Snow And Blizzard 

By William A. Ogletree

 


We discharged our 128 tons of cargo from the schooner Thomas S Gorton onto the landlocked ice in False Harbor Cove. Settlers brought their kamatiks and we watched the dog teams make their way around the outcropping crags as they pulled the sleds loaded with our supplies up the hill to the wooden building and a Quonset hut which had been built the previous summer.

The settlers helped us store our supplies and install stoves in the buildings to make them habitable. Gus Bradley and his sons Art and Paul worked for us every day. Without their help and knowledge, we would have had more difficulty surviving that winter’s blizzards and temperatures that dropped to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

I went ashore after hefting the cargo from the schooner’s hold and happened to step on a large husky, covered by falling snow. The dog jumped up, with his hackles raised menacingly. I kicked at it as I stepped back. Just then a settler ran up and, although wearing only soft sealskin boots, he kicked the poor dog into the air.

“Don’t kick me dog on the shoulder, Sire! Kick he in the belly. It won’t hurt y’r foot.”

That was my first encounter with the Labrador Husky, a beast of burden described to us in Newfoundland as terribly vicious, but we Coast Guardsmen admired them for their strength, endurance and beauty. Some of our attempts to make pets of them resulted in sad experiences.

One day Paul’s team included a new Husky pup, which we admired greatly. While Paul was working at the Quonset, one of my men took the young Husky into the barracks, fed it and petted it. When Paul came for chow and saw the dog, he was furious. He said that his other dogs would not accept the young Husky on the team if it carried our scents. He took the dog out, re-hitched it to his kamatik and commanded it to lie down. It was dark when Paul stopped work and went to his sled, then came inside and asked if we were keeping the pup. We were not, so I took a flashlight and went out to help him. We found bloody snow and a bony skull devoid of flesh. His team had eaten the rest of the pup.

That experience taught us a lesson, but did not quench our desire for our own dogteam. Carlos Larsen, our cook, traded some cigarettes for a young bitch. We named her “Cooky” in honor of Carlos. We traded for three more near-grown huskies, of which one was solid white, so we named him Apingaut (Snow). He grew into the largest and strongest dog on Great Caribou Island. As was the custom to have a bitch as lead dog, Cooky was ours, but Apingaut could easily haul our toboggan alone, with four men aboard.

Stan Brazzil, operator of the Battle Harbor Marconi Station, boarded the SS Kyle in July, 1943, to go on his annual inspection tour of Marconi Wireless Stations down north on the Labrador coast. Knowing that in and beyond Rigolet, he would be in Nunaga (Eskimo land), I gave him money to purchase a young Husky. When he returned nearly a month later, he brought me a 3-week old pup. It was a black and white beauty, with its ears erect and its tail curled tightly over its back. Cooky had just surprised us with three pups and Carlos agreed that my pup, though older, could be added to the litter. He had not cleared it with Cooky and she was hostile toward my pup, who certainly knew where to go for his feeding. Cooky would growl, snap at him and drive him away. The poor pup whined and looked on longingly as the other pups suckled away. Carlos and I then took turns, holding Cooky’s head so my pup could feed, but Cooky would growl all the time and try to get up or roll onto her stomach. During the third day, Carlos told me that I had to take my pup away. He showed me bleeding teeth marks around Cooky’s teats where my pup had been feeding.

I went to Stan’s house on Battle Island in my sailboat and asked him how he had managed to feed my pup the four days he had kept him on the ship. “Oh,” he said, “the Eskimo I bought him from gave me some sticks wrapped with strips of seal blubber. I would just put one in his box, and he would suck on it for hours, ‘til he’d get all the oil and swallow every trace of the blubber.”

Carlos and I then concentrated on getting the pup to eat. In an hour’s time we had him lapping tinned milk and as cooked cream of wheat was added, he gobbled it up. In a few days he was eating my scrambled eggs, which Carlos ingeniously contrived from powdered eggs and powdered milk. He was soon eating anything, including a hole in my sealskin mitten.

Mindful of our experience with Paul Bradley’s young Husky, I wanted my pup to stay outdoors, but I feared that the older dogs would eat him. Cooky would protect her own pups, but she had no love for mine. I waited until after the dogs were fed in the twilight, then I took my pup out. They came around to sniff him while I held him in my arms. Apingaut stood on his hind legs so he could sniff him over, from stem to stern. Then Apingaut backed off and made a strange noise. My pup bolted out of my arms, ran to Apingaut and frisked around him on his hind legs. Old Apingaut looked on admiringly then began cavorting with the pup. We had never seen our dogs play like that. When I took my pup back to the barracks, Apingaut came along, looking up at my pup, and would have come inside, if permitted. Then Apingaut raised his head and let out a mournful howl, which was joined in by the other dogs in what we called “The Labrador Anthem.”

In the room I shared with Girhard Howen, whom we called “Pappy,” I put a wooden box with bedding in it for my pup. Pappy and I slept on a double-deck bunk—I in the upper with my feet toward the window and Pappy in the lower with his head toward the window, which he insisted should be kept open, even after the hoar-frost on the walls was three inches thick and the oil I used on my long hair and beard froze solid. He said we would not catch a cold. This Norwegian had spent 8 years on Bering Sea patrols, so I gave him credit for knowing a lot more about living in the Arctic that I did, having grown up in Alabama. The morning after I had introduced my pup to the other Huskies, I awoke and immediately looked at the box. My pup was gone! I dressed hurriedly and went to the galley, where Pappy was having his first cup of coffee. “Do you know where my pup is?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’s outside somewhere. . . . You don’t sleep, you die overnight. Old Apingaut sat outside our window and howled like a wolf. That dang pup of yours kept him going by whining back. I could not get him to quiet down, so I pitched him out of the window. They were quiet and I got my sleep.”

