On Thin Ice

on thin ice

Arctic Wildlife in the festive season

Sing along with Bing…

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, then there’s no better start I know 

Than to raise awareness… for Arctic Wildlife… in… their dwindling world of snow 

[And if you’re worried about global warming, with no ice and rising seas 

You might find solace… to start a conflab… by wearing our organic Ts ]

Christmas

Christmas was an amazing time for me as a child. Magic happened only rarely through the year, if and when one of us lost a tooth; but at Christmas time it was pretty much guaranteed, albeit conditionally. 

Do you believe in Father Christmas?

My parents were atheists (more or less) with a combination of Christian and atheist parents of their own. All had a little leaning towards there being something out there and religion was hardly talked about except as stories. But the man, or being, I knew as Santa was described in glorious technicolour. I knew he was a saint and he came to our house. In a mining village, where coal was cheap, we didn’t have a chimney for him to come down (just gas powered central heating and no fires; gas or otherwise)  but he was resourceful, I was told. I was a little worried he might come in through my bedroom window and so, asked how he might make entry.

Probably, the door, I was told, almost as a question. As Bill Murray yells in Scrooged, “It has to be the door!” I pointed out that we locked the door at night; how would he get through the door. We can leave it unlocked for Christmas, I was reassured, but anyhow, Santa has a skeleton key that opens all doors. Why he couldn’t magically melt through or under the door I’m not sure but I liked the idea of Santa’s skeleton key and wondered what shape it must be to open all doors. A very special shape I was told. It must be, I mused, and must have a Yale type end and then all sorts of notches and knobs getting wider towards the bit that he holds- but I felt, it must also be made of bone, being a skeleton key.

Perhaps a selection of skeleton keys would be more acceptable but I like the answer and the name… skeleton key; part of Santa’s kit. 

Who has boots and a suit of red?

I knew he dressed in red, lived in the north pole and had a list. Thought of the list gave me butterflies in my stomach. He knew, and it seems, was watching, all the children and had assessed through the year whether they were good or bad, naughty or nice. There was no medium list I knew of, just one or the other. I tried to be good but knew I didn’t always hit the mark. For instance, I disliked some of the boys at school, I tried not to hate them but I could not find it in me to like them. They were surely on the naughty list anyway so where did that put me? I had accidentally, trodden on flowers in the garden, dropped food, broken ornaments and had not admitted it. Did that make me bad?

Secrets …shhh!

I’ve never told anyone this but here goes… One dark windy night I woke up desperate for a wee. I was too afraid to wander out onto the landing (I could hear a door opening and shutting in the howling wind on that dark, dark night (every shop and car window at that time was adorned with ‘Watchout, watch out there’s thief about’ stickers, there was talk of a ghost in our house and I’d just watched Joyce Grenfell in ‘The Old Dark House’, was it a comedy? I couldn’t tell – it suggested there was every chance of a hand shooting out from under the bed and grabbing my ankle the moment my foot touched the floor and dragging me under to my agonising doom… eeek. But fear does not keep wee in, quite the opposite). I couldn’t hold it in, couldn’t face the landing and had been asked to stop shouting I need a wee-wee in the night. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I removed my pillow, weed in its empty place, put it back, and went back to sleep – Easy-peesy!

Was Santa watching this? Would he see it as wrong or would his advice have been… “If you are too afraid to go out there sonny, just flip your pillow over and wee under there, I won’t mind and nobody will know (Winkety-wink).” 

Forgiven by Santa -phew!

I would have liked that clear cut advice but had to make an executive decision. Run the gauntlet of murderous ghosts or burglars (we locked the door for a reason, I had good cause) or face the accusational finger of Santa, albeit, hidden in his mitten. I figured that Santa was all about rewards and kindness and would see that I was good-hearted and simply found misadventure unintentionally. 

I was proved pretty much right when a heap of presents awaited me when I looked round the door on Christmas day but I’d had a tough month. 

