Monday, August 16, 2004

Ever since I read Jack London stories, specifically Call of the Wild and “To Build a Fire”, I’ve been fascinated with the Arctic. I’d always devour my dad’s National Geographic whenever there was an article that even mentioned the great frozen tundra. Something about that cold harsh vast wilderness made me want to visit. And one day, we did.

My father, who shared my interest in the Arctic, signed us up for a two-week tour. The trip, led by a man named Skip Voorhees, started in Ottawa, then went to a small town called Frobisher Bay. From there, we took noisy two-engine planes to little villages on Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island, places like Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, and Grise Fiord – the most northern year-round human civilization in Canada (maybe the world). At one point we reached the 82nd parallel – that’s way up there, considering New York is around 41 and the North Pole is at 90.

We went around this time of year, in August, when the weather was somewhat bearable, about as cold as NY in wintertime. Though it was the warmest period, the scenery was still breathtaking -- icebergs that looked like peppermint drops, and glaciers galore. The downside to this time of year was that the wildlife wasn’t as prevalent. From the plane, I saw seals and whales, but on land, there were no arctic hares or caribou, and thankfully no polar bears.

No wolves either. There was a running joke in my family about this. My father had watched countless hours of nature programs, so he considered himself an expert on the subject. And when my mom kidded us that we were gonna get eaten by wolves, my dad would say, “How many times do I have to tell you? Wolves don’t eat people. They’re afraid of man.” He was probably right, but I could only imagine the irony of us getting attacked by the wild predators, and as we were being mauled to death, I’d hear him muttering, “But wolves don’t eat people!” We joked that these last words would be inscribed on his tombstone.

Many years later, after my father died of a heart attack, we had to decide what to put on the headstone (besides his name, Hebrew name, dates of birth and death and “Beloved husband and father”). An epitaph. But something appropriate for him. A passage from the Talmud just didn’t seem right. My dad had lots of catchphrases, “Ruth, I love my pool.” and if you claimed to be toiling hard at your job, he’d scoff, “You work? Hunh!” But I blurted out, just kidding around, “But wolves don’t eat people!” And we all laughed... and then thought, yeah. That seemed right. It may sound irreverent, but that was my father. He didn’t take anything too seriously; his off-beat sense of humor was one of the things that endeared him to everyone. So that odd statement is what’s on his final resting place.

This story isn’t meant to be a depressing one. I miss my father, but I’m incredibly lucky to have had him in my life. I enjoy thinking about him, and all our good times together -- including surviving the man-eating wolves. I wanted to post this today for a few reasons. The last time I went to the Caribbean was with him a few months before he died; as I mentioned, our Arctic trip was around this time of year; and finally, today was his birthday. He would have been 75.


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