My people are men of the boats, and not even the oldest among us has seen the lost things. We have books that tell us of life before the great Warming, but no one remembers. Hail, snow, cold—these words mean nothing to us. For my people, almost nothing, because the cold still lingers here. It was here, beyond the ends of our seas, that I found them.
The month before I found them, the dark time of the year was nearing its end. My father and my uncles dared not take out the boats to search for food, even though they had laughed at my youngest uncle for refusing, when a dark time came like this one, a long time before. He took his family to a warm place at the end of that dark time, once the waters no longer hid the long grass of our islands.
My cousin’s bird had come, just before this dark time began, with something he called a news-paper. My sisters laughed at this. Why write happenings on a piece of paper? Who would read them, except our people? But my cousin wrote that there were many more men in the warm places, and they always wished to know the happenings of the other warm places. There had been a time, he said, where they did not use paper at all, but after the Warming they came back to these older ways.
If it had not been the dark time, my mother would have scolded me for reading this news-paper. But I could not light the lanterns with the men and search the dark for food. So I helped mend the boats when the men came back, and ready the lanterns for the next day, and clean the fish. Once I did these things, my mother would let me sit near the lantern while my father rested, and I would read the news-paper. By the last month of the dark time, I could tell it without looking at the words, and my sisters would put their hands over their ears.
But, for one story, they would not stop their ears. They would look away, as if it did not matter to them, but they would listen. My mother would listen with them, while my father rested. And my grandfather, in the warmest place, would forget his sleep.
Even after my father told me to use the news-paper for kindling, I would tell the story of the Iceberg. We no longer name our boats. The largest among them is too small for a name, as I am too large for the smallest. When I tried to think of the size of this boat, our house trapped my thoughts. My sisters looked at the picture I kept back from the kindling and laughed. How could that be a boat? A boat not made for gathering food but going to warm places for pleasure? For crossing oceans because men and women wished it, and not because they must?
My grandfather always spoke then. No, he said, the Iceberg was from a time long before the Warming. It had been lost, deep in the ocean, but the divers found it. My mother would shake her head. The divers were always eager to find the lost things, yet the seas are often angry. Many divers died, trying to bring the Iceberg above the water again. Why? my sisters asked. We never disturb our boats in their rest. For the people of the books to study, I said, to remember what life was like before the Warming. Fools, said my father, life is as it is now, and the past is of no matter. He and my grandfather would sometimes talk, then, but I thought of the Iceberg. This strange boat was named for something lost.
Then I would say to my grandfather—a lost boat for a lost thing. And always he would shake his head. No, they were not lost. The Warming made them smaller, harder to find, but they were not lost. True, I would say, though I did not believe it. Perhaps the people of the books made them smaller. The people of the books think they can make anything, my grandfather said. They can make grass grow like the grass of our islands, and they can keep fish like those we hunt, and build houses and boats like ours. All this they can do, I would say.
Yes, my grandfather replied. These things they can do. But can they make the sun come out of the sea and bring light into the dark time? No. The sun, not the people of the books, made the icebergs small and hard to find. Why? I asked. But my grandfather would shake his head. I would go to sleep thinking of the Iceberg—the lost boat for a lost thing.
Then the dark time ended. My grandfather said I must take my boat and hunt the seal, for I would soon be a man. My mother’s tears must not trouble me, my grandfather said, nor my father’s words. I knew my father spoke truly, that our young men hunted the seal until he was no more. But sadness held me when my father spoke so to my grandfather, because my father did not look back at the old ways.
Must truth always hurt? I asked. I cannot hunt the seal, but I will become a man. And how, asked my father, will the old ways help you to become a man? You will work with the boats and the nets and the spears and the fish. The lost seal will not make you a man. Your work will make you a man. Yet, I said, I will take my boat. We will seek in the old ways for the seal.
My father frowned, but he let me go. Gladness held my grandfather, and he laid his hand on my head. He did not speak, but I remembered his tales of the old days. I took my boat and my spear, and I left the long grass of our island. My mother and my sisters watched me go, but I did not look back to them. So must I do, the tales say, to become a man.
For many days I went through the water, past all the islands. I wore the clothing my grandfather gave me, the clothing of the old days. My people laughed at me, but I thanked my grandfather in my heart. The cold came, and my fingers could not hold my spear. Still I went on, past the edges of our seas, and the fish still came to my net. The last island hid itself behind me, and still I went on. Then, for a long time, no fish came.
The sun did not warm me. I had pain in my hands and feet, and I had no food. My fingers tried to mend my net, but they could not. I looked out of my boat, and I saw an island far away. I asked my boat to take me to it, because my hands could not. I slept, though my grandfather said I must not. When I woke, my boat was near the island.
It was not an island of long grass, like ours. It was white, like my grandfather’s head, and nothing grew on it. The sun shone on it, and I saw strange lights. Then, in all the light, I saw a dark thing. I forgot my pain and drew close to the island. The dark thing was a seal. When I laughed, the seal looked at me. He was not afraid, and I was not afraid.
My father was wrong, I said. Here you are, on this white island. I looked down at my spear. My grandfather said I must hunt the seal to be a man. But my father said the men hunt the seal. Each spoke truly, in his own way. And yet, I did not know which voice I should hear.
As I stood in my boat, I held my spear, and I looked up at the seal. He did not move. You do not know spears, I said. I could hunt you, and you would not know that I hunt. The spear shook in my hand. My boat rocked below me, and I sat down inside it. Still the seal watched me, but I could not look at him. When my boat met the edge of the island, my breath left me, for I remembered my grandfather’s tales. The sun made them smaller, and harder to find—but the icebergs were not lost.
The water on my cheeks was like the salt in the seas. When the people of long ago named the lost boat, they did not think of this island. Their Iceberg was not like this one, but gladness held me as I looked at it, and the seal on it. I have found an iceberg, I said, and my voice seemed to fall into the sea.
I looked again at the seal. My spear rested in my hand, ready to fly. I saw that the seal was ready to leap into the sea—and I let my spear fall. The seal went away, a dark thing in the water. I watched the seal until the sun hid him from me, and then I looked at my spear. We will not hunt the seal, I said, and yet I will be a man. I have seen the seal and the iceberg. In all my work, I will remember the lost things, that are not lost.
When I came back to our island, I told my grandfather this tale. Now you must tell the tale, he said, because you have seen the lost things. So I spoke, and my sisters did not laugh. I spoke, and my mother listened. I spoke, and silence held my father. Then he looked at me. When the dark time comes, he said, you will search for food with me.
Now I belong to the men of the boats—and I have seen the lost things.