Santa Claus is coming to town

When December came and I found myself queueing to see Santa. He had come to town just as the Freddie Davis Christmas Album foretold. My parents were close by and I was terrified that he would mention hidden broken crockery, squashed flowers and the pillow. I’d had another emergency and done it again and it seemed to me that it should perhaps be another function of the pillow, hilarious as that may sound now, but, had I patented it then, things could be very different now couldn’t they? Well, I can dream… 

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Not just for kids… our Eazi-Peezi pillooTM is popular with Dads and bachelors too, just flip and go fellas, and sleep well. Winkety-Wink. 

Ian Hughes – could have been millionaire

The List

 Daydreams aside, I could see Santa speaking to the children but could not see the list, or lists, had he memorised it? I looked around, hoping, I guess, I might see someone who looked naughtier than me. Perhaps they were all on their best behaviour? Then I saw her. The middle-aged elf (about 18!) who had ushered us into the ‘grotto’. She was holding a clip board. It wasn’t the scroll I’d expected but it must be the list, she’d give Santa the wink as I approached. Hopefully not a winkety -wink. 

The Beard

The big man beckoned me over. Not so big now, he’d lost a bit of weight and his hair beneath his hood was dark. He must’ve started dying it like Mum had. One thing I did not know about beards until just that moment is that they are lined at the back with woven material. I thought they were just ordinary hair growing from the chin but that’s not exactly so. They either grow lined or, probably, men go to barbers to have them lined to keep them neat and tidy. Perhaps Mrs Claus had done Santa’s for him, or a skilled elf was always at hand. I did not know the term ‘lining.’ And so asked Mum. 

“Do all beards have material at the back like Santa’s does?” 

What do you mean love?” She said, all innocent like. Answering a question with a question is a clever trick.  

“I saw behind his beard and there was material there. I didn’t know beards were like that.” 

“Oh, I don’t know love. I’ve never had a beard. Ask your Dad.” Hmph, non-the wiser.

Confession Time?

I’m over running slightly. Back on Santa’s lap. I felt he dodged back slightly as I leaned towards him to look further behind that fascinating thing, easily Santa’s most characteristic feature. I was intrigued by the lining but was also hoping there might be an elf behind there who’d give me a little wave or a wink.  

“Have you been a good boy?” he boomed in a surprisingly local accent for a Northpolian and slightly squeakier than I’d anticipated from someone ‘booming’. Was this a test? Did he know about the crockery, tulip and pilloo and was investigating if I would tell the truth? To say “yes”, would be a lie if I didn’t know the answer, and this was Santa. Lying to Santa must be really really bad. 

“Er, I think so.” 

“You think so, ha, haaa! Don’t you know?” I would have expected him to say Know-ho-ho but the day was probably dragging on a bit. 

“Er, yes, sort of, I’ve…” I was about to spill the beans but he cut in. My lap-time was limited and he had to move things along. Maybe, it’s like that with long prayers. God only listens to the first bit which could account for much of the misery in the World… and wars. 

“What do you want for Christmas young man?” I began my intricate list (with sub-notes) but he soon cut in again. 

“Would you like a present now?” 

“Yes, please?” I answered meekly, wondering if there was indeed a pet bat boxed up for me in that pile beside him and if I had technically lied just then. 

The Slippery Trickster

We walked away, something distinctly Selection Box shaped was tucked under my arm. I wondered if I had got away with it, been admonished of sin or if those things really weren’t bad after all. Did Santa know that I didn’t like any of the stuff in Selection boxes? Was he testing me or punishing me? I guess I’d have to wait for Christmas but it seemed to have gone well and perhaps Santa was now thinking, ah, that kid’s alright!” I’d bungled it a bit, but felt I’d made a reasonably good impression, had not been naughty and had not technically lied to him even though I had not confessed or apologised either. Is it bad to be a slippery trickster.

Was I in deeper still? Perhaps I should have backed away from him bowing just to be sure he knew he had my respect, too late, unless I rush back and say all the things I’m thinking of now. Maybe it hadn’t gone as well as I thought? How do you know? Is there something wrong with me that I don’t understand the world? Everyone else seemed to understand and know they were on the good list. 

Who’s telling the fibs here?

Had I known; and if only there had been some sign, a clue of some kind that, not only was I not lying to Santa, but all the people other than me were, fibbing their naughty souls away as part of some whopping great conspiracy, I think I would have blown my little top. 

