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Thursday, December 30, 2010


This time of year we Alaskans are the most vulnerable. The cold has no mercy or thought, and any small thing that can go wrong can have long lasting effects. As some of you have heard the village of Savoonga lost power, long enough to do massive damage and to leave many families in need.

I received a note in Facebook with a call to help those in Savoonga and I just want to pass this along.

ERA aviation will ship any goods that you want to send for FREE, they can be found in pretty much any and all villages and in the cities. All you have to do it drop your gifts off, packaged securely, Labeled to the People of Savoonga, to the cargo department and let them know where it's going.

They are requesting mostly non-perishable food items. Some ideas are: boxed milk, canned milk, cereals, pilot bread crackers, canned pasta, canned meats, instant rice, cup o' noodles, instant oatmeal, granola bars, canned fruits, tea, coffee, sugar, koolaid juice mix, cookies...etc. Anything would help I am sure of it.

If you live in Anchorage you can contact Yaari Kingeekuk by emailing: who is making some arrangements.


You can drop off stuff at the Alaska Native Heritage enter in Anchorage.

You can also send donations to
City of Savoonga
PO Box 40
Savoonga, Alaska, 99769

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Flying out....

I took some photos when I was flying had been so long since I had actually seen the sun. I must have taken a hundred pictures. It felt like gold on my skin....all warm and pale...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Guardians......

This is the time of year when college students come home for the holidays. They board metal planes that take them back to the 'tiny' villages.

I can remember vividly what it was like. My brain would be in shock for a few days as I exchanged one world for another. I would be uncomfortable as I greeted people that felt a bit like strangers, almost as if we were separated by the books that I read for my courses. It was never a simple enjoyable homecoming to family and friends that you saw on the movies. It was always something I had to brace myself for, to push through the waves of different reactions that bloomed around me. You never knew how some people were going to react, what uncomfortable words would come out of their mouths.

The holidays always left me emotionally exhausted. I was greeted one moment with a hug and a handshake, words of awkward encouragement in the air, and the next with belittling words whispered just loud enough for me to hear as they passed by. Usually it was something about being 'better than' or 'stuck up', followed by giggles or grins. These words were spoken by adults and young people alike, though I suspect the younger ones were only mimicking the adults.

To me it was worth it, to find a few tiny gems of acceptance and love in the crowd of confusion, like pearls of Faith.

It always made me wonder where it all came from. What did they see in me that prompted such words and reactions. Some people would say it was jealousy, but jealousy is wanting what someone else has and I never sensed that they wanted my experience.

I think part of it is also that people do not talk of what their experiences are away from home. What they went through to get an education . What the cost was. It is assumed that if you are being successful in college than you are enjoying yourself, being bathed in city lights and dancing in paved streets. But of course none of that is true.

Everything worth it requires sacrifice.

My degree was paid for in tears. In long nights wishing I had less courage and determination. It was paid for in dreams of being just a tad less smart, and confusion about what my purpose would be. It was paid for in battle, between two worlds trying to fit like a puzzle made of ever changing clay. It was paid for by learning utter loneliness, or what felt like it compared to the strength and bonds I felt from my culture and people before I left.

In our new world we have need of Guardians. Guardians to fend off the worst of the storm that is the modern world, threatening to erode our Uniqueness and Difference. But these Guardians are few, and these Guardians bear a heavy weight and will earn many many scars.

In this Holiday season, I would hope if you know one, you will lessen their scars, lessen their wounds by not adding to them. By realizing that without them there would be nothing but uncertain blackness as a future. By understanding the Price.

And when, or if, they return to fight on the Home turf, that you are willing to greet them with Understanding and Acceptance. And let that be your sacrifice.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I am one of a very lucky few that are shareholders in a Alaska Native Company that does well. Twice a year we receive checks, usually a couple thousand in the spring, and about three times as much of that in mid December. We are currently approaching our winter checks.

There are some observations I have been confronting and examining. Some thoughts that drift and solidify and drift some more. It is hard for me to contemplate these questions simply because more often than not I am left with nothing but frustration or annoyance on my plate.

