In the early spring of 2006 I was in the wilds of North east Greenland, travelling with the hunters by dog sledge.
Memories of lying in a little green tent at Kap Hoegh in the soft twilight that follows the midnight sun, listening to the hoarse bark of an arctic fox high up on a hill, as it summons its mate to a meal of nesting little auks. Katherine who is sharing the tent with me says, “That’s a vixen, she has a different note.”
Everyone else is sleeping in a hut safely out of reach of marauding polar bears that are also looking for a meal. We have the dogs tethered nearby who should alert the hunters if one should come our way. But my experience of Greenland hunters is they sleep as soundly as tired sledge dogs!
I ask why there is a very large hunting knife placed beside the musk ox skin that I‘m lying on.
Katherine says, “Jonas left it for us in case we have to kill a polar bear in the night; isn’t he sweet. I will get out quicker than you will so I‘m leaving the knife with you.”
This is serious! I decide to swap the knife for a rifle.
I go to find Scoresby who understands me as he learnt English when watching the Australian TV show ‘Neighbours’ during an enforced stay in hospital.
I tell him we have been left a knife to kill a bear and ask, “What is the best way to kill a bear, do we have to cut its throat?” He says, “Yes, but the bear will be coming for you on its hind legs, waving its paws at you. It will be taller than you so if you are going to kill it you will have to be very quick and get in between its front legs, then reach up and push its head back and cut its throat. As most bears are southpaws chances are it will lead with the left paw. If you want to live a few seconds longer just dodge to the other side.” No, he won’t part with his rifle.”You might shoot Katherine.”
So we doze on and off in our little tent with the hunting knife between us and the night filled with the incessant cries of little auks returning to their nests in the rocks, punctuated by the snores of the Greenland huskies and the bark of the arctic fox.
Two nights later we are again lying in our flimsy little green tent while everyone else is sleeping in a hut. This time the dogs are tethered out on the ice, nowhere near us. Suddenly there’s a thumping scratching noise on the wall of the tent beside me! … Our hearts stopped. . … But it was only the wind.
Katherine said “Your eyes were huge!” So were hers, we thought we were about to be eaten!
The next morning we found a very large polar bear nearby.