Monday, May 19, 2014

ON THE TREK & ENVIRONMENT - PART 2 (A)

[This story is an improved version from mini cassette recordings of Mekkar’s actual voice in 1990 while hiking and walking as a University student; Then, it was converted to a Windows Media Audio File and transcribed in 2011. Mekkar’s spoken English skills are nowhere near as polished as Saavo’s are.]

He was still a little guy at best. As Mekkar moved around the town, he noticed other boys his age did not look resemble him at all, at least in his own opinion. His mind flooded with comparisons to and questions about them. Does any of those boys go on long reindeer treks or at least herd the animals? He thought that was kind of strange that some of them wore similar, but different, native clothing like his. Mekkar bombarded some of fellow adult tribesmen with questions and comments as they walked together, “What could they be doing instead? Are we missing out on something? I am helping with reindeer; they are playing in the snow. They don’t look tough enough to survive out there with us. Do they even do any work? It looks like there is a lot of work to still be done to me.” It got to a point where they stopped listening to Mekkar and finally he shut up. At this point, Mekkar was already in judgment mode. He saw other herders and tribes just outside of the town. However, he didn’t see other children as young as his age here working with their animals except himself. This baffled him.

It was not a sense of this is not right, this is not fair, or why can’t I be like regular kids my age. It was more like, well am I just different? Why am I doing similar tasks within our group that a few older people I see are conducting elsewhere? Definitely none of them are as youthful as I. Mekkar now had the mindset that he must be special. That is when it dawned on him that he was indeed very different. Mekkar then remembered some of Aslak’s past words and predictions in his discussions with him about these matters.

On the other hand, other people there glanced at him in a different manner. He received those gazes as though they felt he should be doing something else until he got older. This began to make Mekkar somewhat self conscious. They didn’t know all the details, he thought. After awhile, Mekkar settled down and thought to himself, who cares what they think. Yet, subconsciously his mind was still slightly affected, whether he realized it or not. At this point, Mekkar decided to ignore the stares and enjoy hanging around with older members from his group. The youngster never experienced a wavering in his confidence level and he knew that he was doing exactly what was expected of him.

The young boy was of the impression that the people in this town dressed different. Their native clothing and designs were different from his. The locals there used language terms and some speech inflections that were distinct from where he grew up. He figured that since they were quite a distance from home, this should probably be expected. Many in his trekking group didn’t actually get strange looks from the locals that he received. Some of the leaders in his trekking bunch spoke with a few of the inhabitants easily. Ansetti was chattering with a few others he seemed to know there. Mekkar only could understand some of the dialect and words they were using to converse with one another. The youngster could relate to a few similar factors such as tone of speech, intonation, and emphasis some of the time. He interpreted that as Ansetti had been here before on a few occasions. Mekkar took it to mean that some of the locals were known by leaders in his trekking party. The boy also deciphered enough to learn that Ansetti was trying to get the latest news regarding conditions to the east. That way they were more prepared before travelling that direction.

He knew that something was amiss, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Soon Mekkar began to hear the rapid rotation sounds of helicopter blades. These were of similar flying machine noises that Mekkar imitated back home. Next, he heard a whoosh of the supersonic jets zooming by overhead. He was unable to exactly identify them because they went by so quickly. Since Mekkar had seen them on occasion before and his papa Henrik flew all types of aircraft. So, he could roughly identify the objects as planes. Mekkar had even ridden in the helicopters back in the village as they flew at low elevation during herding sessions. The machines were used to keep the reindeer herds together during the seasonal migration. However, he had not been around those aircraft enough to be extremely familiar with them or to distinguish between each one. Thus, whose is whose and which models belong to which side. In time, that would change.

They did continue through the center of town to gather additional provisions for the journey and returned back to their camp, on the west plain, to rest before moving on.
Mekkar thought it seemed darker that night than usual. The moon gave him the impression it was trying to hide. He wondered it this was related to the ominous activity that occurred earlier in the day. Normally, this is the time that some animals in the region come out looking for prey as they are better camouflaged by the dark skies above. This trend of less light provided by the moon stretched on for a number of days as the tribe moved further away from the town. Everyone was required to keep extra vigilant while watching over the herd. Especially Mekkar as he was prone to get bored while on guard duty and sometimes start to daydream as young boys do. Still, the tribe spent the next few days going east while bypassing a scattering of villages here and there.

Now, going this far north and travelling on a long old eastward trail could take them all the way to the sea, if that was the intention. Anyway, along the route going east the weather stayed ideal for about four days. After that, the trekking was tough and the group encountered storm after storm, with each dumping more snow than the last. He felt as if he had not enjoyed a decent night’s rest for awhile. His mind couldn’t stop recalling the images of the aircraft streaking over the town and this affected him. Young Mekkar began to become weary from the toll it took on him.

