Chapter 3: Calendar Rivals
Jake returned to the silent Igloo Hotel late that evening to find his half partner, half competitor sitting on a thick, kingly rug made from muskox fur that covered a chair carved from ice. She looked so comfortable in that tiny throne, bundled up in so much blanket fur, that he was surprised she hadn’t fallen asleep.
“Welcome back, Jake,” she said almost sarcastically. “Was it worth it going by yourself again?”
Jake didn’t feel like answering her. He was more interested in getting rid of the aches in his muscles.
“We agreed that we would make this calendar together,” she continued. “There’s no room in the budget for solo missions. You go alone again and I’m gonna abandon you here, got it?”
Jake found his briefcase sitting in the corner of the room next to his bed, which, like every other piece of furniture in this hotel, was made of ice. He sat on the muskox fur sleeping bag that was spread across the bed, pulled the briefcase up to his lap, and popped it open. Its interior was divided into twelve sections, each of which had labels devoted to specific months of the year.
“Did you at least get good pictures?” she asked. “I didn’t get much of anything around here. I think our tour guide dropped us in the wrong town.”
Jake unloaded the film from his camera and stuffed it in the February slot. Now he had six months of pictures ready to go. He knew that each roll possessed traces of gold within the silver halide fibers, so the hard part for him was in deciding which ones would make the cut. He would be okay if Kate wanted to use a bunch of boring shots for her version of the calendar, but there was no way he was going to be caught dead sending off still images of muskoxen standing around wagging their tails for his. Not that he had any dull ones to show off anyway.
“It’s not what you can find,” he said, “but rather how you make use of what’s already available.”
“In other words,” said Kate, “you figured out how to make a muskox kill a wolf and eat it, then smile for the camera after the first bite.”
Jake laughed. Now he remembered what it was about Kate’s sense of humor that he had liked.
“I can’t defy nature,” he said. “I can only play with it.”
Kate groggily climbed out of her chair and trudged over to him. She checked out the briefcase by his side.
“I got a picture of the first patch of grass just outside of town this morning,” she said. “I was rather proud of that. The grass is still frozen, but it’s surrounded by fields of snow.”
“No offense,” said Jake, “but that sounds pretty bland.”
“It’s a beautiful picture, Jake. It may not compare to the photos you took for the NFL, but fortunately it doesn’t have to. Do you know why?”
Jake closed the briefcase and placed it back on the floor. He turned his focus to see her soft blue eyes peering back at him. He found her to be a lovely sight, but her mouth to be a dripping faucet. Traces of frost zipped in and out of her lips, vanishing with each word she spoke.
“Because it’s nature,” she continued. “It’s the natural beauty of Greenland, not the best of Sports Illustrated. I don’t care that my pictures are boring because they’re still pleasant to look at.”
“You don’t think I can take pictures of beauty?”
“I think you’d take pictures of two reindeer doing it if you saw it.”
Jake thought about that a moment. That might have sent shock waves through the offices of National Geographic should he ever freelance for them. Where was his pen and paper?
“Remember our assignment, Jake,” she continued. “A calendar about Greenland’s nature at its most beautiful.”
“And exciting,” he interrupted. “It’s the best pictures, not the prettiest. And even so, I can capture beauty to its fullest. Don’t forget, I’m the one who earned the prize for best Gatorade-over-the-coach’s-head shot. The green color mixing with the blue uniform was…beautiful.”
Kate shook her head. Apparently her taste for beauty was a bit skewed. She walked back to her chair and bundled up.
“Why don’t you just try the still life shot for once?” she asked. “There’s nothing forbidden about that in our art.”
Jake removed his heavy jacket from his shoulders and slid his way into the sleeping bag he had been sitting on. The extreme cold biting into his skin dissipated as his arms conformed to the interior of the muskox fur. His nose twitched as the musky scent crossed his path, triggering a slight allergic reaction from the animal hair, but he stifled his sneeze before it managed to escape. Braving any future unpleasant responses, he huddled the covers up to his ears and left only his eyes and forehead exposed. He peered at Kate over the ridge of his wooly blanket.
“I think you’ll be more comfortable lying down,” he said.
“I’m done being within five feet of you,” she said. “Go to sleep. The boat leaves early tomorrow.”
Jake felt like jumping off the bed and sliding down the floor toward Kate’s feet just to spite her, but he was too comfortable where he was to disturb her peace, and he didn’t really want to snuggle up to her feet anyway. So he closed his eyes and waited for the raft to dreamland to make its departure.
The next morning, the sun had barely peeked over the horizon when Jake and Kate stepped outside of the Igloo Hotel. The air was stale, but still colder than a kitchen freezer. With the exception of a deep whipping sound marching boldly toward their ears, the environment was eerily silent. Thin layers of frost floated just above the surface not far from where they stood.