You’re not Santa, that’s not a beard, the suit’s not wool. You should know I don’t like selection boxes, I’ve got to eat this now and then confess to the dentist about it and he’s never nice. But he takes a tooth and then his nurse gives me a lollipop which I have to say thank you for. I don’t know if the tooth fairy approves or disapproves of sweets (you seem to think so – approves that is) but would somebody please tell me what’s going on here? Now please, right now. 

I would of course, wonder if Santa knew that someone was impersonating him; and, was the pretender to the Santa throne good or bad? I was later told there are friends of Santa who dress as him to help out. OK, so I had not met the magic immortal himself. Where did that leave me on the two lists? 

These insecurities were the foundations on which my personality was built. They are quite possibly the reason I feel guilty for disturbing shop keepers, telephonists and clerks etc who are there to be disturbed and are taking my money. We’d paid to see Santa too!  

The Truth from Santa!

I wonder how I’d’ve felt if Santa had said to me. 

“That lining you see.” 

“What’s lining, Mr. Claus? Er, Saint Claus… I mean, Sir” 

“The material sonny, that you saw behind my beard, try to keep up. Well…It’s fake. It’s a fake beard. Everything I’m wearing is made of oil and the tacky gifts I’m giving out are tat. They’re either bad for your teeth or heart or they will end up as dioxins raining down death on the countryside and oceans or will be landfill, unchanged 50 years in the future when it finally dawns on you; and on again they’ll remain for over 10 times that length of time.

Mrs Claus is not waiting for me back at the North pole with a big mug of cocoa. Why would my wife even have the last part of my first name as her married name, eh? I’m Christopher from the shoe dept and my wife is not Mrs Opher. I don’t even have a wife and I don’t live in the north pole, I live in Clifton near the bypass.

All this stuff you see is part of a commercial chain of greed. Greedy producers seeking to make astonishingly high profits rather than just a decent wage, use the cheapest materials and the cheapest labour to make, in the quickest possible way, stuff that won’t last long but is cheaply replaced and we almost force, or fool other greedy or dumb people to buy it. And we spend the money on more tat and bright lights that burn more fossil fuels and poison the air we breathe and the soil our food grows in. 

If I did live in the north pole I would have a for sale sign up. The ice caps are shrinking and the sea ice is less every year, year on year. We all like to be warm but soon, at this rate, we’ll all be too warm and you won’t see me dressed like this then.” 

But the Ice caps are melting

Of course, he would never have said that because he was doing his job, didn’t know all those things and felt that he was being nice to children and loyal and worthwhile to his employer – whilst earning money for himself. But the ice caps melted just the same. But, he might have carried on… 

Polar bear truth

“D’y’see that fluffy happy polar bear beside me; polar bears aren’t like that. They’ve been hunted to the brink of extinction and now they are being polluted too. Polar bears, sonny, are sea bears but they need sea ice to support them. They move across the ice and catch seals that live beneath it. The seals need the ice to rest on; they can’t live out in the open ocean anymore than the bears can. This tat I’m shovelling your way is helping to melt that ice. And you think you might be a naughty boy, on the naughty list? A lot of lying goes on in the name of good will to all men and it’s about time we were good to each other and our planet. 

Look sonny, a lot of people don’t know any better but some do, and when I see people telling us about global warming from motor boats and helicopters it makes my skin crawl. They’re supposed to be setting an example not enjoying the ride. You’re worried about peeing under your pillow, yes alright I did know about that, but the grown ups are flushing their sewage into the rivers and sea; poisoning everything from microscopic plants to giant whales. Please please please, develop that composting loo philosophy some more.” 

I would have walked away from this conversation standing taller, sure that being a naturalist is a good cause, Santa told me so, and that it (being a naturalist) is a proper job and that standing up against the evils of the economy is not working against the community, global or local, but supporting its long term sustainability. 

