"Aurrit—walrus!" Jens sings out. "There will be many out there," Mamarut says, meaning a few miles out at the ice edge. The hunters prepare for an all-night hunt, changing out of fox-fur anoraks into ones made of lined canvas with polar bear fur at the wrists. Jens sharpens his knives as Gedion coils green harpoon lines. "We're going to the ice edge, the place where winter becomes spring," Jens says.
About midnight the fading sun is a red orb hanging at the horizon. As darkness bleeds into it, the temperature plummets to minus 40°F. Night will be brief—in a few hours the sun will swing east again.
Harpoons in hand, the men line up single file and begin walking. Mamarut leads, Jens and the others follow, careful to place their feet into Mamarut's track. "The walruses can hear us moving over the ice, so we must make it sound like we are just one hunter," Jens whispers.
We walk for an hour in our silent Ice Age procession. These men are among the last hundred or so Greenland hunters who have chosen to keep their ancient traditions alive—traveling by dogsled, wearing skins, hunting with spears and harpoons, while taking what they want from the modern world, such as rifles. Their ancestors came to Greenland about 800 years ago, the most recent wave of peoples who migrated from Siberia beginning some 5,000 years ago.
"We hunt with harpoons, but we also use cell phones and watch TV," says Jens, who has testified before Greenland's Parliament to keep snowmobiles out of the far north. New ice—ice that has just refrozen—undulates like rubber beneath our feet. A slender channel of water appears, its crenellations catching and dropping the last of the sunlight. "The ice edge," Jens whispers. He points: "Miteq!" Two eider ducks fly out of a maze of sparkle.
Mamarut motions for us to stop. We hear gulping and sloshing: Walruses coming. They bob up and down, their ivory tusks gnawing frigid water. Mamarut breaks out of the procession, crouches, and runs ahead to the edge of the lead. We wait motionless. There's the whir of a harpoon, then a gunshot. The walrus is dead.
Harpoon lines are tied to long iron poles. A modern block and tackle is attached and the four men line up, hauling the young 800-pound male onto the ice hand over hand. Knives are resharpened. Penis and flippers are cut off. Heart and liver are laid on a tarp along with the other meat—food for both humans and dogs.
Jens walks back to camp and returns with a sled, his rolling side-to-side gait like that of a polar bear. He cuts a tangle of guts into long lengths and feeds the hungry dogs. The rest of the walrus is dismantled and stacked on the sled. Later he leans over a bloody mass on the snow—the stomach slit open—fishes around in the brown liquid with his knife, then stabs. A scallop! "Umm," he says, smiling, offering it to me. I shake my head. He pops the scallop in his mouth, chews, and swallows.