It's not that this free money is bad in any way, it's more like the observation that there is no responsibility whatsoever attached to it. And for some strange reason this irks me. Irks me to no end. Twice a year I receive a direct deposit into my account, and a tiny stub in the mail that I hand over to my tax preparer. That's it. There is no accompanying recommendations or programs I could invest my money in, no slips of paper to describe some well deserving non-profit that would benefit from a few bucks from me, no bank willing to give me a good deal on a savings account for my children (if I had any), not a peep or a squeak about the possibilities that this money could become. Nothing at all from the company that cuts me the check. It's as if they are done with me once they mail the check, and that is all that I am worth.

There are 10,000 of us that receive theses checks. 10,000 souls spread across the U.S., with half living out of state. We accept these checks as part of life, with no knowledge of why get them in the first place. With no thought on how fleeting this money could become. What if this money disappears (as it might since it's largely based on oil production on the Slope and as we all know it's a finite source) what will be left for us? Will we have learned money budgeting skills? will we have some of it stored away for a rainy day? What exactly is this money doing for us? What percentage of it actually goes to bettering our lives?

Personally my check goes to paying for 6 months worth of food and supplies for our pantry, I embark on a mad and crazy shopping spree for a few days that usually leaves me completely exhausted and insane. My husbands goes to our vehicle and gas bill which is forever present, as we cannot live without a vehicle to hunt or gather our main sources of food. A tiny amount goes to a savings account created for unexpected costs....

But we were not always this careful with our money, and it was only the responsibility of a shared life that made us rein in our spending sprees. As an artist I have long accepted the fact that my head is not for financial pleasures but I still wonder.....

I would be most willing to put some in a savings account if the Company arranged an easy and SAFE long term program that they set up.....but I fear they are only in it for the money. For the money they throw at me that feels like hush money on some days. They send a few pages to me me a few times a year filled with large numbers and professional pictures, printed on expensive and large paper, and they announce visits to the villages to answer questions, but I do not know (even with my degrees and half degrees) what this means and how it betters my life...

But what sane person would object to getting free money?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Another pic.....

My window this afternoon. The handprint is all but covered by this dense growth of midnight crystals and air laden with dreams.

Stay warm everyone........

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I forgot.....

Somewhere along the way I forgot that I take pictures....

We had a week where it was one long blizzard. When it cleared here and there I would peek out the window to check on the dogs. My hand would melt the ice covered glass.

One afternoon I looked out and saw what appeared to be a figure of light...dancing in a nearby valley.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

If we were only Japanese.....

I imagine if I wanted to go to Japan, I could find courses on how to behave without insult. I could learn how to bow just so, and just so many times. I could learn about the local foods, and how to pronounce their names. I could learn some of the language so that I could communicate a tad. I could even research the history of the people, and find out why in the world they have such crazy game shows. I imagine if I wanted to, I could find a million plus websites dedicated to just this singular culture.

I know if searched I could find only a minuscule amount of informational websites on my own culture. And usually they repeat what each other has said, like a phalanx of cookie cutter descriptions. Most of what is known about our culture and world is found in dusty history text books, and most of those are old, from the time when my mother was a child and further back. Why has the media ended one generation back?

The reason I write this though is not to contemplate the lack of media, as most people who know me know that I do help in my small way those paladins that are fighting to include Inupiaq media in our schools and in our lives. The reason I bring this up is to discuss the effects of having no access to, what I would think to be, critical information.

One of my family members was accused of being racist by a non-native. And it involved a very long hap-hazard conversation about why we can subsistence hunt and why he as a non-native could not subsistence hunt. He assumed it was the choice of the Natives around him. That it was type of conspiracy of monumental proportions, that we all met late at night and determined that he was unworthy of our favor.

Of course being native, my family member did what was culturally ingrained in him, he backed away from the conversation. Not because he was a racist and the non-native was right, but because we are taught from a very young age that confrontation is unwise and heated words are avoided, which stems from the fact that we will all live in a tiny village with these same people for most of our lives. Of course the non-native took this as admission that we were all racist.

