How the Fog Came
Thursday, 14 June 2012
How the Fog Came
How the Fog Came
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Author of "Harpers Aircraft Book," "Harpers Wireless Book," etc.
From Everyland magazine, Legends of the Northland, March 1915. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, June 2012.
It was dreary winter time in the Arctic, and the icy gales whistled around the little group of igloos (snow houses), drifting the fine snow about them until nothing but their low, rounded tops showed above the dazzling white surfaces which stretched away for countless miles to the frozen shores of the Arctic Ocean.
Just within the tunnel-like entrances to the huts the dogs huddled together, now and then howling dismally at the storm without or snapping at one another in a wolfish, savage manner. Within the little dwellings built of blocks of frozen snow, it was warm and comfortable, with no sound or sign of the blizzard raging outside. Near the center of each house stood a rude stone lamp filled with whale-oil, and with a row of moss about its edge. This moss served as the wick, and from this primitive stove the occupants of the house received their warmth and light.
All around the inside of the igloo was a bench of ice, covered with the skins and furs of foxes, bears, seals, and wolves. On this bench sat the women; among them old Nepaluka, her wrinkled face bent close to the deerskin shirt which she was patiently stitching with a sharp bone needle and sinew threads. Near her was Newilic, her son, busily at work upon a walrus tusk, which under his deft fingers was being transformed into a long snow-knife. Between these two sat Kemiplu, Newilic's motherless daughter, a chubby brown-eyed lass of five years, playing with a horn dipper and a handful of bright pebbles.
Finally the grandmother finished the last seam, and, placing the completed shirt aside, sank back among the furs. The little granddaughter had tired of her simple toys, and cuddling up to the old woman, begged for a story. The grandmother smiled and gathering the little bundle of fur-wrapped humanity in her arms said:
"And of what shall I tell you, little daughter? Shall it be of Ukla the great bear who made the fog; of Nowgaluk the gull who ate the whales; or why the crow is black and the loon speckled?"
"O tell me of Ukla, Ananating!" (Grandmother), cried the child delightedly, and her busy father looked up from his work and listened attentively, for the simple Eskimos love their quaint old legends and never tire of hearing them repeated.
"Many, many winters ago," began the old woman, "there was a great white bear named Ukla. He and his wife lived many days' travel to the west in a great skin house upon a rocky plain, and all about the house were the skulls of men and women; for wicked old Ukla loved human flesh, and every night he traveled far across the land to the homes of our people. He would kill those whom he could find outside their huts, or would steal the bodies of the dead, and, fastening a rope of skin about their feet, would drag them across the rocks and hills to his home.
"Sometimes he was seen by the Eskimos, but oftener they saw only his giant footprints in the moss and snow, or found the graves deserted and empty. For many years this had gone on, and, although the people held medicine feasts and asked the Great Spirit to help them, yet he seemed displeased and answered not their prayers.
"Many times also the people lay in wait and tried to kill the robber bear with their spears and arrows, but Ukla was a great anti-coot (magician), and the bone-tipped weapons fell back bent or broken from his shaggy sides. At last the Eskimos were in despair, when one day a tall fair stranger came among them and said.
" 'Take heart, for I will rid you of this Ukla.'
"Then the Eskimos danced and beat their drums and rejoiced, and the stranger said to them:
" 'Tomorrow I will pretend to die and you must wrap me in skins and bury me among the stones, and when Ukla comes let him depart in peace with me.' Then the people grew very sad and sorrowful, but he answered them saying, 'Weep not, for soon I will return, and never after shall Ukla rob the graves of the Eskimos.'
"Then the people did as the stranger told them, and, wrapping the stranger in skins, placed him among the stones and departed to their homes crying aloud as if in sorrow. In the evening the great bear, having heard their cries, came across the hills to the village and, finding the body of the stranger, he fastened his rope about the man's heels and started homeward. But the man spread out his arms and grasped at stones, and although Ukla pulled and tugged he could travel but slowly, and every few miles he was compelled to stop and rest from his labors. Then as he looked at his burden he would shake his head in wonder.
" Ah,' he would say to himself, 'who would think such a small man would weigh so much; but he must be fat and fine indeed! What a grand supper he will make!' And thus encouraged by the thoughts of the fine feast he would have, he would again start onward. At last he reached his home and dragging the man within the door threw him into a corner, and tired out with his hard work crawled into his sleeping-bag, telling his wife they would feast in the morning.
"After a time the stranger opened his eyes to look about, but Ukla's wife, who was trimming the lamp, saw him and cried out to her husband:
" 'This man is not dead—he is looking about.'
"But Ukla was very tired and answered sleepily,
"Then the man kept very quiet indeed, and when the bear's wife turned away he caught up Ukla's knife and leaping forward killed her. As she fell the bear awoke, and the man, throwing down the knife, dashed through the door and across the rocky plain while the bear followed close at his heels, panting and growling terribly as he ran.
"At last, run as fast as he might, the man found the bear was constantly gaining and would soon overtake him. Now this stranger was a mighty magician, and as he ran he caused a great hill to rise between himself and Ukla, and as the bear climbed slowly up one side the man ran swiftly and easily down the other; but when Ukla reached the top he curled up and rolled swiftly down the side of the hill and nearly caught the man again.
"Then the stranger caused a mighty river to flow between himself and his pursuer and sat down upon a stone to rest. When Ukla reached the farther side he roared and growled with rage, and in a great voice called out,
" 'How, O man, did you cross the river?'
"And the man laughed and answered, 'I drank my way across.'
"When Ukla heard this he plunged into the stream and drank and drank until at last he made a dry path across the torrent and crawled slowly up the other bank. But his long hair was wet and heavy, and his body was greatly swollen with all the water he had swallowed, so that the man feared him not, and taunted him. Then the bear grew very angry, and with growls like icebergs clashing in a storm he cried out, 'Ugh, even though I am so sodden that I cannot overtake you, yet you shall not escape me,' and giving himself a mighty shake he burst, and the water which he had swallowed flew in all directions and caused a thick fog over all the land.
"Now the man was greatly troubled, for all the hills and plains were hidden from his eyes and he knew not which way to turn. But having skinned the bear he grasped the shaggy hide in his hands and waved it many times about his head, thus making a great wind which drove away the mist. When he reached the village of the Eskimos great was the rejoicing and the men did not work and the women did not comb their hair for three days and three nights, but danced and beat drums and feasted. For many years the stranger dwelt among the Eskimos and taught them many things, and performed many great and brave deeds, but of these I will tell you some other day, for now it is time to sleep, little daughter."
As the old woman ended her tale the little brown eyes were closing, and the grandmother laid the child tenderly among the soft rich furs to dream of the good brave stranger and mighty Ukla the "Fog Father."
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.