Christmas morning

But it was unsafe for the adult world to afford the luxury of truth and global concerns to us young folk. Instead I found myself, on Christmas morning, going downstairs with the whole family in dressing gowns and pyjamas (it was the only day of the year I saw Dad in a dressing gown) and feeling great trepidation at the living room door. My sister was excited, she knew she’d been a good girl, I hid my nervousness behind her confidence. She burst into the living room and cheered. I peeped round the door, focussed, breathed a sigh of relief, and cheered too. I was a good boy! 

However, when all the presents were opened, I did note that there was no book just on bats and no pet bat although I did get presents that I had never even thought of. Was I perhaps… on the Medium List? I never have found out but always worried about Santa’s long trip for our sake, about his tired old reindeer and keeping him happy. Until I started school, he was the only deity or immortal I really knew other than the tooth fairy (we didn’t worship the easter Bunny). There was God in the bible stories but that was from a time gone by; and then there was Santa and the tooth fairy from the here and now – real people with magical powers.

Snuggled up with Mum watching Dad’s Army, I noted, and mentioned,  the Nazi arrows scurry along to the coast of Britain to the tune of “who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler?” I thought Mr. Hitler was Bill Pertwee’s character so hadn’t really got a grasp of it but I asked why Santa hadn’t stopped him. I can’t remember the answer but I had a strong belief that good would prevail because we were all in the care, protection and judiciary system of an all powerful benefactor, not Bill Pertwee in his MP tin hat. If there was any threat to me, my family or polar wildlife, he would put it right and was busy putting right everything in the World by rewarding the good and punishing the bad and keeping the rest of us on medium heat.

I gradually discovered that this was not the case and now believe that the only people who can stop global warming and the threats to Arctic life are you, the whole world reading this, and little me. I wish I’d started sooner. 

The North Pole

So at Christmas, I always think of the burgeoning, but ever-weaker, winter, spreading out to us from the north pole and I think of the wildlife that, over millions of years of evolution and adaptation has come to depend on that environment; a habitat that can melt. The cold keeps many species out, if it warms they move in and start to threaten the cold-adapted species who struggle in the new environment. For instance, gyr falcons, the largest of the falcons, and snowy white with speckles, are being supplanted by peregrines as the cold retreats.

I think, of course of reindeer, Santa’s helpers who are perhaps the most spectacularly adapted of all deer in order to face the harshest conditions. Santa would be a bit spooked if I sat on his lap now and told him what I wanted. I have a whitish beard, am tubbier than I was and laugh ho, ho , ho so I’m going to take a guess at what the most famous resident of the North Pole would say, if we really listened… 

Wise Words From St Nick

Boys and girls, Mums and Dads and all children of this beautiful World, peace and love to you in this festive season. 

When I was a young bishop, living in Turkey, Turkey the country, I’m not likely to pop out of a turkey, I decided, that the most important quality a person can have is generosity, pure generosity. I became famous for it and the word spread around the World. By generosity, I mean good-heartedness rather than buying and squandering gifts. If you find yourself buying a present and thinking, there, that’ll do for them, then you have got me wrong. Generosity does not need gifts, it is about understanding, listening and kindness. It is about self-sacrifice and reciprocity and avoiding destructive behaviour and selfishness. These are the things that make the World a better place.  

This world that has built around my name is not what I want for Christmas. I don’t want something made in a factory of plastic or fat or sugar, I want love and contentment and quality time. If Christmas causes panic for you, I have done you wrong. This time of year has become a time of gluttony, imposed duty, over-producing, over-spending and waste in my name and I don’t want it. My spiritual home is now the north pole, a place you replicate around the world. If you love snow balls, and snowmen and sleigh rides, you should love the north pole as I do because without polar ice, there will be no snow on earth. Fossil fuels and gases and heat you people create (often in my name) are melting my icy world, where will you have me live when it is gone? Or will; I be gone too? Let me tell you about my home. 

The Real North Pole

The North Pole sits on the Arctic Ocean, a mostly frozen sea that is itself larger than the continent of Antarctica at over 14,000,000 square kilometres. This realm is made bigger still if you consider it to be the entire Arctic Circle, everything north of about 66 degrees latitude north of the equator. That’s about 20,000,000 square kilometres, an area larger than the European and Australian landmasses put together and comprising about 4% of the World’s total surface. You can add a little bit more if you like as Greenland is very Arctic but pokes out of the circle for a good 600 kilometres or more.  

