A Shelter from the Storm

The storm was getting worse. Snow lashed Tulimaq’s face, and the wind whisked the whimpering huskies faster along the trail. Tulimaq could barely stand the cold any longer. His fingers tingled with pain as he clenched the sled, and his cheeks were numb from the cold.

Every winter since he could remember, thirteen-year-old Tulimaq and his father had made this trip across the Canadian Arctic to visit relatives. They had always started at sunrise and arrived at their destination before sunset. But they had never before been caught in such a fierce storm.

“We can’t go any farther today,” Tulimaq heard his father call, his voice muted by the wind. “We must stop here and wait for the storm to pass. Tulimaq, you must help me build an igloo.”

Tulimaq breathed a sigh of relief. He brought his dog team to a halt and crunched across the freshly fallen snow toward his father. His chance to help build an igloo had finally arrived.

Tulimaq eagerly helped his father search for the right kind of snow to build a snowhouse. They looked for snow that had fallen in a single storm and that was packed tightly into a snowbank. Snow that had fallen unevenly would be layered and would easily crack when lifted.

“Here is a perfect snowbank,” said Tulimaq’s father, pulling his long wooden rod out of the snow. “My stick tells me that this snow is tightly packed and that it fell when there was no wind. This is the snow we will use for our shelter.”

Tulimaq made the outline for the igloo. He tramped his heels deep into the packed snow until he had formed a circle twelve feet in diameter.

Next, using snow knives with blades two feet long, Tulimaq and his father cut thirty-five to forty blocks from the snowbank. Each block measured about two feet wide, three to four feet long, and six to eight inches thick. They were then carefully fitted together to make the walls of the snowhouse.

Tulimaq placed the largest blocks in the circle on their ends. His father pared down the top of each block with his knife to make the blocks on the next row slant slightly inward.

“Now that the first row is completed,” Father said, “I will stay inside the circle while you pass me the blocks. We must finish it before we get so cold that we cannot warm ourselves.”

Tulimaq quickly heaved the heavy blocks onto the wall. He placed them tightly against each other, leaving his father to pare them so that they fit exactly.

Little by little the snowhouse grew. The walls, by curving inward slightly, were forming a dome, and after nearly an hour, they were almost meeting at the top.

“Now for the last block,” said Tulimaq’s father. “I will cut a smoke hole in this one so that the air will circulate, then I’ll pare it to fit snugly.”

Tulimaq patted loose snow into the small cracks between the blocks, then hurried inside to help his father. Using blocks of snow cut from the floor of the igloo, they built an entrance tunnel leading to the hole that they had cut for the door. The tunnel would help keep the shelter warm.

“We must insulate our igloo well,” said Father. “The wind is strong and cold, and we may be here for several days. Run outside and bring in the lamp and the skins from my sled.”

Tulimaq knew that skins lining the ceiling and walls of the igloo would help to keep it warm. They would also prevent the walls from melting too much when the lamp warmed the air inside the igloo.

After Tulimaq and his father had lined the ceiling and walls with the skins, they leveled off an elevated area around the inside walls to serve as a bench. Finally Tulimaq’s father lit the lamp.

Now the igloo was warm and cozy. Air circulated through the hole in the roof, but very little heat escaped through the walls. Cold air passed through the walls from the outside, but slowly enough so that it was heated by the lamp.

Tulimaq gazed into the flickering light. He unzipped his parka and tossed his mittens onto the bench. His fingers were no longer tingling, nor were his cheeks numb from the cold. He was tired. But he was happy and proud that he had helped his father build a shelter from the storm.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Rogan