It’s the question no one asked when they heard I’d be camping in the arctic in the summer of 2009.
Last April, seven years later, the same topic lay fallow on the fringe of conversations concerning my dogsled trip in Ittoqqortoormiit, East Greenland. It was barely alluded to, and never expressed in words, until now…
Q: Sooooo, what do you do when duty calls in the wild, high atop the world?
A: You answer it. Otherwise, the whites of your eyeballs will turn yellow and 1, 2, 3 you’ll burst like a water balloon when it misses its mark and hits the pavement after being tossed from a five-story window, leaving itty-bitty pieces of yourself to be fill in the blank (’cause if I do, you’ll deem me a wack-a-doodle).
In all seriousness, the dogsled trip was very different from my first time in Greenland. In the summer of 2009, tents were pitched to address the housing needs of the one-hundred or so participants attending an event in an ancient gathering place at the foot of the Russell Glacier. Portable bag-toilets were set up to meet the attendees other needs. Once enclosed in individual nylon sleeves, you had the choice of leaving the door flap zipped for privacy, or open to the fresh breeze and phenomenal vista. I have to admit, there’s something to be said for making the potty-with-a-view choice:
Last April was a different story. Our small group of six women and two men led by four local hunters was not stationary, but on the move. And unlike the furred powerhouses that ferried us across the frozen landscape that relieved themselves while in motion –
Yes. You read that right. While running. Marianne coincidentally caught it on film.
Warning! It is not pretty.
Neither was the cloud of noxious gas they occasionally expelled – convincing me Mother Nature had the answer for a turbo-charger long before the automobile industry did.
Nevertheless, the humans among us needed a place to stop, strip, and squat to take care of our business. It’s not like there are trees or bushes to position yourself behind for privacy either, but there is the occasional dip in the landscape, like here,
behind a hunter’s hut where we stopped for refreshments,
to stretch our legs,
and take care of any other needs we might have.
When Barbara announced that she’d be off to the loo, I decided to tag along. Guys, stop shaking your heads. Every woman reading this will understand, even though she might not be able to explain why she feels the need to have company when nature calls. Keeping an eye out for the owner of these footprints was all the reason I needed.
~ which leaves me to postulate that paying a visit to the powder room in pairs is embedded in a woman’s DNA from time spent eons ago as hunter/gatherers ~
Nevertheless, we bid adieu to our travel companions who politely faced in the opposite direction of where we were headed.
Who knew seeking out the perfect place to find relief from one’s bladder would be such hard work? Not so much for Barbara, but for people like me who are vertically challenged. Trudging through deep powder is taxing when you’re packed in five layers of clothing and weighed down by bulky boots that nuzzle up to the bend in your knees.
Once we’d blazed a trail to a spot below the ridge that was private enough for the task at hand, we chuckled from our comfortable niche at how much we resembled the dogs at home when they circled and sniffed for just the right place to ‘go’.
It didn’t take much longer before the only sound I could hear was my own breath, well, maybe a few hushed expletives tucked under it too, as I struggled to get a foothold. The scene took me back to my 5-year-old self stepping out from behind a row of rusted metal trash cans on a similar cloudless day. They were lined up in front of the brick wall in the back alley of our housing development. Red-faced and crying, I couldn’t understand why my KEDS were soaked with urine and my friend Arthur’s high-tops weren’t.
Before I was able to share the memory, I lost my balance and fell backwards.
“Whoa!” That snow was cold.
Once I managed to get back up again, Barbara’s gasping yelps of laughter cut the silence like church bells on a sleepy Sunday morning. All she could do was point at me and shield her eyes from the sunshine sparkling off the snow-pack stuck to my butt.
In an instant, the avalanche of our hoots and howls
woke the pack of hounds slumbering on the ridge above us
and set them in motion.
“Nein! Nein! Nein!” Barbara shrieked. “Bleib! Bleib! Bleib!” Her arms flailed in the direction of the cliff. “No! No! No! Stay! Stay! Stay!”
By the time she switched from German to English, it was too late. The pack had already leapt over the edge – the sled trailing close behind at first, but quickly overtaking them. They only came to a halt once Albert had sprinted to our aid, rifle in hand. Poor guy almost had a heart attack. Barking dogs + screaming women don’t usually = a safe environment.
Once everyone calmed down, we quickly
And returned up
to the top of the bluff
only to have a good hearty, laugh and set out again.
Partial photo credit for this post is also given to Marianne and Damian.
For an account of events leading up to this day, please visit:
❤ Qujanaq for stopping by ❤