But with only 4 million people the Arctic Circle is less populous than Scotland or London. The beautiful white Arctic Ocean is unique among oceans in being covered, most of the time with ice. In this polar realm, we have a winter night that lasts 3 months and a long summer day of the same length separated by the day-night rhythm you might be more used to. I believe that icy cold air is the breath of the world and, without it, we will suffocate in a stuffy damp atmosphere. I love to breath in the cold cold air and hear the crunch of fresh snow beneath my feet. I wouldn’t have moved to the north pole otherwise, would I now?

My continent sized world of ice once rested securely like a bridge between the continents of Eurasia and north America but now, for much of the time, it is more like a raft. This is entirely due to humans and fossil fuels. Every day my floating world is nibbled away by the melting effects of warmth (glo-ho-ho-bal warming) and pollutants. It doesn’t matter for me, I can cancel Christmas and move on but I worry about you in a world without snow and I worry much much more for my neighbours, the arctic wildlife and people. Let’s meet some of them. 

Unicorns 

Perhaps the most northerly of all mammals, is the Unicorn, also known as Narwhal. These toothed whales hunt in pack ice and depend on it. Their territory is usually as close to the permanent ice as they can get, in the far north and they are much more likely to be found in the Atlantic realms from Greenland to Northern Russia than in the north Pacific regions of Eastern Siberia and Alaska. Their beautiful fan-like tails are unique among whales but they are better known for their spectacular and equally unique twisted tusk, modified teeth usually in ones but sometimes in twos on each animals. 

Slightly further south over all, but sharing a region of ocean with narwhal, are the snowy white belugas or white whales. These ghostly cetaceans have, like narwhal, no dorsal fin. They have very flexible necks and faces unlike other cetaceans and have, probably the most highly developed sonar abilities.  

Ice Bears and giant tusked pinnipeds 

The fringes of my icy world, with a sea rich in oxygen, provide excellent hunting for seals, who in turn are the food of the polar bear. Polar bears are the largest ‘terrestrial carnivore’ being the biggest bear but they are also the only marine bear. They are excellent swimmers but mostly walk on water, when it is frozen as sea ice. Here they hunt seals who use blow-holes to breath and haul out on the ice. The holes are a quick escape from bears but the sneaky bears wait by the holes for the seals to emerge and… Well, they ambush them. If you are worried about the seals it should be remembered that they have been doing the same thing to fish.

Without sea ice, polar bears cannot walk or hunt in the Arctic Ocean or Hudson Bay and, like their prey would be restricted to the coast where other bear species (+wolves, wolverines and lynx) compete for food. Their intimate relationship with ice means that global warming will almost certainly send them to extinction along with Santa’s workshop. I’ve set the elves to work to make it into an ark but this is not nearly enough. 

Seals and sealions are found all over the World but there are some exceptions you should know. There are no sealions in the north Atlantic. Sealions are distinct from seals in that they  can raise themselves up on their flippers and walk or run and they have visible ears. Seals are more adapted to a truly oceanic life. Slightly confusingly, there are animals called fur seals which are, in fact, sealions. I

f you like big or unusual looking animals though, then you need look no further in the Arctic than the wonderful Walrus. It is neither seal (Phocid) nor sealion (Otariid) but is the only species in the third family of Pinnipeds, the Odobenids. These gigantic beasts with moustaches that even I am jealous of (and jealousy puts me on my own naughty list) have warty bodies and spectacular tusks that may grow-ho-ho to a metre or more in length.

They grow to about the size of a black rhino, over a metric ton in weight. Size and accessories aren’t everything though; hooded, ringed, ribbon, bearded and harp seals all live in Arctic waters and are among the prettiest (to our eyes) or most striking pinnipeds in the World. So, do look further, what was I thinking? But anyway, in a world where you risk a thwack on the head from a polar bear whenever you surface to breath, what better way to overcome it than grow-ho-hoing bigger than the bear and living in huge herds for safety? 