There was a lot of deep snow combined with thick patches of frozen earth underneath formed by high winds. Any digging for food by the animals or during camp setup could be a chore. The white powder was very dry there and flakey, at least until it landed on the ground. Dryness of the falling winter layer made sure it didn’t stick together very well. It was really hard for Mekkar to even make a solid snowball due to the lack of moisture. To walk on it becomes treacherous because you never know when you might sink. Sort of like a sinkhole on a city street. He figured it would be better and more predictable near the mountainous areas.

One might see some deep crevasse unless a person knows exactly where they are going. It is also key to know the surrounding terrain for all seasons as the drop when the snow is melted could be great. Mekkar was confident in the trek leaders regarding these aspects. The trek always needs excellent path finders and trackers to determine the best routes to travel. At times, the campaign requires them to go over some smaller hills for the best traction. To the uninformed one’s footing might collapse at any time. Truly, it is an adventure to watch where you walk with every step.

The hope was to distance themselves from the windy area by moving as close to the chosen route as possible and use the natural terrain as barriers. Strong winds tend to dry out everything and make it seem colder than it really is. That is why the adjusted wind chill temperatures are more extreme than the regular readings.

Anyway, as the itinerary went further east Mekkar was assigned an observation shift one particular evening. On the reindeer trek each individual has to serve and on this occasion it was Mekkar’s time for wolf watch. The boy was out under the winter sky performing his wolf watch duties. The lookouts need to observe for any potential predator movement, not just strictly wolves. Yet, wolves in this region are more prominent. The shift lasts about four hours each and they take turns. There is an additional surveillance backup crew also. They might consist of individuals that don’t appear to Mekkar as needing as much snooze as he does. He saw a couple of them in a state of superficial rest mode. The others not on duty normally take advantage of this time to catch up on their shuteye.

All of those in second group sleep out in the open, if the weather is not too bad. This was a normal practice of some of the trekking veterans. Mekkar normally wears a hat much of the time. It was easy for him to pull down a flap on the cap to cover his eyes before dozing off. The boy would pick a spot and lay down with his back against a tree or some type of vegetation. Mekkar is unable to get adequate rest until he blocks out light and noise with earplugs. Even the glare from the snow is too much for him and will keep him wide awake. In their wisdom, the trek leaders never assigned Mekkar to the reserve watch for these reasons. They decided that the still growing boy was to be placed in a position to get a full compliment of sleep as to not stunt his mental and physical development. The rest was up to Mekkar.

It wasn’t like that he was outside trying to catch a nap in a highly populated town or city. In those cases, there might be traffic at all hours during nightfall or perhaps a drive-by shooting. Here, Mekkar might hear a predatory animal once in awhile, but generally most wild animals stay away due to fear of encountering a large group. However, normally the sounds Mekkar would notice were just part of their own herd, accompanying people, or equipment.  

Of course, there are the wolves and less frequent encounters with bears, as they are a different story altogether. Wolves prey on what they think they can get for themselves. As carnivores, they intelligence is underrated. Plus, those creatures hunt in packs. A pack of wolves can even team up with enough numbers to steal from and kill a bear. Not normally a larger polar bear, mind you. Mekkar has seen this firsthand in action where the wild toothed animals have used their advantages to retrieve desired food. Using the various aspects of speed, agility, and teamwork they can succeed in ripping off another beast’s edible cuisine and provisions. It is well to note, that all life in the arctic expanse must fight for survival against the seasons and each other. This applies to human beings also because the far north is sometimes an unforgiving place. [Confirmed by Animal Planet TV Channel] 

The whole key to dealing with a wolf is to isolate it by itself. In Mekkar’s mind, they lose a bit of their aggressiveness until one backs them into a corner where there is no retreat.
To separate one from the pack, an individual has to show courage, confidence, and command because the animal can smell fear. During the dividing out process the individual must always at the ready to take out the potential attacker at any time. You never know as the wolf could respond by taking even more risks or be more cautious. Also, it depends on an animal’s personality but Mekkar never wanted to be around a wolf long enough to determine that. A perceptive herder can usually tell in the first few minutes after noticing the untamed beast. The method and manner of stalking its prey and demeanor especially when getting detached from the pack shows tendencies. It is difficult for novices to grasp because experience is the best teacher. Mekkar already knew the first rule of wolf watch. That is, to stay awake and keep his eyes attentive to make sure the herd, as well as accompanying people and resources are not attacked by them.