The funny part is that if this non-native man had done any research (and found out that if he wanted to he could get a permit and hunt on certain lands), or had known how we differ culturally, no bad feelings would have come about. I imagine if his employer would have sent him a three page packet on the particular oddities about this place, and maybe a guide on activities to be enjoyed.....There would be no uncomfortable silences.

I always believed strongly that there should be a cultural orientation program of some sort for those that choose to work on the North Slope of Alaska. That this should be at least available for those that had interest in it. I'm betting the turnover would be reduced, and overall happiness increased. It would also make work to create a sense of respect for our culture, that it's differences are something to be enjoyed, and not something to be ground out with some tough elbow grease and sandpaper.

I always find it interesting that with all the money being tossed around for saving our culture in databases, and Big Oil trying to lube our grip on our lands with cash that no one has yet contemplated creating a guide for those to be thrown into a rich and wonderful culture.

What would it take to write a few pages on each village, to create a list of activities and how to go about doing them? to have available a guide that bridges the two worlds? When I was in college I spent 7 months in California and 5 months in the village each year for seven years straight, and believe me when I tell you that to succeed in either culture the tiny things matter and bring comfort, so that you may in fact enjoy the experience.

But some of you are saying..."but this is America."...and that we are all the same?

When I went to my best friends wedding in Louisiana, we had many conversations about what cultural differences I would encounter. Why? Well so I would not feel the fool of course! I was introduced to Southern sayings, and Cajun food etiquette (the things you did to a mud bug), that I would almost always be addressed as 'Miss Rainey', and told what to expect when they talked about a 'fish camp'. It is also some sort of competition on how hospitable you can be to your guests, and even though I thought they did way too much for little ol' me, I kept my mouth shut and just enjoyed it. I loved every single moment of that trip but I think if I went in cold, it would have been a much less enjoyable experience.

America is not ONE culture, it's a mash of hundreds of cultures. Yes we all can buy rice at the store, but I can imagine that some cultures don't eat it or they use it totally different than you would. Our places and people are more isolated than some, more rich than some, more engrained than some, which should be a good thing, an exciting thing.

Personally I think rice is pretty much the best thing for caribou soup......

Monday, November 1, 2010

The drunk.

The man sits on splintery wood, painted long ago but now abused to the color of week old bruises. The steps behind him lead to nowhere and the staircase railing tower on each side of him, creating a sad throne of sorts. The smell of alcohol surrounds him, like a coiling dragon, purring sweet lies to his body and his soul. His once carefully groomed hair is in disarray, like the mind beneath it. For a second he glances up in response to the noise of a car passing by, his head lolls to the side and a single gleaming trail of drool wets his chin. For a moment you can see his eyes as they darted about in panic, normally brown and clear, they held focus on nothing as the whites of his eyes gleamed in the coming dark. Like an animal of sort, he was lost in the darkness of the unaware.

He felt as he should feel some inkling of shame, and yet he felt none.

A whisper of danger coming, was quickly snapped up by the dragons claws.

He let his gaze wonder in front of him, and fought down the bile that was the dragon's payment. In front of him stood an old woman, her hair neatly braided on each side of her weathered face, it gleamed silver in the waning light. Her clothes were made of caribou skin, and seemed odd to the man. Her voice was patient and warm, "Why does an Inupiaq man sit here when the geese are flying, and the caribou walk?"

The man gargles on the spittle in his mouth for a moment and then replies in a slurred and whining voice, "My life is too complicated old fool, I have too much to think about, too many problems." And with that he flung a hand in front of him and she disappeared like fog.

And in her place stood a child, boy or girl you could not tell. The child's hair was a black as a raven's wing, and small brown hands were shoved into dirty jeans. Its face was smooth and rounded, and wide brown eyes stared at the man. The child's voice was sweet like the singing of the snowbirds in the spring, "Why does an Inupiaq man sit here and not make a place for me to live, so that I can love what is around me? Who will teach me to care?"

The man grew angry and his voice growled into the night, "Go home fucken kid, I don't care and neither should you!" And again his hand clumsily waved the child away, and it disappeared like fog.

