No Time for Tea

By Jim Zumbo 

She was drop-dead beautiful. Her pulchritudinous assets didn’t go unnoticed by the 18 hunters in the room, judging by their furtive glances in her direction. We were at an orientation meeting in a Montreal hotel prior to hunting caribou on Baffin Island. The hunt was arranged by Jerome Knap, who at the time owned Canada North Outfitters and booked muskox, polar bear, caribou, walrus and grizzly bear hunts in the region.  

We were told that our caribou hunt would be based at a camp 80 miles from Cape Dorset, a village that would be our departure point. When we heard that travel would be by canoe, there was a murmur around the room with some squirming and whispering. Evidently the canoe thing was a surprise to some of the hunters. We were also told that only one guide spoke some English, and that we were supposedly the first Caucasians to hunt Baffin Island. We were also warned to wear life preservers because that way our bodies could be recovered and returned to our families. We had a life expectancy of two minutes if we fell into the icy ocean.  

The meeting closed and we were assigned guides, tents and canoe companions. My tent mate would be Vin Sparano, then-Executive Editor of Outdoor Life magazine. Vin wasn’t at the meeting but would fly in later that night. I’d fill him in on the harrowing details.  

Meanwhile, the woman who looked like she’d just stepped out of a Playboy centerfold approached me and said her name was Margaret. She wasn’t happy with her tent accommodations, because she’d be occupying it solo. That made her nervous. So she asked if she could bunk with Vin and I. That made me nervous. I couldn’t very well say no, now could I? I was pretty sure Vin wouldn’t object either. Margaret said the tents were large and could accommodate six people easily. She added she’d get a bed sheet in the village and hang it up as a privacy wall in the tent.  

Hell, maybe I’ll never want to leave hunting camp, I thought to myself. 

I could not wait to tell Vin, but thought I’d have a little fun with him first… .  

When he arrived we met in the hotel bar. He ordered a Bombay Sapphire martini straight up, dry, a little dirty with two olives. I ordered a Dewar’s on the rocks. Vin and I had known each other for years and exchanged pleasantries. After a sip of his martini he asked about the hunt details. 

“This may be the wildest hunting adventure we’ve ever taken,” I said. “Our hunting camp requires a long 80-mile trip by canoe across the Arctic Ocean.”  

“Canoe! Are you freakin’ serious?”  He was about to take a sip but almost dropped his glass.  

“I’m serious, Vin, but they’re big canoes. Those babies are 22 feet long with a 5-foot beam. They’re powered by a 25-horse kicker.” 

“Yeah, but we’re talking about the Arctic Ocean! Damn!” 

“From what I understand most of the time we’ll be winding our way through a bunch of rocky islands,” I explained. “There’s one big bay that’s 30 miles wide that we’ll cross. No islands there.” 

Vin gulped down his martini in one swig and signaled the bartender. “Gimme another Bombay,” he said. I ordered another scotch. 

“But I have kinda bad news,” I said. “We’re gonna have a companion who will ride in our canoe and sleep in our tent.” 

“What’s wrong with that?” Vin asked. 

“Vin, she might be the most repulsive woman you’ve ever seen in your life. I mean, she looks like she got whupped with an ugly stick.”  

“Great, bad enough I gotta look at you, now I gotta look at an ugly broad. Thanks, Zumbo. But like you say, this will be a helluva adventure.” Then we clicked glasses and talked about our families. 

The next morning our group gathered to fly to Cape Dorset. Margaret spotted us and walked over. She shook Vin’s hand.  

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Margaret. Looks like I’ll be bunking with you and Jim. I really appreciate it.” 

Vin took a big gasp of air and nearly choked. It took a moment for him to speak. “Excuse me, ma’am. I’m just getting over a cold. Nice to meet you. Jim told me you’d be part of our group.”  

I turned away and tried mightily to stifle a huge laugh. As we walked up to the plane, Vin eased up behind me. “You son of a bitch!” he mouthed, before flashing a shit-eating grin.  

