Read an Excerpt
A BOY in a bright blue ski jacket and Maine hunting boots stood on a snowy runway. Under rumpled black hair his crooked nose and wide brown eyes gave him an expression of good humor, although he was not amused at this moment. Yesterday he had left Boston and laid over in Anchorage in high spirits. Now he was about to run back to the friendly jet that had carried him across Alaska to this barren Arctic outpost.
Suddenly, a cloud of frozen fog swirled over him. He could not see the plane, or the sky, or the flat snowscape that rolled endlessly out beyond the airport. Wrapped in an Arctic whiteout, he could have been upside down or sidewise for all he could tell. And so he stood still. In a few moments he was standing in the sunshine again, and the terror of the tundra blew off.
He turned and ran to the airport terminal, his face happy with purpose. He was going to do what he had come to Barrow, Alaska, to do. He did not look back Inside the squat building he waited until his eyes adjusted to the dim light, then nervously scanned the faces of the people who had come to meet the passengers.
No face satisfied him. He repeated the words of the man to whom he and his father had talked by telephone several months ago.
"You will know me by my blue-rimmed sunglasses," Vincent Ologak had said. The boy glanced from face to face. There was no one with blue-rimmed sunglasses
"You Lincoln Noah Stonewright?" The boy spun around, and his eyes met those of another boy.
"Yes, yes, I am."
"I am Kusiq." Kusiq wore a red woolen hat pulled down to his black eyebrows. A ruff of wolverine fur circled hisdarkly tanned face like a rising sun. He was dressed in white except for his sealskin boots. They were silver fur with a checkered border of black-and-white fur. As Lincoln shook Kusiq's hand, his family's old photographs of Eskimos came to mind. "I have walked into those pictures," he said to himself. "Everything is the same: the clothes, the boots, the faces." He stood quietly, wondering what to do next.
"How are you?" the young Eskimo asked. "I'm glad you're here." His exceptionally dark eyes were slanted upward as if he were perpetually smiling. His cheeks were broad and high, like those of the Eskimos in the painting that hung above the fireplace in Lincoln's home. It had been a centerpiece for his childhood thoughts on rainy days and snowy nights. The painting depicted his great-great-grandfather's whaling ship frozen into the Arctic ice for the winter. Kids like Kusiq were playing baseball on the ice with the adult Eskimos and the Yankee whalers, as the whalers from Boston and New York were called. Lincoln managed to smile at Kusiq.
"Vincent Ologak is sorry he cannot meet you," Kusiq said. "He is not well."
Lincoln breathed deeply to quell the panic that was rising in him. For four months he had thought about this man who was going to meet him at the airport. When he awoke at night, he would clutch his pillow and wonder how living with an Eskimo family would go. Then he would think of Vincent Ologak, his father's good friend. "He was once mayor of the enormous North Slope Borough of eighty-eight thousand square miles and four thousand people," his father had said. "But he is softspoken. He is one of the best whaling captains who ever lived. But he loves all whales. He is a scientist who goes beyond technology. He knows what the animals think and what the sea ice says. But most important, he is a loving man-a big man." When Lincoln had thought about meeting Vincent Ologak, he had felt better about going so far from home and had gone back to sleep. Now he was frightened. Vincent Ologak was not here.
"Maybe," Lincoln said to himself, "Mom was right after all." She had not wanted him to take this trip to the Arctic. Alice Stonewright had never really said why, not even that it was dangerous or that she would miss him, but she had let his father know exactly how she felt.
"Frederick," she had said to Lincoln's father one April evening shortly before Lincoln was to leave, "I'm going to say this once more. I don't think Lincoln should go to Barrow. It's not necessary-at all." Her sandy eyelashes had lowered over her pale-blue eyes too late to hide her anger.
"She's sure mad about this one," Lincoln had mused, then given up trying to understand what was going on between his mother and father. Fortunately they were all at dinner, seated at the big mahogany dining table in Lincoln's great-great-grandfather's house, which now belonged to his father. Lincoln could concentrate on balancing his peas on his knife instead of listening once more to this argument.