And in the child's place arose a beautiful woman. Her long black hair smelled of the tundra and snow, and her arms promised warmth from cold nights and harsh words. Her voice was soft and concerned, "Why does an Inupiaq man sit here and not create a place for us to be proud? What mark will we place in this world?" The man blinked and his hands flexed, "If you want to party you can stay," he laughed a little at this, "Don' expect me to keep any promises though." And he laughed a laugh filled with phlegm, and the woman turned her face from him and disappeared.

And in her place stood an old man, his face worn from sunlight and lined from laughter. His body was still well muscled and he carried himself with pride and knowledge. His voice held strength and courage, and challenged the man like a crouched wolf, "Why does an Inupiaq man sit here and shame our ancestors? Why does he become less than man and more like beast?"

The man's face became red with drunken fury and he lashed out with awkward blows and grunted his reply, "Get away! Don't care about me! Fucken don't even know what I go through!" But the old man had disappeared long ago into the fog.

No more visions appeared for a moment, and the drunk settled himself against one of the railings, sloppily wiping drool from his chin. He waited for friends that would not come, because they had already used him for what money he had. But he did not know this and so he waited. People walking the street avoided him and walked on the other side of the street, teenagers snickered behind hands and yet they feared they too would become him one day.

And yet the man waited.

When the street cleared a young man appeared in front of the drunk. His body was lean and filled with the confidence of youth. Laughter sparkled in his eyes and his voice held the excitement of the first hunt, "What's up man? Why does an Inupiaq man sit here drunk?" The man frowned at the youth, his muddled mind confused, was this one of his friends? The youth sat down next to the man, swift as a cat. Again the sparkling voice asked, "Why you get drunk man?"

The man snorted and giggled a little, "A man's gotta relax, get away from life you know. Fucken stress tomorrow though." And thinking this was funny he laughed again.

"Why you stressed?" The youth asked quietly.

"Why? Cause' I got no life, no job, no nothin'. Jus' bills and stress, fucken everybody looking down on me like I'm a loser. Gotta' relax and let it just go away you know?"

The young man stood up so fast the drunk couldn't focus his eyes on the lean figure. His back was taut with anger. His voice sparkled with regret this time and his next words were said slowly, as if he was speaking to an infant,"You ain't got nothing cause no one gives anything to a drunk, and you need others to be me. You drink cause you have nothing, and yet you get nothing if you drink. Sad, sad man will never be me." And before the drunk could reply the youth was gone.

Alone and sobering up the drunk paused and blinked. That Western dragon called to him in a slow welcoming voice. The dragon was quieting and this made him worried. In his head he heard the voices, felt their need in his bones, and yet he was afraid. The dragon got rid of fear.

Alone… he wanted.

an older piece I wrote. One I think about a lot. I always wonder what happened to him. Where he ended up. Just thought I would share. I apologize for the swear words but when I put 'clean' words in there it never seems right.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A quick ride down Big Contact.....

Went for a short ride yesterday. This time of year the early mornings are shrouded in thick frosty fog that only clears up after the sun has been out long past noon. The dogs were especially exhuberant, as with the coming cold they had been spending more and more time inside their winter housing. I guess it's a type of dog 'cabin fever', which is identifiable mostly by the almost constant howling and fidgeting. We packed some hotdogs and snacks in a backpack and warmed up the snow machine and honda.
The fog had lifted and because of the heat of the sun it changed into a thin layer of victorian lace above our heads. The blues became intense and the snow sparkled and reflected every color like tiny glass mirrors. BIII took a quick picture of me while we waited on a hill for the dogs to catch their breath.
We entered a small valley called "Big contact", not expecting the show put on by nature. The mountain to our right glowed a unusual blue. An intense blue.
The mountain had gathered the fog amongst it's peak, and the blue sky above it was reflected in the bulk of moisture droplets.
Farther in the valley we were greeted by a beam of light cresting over the mountain. I commented to my husband that it wouldn't be weird if a mythical beast arose out of this beam of light. Maybe the Dall Sheep Umailik (chief), or the Old Eagle Mother....or maybe even a ice gilded dragon.
We stopped frequently to look far down the valley with binoculars. This let the pups rest and play, and gave us some time to make sure that a brown bear wasn't up ahead, and to make sure if there were caribou in our trail we wouldn't scare them.

