The rugged land, so naked under its persistent sky, had no shelter anywhere to offer love. Even the summer night, which scarcely darkens here, was not a refuge.
Over towards the white men’s village, it was true, there was the old hangar abandoned by the air charter company, with its tumbledown roof, but two fierce dogs had just been posted there.
The Eskimo parents themselves, with their indulgent natures, might not have offered much opposition to meetings between their daughters and the young Americans stationed in the region. But where could they be together? The cabins almost never contained a bedroom or even a real bed. Lovemaking must be conducted, most of the time, in haste, under the derisive eye of some witness. Deprived of mystery, it was thus, here even more than elsewhere, reduced to what is said to be its essential. Human beings coupled at times like the animals, as they chanced to meet, on the harsh moss of the tundra, exposed to the pitiless sky.
Some of the bolder gi’s had tried, with the connivance of the sentries, to bring girls into their barracks. This had gone so badly for them that even the Eskimo parents had been startled. Such a punishment for something that was after all only natural!
So the pure terrible country, which lies open from one end to the other had, you might say, neither time nor place favourable to love. Except, in a pinch, the faint dip in the ground midway between the army barracks and the Eskimo village that stretched at some length along the shore of the Koksoak River. In this partly sheltered hollow a little earth, come from no one knew where, had gathered through the years. Not very much, just a fine scanty layer, but grasses had eventually managed to take root there and, later, trees. Trees? Well, poor midget trees, small sickly creatures, at once childish-looking and very old, wrinkled all over. On the other hand, they grew stiflingly close, they too driven by that inexorable law of nature: the more hostile the conditions, the fiercer the struggle to multiply.
There was little advantage, however, in going right into this thicket, for, once within it, though finally shielded from the staring of the sky, you were at the mercy of the most cunning scourge of that inhuman country: at the heart of these damp rotting bushes was the domain of incessantly breeding insects.
Even so, when a year or two had passed since a detachment of the American army had come to this little lost post of Fort Chimo, a fairly large number of children of mixed blood was born in the Eskimo village.
Among these births there was one as dazzling to the people of the region as the appearance in their sky of a new star.
In testimony then, here is the story, just as it is told in those parts, of Elsa, daughter of Archibald and Winnie Kumachuk. . . .
Excerpted from Windflower by Gabrielle Roy Afterword by Phyllis Webb. Copyright © 2008 by Gabrielle Roy Afterword by Phyllis Webb. Excerpted by permission of New Canadian Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.