In the tundra, on the ice, it is vitally important to keep dry. Wet clothing leaches heat away from the body, increasing the threat of hypothermia. Moisture can adhere bare skin to metal or split it into painful cracks. Animals and people have suffocated with their mouths and noses iced over by their own damp breath. Stay dry; stay safe; stay alive.
So many life-and-death practicalities I learned from my father. Some of my earliest memories: waist-deep in snow, struggling to pitch a tent against the wind as it thrashed in like a wild animal in my child’s hands. My father standing behind me, hands tucked in his armpits, waiting for me to get it right.
By the time I was a young man patrolling on my own, I knew well that anything that gets wet—mittens, underclothes, bedding—must be dried thoroughly before it can be used, and there’s little space in a tent, little time to spare waiting for one’s gear to dry. So I learned to take care. I learned how hard I could work without sweating through my longjohns. How to control my body temperature, breathing, sweat production, emissions of semen, nocturnal or otherwise. I had long since learned to keep back my tears.
Chicago teaches other lessons, I know.
Ray listens intently as I tell him about the dangers of the environment we are about to venture into. He practices with tent and tackle and snowshoes, cursing and fuming but always coming back to try again until he gets it right.
When I explain why it’s critical to stay dry, he shakes his head like I’m crazy, like I’m funny, but I know he’ll do his best to follow my orders. And I’ll do whatever I must, to keep him safe.