I rushed outside to find my pup, fearful of what I might find. I saw Apingaut, lying in the lee of a large boulder. In the curl of his neck was something black, covered with a dusting of snow. I touched it and it sprang out and climbed over Apingaut’s neck to sniff my hand. After that, my pup was always with Apingaut. I tried to come up with a good Eskimo name for the pup, until Les Mears suggested, “You ought to call him the Eskimo word for ‘blizzard’, because he’s always with ‘snow’ (Apingaut).” Perksertok was the word I took to mean blizzard, so that became the pup’s name. (The men called them “Snow” & “Blizzard,” as follows.)

Carlos would trade cigarettes or a few tins of Spam for seal carcasses, after the skin and blubber had been removed. We used an ax to cut the frozen seal meat and bones into small pieces. At feeding time, we’d take a bucketful outside and throw it on the snow. The Huskies would battle for chunks and bolt them down until none was left. No man dared be in that fray of Huskies, for he’d be badly bitten. As soon as Blizzard joined the team, the etiquette changed. Snow would take over a territory and permit only Blizzard to collect meat and bones in his domain. He would stand guard and leisurely eat all the pieces except the ones that Blizzard gnawed on and growled over. I was Blizzard’s owner, but Snow was his guardian.

When the snow became deep enough to cover the rock outcroppings, except for the large boulders, Carlos and I harnessed the Huskies and rode to Indian Cove on the toboggan—we did not own a Kamatik. I had made a harness for Blizzard and cut a sealskin trace for him. He tried to pull, but the snow was fluffy and deep, so he struggled just to keep from being dragged along, I put him on the toboggan. He sat there, happy as a dog could be, with his ears laid back and his nose sniffing the air. He was a fast learner, so he never became a sled dog. When he was larger and the wind had packed the snow so hard the huskies left only faint tracks, I would hitch Blizzard in the team and crack the walrus-skin whip over his head to make him run with the other dogs, but soon he would be missing. I would look around and find him sitting on the toboggan behind me, with his ears laid back and his nose in the air. By his royal bearing I knew he was thinking, “This is the life for the Prince of Huskies!”

One night we heard the sounds of a great dogfight. We rushed out with guns and flashlights, in time to see a pack of wolves, or possibly wild dogs, running away. Snow was blood-spattered as he stood over Blizzard, who lay writhing in pain. I picked him up and saw that he had been savagely bitten through his face. I took him inside and let Snow come in too, for he had some wounds. Snow’s gaze never left Blizzard as we washed his head, forced sulfa drug into his wounds and wrapped his head with bandages. Snow had two tear wounds on his neck, but they were not deep because his thick coat had given him some protection. Over the next two weeks we pampered Blizzard and let Snow sleep inside, with him. Snow became himself again, and was soon going on our toboggan rides and sleeping outside.

While a blizzard was raging one night, Walter Stewart called me on the intercom from the radio shack, “Please come up here and get old Snow. He’s outside howling something awful.”  I made my way to the radio shack and found Snow outside the door, standing over the lifeless body of Blizzard. I took the body to the barracks and Snow went with me. Inside under a bright light, we could see no new injury on Blizzard. Ensign Harry Harrison, a biologist, volunteered to try to find out what caused Blizzard’s death. He found that the earlier head injury had been more serious than we thought. It appeared that an infection persisted, causing a bloody pus pocket to form and press against the brain.

The next morning Carlos kept Snow in the galley while three of us took Blizzard’s remains down to False Harbour Cove, cut a hole through the four feet of ice and dropped into it the gunny sack, tied up with Blizzard’s remains inside, along with a large rock to weigh it down. After that day, Snow lost his youthful play and was always searching for something.

In June, we once again heard Snow’s mournful howl. It was not the twilight “Labrador Anthem” that we were used to hearing, but a mid-morning cry. Old Snow was back at the radio shack. This time he had something, part seaweed and part animal. The animal part was much of Blizzard’s skin and a leg bone. Fish had apparently eaten the remainder, but Snow had recognized what washed ashore in a recent storm and dragged it to the radio shack, where he sat, howling his requiem.

Carlos and I discussed what to do. If we went inland on the island where there was soil and buried the remains, we feared that Snow would find the grave and once again bring back the remains. Being sailors, we thought a sea burial appropriate and decided that Snow should be present, so he would know what happened. We held Snow and let him watch as we placed the Blizzard’s remnants in a sack, along with some stones, and tied it up. We got our motor surfboat, took the sack aboard and let Snow jump aboard with us. Carlos and three others came along and we motored out of the cove a distance of about three miles and hove-to. Each of of us said a few words about what a joy Blizzard had been to everyone, but now we had to let him go, so he could join the spirits of other great Huskies. We let Snow sniff the bag, then as we dropped it overboard, we had to hold him. He had his front paws on the gunwale, ready to jump.

We returned to the station and took Snow inside the barracks, where we kept him and pampered him until it was time to feed the dogs. Snow had eaten so much table food, he ignored the fish heads we offered that evening. He just stood on a large boulder, sniffing the air.

The next day Snow was missing. We guessed that he had once more smelled a bitch in heat a few miles away in Indian Cove or Trap Cove and would return hungry and tired after he had exercised his dominant rights. Then as we talked to the villagers and learned they had no bitch in heat, the truth dawned on us. Snow swam out to sea to find Blizzard and must have gone beyond the point of no return. We would never see him again.

Return To Coast Guard Stories