Wednesday, June 23, 2010
A few survival tips
Because I am heading to the Arctic in a couple of months, a brother of mine thought it would be useful if I learned a few polar survival skills. To that end he suggested I read the excellent, In the Land of White Death, by Valerian Albanov. This is a tale told in clear and poetic language of a journey across the frozen Arctic Sea north of Siberia in 1914, which I would recommend to you even if you are not planning to visit the Arctic any time soon.
And here are a few of the very useful things I learned from Albanov’s narrative:
Polar bear liver eaten raw – even though delicious – can kill you.
Seal blood, however, can be used to make a nourishing and tasty broth.
Seal blubber, when lit, illuminates much better than bear fat.
Providing you have a seaworthy vessel, you are generally happy to encounter a polynya. This an area of consistently open water amid the ice pack, prevented from freezing over by prevailing winds and currents. It could also be a great word for Scrabble if you ever have 2 Y’s.
Eider eggs are almost as big as goose eggs and when cooked with duck fat, they make an excellent omelette.
Malitsi are heavy, sacklike, Samoyed garments sewn from reindeer hide, with the fur on the inside. Slipped over the head, they have crude openings to accommodate the arms and the face. In you don’t mind being cold and wet and uncomfortable – which, if you are traveling to the Arctic is a given – they can substitute for a sleeping bag.
Walruses are challenging. Just when you think you have them in your sights, they slither off the ice and into the dark and chilly water. Albanov found their bloodshot eyes to be especially repulsive.
When Albanov and Konrad, the only other survivor of the Brusilov expedition, were finally rescued on Franz Joseph Land by the Saint Foka, they regaled the crew with all the usual questions: What has happened in the world? Has war broken out? And then were shocked to hear the answer that yes, war had very much broken out following an assassination in Serbia.
Five years later in 1919, after surviving those six months of hardships, near starvation and rampaging walruses on the pack ice, Albanov died in a manner so mundane that it is not even sure whether it was typhoid or a railway explosion.