthe arctic forests are the home of manyother animals. Such are the black bear, themarten, ermine, mink, sable, various foxes,and others.
Notwithstanding the vast extent of thisforest region and the small number of itsinhabitants, so eagerly are all these animalshunted for their skins, that already certainvarieties are fast disappearing. The hand ofevery man is against them, and hundreds ofthousands fall every year, either by thearrow or trap of the native races, or the rifle[Pg 18]ball of the trapper. The number of menwho follow this life is very great. Wild,hazardous and lonely as it is, it possesses forthem a strange attraction, and though theymay forsake it for a time, they invariablyreturn to it.
Nearly the whole of the arctic lands ofNorth America are hunted over by theHudson’s Bay Company, which has its tradingforts and its outposts at intervals over thewhole country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific,and northward to the barren grounds.This great company employs as overseers,guides, or voyageurs, over three thousandmen, and may be said beside to have inits service nearly every Indian in NorthAmerica; in all perhaps a hundred thousandmen.Communication is held between the posts[Pg 19]in the interior by means of voyageurs, who,with birch bark canoes, paddle up the rivers,carrying immense loads, passing onwardthrough the trackless forest as unerringly asif upon a broad highway.[Pg 20] “When after ahard day’s work, they rest for the night, theaxe is immediately at work in the forest, and inless than ten minutes the tent is up, and thekettle simmering on the fire. They drag theunloaded canoe ashore, turn it over and examineit carefully, either to fasten again someloose stitches or to paint over some damagedpart with fresh rosin. Under the cover of theboat, and with a flaming fire in the foreground,they bid defiance to the weather.At one o’clock in the morning lève lève iscalled; in half an hour the encampment isbroken up, and the boat reladen and relaunched.At eight in the morning a haltis made for breakfast, for which three-quartersof an hour are allowed. About two,half an hour’s rest suffices for a cold dinner.Eighteen hours work and six rest make outthe day.” And this is not all; presently arapid is reached. Here the whole cargo hasto be taken out, the boat lifted on the shouldersof one of the men and carried perhapsfor several miles through swamp and brier,while the cargo is carried by the others in alike laborious manner.
But the scene of greatest life, in the arcticregions, is to be found among the birds. Onthe rocky cliffs, that stand out in the Polarsea in the short northern summer, they areto be found in such quantities as to literallydarken