When we reached the end of the valley we gathered some dried willow and made a fire, and roasted some hotdogs. We drank strong coffee and watched the dogs play tag in the dry and brown willow bushes. Mostly we just sat there and watched as the fog and mountains and sky dazzled us with a show of color and form and a game of peek-a-boo. It amazed me that if we had chosen to visit another valley this afternoon we would have never seen this amazing time and place. That the show would go unseen. That even now these displays of nature are existing, without being seen.

On the way back we were followed by a soot colored raven, he dove and clicked above us, his wings caught the air and hummed. I wondered if they were able to see beauty like we were, and if they were amazed by the valley like I was. They gathered in the village during the winter months, like a nomadic tribe, living off of the leftovers of man. Warming themselves on lamp posts and high powered light bulbs. They visited our house daily, looking for left over dog food or meat chunks. They would click at the dogs, attempting to calm them it seemed. Or they could be laughing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The space between......

Sometimes all it would take to stop a ton of heartache and trouble, is to make a tiny connection. A thin thread of strength between thought and action. Between word and meaning.
I sit here this morning contemplating these disconnections, the places where there is a gap, small gaps that feel like deep chasms. Gaps that create such pain that you would think someone would bridge it right away.

I have experienced this separation. It pried at my heart and marked it for life. I love teaching. The feeling you get when you did your job right and that wave of understanding makes it's way across a child's face is one of the most beautiful and humble thing I have ever seen. But the Price was too high for me to pay, as I was almost swallowed by this gap.

Our world is so young. So confused and malformed. On one side we have our Traditional life, and on the other we have the Other life. One is filled with the soft song of our Elders, the other the marching tune of Conformity. We hop back and forth. But no one has decided that they should be no space between the two.

Some people say that it's impossible. That these two worlds are so different that they cannot be combined. But I say they that some people need to stop limiting themselves, that believe it or not the world does include other cultures, cultures that are successful. I envy the Japanese because the people who do business with them bow and wear no shoes. I envy the the Spanish their Siesta time. I envy that Maori college in New Zealand for making all their non-native professors speak the native tongue fluently. I envy the Greeks for having free college. I envy other cultures for making Others adapt to the Original world. Because it gives this Original world credence and value and worth.

Without that bridge I see so much damage being done. Today I saw a comment online made about how the only reason that most young Native people have no jobs is because they are lazy drug addicts, that they lack in anything that would make them successful human beings. This comment was made by a young Native person. And I thought of all the people that I knew that had no jobs or that struggled with keeping a job and then I tried to figure out what would make this person say this comment. Where did this judgment come from? Who created the list that would make a person label others in this way? By what standard are they being judged?

I could be considered one of those judged un-successful. By western standards I'm pretty useless. I don't have a full time job. I am an artist that has never had any real important gallery showings. I've won no awards. I don't make a huge amount of money. I was rejected for every artist or business grant I ever applied for. I can't afford a shiny new car or a dishwasher. I spend way too much time doing "useless" things like camping and skin sewing and learning place names. Things that no one would pay me for, so they have no real value in the Western world.

Yet at the same time I am praised for some of the stuff I'm doing. Saving the Knowledge. Learning the Words. When I am and Elder, I will have some knowledge to pass on to those that ask. The interesting part is that when people ask me what I've been up to and I tell them what I am learning, they usually ask if I'm getting a "real" job soon. As if what I am doing is not worth much in this day and age. And I have to ask why it's not worth much. And what actions would be needed to make it worth something. How does one add something to this imaginary list?

And then I think about my husband. He works so hard to make the little amount of money we need. He gets up early. Takes his breaks and lunch. Comes home and sheds the Western world from his skin. I wish these companies would encourage his Inupiaq self. I wish so much for the man I love. For the people I love. I wish that he could be praised for his hunting skills like he is paid for his carpentry skills. That he could receive certificates for what he knows about wolves and wolverine and caribou, like the certificates he got for what he learned for Plumbing and Electrical 1. I wish someone could bridge that gap I see in him, that I see in all of us.