Mekkar’s tribe put him through a few tests related to reindeer herding, but not all. Not even close. Those trials were conducted close by his home village and familiar settings. Before this trek, Mekkar has not been involved in most of the training because he is much too young. That would happen later. Thus, he could not be left alone during the nighttime guard duty in any circumstance or it might put everyone in danger. The youngster never let on if he realized that he was always being shadowed by more experienced tribesmen. Mekkar was actually relieved when he saw others were also alert with him on duty. Looking out with multiple sets of eyes is always a good idea, thought the boy.

The experienced leadership determined the schedule for these tasks and which roles were to be filled at any given time. A minimum of one or two, at different distance intervals, could be the watchman depending on the size of the group, including animals, in their section. There always a few, like Mekkar due to his inexperience, who might be tempted to fall asleep while on active duty.

All members of the tribe understand that their livelihood is out there and protection against danger is paramount. Loss of assets to a roaming wolf is not an ideal scenario. Isolated attackers have a higher possibility to panic and flee or at least hide from view when they see humans. The wild animal understands that they can be killed without their friends around as easily as they can attack. Also, people do carry out preemptive first strikes against predators to gain the upper hand in this struggle.

Pack hunters, such as the wolf, are the reindeer herder’s greatest natural enemy, but they are not the only one. Even though they are numerous in the region, wolves are nowhere near as plentiful as reindeer. The hooved creatures are not completely helpless in defending themselves either. Mekkar had been made aware that a lot of the wild animals can be hard to detect in certain environments. Particularly, ones that have a white base color in appearance hidden by the snow.

Native people in this region also have some hereditary traits passed down through the generations to help them adapt to the harsh conditions. One is mainly to help individuals to spot any aggressors at longer distances than would be considered normal elsewhere. Just as many animals use camouflage to blend in with the background to hide their presence. The tribesmen can exert other attributes to discern the predator and counteract them anyway. Ansetti says to Mekkar, “It is a continual, evolving battle and test of wills between man and beast.”

This is a major aspect for Mekkar or anyone on the trek to be able to locate the attackers before they descend on the weaker parts of the herd. They always seem to attack where you are weakest. Reducing the amount of opportunities for the opposition to grab fresh meat is just on part of a herder’s job. Like anywhere else on the planet, the intention of get it, while you can is prevalent. Mekkar was familiar even at his young age of the survival of the fittest concept. [Principles of Biology by Herbert Spencer, 1864] Yet, the little boy had not grasped the economics regarding the law of supply and demand. [An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy by James Denham Steuart, 1767] This would happen in time.

The reindeer can bunch up, while still moving, during one of these surprise encounters. Mekkar says, “It is like slower rush hour traffic on the freeway. The vehicles are still moving, but not at full speed.” Wolves, as most predators, like to assail the loners, stragglers, and the young that become separated from the main herd. They are quite aware that full grown reindeer have those large somewhat sharp antlers and can give a devastating kick also. Antlers are useful for other things besides defense and attracting mates. The hoofed animal can employ them to keep from starving to death by prodding for their food. Even more so during the winter, when it is necessary for them to dig under a lot of snow to access nourishment sources. Thus, it is beneficial to keep those antlers in pristine condition. 

Overall reindeer are not large animals, well as least size-wise compared to a bear or a horse. Yet, they are stronger and more powerful than they appear. Mekkar knows better than to stand directly behind one and possibly receive a thrust kick to the chin. The compactness of power gives them a good chance of surviving in their environment.

Plus, they can move faster than most expect. Upwards to twenty five miles per hour (40.23 kph) and higher. Their acceleration is more when not weighed down by any objects or pulling a sled like one would see in a race. Reindeer are afraid of being hit in the back of their hind legs because it can throw off their whole balance and stability. Their enemies choose this as a weakness to be exploited while on the offensive. You attack the rear to reduce fleeing speed and running power.

Mekkar uses the analogy of a human playing baseball. When they come up to bat and the hurler is throwing the ball towards the hitter. Most think that the pitching power comes solely from the arm. However, Mekkar knows better and understands that the pitcher actually gets the majority of their power from the legs instead. The boy was aware of this through watching films of Nolan Ryan. As Mekkar has said before, “Boy, that guy can bring it!”

The thing is that in a charge by a pack upon an individual animal is usually done by more than one carrying out a strike. Plus, the target can give a swift kick backwards, but unable to use both legs to deliver blows to aggressors at the same time. If a predator stops their prey in its tracks, overcoming it is more straightforward. A stationary target is much easier to overwhelm and opens up other parts of its body.

In this scenario, a stationary mark then is unable to spin around and exercise its own natural advantages to counterattack the aggressor. One on one, a face off between a healthy reindeer and wolf can be a close battle, especially in an all-out frontal blitz.  Mekkar would favor the arctic deer in that case and thinks that many underestimate the reindeer’s speed and flexibility. Making use of distractions and conducting a surprise attack from behind normally have quite different results for the antlered animal, but not always.