I took a trip to Sanikiluaq, an Inuit village in the Belcher Islands in Hudson’s Bay. It was a strange trip and I found that I could not write about it until Cindy Schroeder and her Kindergarten from Fall River School in California sent me a “FLAT STANLEY”. Stanley is a character in a book by Jeff Brown. Stanley gets smashed flat by a falling bulletin board and then finds that he can mail himself places. The Kindergarten sent me a wonderful plastic covered FLAT STANLEY and asked me to take him places. I found that FLAT STANLEY could write about Sanikiluaq.
From FLAT STANLEY
To Cindy Schroeder and her Kindergarten
Fall River Elementary School
This guy Munsch is a nut case and I am getting out of here as soon as I can! When I volunteered to go on this trip you said I was going to a nice Canadian Writer who lived in a Nice University Town and maybe he would take me to Niagara Falls cause that was close to his house.
So what happens???
I get there and right away we are on the plane to Montreal et tout meme tous le gens parle Fraqncais et moi, Je ne comprende pas sa que il ma dit; et il faut reste tous la nuit au Montreal. And then we are back at the airport and all of the sudden at gate 51 everyone is talking English again and this Munsch idiot tries to get on the plane to Kuujjuaq (a nice jet) and it almost takes off, but this lady comes running out and drags him off the plane because he is supposed to be going to Kuujjuaraapik. I mean he does not even know where he is going or in what language. What a basket case!
Would you confuse Kuujjuaraapik with Kuujjuaq?
And the plane to Kuujjuaraapik is a Dash-8 , which looks like a large Canada Goose with propellers and it is supposed to be good for emergency tundra landings.
EMERGENCY TUNDRA LANDINGS!!!!! And I, Flat Stanley, am running for the door.
Unfortunately, I do not make it to the door before it closes and the thing takes off. It is not a big plane and there are 4 languages being spoken: French, Cree, English and Inuktituit. All the signs are in 4 languages. HELP!
Then we land at Raddison and everything is back to French because Raddison is a Hydro Quebec town where the Québécois have built huge dams that have flooded a lot of Cree forest (and boy are the Crees mad about that) so the Quebec can sell cheap electricity to New York State.
And then the plane takes off and suddenly everybody is Cree or Inuit (Eskimo) and we are heading for Kuujjuaraapik which is a town in two parts – the Inuit part which is about as far south as the Inuit go and Cree part which is about as far North as the Cree go. So there is an Inuit school and a Cree School and a French School. No English school.
And it is really two separate towns sharing one Northern Store which is what Hudson’s Bay fur trading posts have turned into up there. See- the Inuit and Cree don’t like each other very much. They don’t like each other even more than they don’t like the Québécois. So it is like two towns with a big space in between.
And it’s cold and raining and sleeting and the plane to Sanikiluaq isn’t going because plane schedules are a joke here and the terminal is one room that is very cold and nobody knows when a plane is coming or going.
So since we are stuck here, Munsch goes out and asks some lady where the school is and she says Inuit or Cree? And he chooses Inuit which is dumb because when he finally gets back to Guelph his secretary tells him that the CREE school there had written and asked him to come; but that was a few years ago when the place was called Poste-de-la-Baleine. Munsch does not even know that Kuujjuaraapit used to be Poste-de-la-Baleine. He has no idea where he is. Kuujjuaraapit is Inuktituit so I guess the Inuit are taking over since they got to change the name.
So Munsch is walking down this dirt road and a 4 wheel off-road Honda sort of thing comes along and says, “Want a ride?” Even though I am yelling , “NO!”, Munsch gets on and then we are going down this bumpy road really fast and I am reading the little sign pasted right on the gas tank which says “DANGER – this vehicle is unstable with more than one passenger”. And we are sitting just over one back wheel, not even centred when the thing makes a turn and almost flips. Believe me, this was almost the end. Flat Stanley almost became Even Flatter Crumpled And Torn Stanley.
