The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

Kringle Valley

F OR the greater part of the short Arctic summer, the great herd of reindeer had grazed within sound of the waters of the Arctic Ocean lapping on the beach. More than two thousand deer were in that herd. They were not all Kutok's, although all were in his charge, for he was chief herder. Only about two hundred of the deer were his, as shown by the ear-marks. It was in deer that Kutok was paid for his services in looking after the great herd, which was owned by white men. With the approach of the long winter, the deer would move inland to winter range, and Kutok and his family would return to their permanent home.

For several days before the opening of this story the deer had been uneasy. They had done more or less milling. This means that they had gathered in a great body, the outer members traveling in a large circle and trotting tirelessly most of the time. Kutok knew the sign. "They will soon seek the Valley of the Good Spirit," said he to the other herders who assisted him. That very afternoon, the herd, as if at a signal from some wise old leader, began to move inland. In a short time, all the deer but the trained pack animals, which had been fastened, had disappeared.

It was then that Kutok had taken Tuktu and Aklak to the hut not far from the entrance to the Valley of the Good Spirit. It was the greatest event in the lives of these two little Eskimo folk, for always they had heard this valley spoken of with awe that was almost reverence. Now perhaps they might be permitted to see the wondrous colored mists that were said to rise from it.


Kutok watching the herd

Kringle Valley was the name by which it was known to the white men, none of whom believed in it, for none had ever seen it. But to the Eskimos, it was, as I have already stated, the Valley of the Good Spirit. Did they not know that on its gentle slopes wild grasses grew in such abundance and such richness as could be found nowhere else in all the North? Were not the hillsides carpeted with wild flowers until they glowed in patches of brilliant color? You see, even the Arctic has its summer. It is a short summer, but a wonderful summer. Up there above the Arctic Circle there are days when the sun does not set at all and the number of days during which the sun does not set increases as one goes North, until at the North Pole there are six months and five days of continuous daylight. When the sun does set for a few hours, the twilight is so brilliant that it is difficult to think of the day as having ended when the sun disappears.

Kringle Valley is a valley of mystery. No man as yet has been privileged to enter it. No man has even looked down into it, save from a distance. It is said to be filled with a soft many-colored mist, which is neither of dampness nor of smoke. The Eskimos believe it to be the birthplace of the ever-changing, many-colored lights of the Aurora. Only the herders of the reindeer, which yearly seek pasturage on the hills about the valley, have ever ventured near enough to see even from a distance the curtain of many-colored mist.

Around the winter firepots the story is told to the children of how every year just before the great herd leaves the valley, the deer gather at the upper end, and, there for a time, mill.

There is no fear among these milling deer. As they trot tirelessly in a huge circle, there is a constant shifting, until in turn each of the bucks has made at least one circuit in the outer ring. Thus each has a chance to show his full strength and beauty. From time to time as at a signal, one of these trotting deer leaves the circle and stands motionless just without the curtain of colored mist. When eight have been thus chosen, they disappear in single file in the mist of the valley, while the leaders of the great herd at once start the southern migration, and the herders know that no longer will the deer feed in Kringle Valley until toward the end of another summer.

And the herders know, too, that when the winter round-up in the corrals is made for the yearly count, the eight best sled-deer in all the herds will be missing. They will be the ones which vanished in the shimmering mists of Kringle Valley. And the herders whose deer have so disappeared will rejoice greatly. They will be counted as being blessed above their fellows. They know that their deer are not lost. They know that when once again the great herd moves to Kringle Valley, they will find there the eight deer—fat, sleek, well-cared for. They know that these deer thereafter will never mingle with the herd, but will be for as long as they live the finest sled-deer in all the world. So it is considered good fortune if, after the herd leaves Kringle Valley, one's deer be found missing.