Dear The Snow Walker,
Like the great big open spaces that surround you, not only is the expanse of your story large, so too is the depth of your heart. Based on the short story ‘Walk Well My Brother,’ which is believed to be based on a pilot the author flew with during earlier times, the saga charts the ordeal of Charlie Halliday, who is a brash bush pilot fresh from the Second World War and full of himself while flying around the arctic tundra in 1953.
On one of his many side trips to fleece the locals in bartering for goods, he runs across a small family of nomadic Eskimo. The female of the group, named Kanaalaq, has what Charlie suspects is tuberculosis. In exchange for some ivory, Charlie agrees to fly her to a hospital in Yellowknife. En route back to the city, Charlie is forced to make a crash landing when the plane develops mechanical problems. Although both Charlie and Kanaalaq are unharmed by the crash, the plane is totaled, the radio is busted, and they are stranded in the middle of nowhere.
What transpires is a subtle story of survival where it is instantly clear – death on the tundra is quickly inevitable to outsiders! This isn’t a place where folks who aren’t indigenous survive. Charlie, though the hardened Vet he may be, is quickly reduced to groveling, perishing humanity. It is in this arena where the gentle wisdom and tenacity of Kanaalaq’s tribal skills comes to the aid of a barely alive and very humbled Charlie. It is at this point where I know something special is to occur! As she knows only a little English and Charlie knows none of her language, communication is a tortuous proposition, yet they do communicate.
As sick as she is, she prepares him and aids him in taking the steps required to survive in this most inhospitable region. As the search and rescue is called off we see Charlie’s gradual transformation from a young impetuous individual to a thoughtful seasoned man that may now be a bit more comfortable with himself. Their journey is a remarkable thing to behold not because of the difficulty in the process or the usual vehicle of us against nature, but because of the sharing of a culture to which Charlie owes his life. Though mostly thoughtful and low key, the achievement of this self sufficiency is very insightful and powerful to behold. Particularly as the winter world sinks down all around them!
This story is already compelling for all the reasons above, but what makes it riveting in its impact at the end is the simple parting of paths between Charlie and Kanaalaq. The sadness at the separation of their quiet bond, and shared survival is somehow offset by the slow meaningful way he walks out of the tundra snow like a strong, undefeated specter and into a curious Eskimo village.
Charlie, you may not lose all your swagger, but I think there is a young woman you will never forget and who will continue to teach you life lessons all the rest of your days!
With the utmost respect and life long camaraderie,