And then we are at the school and Munsch walks in and says “Hi. I’m Bob Munsch and do you want me to tell stories”
Dead silence follows
Then lots of talk in Inuktituit probably meaning “Who is this nut and why does he think we will fall for this stupid story. He probably is an escaped mental case who wants to steal little Inuit.
Somebody says in English, “Prove It!”
And is this pathetic. Here is Munsch showing them that the picture on the back of his book is the same as the picture on his drivers license. Too bad his drivers license is in English and not Inuit Syllabics because the lady can’t read his drivers license.
Strangely, instead of throwing him out into the cold rain, they let him tell stories to a couple of grades. He starts giving away books. Pathetic. He can’t even sell the things.
Happily he can’t get a ride back to the airport and he has to walk and it is cold and raining. Serves him right for leaving the airport in the first place. And airport security is not very good cause Inuit are wandering around carrying big hunting rifles – Have they never heard of hijacking here? I don’t want to be on a plane that gets diverted to the North Pole so some Inuit can hunt seals.
I try to get a ticket back South but the ticket lady will not sell tickets to a flat person. Canadians are unfair to flat people. What a lousy country.
Good News. It’s 6 pm and a cargo plane is leaving for Sanikiluaq and soon we are scrunched in among boxes and going off to the Belcher Islands. Why is Munsch going to the Belcher Islands??? 1,500 islands spread over 3,000 sq, Km of Hudson’s bay and only 700 people. And what is a SQ. KM. Anyway??? Does nobody up here talk inches and miles like reasonable people?? I tell the pilot that he can stuff his millimetres up his kilometre and he gets mad and wants to throw me, the Famous Flat Stanley, out of his plane.
So finally we get to Sanikiluaq and John, the School Principal, takes him to Mary and John Cookie’s house. We are staying in the room of a kid named Silatic. There is seal meat hung up to dry in the kitchen. Munsch is a mess and goes right to bed. There is only one bed and since I am flat already, Munsch sleeps on me.
I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.
Morning. Bannock and coffee. There are no trees around. Just rocks and moss & lichen sort of stuff. Munsch loves it.
Did I say no trees? Munsch shows me an arctic willow. It is maybe 300 years old and 1/4 of an inch high and 2 feet around. It looks like moss. Munsch calls the 2 inch high moss and lichens a “fairy forest” and he lies down and looks at it. – Nut Case – Nut Case – Nut Case.
And then we are going with Lissi and Sampson for a sort of picnic. Munsch gets a crash course one how to drive the Honda and it works cause he drives it and crashes it. Tips it off the trail onto a large clump of boulders by the ocean. Unfortunately, he lives but at least he is bruised and hurt so some good came of it. I fall into Hudson’s Bay. Wo! Talk about cold!!! But I am plastic covered and I don’t get wet.
Then we keep going through all this rock that is weird and strange cause it was rubbed into strange shapes by the glacier, and over lots of old beaches cause the islands are still popping right up out of the ocean now that the ice is gone. They got scrunched down and now they are bouncing back up like rubber, Weird.
So the whole place is mostly old beaches cause the islands are long and thin – like a kids scribble. Then Lissi shows Munsch that lots of the rocks around are actually old camp sites, some 3,000 years old. She builds her own rock circle for her tent so somebody else can look at it in 3,000 years. She collects driftwood and then horribly burns lunch, which is potatoes, bacon, pork, corn, peas all wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked black. Munsch likes it. He will eat anything. A lady and two little kids show up and they all like it. Nut Cases! . Nut Cases! . Nut Cases!
I demand a cell phone to call MacDonalds. There is no cell phone and there is no MacDonalds. Wilderness! I am lost in the Wilderness.
And then Sampson shows up. He has been gathering mussels and kelp and soon everybody is eating raw mussels and kelp stems. They love it, only Munsch can’t figure our how to open mussels with just his hands and a shell, and it took him about half an hour to learn. Even the little kids can do it. Boy is Munsch dumb. First he is dumb because he can’t open the mussels and then he is dumb because he does open them and eats them raw. They look like orange snot. I, Flat Stanley, have a civilized California sort of stomach and I will eat nothing. Happily I am so thin that I can’t get thinner, else I would be dead.
