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thrity six paws

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We rode for five days over an expanse of sea ice that stretched in all directions until it ran abruptly into rock and dirt. The horizon was scattered with the memory of winter, and pieces of purple and amber mountains peeked through the white snow. Two reindeer hides were placed atop our packed sled and nine determined barking dogs assembled into a team each morning as we ventured further. Thomas Martika Qujaukitsoq was born in Qaanaaq, and never having lived outside of his home town, spent his youth learning to hunt and fish throughout the surrounding terrain. His reindeer coat was hand stitched by his grandmother and his polar bear pants were made from fur that he had hunted. His kamiks, the traditional footwear worn by both men and women, were made from seal skin and lined with arctic fox fur. The top part of the boots had cuffs of polar bear fur much like the collar around his seal skin mittens. The three of us sat together on one sled and speaking different languages, we began to know Martika without the heaviness of conversational formalities. Seeing the world through two different histories created space for him and the Inuit hunting and dog sledding culture to shine without expectation or question. His raw hide whip made from seal skin guided us up fjords, along glacier heads and steadily across the flat vast sea ice.


Thirty six paws trotted to a rhythm set by Martika, and the days began and ended with a symphony of sounds as the sled cut gently through the icy snow. The crisp air and level ground elevated the mind to a colorful silence, but when the whip cracked and Martika shouted commands to steer the dogs from left to right, the resonance from the pops and cracks of the lonely looming icebergs stirred the senses. Dog sledding is the main source of mobility in many traditional villages in Greenland and the act of obtaining, training and having dogs is an art form and highly revered. Along with training the dogs to sled, the dogs are also a crucial element in hunting. Hunting for seal, reindeer, muskox, walrus and narwhal takes the hunters to places far from home for days at a time. The dogs use their innate canine abilities to smell and lead the hunter to food while also pulling the hunter, gear and eventually the kill to and from town. Traditional ways of life have kept this culture alive for hundreds of years, and though the modern influences are taking a strong hold upon the youth, we can only hope that the Inuit customs live on.

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36 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow! Your photos are beautiful. O’d like to go on such adventure too :)

    October 8, 2013
  2. Great post! I spent some time in Alaska and got the opportunity to ride on a dogsled, probably one of the most awesome yet terrifying experiences of my life. those sleds go surprisingly fast. the dogs that are used look incredibly happy, with all sorts of vibrant energy. Some might think it’s cruel to have dogs pull so much weight, but I’ve never seen dogs so happy in my life.

    July 1, 2013
  3. Truly inspiring and agree with Jane Lewis, had mesmerizing time just immersed in the visual poetry. Reblogged on Environmental Issues Now.

    June 30, 2013
  4. Reblogged this on Environmental issues now!.

    June 30, 2013
  5. It’s a pleasure to have good photography and good words put together. Thanks.

    September 16, 2012
  6. Rosanna #

    Reblogged this on Journal of my Soul.

    May 6, 2012
  7. The photos are expressing sooo much! They are really amazing. And the things you write about are really interesting.
    I will definitely read your blog in the future :))

    April 30, 2012
  8. あむ禅ぶ録 でリブログ.

    April 30, 2012
  9. brilliant photos. They capture the natural landscape so well. Keep up the good work.

    April 28, 2012
  10. Jane Lewis #

    I wake early, lay my fire and prepare coffee waiting for your blog to down load. I don’t have high speed internet here so it can take as long as 30 min. THEN I settle back into my office chair and travel through Greenland. I sometimes need to remind myself that this isn’t The Discovery Channel, National Geographic or even Planet Earth. It’s Justin and Michelle doing what they love most. This is all quit amazing really. Justins mom

    April 28, 2012
  11. Really great article! Thanks for sharing your experiences and making us discover this incredible culture!
    By the way, do you think it will be able at a point to get one of your picture (as desktop wallpaper)?

    April 28, 2012
    • yes, no problem. we return back to the states at the end of May and we will have a section on our blog for purchasing and downloading images. keep in touch! all the best

      April 28, 2012
  12. Amazing photos and a great story – following!

    April 28, 2012
  13. stunning.

    April 28, 2012
  14. What camera do you use and what is the model of it? All images are astonishing and i could not find whether it’s the photographer’s talent or the camera’s ability.

    April 28, 2012
    • thanks for your post Mohamed. Justin uses a Canon 5D MarkII camera but shoots his photographes in a very creative way. I must admit it is the photographer not the camera!

      April 28, 2012
  15. averilg #

    Exquisite photography and I love the dogs.

    April 28, 2012
  16. Mesmerizing.

    April 27, 2012
    • thank you kindly for all your support and encouraging words. I love your blog! all the best and keep in touch

      April 28, 2012
  17. Amazing photos ….. especially the doggies one. The photos are clear as the sky and the air – can feel the crispy air through your photos. Fantastic journey you’re on. Been to Antarctic in 1978-79 – we where very unlucky with the weather – but we had a couple of days in Paradise Bay that was stunning – but my photos – didn’t even come close to yours. Thank so much for sharing your journey.

    April 27, 2012
  18. What gorgeous photography! May I repost an image and link to your blog?

    April 27, 2012
  19. stunning photos

    April 27, 2012
  20. Mama Leslee #

    Oh my ! ! !
    Absolutely amazing.
    What a fantastic adventure.
    Beautiful beautiful beautiful pictures and narration.
    I LOVE you.

    April 27, 2012
  21. Stunning! Mom and I send our love to both of you xoxoxoxoxoxox

    April 27, 2012
  22. Pat k #

    Photos and exquisite prose come together for awesome vicarious visit to
    Inuit country. Thanks for the journey. Love & good fortune. pat K

    April 27, 2012
  23. Very nice reportage, it must have been a big experience.

    April 27, 2012
  24. Eliza #

    It’s inspiring to hear about customs and tradition being cherished for so long. Beautiful.

    April 27, 2012
  25. Amazing photos of a world I’ve only read about but have never seen – thank you for sharing them and also the interesting details about this so-close-to-nature culture.

    April 27, 2012
  26. Love the final picture! What a gorgeous view. You are great at marrying the words with the images! Great blog! Love it!

    April 27, 2012
  27. Breathtaking!

    April 27, 2012
  28. WONDERFUL post — Just beautiful, words and images combined. Thanks so much for sharing this….

    April 27, 2012
  29. Beautiful photos and a lot of “PAW POWER” – ha!

    April 27, 2012
  30. Jealous. Moi.

    April 27, 2012

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