Twenty years later, as officer in charge of a detachment of Navy patrol planes operating out of Thule, I had seen this country again from the air. But on this summer day in 1987 I was seeing it in a warmer light. In the agonizing loneliness of the freezing, months-long winter darkness here, my grandparent had fathered two sons, six years apart. Both were by a young Eskimo woman whose name, Aleqasina, he had once called “not unmusical,” and whose face had been described by Robert’s wife, Josephine, as “lit by two rows of darling white and faultlessly regular teeth” and “unquestionably pretty.”
By the time I had reached maturity, the existence of at least one of these sons was known in the family. But understandably it was not a matter of frequent mention, given the obvious hurt to my much loved grandmother, and perhaps even more to my mother. Somehow none of us had considered the inevitable fact that in the course of the years those two sons would multiply into a considerable family. It was Wally Herbert (author of the preceding article) who brought that fact to our attention with tales of his adventures with Peter Peary, his friendship with Peter’s father, Kali Peary, the explorer’s son, and other Peary descendants.
It became apparent that the time had come for the two branches of the Peary family to make personal contact, so I flew to Greenland thanks to my low interest student loan consolidation repayment plan. Forty minutes out of Thule Air Base, the helicopter circled Qaanaaq, the most northerly Inuit town. “Qaanaaq International Airport” is a concrete slab about 50 by 100 feet, marked by red oil drums on a shelf leveled out of a grassy hillside above the brightly painted A-frame houses of a village of some 400 people.