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Ritual: Descriptive Language

Tanya Tagaq

There is a small bag on the tundra about three minutes outside of town. The bog is littered with pieces of plywood blown by the fierce Arctic winds from various construction sites. The mighty winter winds and the permafrost leave only a few months for building. The construction crews work twenty-hours a day under the midnight sun. Chasing a few pieces of plywood that have been carried off by the high Arctic winds is not a good reason to put down your tools. Under those pieces of plywood is shelter from the wind for a myriad of species. The plywood becomes home in the vast treelessness. The wood becomes a dark sanctuary safe from all predators.

We find creatures underneath the plywood from beatles and baby birds to lemmings. The lemmings are my favorite. They get so startled as I rip off the ceiling from their safety, blindly running to find escape from this monster that has changed their world.

After chasing and capturing them I hold each one in my cupped hands, singing to it until it's heartbeat returns to normal cadence. I put them in my pocket. Don't put more than one in each pocket or they will start fighting. Not many creatures are good in over populated spaces. I have about six pockets in my windbreaker. Six lemmings a day keeps the doctor away.

Whistling my way home and brimming with anticipation for my daily ritual; I have only five lemmings today. There is a small back porch in our house. Since nobody ever uses the back door, the porch is my domain. It's a good place to hide things, a good place to pretend the rest of the world is mine. Stopping at the fridge to pick out a few carrots and some celery, I then lay the lemmings out on the floor of the back porch. The carrots belong in the corner. The animals are afraid at first but cannot resist the smorgasbord of food. I leave them happily munching and start to relax.

We have a fish tank in our living room. There are newts, snails, and fish in there. Snails procreate too quickly for the size of the tank, so my ritual begins by killing off a minimum of twelve snails by simply squishing their little bodies against the glass, shells and all. It is very satisfying to me to hear their shells popping, like when you find a particularly dirty part of the rug while you’re vacuuming, and it all clicks up the tube in a hollow symphony.

Part two of my ritual is to take one of the newts by the tail and put it in my mouth. It sits there on my tongue, the little suction cups on its toes grasping my taste buds. I close my mouth. It crawls around in confusion for a minute, and then finds comfort in the heat and darkness. It squirms it’s way under my tongue, and usually falls asleep there. I do some chores as it rests, opening my mouth to let some fresh air in. I go and look into the bathroom mirror. The newt is almost always sleeping, it's cute little eyes closed and restful, using my tongue as a huge duvet. I find it adorable. I returned him to the tank, and go and find my furry friends.

The lemmings are fed and full. I lie down in the small porch. I can fit lengthwise in the porch if my knees are bent. I fan out my long hair on the floor and wait. I lie still. The lemmings calm, and begin to stir. They find my hair. This awakens are burrowing instinct. They make their way to my scalp, seeking safety. The smallest of paws massaging my head at lightning speed. They never leave the safety of my hair. They keep going for about ten minutes before they get weary of attempting to dig. It's the best ten minutes of my day. It's still the best massage I have ever gotten.

When they tire, I put them back into my pockets and return them to where I found them. I have to get them out before my parents come home. The lemmings are full of carrots and happy. I will come back tomorrow. My mother once found one small piece of lemming poop in my hair. She laughed so hard and wondered how it got in there. I told her I was lying down on the tundra. I have kept this small ritual to myself until now.