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Caribou arguing at Seal River. Any Skillen photo.

Caribou arguing at Seal River. Andy Skillen photo.

Many years ago, anxious hungry eyes tirelessly searched the northern horizon for life-giving caribou. When would they come? Had they wandered too far west? What if they didn’t come at all before the cold winds of winter? The hungry cries of the children would go unanswered as starvation sorrows relentlessly stalked the eerily silent Barren Lands.

Such was just one of the many hardships felt by the early residents of this vast, silent, Arctic desert.

“Tuktu! Tuktu!” First ones and twos, small bands, and then a torrent of life flowing down from the northern hills. Hundreds and hundreds, soon countless thousands flooding the land, bringing life and laughter in anticipation of the coming harvest.

Tuktu (pronounced Took-two) is the Inuktitut word for caribou, and cries of “Tuktu! Tuktu!” brought joy and excitement to all who heard them. Caribou were fundamental to the survival of the Inuit as a source of food, warm clothing, tools and implements.  Sinew was used to make rope. Antlers were used for hooks. Bones were used for needles and tendons for thread. Skins were used for clothing and tents. Fat was used to make candles, or for burning in stone lamps. No part of a caribou was ever wasted.

A curious group! Any Skillen photo.

A curious group. Andy Skillen photo.

We feel very fortunate to be able to enjoy this wild and rugged land in the Arctic luxury of our warm and cozy ecolodges, and to be eating gourmet food which is gathered locally and flown in weekly from points near and far. Overeating is the only hardship we face in the Arctic these days. A bad food day here is perhaps a lack of a particular fruit or vegetable, or maybe Quinoa, but that’s not really food anyway. *Smile*

So we wait with a different sort of anxiousness every season, eager to be the first to spot the great herds returning to the treeline from their summer calving grounds. October 23 is the earliest we have ever seen the caribou at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Bleary eyed but content after a stunning night of Aurora Borealis, we stumble to the breakfast table, drawn by smells of wonderful lusciousness emanating from the kitchen. But wait, a fabulous sunrise over the icy waters of Hudson Bay is greeting us, so back outside we go with all cameras on full alert. Okay, that’s checked off, time for another gourmet breakfast. Ah, but not so fast, Mike (Reimer) has come in with another report on the caribou!

Here they come! Build Films photo.

Here they come! Build Films photo.

Thousands from north to south. The hillsides and tundra lowlands are covered in migrating caribou! The “throng” has arrived! Fantastic! What a morning, now for some coffee and piping hot cinnamon buns slathered in butter and icing! Sorry, no time for that either.

Wolves! Wolves! Andy has spotted a pack dragging their quarry up on to Eskimo Point! Unbelievable! Can it get any better? Seriously? Oh wait, here comes another polar bear! Sensory overload, too much info, all systems flashing red, shut down imminent, coffee, must have coffee… aaahhhhh!

Polar bear eyes Arctic fox. Maggie Hoffman photo.

Polar bear eyes Arctic fox at Seal River Heritage Lodge. Maggie Hoffman photo.

Another morning for the record books at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Tuktu! Tuktu!

A rest after breakfast.

A rest after breakfast. Andy Skillen photo.

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