After landing at Cape Dorset we loaded our gear in the canoes and were given last minute instructions. We were told that some of the guides had never been to the hunting camp and it was imperative that we stay in a group where we could see each other. Then we met our guides. Ours was Salamonie Jaw, a young Inuit who smiled broadly and shook our hands.  

“We have good time,” he said. “We get big carybou.”  

I was about to get in the canoe when I saw an amazing sight: An Inuit family had just pulled their boat up on the beach. A very dead, very bleeding seal lay on the bow. Children ran over, shrieking and yelling, jumping for joy. Elders slowly followed. 

“Holy shit, Vin. Look at that.” 

Vin looked. “Holy shit is right!  You ain’t gonna see that in Jersey or Brooklyn!”   

Salamonie smiled. “Everybody eat good tonight!”  

We climbed aboard the canoe. Everything went off without a hitch. No one was lagging behind and all the motors started. A dozen canoes and a bunch of guides and hunters were about to embark on a crazy ass journey. No turning back now.  

At first the ocean was fairly calm. We moved right along, and our little fleet remained in a fairly tight group, though our boat was last. Salamonie slowed down periodically to point something out. In one area he gestured toward a small island that held rocks and boards. “I born there,” he said proudly. 

On another island a couple dozen dogs ran wildly along the shoreline, barking and howling at us. “Dogs hungry,” Salamonie said.  Margaret looked aghast.  

“Who feeds them?” she asked. 

“Oh, somebody bring fish heads and guts sometimes,” he answered. “They eat good.”  

By now the other canoes were far ahead of us. They were dots on the ocean surface. Suddenly Salamonie throttled down the outboard and headed for a small island.  

What the hell? Now what. I figured Salamonie had to make a nature call. When the canoe grounded to a halt on the shore he rummaged around and came up with a rusty pot. This didn’t look good. 

“What are we doing?” I asked. 

“We make tea. Time for tea.”  

Hooboy. Somehow I had to diplomatically suggest that we had to get our asses out of there and follow the canoes. I thought I’d heard that Salamonie hadn’t been to our hunting camp.  

“Salamonie,” I said. “Do you know where we will hunt? 

“No, never been there.” 

“Do you think we should follow the boats?” 

He thought about that and then it finally registered. 

“You right. No time for tea.” 

Hours later the ocean changed dramatically. A storm was rolling in. Two-foot swells and large rollers were building rapidly. There was definitely a pucker factor at play. Mercifully the canoes turned toward an island. We jumped out and started pitching tents. They were circular affairs with a main center pole and extra large flaps. We weighted the flaps with rocks, and when done our tent seemed as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. 

It was a fitful night with a gale-force wind slashing at the tent walls, but the rocks held it securely. I awoke to hear someone shouting. It was morning and the ocean had calmed. I dressed and went outside to see a couple guys wandering around. They were hollering.  

“What’s going on?” I yelled. 

“The fucking guides are gone. The canoes are fucking gone!” One guy was on the verge of hysteria. 

“It’s ok,” I said, thinking I was maybe full of shit. “Their tents are still here. They’ll be back.”  

“But the food is in the canoes,” another guy said. “Suppose they stay away for a few days.   Should we eat fucking rocks?” 

Suddenly we heard it. It sounded like a gunshot a long way away. Then we heard another and another. 

We grabbed our binocs and looked at the surrounding islands. “There they are. The canoes are all clustered by that small island. What are those crazy-ass Inuits doing?” 

Two hours later the parade of canoes appeared. As they beached the canoes Salamonie walked over with a big smile on his face. 

“What the hell were you guys doing?” I asked. 

“We shoot seagulls and geese. Boil in big pot and make good breakfast. Very good.”  

Vin and I looked at each other. “What the hell have you gotten me into, Zumbo. I can’t WAIT to see what happens next!” 

And whatever you imagined happened, dear reader, rest assured it was more exciting than that. For there are some stories that certainly will never be shared in the pages of Outdoor Life … or Field Ethos. Afterall, some things should never leave hunting camp… .  

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