Swimming Snow Deer 

Further out from the pole itself, on the shores of the Arctic O-ho-hocean, are my spectacular friends the reindeer, sometimes called caribou in North America. Reindeer are the most co-ho-hold adapted deer, with furry noses and splayed snow-shoe hooves and are the only deer species that has been domesticated. Unlike ponies, they don’t need grass and can graze on lichens and plants that are beneath the snow (lemmings – coming soon, do this too). Ponies need stables whilst reindeer do not and have incomparable abilities to find their way in blizzards, as you may have heard. Reindeer are found all around the arctic circle but are divided into many sub-species, some of which are extinct whilst others are threatened with the same fate. Of all the walking animals, reindeer walk the furthest making migrations of thousands of miles with the changing seasons. Whilst most reindeer don’t fly or are very reluctant to do so, they swim almost as readily as they walk, crossing huge rivers with ease. 

Their favourite food is reindeer moss, more properly reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina), a co-operative being, partly fungus, partly algae or cyanobacteria, which is a major component of the tundra and a food to which reindeer are specially adapted. Lichens are very prone to pollution, something that humans are very proficient at producing.  

Snow Birds and Suicidal Space Mice 

The wonderful gyr falcon and snowy owl are the most northerly birds of prey and share the sky, seasonally with fabulous white snow geese who make spectacular migrations along with the much smaller snow buntings. Back-tracking a little, Gyr falcons and snowy owls feed on ptarmigan and lemmings. The ptarmigan is a grouse (related to pheasants and turkeys) that is speckly brown in summer and snowy white in winter.

Lemmings, very snow adapted rodents, are famous for their suicidal tendencies but this is mostly myth. Lemmings sometimes have population explosions and migrate in large numbers to find new territory. If they reach water, they jump in and swim with unparalleled optimism that they will find a new world. If that water is the Atlantic ocean, then it is a bit suicidal I must admit, but really, it is just over-exaggerated stories of mass dispersal during population explosions probably linked to crashes in their predator’s population, caused by people. I have read that the native people of Alaska, formerly known to the outside world as Esquimau (or Eskimos) but now often (though  not entirely correctly) called Inuit, called Lemmings, Creatures from Space, presumably because of their propensity for occasionally falling (or jumping) off cliffs.

Of the many lemmings, the collared lemming is my favourite, it turns white in winter and grows a snow-claw which is moulted in the spring, But all lemmings have qualities worth investigating. They live under the snow and don’t hibernate or normally store food, they just keep at it and the Norway Lemming is that countries only endemic mammal as far as I know.  They are hunted too by the Arctic foxes and stoats who both also change to white in winter and what a beauties. A white stoat is called Ermine, or at least its fur is. When lemmings are too deep under the snow, the bigger fox stands a better chance with arctic and snowshoe hares and ptarmigan who would rather hide than fly and sometimes leave it just a bit too late. 

The Arctics turn for constant day  

If ever I could give my reindeer a rest, I would not hesitate to choose a flock of Arctic terns to pull me along. These smart looking, tough little birds see more daylight than any other animal on Earth by spending the Arctic summer in the Arctic and the Antarctic Summer in the Antarctic. Looking somewhere between a gull and a swallow, I am in awe of these marvellous birds. 

Northern People

Since prehistoric times, northern people have adapted to life with many of the species above. These people are just that, people, but are grouped together by outsiders as first eskimo (esquimau) and then Inuit, although Inuit was chosen from within. I like to think I have more in common with them than with anyone else but they would not agree (probably they would associate me more with the Sami or, more likely the Scandinavians or as a coca cola swigging American – guys, that not me, some doppelganger in a red suit posed for those pictures).

Inuit people are much more diverse in culture than we outsiders tend to understand. You are on thin ice using either term depending where you say it. Eskimo is being eliminated from Canadian and USA government documents, in favour of Inuit in Canada and ‘Native’ in Alaska but it is still used in tribal texts and so is still a legal term. Whether it is (or was) a negative term is still under debate and may never be agreed across regions or nations. The main problem, is that it was a colonial term used for a subjugated people and as such will always be tainted, especially locally, however innocent its origins may be.

