Tasiilaq on Amassalit Island was our first encounter in East Greenland, having crossed the Denmark Strait in a following sea from Iceland.
With a population of about 1,000 people — one of the largest in East Greenland — Tasiilaq rises steeply out of the water. Red, yellow, green, and blue wooden houses pop like dice off a wrinkled carpet of green. There are no trees, no shrubs to hide the concrete foundations that hold structures level above the rise and fall of gray outcropping bedrock.
Reminding me of bleached whale bones, dog sleds lie about before houses. Some upright, others tipped on their sides or upside down. Behind houses and out on the hillside are sled dogs. Tawny lion-colored dogs with the broad-shouldered stature of huskies and the long fluffy tails of Bernese Mountain dogs. Two smaller dogs run about us, wagging their tails, barking, and bowing to play. We name them Rough and Ready.
I am instantly taken by this attractive community of friendly people and the wildlife. It felt like a step back in time before the industrial age, where life was good with the simple gifts of food, shelter, and companionship. Having gone for many days without cellphone or Internet access, I imagined that I could live happily in the embrace of the likes of this town.
But I was wrong.
Life is hard because it is the wildlife that sustains the Inuit people, not government housing, nor the amenities the government provides. The animals that the people depend on have moved further away. This vast land is impassible until snow and frost smooths the passage so that dogs can pull sleds once more. The hunting season is curtailed when cold weather arrives later and departs earlier.
The weather has also become more erratic.
A cold snap snares in an ice hunter returning by kayak. A few hundred feet from the village, his kayak is cemented in a sea that is too solid to paddle through, and too thin to venture out for a rescue. For three days, the town watch him slowly die, helpless on the other side of the fatal expanse of ice.
In Tasiilaq, Gedion Qeqe carves exquisite figures from bone. By his skillful hand, he captures what we may cherish when the land is one day gone.
A town so picturesque. So colorful, yet ever overcast. What was once thriving wildlife in the vast tundra has diminished and receded. The people of Tasiilaq are paying with their lives while we spend pennies on the gallon of fossil fuel. Our selfish consumption must stop.
Nearby in Iceland, they are taking 6,000 tons of carbon from the air, letting microorganisms photosynthesize to produce 4,000 tons of carbon in ethanol to power cars and trucks. Iceland does not want to transport or burn fossil fuels. If workers must live far from work then we should provide them green mass transit for free. We could all then breath a bit easier.
The real costs of fossil fuels are too great, too many people have died.
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