Finally I get tired of everyone happily eating and having a raw mussel party; so I try one. Since I am flat I can just slip into the shell and eat the mussel without having to open the shell. The Inuit are very impressed and I like the mussel; especially since I get to eat it in the dark inside the shell and do not have to look at it’s orange snot colour.
We go back and the rest of the day he tells stories at the school. At school a kid is making a wonderful model sealskin kayak. People down South will not buy them because they are made of sealskin. In fact, there are sealskins hung up to dry all over town and everybody eats seal. I try to explain that seals are cute and they should eat cooked cows like I do; so they give me some wonderful sealskin slippers and some raw seal. I give up and eat the seal and wear the slippers.
The also tell me the score for animals made extinct
INUIT – 0
SOUTHIES – 10,000+
and tell me to stop griping about the seals and the ducks and the walrus and the beluga and the foxes and cariboo and the polar bears which they hunt but which are still around. And what do I think used to live where all the cows are now? So I decide to like eating raw seal and I decide to like my sealskin slippers.
After school Munsch happily does not ask to go see Sanikiluaq whom the town is named for. He died about 80 years ago and his mummified body is under a pile of rocks about 20 km. out of town. The kids in the school go out sometimes and uncover him just to check out how he is doing. Most of them are related to him anyway. (And how long is it since you dug up your great- great grandfather and said , ”Hi”)
Mina takes us to visit her mother that night. The mother is sitting on the floor (she never uses chairs) sewing little parkas for dolls for her grandchildren. She is using a hand powered sewing machine. She and her two friends only speak Inuktituit. She figures Munsch is a nice guy because she goes outside and brings in a frozen Eider Duck and chops it up with an axe right on the floor. Then on the same floor everyone eats the raw duck, dipping it into fermented seal oil. Munsch loved it.
Fermented seal oil causes lots of food poisoning in the High Arctic, cause it gets fermented by lying around for 6 months or so. I have high hopes that Munsch will, grab his stomach and scream and die, but he does not. Where is food poisoning when you need it?
The next day is all storytelling. These dumb kids actually like to hear Munsch tell stories and they are all asking to be in one. I mean – get a life. He starts telling strange stories about Polar Bears and Seals and freezing to death and a video that is so scary that it sets the VCR on fire.
Get this – the next day the school goes berry picking. The tundra has a moss looking thing that is actually a cranberry plant and it is all over the place. The berries have frozen twice now and they are soft and sugary. Little kids are crawling around picking huge bags of berries. Munsch eats them till he gets sick. (The berries are in between frost polygons, whatever they are. They look like cement oozing up out of the ground. Munsch thought they were cement and he asked what was being built out on the tundra. Great Question Munchie. He can’t tell a Frost Polygon from a lichen)
That day there is snow, sleet, rain, fog, bright sunshine, 2 whole rainbows and a wind that got lost from some Florida Hurricane. The Inuit loved it. They kept saying “Wonderful Day” and eating berries. Munsch eventually started to freeze and had to be dragged back. I wasn’t bothered at all. I love being flat and plastic covered.
The next day John the Principal asks Munsch to tell stories in the Thule sod hut that is built outside the school. This is a sort of house the Inuit used to build. It is mostly underground with a tunnel entrance and a sod roof that is supposed to be on top of whale ribs. Half of it inside is all covered in caribou skins and half of it is floor for cooking. So Munsch is telling stories to grade one in the Thule house. It is pitch black and has spiders. Johnny and Mina light two seal oil lamps.
And this is the really weird part ——–> Munsch makes up a story that definitely belongs in the X-FILES.
Here it is:
Long ago in the middle of winter, when Sanikiluaq was a small child his father went out to get a seal and left Sanikiluaq and his mommy all alone. The daddy needed to get a seal to have seal blubber to burn in the lamps. The mommy stayed in the sod hut because she was going to have a baby.