But there was no argument. His father did not answer. The only sounds Lincoln heard were the clicks of silverware against the china plates and the thumps of the waves hammering the bay shore at the bottom of the big lawn. The plans were firm.Lincoln snapped back to the present, looked at Kusiq and swallowed hard.
"I'm sorry Vincent Ologak's sick," Lincoln managed to say, then quickly blurted, "I'll just go to the hotel. Dad said there's one here. I'll call him."
"Oh, you do not have to do that. I will take you to Vincent Ologak all right. He sent me to get you."
Lincoln managed to work his mouth into a smile. The wind struck the terminal with a mournful wolf howl. The building shuddered. He reached for his return ticket just as his baggage came through a large door in the metal walled building, together with a blast of cold air. Resolutely he picked up his duffel and suitcase.
"Okay," he said. "Please take me to Vincent Ologak."
"You cannot go as you are," Kusiq said. "You need Eskimo clothes. He is on the ice."
"I'll be all right," the boy said. "I've skied at zero in these clothes."
Kusiq smiled at him politely.
"I will take you home first. You can leave your bags there." Lincoln nodded. With his duffel in one hand, his suitcase in the other, he followed Kusiq out of the terminal.
At the top of the steps he looked out on the village of Barrow. It was not easy to see, for it was white on the white landscape. Everything was covered with hoarfrost-utility poles and wires, buildings, their doorways, and parked snowmobiles. The air glittered and flashed with what seemed to be smithereens of mica, but which was subzero mist. The cold was working its white magic to hide the little town at the top of the world.
"Hey, it's beautiful," Lincoln exclaimed. Then he saw two four-wheel-drive vehicles that had been left running so they would not freeze up while their drivers waited for their passengers. He also noticed that only one person walked the cold, white streets. And then he saw why. The large thermometer on the side of the terminal registered thirty-five below zero.
Lincoln's breath crystallized on his eyelashes, and he almost did not see Kusiq go around a mountain of plowed snow. He ran down the steps and found him beside an orange snow machine. The sight of the big Ski-Doo not only cheered Lincoln but banished his doubts about staying in Barrow. From the looks of things he would be driving snow machines to get around, and that would be just great. His dad was right. This was going to be a wonderful adventure."Hop on," Kusiq said. "I'll give you a tour. Show you what finding oil on our ancestral land has done for the Eskimo."
Lincoln swung onto the seat behind Kusiq and balanced himself by holding a piece of luggage in each hand. The machine shot forward. He grabbed with his knees to keep from shooting backward into the snow.
Kusiq steered the machine around the snow pile and sped down the main street. The houses stood far back from the broad main drive. They were small to conserve heat. Some were almost buried under drifts of snow. When the sun hit them, they twinkled.
"I am not on my planet," Lincoln said .to himself. "Barrow is not just `different,' as Dad says; it is otherworldly."
Kusiq glanced back to make sure Lincoln was still on the snow machine and blew his warm breath into the wolverine fur on his parka hood. The fur held the warmth and made a tropical climate around his face. Kusiq was comfortably warm. Lincoln was not. In the short distance he had come, his face was aching with cold and his gloved hands were icy.
"High school," Kusiq shouted loud enough to be heard over the roaring motor. "The elders believe in education." Lincoln was impressed by the large and architecturally modern building.
"Got everything," Kusiq shouted. "Computers, video lab, shops, library, swimming pool, gym-cost seventy three million." He beamed and swung the snow machine toward the center oftown.
"Borough Hall." Kusiq pointed to an enormous wooden building that loomed above the little houses. It was marine blue in color and had strong lines and angles. Lincoln wondered how the builders had gotten all the materials that were in it to the Arctic. He knew supplies came by plane and boat, but they were small and the building was massive and three stories high.Water Sky. Copyright © by Jean George. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.