Kate had her camera strapped over her shoulder while Jake kept his in his hand. Once again he felt like smirking, but he thought it would be better to educate her on her folly than to mock her. He shook his head to begin his lesson.
“No wonder you take uninteresting pictures,” he said. He did his best to keep his voice sounding mature. “Keep your camera in your hand so that you’re ready for anything.”
Kate pointed to a helicopter that was already whirling its rotors nearby.
“They’re waiting for us,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Jake took a picture of her, and then he snapped a picture of the Igloo Hotel, which was remarkably small for a hotel. The frosty hamlet resembled a tiny ice lodge made completely out of ice and snow, while the woman resembled a medium-sized brunette made completely out of jackets and still shots.
“What are you doing?” she asked impatiently.
“Filling up two more months,” he said. “Greenland’s finest habitat and the region’s prettiest polar bear.”
Kate smiled, but kept walking.
“I’ll take the ‘pretty’ as the compliment,” she said. “You can keep the rest.”
They boarded the waiting helicopter, where they were given annoying green baseball caps to wear. Both caps sported the town’s name of Kangerlussauq, Greenland, across the face, which actually looked like a complicated endeavor for the designer to accomplish. The letters were almost too small to read. From a distance it wouldn’t look like anything more than a straight line from one end to the other. Jake had no idea why he needed it, so he tossed it out the door and watched as the rotors fanned it down the field.
“Jake,” said Kate, “I think these hats are supposed to show our support for this town. It’s a sign of appreciation for having us here.”
“Appreciate what? Instead of fine dining, they gave us hats.”
“They also gave us unlimited use of their bowling alley, didn’t they?”
She had a point.
“Well, it’s too late to get it back,” he said.
Before Jake could finish his sentence, the helicopter lifted off. Within a minute, they flew over the mountain range.
They flew for several minutes without speaking a word to each other. Jake didn’t think she was angry or anything; she really didn’t have much to say for this time of day. However, a few moments later, as they passed over a broken ridge, Kate interrupted the silence.
“I’ve given it some thought,” she said, as she was staring out the window. “And I think you’re right. Still life is boring, so I decided to try an action shot.”
“Really?” said Jake, more surprised than he had been in a long time.
“Yeah. It’s a really neat shot idea. I think you’ll be impressed.”
She held him in suspense for several seconds. When she didn’t say anything more, he gestured her to speak.
“Well, what is it?” he asked.
“Jump out of the helicopter, and I’ll take a picture of you waving up at me.”
Jake associated her attempt at a joke as the equivalent of receiving a wedgie. But, if she was willing to try something different, maybe he could laugh with her.
“Okay,” he said. “If it’s for art.”
He unbuckled his seatbelt, stood up, and reached for the door handle. As he began to turn it, he looked back and smiled. She held her camera up to her eye.
“Do you have a good angle?” he asked.
He could see her lips curl upward from just underneath the camera box.
“Perfect. Now all that’s left to do is jump.”
“Shouldn’t you be a little closer to my side so that you can catch me on the descent?”
Kate lowered her camera and nodded.
“That might make a better shot, but we’re flying so fast that I could probably catch you from either window.”
“But if you slide over to my side, you’ll get a much better shot. The trick to a successful action shot is to get the effect without sacrificing the size. If you catch me just as I slip out the door, you’ll have the best shot possible for this scenario. If you wait a second longer, you won’t catch me in your zoom in time, and the action shot will be lost. All you’ll have left is another still shot of some immobile thing decorating the side of the mountain. And make sure your ISO is set high enough.”
Kate remained silent for a moment before placing her camera up to her eye again.
“Maybe I want to go for both shots then,” she said. “Maybe I want to try something new while sticking to my trademark.”
Jake couldn’t help but to feel that his point was rapidly slipping away. He released the door handle for just a moment, hoping that his next words would actually reach her this time.
“Do you want to take a good picture or a wasted one?” he asked.
Kate lowered her camera again. Instead of responding with words, she placed her tool back in her bag. She zipped everything up, then set the bag to her side. Jake wasn’t sure what else to say. Somehow he thought this woman was unreachable.
Jake stared at his companion with mild regret before sitting back down in his seat. Despite the occasional banter they often shared, he thought that they communicated with each other well. But this time there seemed to be an invisible wall built solidly between them. Maybe it was her stubborn ways that blocked her from understanding his point of view, or maybe he didn’t explain himself properly. Regardless of the problem, he decided that she wasn’t going to change her focus on this trip, so he buckled himself up and let the thought die. He looked out the window to see what lurked below.
“You weren’t really going to jump were you?” she asked suddenly.
Jake looked into her eyes and shrugged.
“You weren’t really going to take a picture of me were you?”
Kate cracked a smile at him. Perhaps he had made a small cut into that tough exterior of hers after all. She looked out her window and hummed. If she was unreachable, at least she was mildly readable. If only she had slid over.