In Alaska the Inupiat and Yupik are still often called Eskimos because, although the name Inuit is encouraged, the Yupik are not and never have been Inuit. I think it is always best to refer to people as they prefer to be named and in the circumpolar regions we have irreplaceable cultures in the Siberian and Alaskan Yupik, the Inupiat of Alaska, the Inuvialuit, Nunavit, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut of Northern Canada and the Kalaallit of Greenland. It’s feels nice to be recognised for who you are and as you want to be and it is kind to recognise that – I hope I got it right and I’m sorry if I failed. Nobody likes it when somebody addresses them with the wrong name, it’s important to us all and that’s why I call boys Young Man and Girls Young lady and those I’m not sure of… you or Sunshine. However, back to the subject, there is a community spirit and union among northern people who mostly identify with the name Inuit although their language group is still known as Eskimo-Aleut as far as I know. 

Perhaps the most confusing term beyond this is Igloo and the suggestion that all northern people known as Eskimo, and Inuit, live in Igloos made of snow. Snow-ho-ho houses,  are rarely built these days as hunters tend to prefer tents, usually made of dreaded hydro carbons but the term igloo can mean any kind of dwelling and Inuit people build many types from natural materials available. But snow houses were once common; small ones for short term temporary use, medium sized ones for families and large ones for community use and feasts. Their use, really has been mostly among the Canadian and Greenland communities. 

A threatened way of life

It is a harsh way of life but enriching, invigorating. I love these people and I love that their way of life goes on. It is a way of life under threat of course, and a language under threat and no more so than by oil driven vehicles and industrial technology but, if you use it, why shouldn’t others if they want to? Can you go back to a lower tech way of life? The Inuit way of life is severely threatened by global warming and its background cause, industrialisation.

Climate change, changes the migratory patterns of animals and the seasonality of the plants that they and traditional inuit people depend on. Perhaps the most poignant thing to note here, is a marked increase in drownings of people falling through thin ice in a season when it once was reliably safe. If the roads or parks in your district were collapsing or flooding, you would expect something to be done whether it is a national or a global problem. 

The Sámi people

We now come to the people from whom I borrowed my current mode of transport the other people of the north, the Sámi  people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Reindeer, of course, are not their only business and many Sámi  people have little to do with them, although what they have done, how they live together, is ingenious, fascinating and important to world culture. Bunched together now for our convenience the Sámi are really many people of the north (with related language, culture and ancestry) who live differently enough from other Europeans to be given a single name.

Lapp or Laplander is now considered derogatory and insulting and reindeer have probably been over-emphasised in their lives from a more southerly perspective when hunting, fishing and sheep herding are equally important and more common. I, of course, cannot speak for them expertly but I know that their culture is under threat. For example, free-grazing reindeer herding is threatened by both climate change and increasing industrialisation of Indigenous lands. The melting permafrost is a real issue. Not only does it release hitherto locked-in greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming, but opens up land to oil and gas exploration, mining, logging, hydroelectric power projects, tourism, and other industries putting ancient ways of life, like reindeer herding under intense and immediate threat. 

Research on Sámi health has rapidly increased in the past few years, says Lars-Anders Baer, president of the Swedish Sámi Parliament, who is concerned about the documented threats to Sámi health, especially a rise in suicides among young reindeer herders. Data from the Centre for Sámi Research and the Southern Lapland Research Department, Sweden, reveal higher rates of symptoms of depression and anxiety than reference groups, and “identifies reindeer-herding Sámi men to be at particular risk of developing mental health problems”, reports co-author Per Sjölander quoted in The Lancet. 

New Technology

A fairly recent article (2016) in the Guardian states: “When Europe’s indigenous Arctic people want to find their reindeer in a snowstorm and temperatures of -30C, they turn to their £10,000 snowmobiles and an app that is also used by British sheep farmers. In seconds, the satellite tracking device linked to their phone tells them if the animals are on a frozen lake, up a mountain or, in the worst case, have fallen prey to wolves or lynx. 

So far, so simple, thanks to new technology. But when the Sami people of northern Norway want to complain about traditional grazing land being taken by the government, or the mining industry dumping waste in their pristine fjords, communication, they say, is not so easy. 