So the daddy was gone for one day and the mommy said, “He will come back soon and we will have food and light and a new baby.”
Then the daddy was gone for two days and the mommy said, “He will come back soon and we will have food and light and a new baby.”
And the daddy was gone for three days and the mommy said, “He will come back soon and we will have food and light and a new baby.”
After the daddy was gone for five days the mommy didn’t say anything.
On the sixth day the mommy said, “I have to go and help your daddy. You stay here and keep the lamp burning.”
So on the seventh day Sanikiluaq kept the lamp burning. He kept the moss in just enough seal oil for light, and if it got too cold he lit more moss till the hut got warm.
But on the eighth day Sanikiluaq ran our of seal oil and the flame on the lamp got smaller and smaller and smaller till he almost could not see it. Now, back then, people were not like people now, because they all had big ears like rabbits, big floppy ears. Sanikiluaq got an ulu (Knife) and very carefully cut off most of one ear. He rubbed lichen on the cut till it stopped bleeding, and then he put his ear onto the lamp and the fat in his ear ran out and the flame got bigger and bigger and bigger till the whole hut was full of light and was as warm as summer sunshine.
On the ninth day Sanikiluaq ran out of oil again and the flame on the lamp got smaller and smaller and smaller till he almost could not see it. So Sanikiluaq got an ulu (Knife) and very carefully cut off most of his other ear. He rubbed lichen on the cut till it stopped bleeding, and then he put his ear onto the lamp and the fat in his ear ran out and the flame got bigger and bigger and bigger till the whole hut was full of light and warm as summer sunshine.
At the end of the ninth day, Sanikiluaq mother came back. She was dragging a seal. She looked at the lamp and she looked at Sanikiluaq and said, “Well you are a good boy! You kept yourself alive and now my little baby will have a big brother to catch seals so it can have light and food.”
Then the mother took off all her clothes and lay on the cariboo skins. Sanikiluaq put lots of seal fat on the lamp and the flame rose high. The mommy yelled a strange long scream and then there was a new baby lying on the bed. And it had small ears just like Sanikiluaq, small ears just like Sanikiluaq had from cutting off his large ears. And ever since than all babies have had small ears; just because of Sanikiluaq.
And that is the end of that story.
Everyone was quiet for a long time and then Wanda said, “Is that true?”
“Of course it’s true” said Silatic, “just look at your ears – we all have small ears”.
Then all the kids crawled past the hanging caribou skins, out the tunnel to the outside; and Bob Munsch sat all alone in the hut and looked at the seal oil lamp burning brightly, warm as summer sunshine
© Bob Munsch Ent. Ltd. – 1998
Now I ask you, Is that a wacky story or not?? I may have been smashed flat, but I never cut off anybody’s ears, including my own.
Happily, we left the next day and of course the planes were not at all on time and sometimes there was not even a plane to be late. Stupid Munsch got stuck in Kuujjuaraapik again. He took me out to see if the same kind of cranberries grew there as in Sanikiluaq. They did, only they were small bushes and there was a forest of very small trees and real rocks that were not old beaches. Of course he got lost in the rain and fog and got all wet and almost died. As I am covered in plastic I stayed dry and I told him what a nut case he was and showed him the radio tower of Kujaauaraapik, glowing nicely in the mist.
So he didn’t die and a plane finally came and then we were back avec tous les Québécois et ils dit au Munsch, “que vous et bete. Nous compronde pas sa que to vous dit.” till we were back Toronto and now he is back home and he had a sinus infection and pneumonia and an ear infection and his ear drum just burst and there is blood coming out his ear. That is what he gets for getting lost in bogs looking for cranberries in the middle of freezing rain and fog. I figure he got off lucky.
And I, Flat Stanley, and outta here just as soon as I can address an envelope and get back to California. This guy is just too much. I QUIT!
[FLAT STANLEY BY Jeff Brown illustrated by Steve Bjorkman; Harper Trophy Books; ISBN 0064420264 – a wonderful book]