Short Stories

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The scientific inquiry into Santa Claus.

1. No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.

2. There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn’t (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total-378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes there’s at least one good child in each.

3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept),we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc. This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second-a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

4. The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that “flying reindeer” (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload-not even counting the weight of the sleigh-to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison-this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.

5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance-this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

In conclusion: If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he’s dead now.

DANCING ON AIR

When their village has a whale feast, John and Susie share in the celebration and dance. This is how the dance goes: A lot of people hold a big walrus skin that has hand-holes cut around the edges. John stands on the skin and they toss him into the air.

Dancers were sometimes tossed twenty feet up in the air.

Higher and higher they toss him. He keeps his balance, lands on his feet, over and over again, dances in the air and sings a song. At last he tumbles off his feet, and it’s someone else’s turn. The dancer who goes the highest is the winner.

John and Susie are proud of the way their mother and father can dance—not only the old-time dances but new ones, too. Eskimos are just as good at the white men’s dances as the white men are themselves. And they love singing just as much as ever. Now they sing the songs they hear on the radio as well as their own songs.

The new world has brought many changes and many problems to the Eskimos. To be sure, they have new inventions, but they have new illnesses, too. Their old way of living is ended, and they haven’t yet found a good new way. But they are still The Laughing People.

DOCTORS AND NURSES

John and Susie Alook have first and last names. Eskimos have borrowed this two-name custom and many others from white people. They have had to learn about doctors and dentists, too, because the Eskimos are not as healthy as they used to be.

Before the white men came, most Eskimos never had decayed teeth. Now they do. Measles, tuberculosis and other diseases which they never had before make them sicker than they make white people. But doctors and nurses are now helping the Eskimos to prevent and cure these new diseases.

ESKIMO ABC’S

John and Susie Alook are Eskimo children who live in Alaska today. Although they speak Eskimo at home, they go to school and study English. They learn to read, write and count.

Long ago, when Papik and Milak were children, no Eskimo could count beyond twenty—the number of fingers and toes he had. Any number bigger than that was just “more-than-one-can-count.” Some Eskimos only bothered to count to six. That was enough, because they had so few things they needed to count. If they caught a lot of fish, nobody cared to figure out how many. The important thing was that the whole village had enough to eat.

TROUBLE AHEAD

Traders began to visit the Eskimos in Alaska a long time ago. The Eskimos sold them caribou meat to eat and sealskins—and whalebone. When the traders explained what the whalebone was for, the Eskimos could hardly stop laughing.

Women down in the warm world wanted whalebone to stiffen their corsets, so they would look thin where they weren’t. You can imagine how silly this seemed to the Eskimos, who thought people looked best when they were plump all over. But the white men traded them guns and cloth and stoves and tea for whalebone, so they caught many whales.

a whalebone corset

For a while the Eskimos got along very well with their trading. Then things changed. Most of the whales had been killed off by white men whose ships could follow the whales all the way as the great sea animals migrated from the Arctic Ocean down toward the South Pole. Most of the walruses were gone, too. The whalers killed them for oil and for their ivory tusks. Next, the caribou began to disappear. Eskimo hunters had killed most of them so that white men could have meat.

Some Eskimos taught reindeer to pull sleds.

By now, Eskimos had learned to need the things they got from traders, and they were almost starving because so many of their food animals were gone. They needed a new way to make a living. What could they do?

At last the head of the American school for Eskimo children had an idea. He thought of bringing reindeer from Siberia to Alaska. Reindeer are a kind of caribou that has been trained to live with men.

Laplanders from Scandinavia came to teach the Eskimos how to herd reindeer.

He persuaded the government and some individual people to try his plan. The reindeer could eat the grass that grew thick in the hot Alaskan summer. In winter they could use their horns and hoofs to dig down through the thin Arctic snow and eat lichens. A reindeer was a sort of combination horse and cow! It provided meat to eat, milk to drink and strength to pull heavy loads. Its skin was valuable, too.

Alaskan Eskimo children often wear dresses to keep their fur clothes clean.