“Our way of life and culture is threatened by the rush for Arctic development, and by conservationists wanting to protect reindeer predators, like eagles and lynx,” says Daniel Oskal, a young reindeer herder who works in the mountains close to Tromsø. 

His colleague, Aslak Eira, adds: “The problem is land grabbing. Government expropriates land for roads and tunnels, windfarms and mines. Our land is being eroded by development. Almost half of our winter lands have gone. I fear that in future there will be nowhere left for the reindeer.” 

Gloom!

The way of life was threatened by the Chernobyl disaster, thousands of miles away which irradiated reindeer lichen, reindeer and their meat; a problem which has not gone away, and as permafrost melts, it reveals the carcasses of long dead mammals (primarily reindeer) containing the still living spores of the deadly anthrax virus. This virus is one of the suspects in the Black Death which wiped out about a third of the European population in the middle ages. Gloomy news indeed and one good reason to avoid global warming!  

Santa quotes the guardian

Oh but look at me, Santa, quo-ho-hoting the Guardian and the Lancet at you and harping on about radioactive reindeer and global pandemics.  

On Thin Ice

So-ho-ho… If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, and don’t want Arctic Wildlife and people on thin ice, you can help but it isn’t always easy. You must talk about these issues with friends, family (not always friends but keep trying) and anyone else you feel should know. Wildlife and culture rarely disappears with a big bang, prior to which the single perpetrator can be told to, “put the gun down you won’t get any presents.” It happens bit by bit and, like peeing under a pillow, if we find something easy, it is then difficult to return to the old ways, and slowly but surely we can become a tiny part of a big problem. It is insidious, chronic and difficult to stop. 

Naughty Or Nice?

Here’s my list. 

Naughty Nice 
Putting on the heating before putting on a jumper Putting on a jumper before putting on the heating 
Buying anything made of plastic or other fossil fuel origins (Fuel, polyester, glitter, polypropylene, cellophane etc etc. etc) Finding non-mineral-oil alternatives 
Buying or requesting things you don’t need Reducing consumption and giving things you don’t need to those who do 
Investment in destructive industries and philosophies Supporting sustainable industries, charities and other ventures 
Unnecessary lighting and lights left on Darkness, energy conservation and starry starry nights 
Driving when you could walk or ride and taking unnecessary car journeys Reducing your carbon footprint in every way you can 
Running taps and flushing loos unnecessarily Saving water and sharing baths and showers 
Allowing sewage and other pollutants into rivers and the sea Preventing pollution 
Fast Fashion Sustainable clothing 
Flying Not flying 
HS2 Unspoilt countryside 
Eco-tourism… sometimes Proper protection and funding of wildlife 
Fast food Sustainable products (preferably local) 
General greediness and consumerism Generosity and a make do and mend philosophy 
Nationalism and xenophobia Global harmony and co-operation 
Intensive agribusiness (boycott it) Organic low intensity farming (support it) 
Bucket lists (that involve any of the above) Zen style contentment 
Destructive and insensitive twitching Wildlife gardening and care for local wildlife 
Penguins in Grottos claiming to depict the North Pole Grottos depicting the North pole without penguins 
Mowing mowing mowing and strimming strimming strimming potentially wild places to death Meadows and wildlife rich hedgerows and gardens 
Wasting energy generally. The most likely alternative to meet our current and ever growing electrical needs is nuclear energy. It’s not really safe yet! Think of my reindeer!  Saving energy and reducing unnecessary usage to keep us safe form scary alternatives 
Weeing under your pillow Finding healthy ways to dispose of human sewage and run-off from agriculture 

It’s not all there, but you get the picture. Two lists, naughty and nice, we all know-ho-ho the difference really. Let’s stay off the thin ice.” 

New Collectio

If you’ve read this far then thank you and you may want to go take a look at out new collection. We’ve called it ‘On This Ice’ the aim is to get people talking about global warming and the effects on Arctic wildlife. You can take a look at the collection here

Thank you Santa. Santa everybody. Next, we’re talking turkey. 

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