It's hard to imagine that in Brainerd today lives a man who knows how to build an igloo.
You might remember Einer Anderson, 88, as the former Crow Wing County auditor. Back in 1974 he made a four-month Arctic journey that began, in his own words, with him being considered "excess baggage" by Joe Natakok, his 63-year old Eskimo guide.
That was until Anderson learned to help build an igloo.
As the story unfolds in a column written by former Minneapolis Tribune writer Jim Kimball, the troop traveled more than 400 miles by dog team, hunting and trapping as they went. They ate seal, walrus and caribou. Make that raw seal, walrus and caribou. Eskimos will expend precious fuel to make a pot of tea, but meat is eaten raw.
A dog team hits the Arctic snowpack as it begins the day's run. At night they curl into furry balls and sleep comfortably outside in temperatures that reach -50 degrees. (Photo by Einer Anderson)
"I enjoyed it," Anderson says. "It was very good."
At the end of the each day Natakok and his fellow guide built an igloo. It was through this simple, everyday task that they came to respect Anderson.
"I had decided to impose none of my white man ways on them," Anderson was quoted as saying. "They were illiterate, but I was the novice and they the experts. When you watch an Eskimo you see him do many strange things. But watch him longer and you learn there is a reason for everything he does."
Anderson made four trips to the Arctic, most times traveling by canoe. He's paddled down the Thelon, Nelson, Hayes and God's rivers, backpacked into remote villages, visited ancient ruins dating to man's earliest ventures into North America.
Einer Anderson photographed this polar bear on one of his four Arctic expeditions. Anderson did not have a gun with him at the time and took extra precautions to make sure the bear didn't detect his presence.
"My memory isn't as good as it used to be," Anderson says when asked to recount the most memorable moments of those wild journeys.
But he remembers the igloos.
"After each day's run," Anderson recalls, "Natakok would probe the snow with his spear until he found some that was right for an igloo. Then he would start cutting blocks. Working from the inside he would build the walls up around him. All the blocks came from the inside, so as the walls went up the floor went down. It was quite a revelation to me. You'd be surprised how comfortable we were. At 60 below zero we sat there in our wool shirts. Our bodies gave off enough heat to keep us warm. You could stay in one igloo for about four days before it iced up. Then you either built a new one or moved on."
Anderson knows the northern lights in a way nobody who spend his or her life at our latitude knows them.
Eskimos build igloos by removing chunks of snow from the interior and placing them in a circle. As the walls go up the floor goes down. When its finished the igloo can keep a human warm in extremely cold weather.
"When you stood outside at night," he says, "it seemed as if you were right in the middle of them. Big beams of light shooting up and down. It was really beautiful."
Once while hiking on the Arctic tundra Anderson came upon a polar bear. His rifle was back at camp, so he crouched behind a small burm and took the photograph you see on this page. Another time on a backpacking trip on Mount McKinley in Alaska, he awoke in the morning and looked out his tent to see a massive grizzly with two cubs ambling by.
"I didn't even breathe," Anderson says. "I was hoping Bob (his traveling companion) wouldn't start snoring. That's as close as I want to get to a grizzly. She was a big one."
Anderson canoed in the Boundary Waters as recently as eight years ago. When his wife suffered a stroke his traveling days were over. Today he has a unique collection of memories and advice for the young.
"I was fortunate to make those trips," he says. "I'm glad I saw the Hudson Bay and some of the rivers up there. Life is what you make of it. You have to take some risks."
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