Reindeer were first brought to Alaska in 1891. Now there are many, many thousands of them.

ESKIMO COWBOYS

The Alaskan Eskimos became the cowboys of the far north! Each year they have reindeer roundups, much like cattle roundups in the West. Of course, they don’t ride horses the way cowboys do. But they sometimes rope reindeers with lariats, and they herd them into huge corrals for branding.

Alaskan kayakers wear waterproof suits made from animal intestines.

The thin reindeer hides are valuable, so Eskimos don’t spoil them by burning on a brand. Instead they notch the edges of the animals’ ears in special ways. As the reindeer move from the corral through a narrow chute, the cowboys cut the notches, so that each man can tell his own animals.

Very few Eskimos have grown rich from their reindeer, but reindeer herding has become an important way of making a living for some of them. Others still hunt and fish. Some get work part of each year on fishing boats or in mines or on the docks loading ships. But most Eskimos are still very poor.

NEIGHBORS

Not very far from Hilltop’s village lived people that the white men called Copper Eskimos because they had learned to use copper for some of their tools.

A Siberian Eskimo teacher uses books written in the Eskimo language.

Other neighbors along the coast did a new kind of work after white men came. In their high, waterproof boots, they waded into the ocean and chipped away the black rocks near the edge of the water. The rocks were really coal which the white men wanted and taught them to use. Eskimos have always kept on learning how to make the most of the land in which they live.

A Copper Eskimo cache

GREENLANDERS

Nearly half the Eskimos in the world now live in Greenland. Not many of them have ever seen a snow house, although most of their huge island is covered with ice.

With luck a North Greenlander can catch a hundred or more small birds in an hour.

Greenland Eskimos have known white men for more than nine hundred years, but they still hunt in many of the old ways. In the northern part of the island, hunters use nets to catch little birds called auks, which come there by the millions on the exact day the last snow melts in spring. It takes eight or nine auks to make a good meal for one person!

Sometimes Greenlanders paddle their kayaks out to icebergs and perch high up, on the lookout for seals. Instead of being just pure white, the icebergs shine with beautiful tints of blue and green and purple. Greenlanders’ clothes, too, are bright, embroidered and decorated with many of the colors of the Aurora Borealis.

People in West Greenland dress like this. Some women pull their hair so tight that it comes out and they often get bald over the ears.

Eskimos are such good mechanics they quickly learned to fit outboard motors on umiaks.

FISH TO EAT

Men often fished this way in spring and fall.

In winter, the men from Hilltop’s village also went fishing with nets which they poked down through the ice. Driftwood helped her mother clean the fish with her special woman’s knife—the kind that Eskimo women used everywhere. Then she did something many Eskimos never used to do. She cooked the fish.

Once Driftwood tried sprinkling the fish with salt that white traders had given her. But her family didn’t like it.

The women hung fish and meat up to dry like this.

If there were many fish, the women cleaned them, took out the backbones and stored them away to freeze. In early summer and fall, they hung the fish up to dry. Once in a while the men caught so many that the women couldn’t keep up with them. Then they cleaned the fish and tossed them into a big box. Later they built a heavy log wall around it to keep out bears and wolves. Hilltop and Driftwood particularly liked to eat this kind of fish raw, after it had been frozen in winter—even if it was rotten.

Copper Eskimos

FOOLING THE SEALS

Sometimes Hilltop went with his father on hunting trips when the ice was breaking up, and he learned about the habits of seals. He learned that a seal is always watching out for polar bears, which are its worst enemy. When a seal comes out on the ice for a nap, it always chooses an open flat place. That way it can hear bears, or see them, before they come too close. And the seal gets its sleep in little snatches—often only a half-minute nap at a time. Then it wakes up and looks around.

On his first hunting trip, Hilltop saw the seals far off, wiggling and scratching themselves with their flippers. And then he saw his father crouch down and make the same motions! As he crawled along over the ice, he wiggled and scratched. He was making the seal think he was just another seal. Then, when he was close enough, he raised his gun and shot it.