Yet even though our corporations and our world has Native leaders at the helm, it seems as if they believe the only way to be successful as a people is to Conform. And that to me is a dangerous place to live, hovering over this gap instead of bridging it.

I hope one day to be in a place where "work" wear is snow shirts and atigluuraqs, where the visiting lower 48 people come to us wearing our traditional clothing. I hope to be in a place where we pay hunters to take care of our Inupiaq bellies and keep the less fortunate full. I hope to be in a place where the work day is based on paying people for the job and not the hours, like in the Inupiaq world. I hope to one day be proud of a place that pays employees more if they speak Inupiaq fluently, and even pay in house tutors so that our businesses are steeped in lore. I hope to love a place that recognizes that the Inupiaq world is different, and to celebrate that difference instead of trying to hide it. I hope to be proud of a place where a young Inupiaq person will not call another young Inupiaq person less.....because of some other worlds list.

I wish....wish... that this gap would disappear.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Every blog Must have a cat.
And this one does. An arctic kitty. And her post has been long over due, for she is an especially unique cat.
She is the first thing I see and hear in the morning. Besides my husband of course. As soon as she hears me move in bed she jumps up on the covers and bumps my hand or head in that way that only cats can do without looking stupid. She demands our ritual morning showing of affection, and rewards me with a loud content purr and heavy lidded eyes. It is the ONLY time she shows affection, as for the rest of the day she acts as if we are only roommates. As many visitors know she is a very grumpy old lady.
The way she found me is an interesting story. I was attending college in Northern California, and as a normal college student I was often short on cash. A friends mom asked if I wanted to help with something called the Redwood Run, I volunteered for the two days it would be nearby. The first night I directed traffic; cars to the left parking space, bikes to the right. I wore a massive amount of reflective tape and orange and found out that despite what I saw on tv (and in that link) most of the bikers were very nice people and polite. Late that night we made our way to our tent outside the area of party crazy and got a few hours of sleep. Early the next morning we began the clean up process. It's amazing what people leave in their wake, heaps of trash and discarded possessions....including a tiny neglected black kitten. She was in a bush, meowing her little heart out, covered in ticks and filled with worms. She was so tiny she fit in the palm of my hand. I stuck her shivering little body in my sweater pocket, where she immediately quieted. I took her to my car (a HUGE old 1977 Dodge Aspen aka "The Boat") and set her on the seat. At the time I only had some cheese flavored popcorn as a snack. When I placed the bag in front of her she literally dived inside and ate as much as her little body could handle. I set her up with some water and closed the door and cracked the windows and went back to work.

That evening I went back to the car and found the door wide open, with no kitten in sight. My friends mom had thought the kitten needed more air and had opened the door. I searched and searched the car and didn't find her. Thinking that she had wondered off I reluctantly packed my gear and drove home. Quite a few hours after I got home, I was still thinking about her. She was so tiny. So I went back to The Boat and did a more thorough search. I found her curled up underneath the seat. Just a absolutely ink black spot that was easy enough to miss. She was sleeping the whole time.
And thus began our relationship. I had a puppy at the time. A snow white dog that I had named Winter (because she was such a mean....lady...when I first got her) They were both cast offs of society. Both neglected. And both ended up at my home. They bonded immediately. And this is how the dog became more like a cat, and the cat became more like a dog. The cat begs for food, loves dog food and dog cookies, knows how to "sit" on command, and comes quickly when she is called. She also has very ODD tastes in food. Harley the cat and Winter the dog would often team up to steal food. If anything was left on the kitchen counter the cat would push it off the edge, and jump down to enjoy the meal with the dog. She is completely unafraid of dogs and can hold her own with all of the various puppies that we have gotten over the years. She also loves sheep meat. Her nickname is "Puppy." She adores butter and seal oil and has a pure white toe on her back left foot.

She is also a very grumpy cat and doesn't get along with ANYONE. Well almost anyone. She loved my husband from the first time they met. The odd part of that relationship is that she will never ever get grumpy with him. He can literally rub her the wrong way and she will purr and flop over on her side. She also gets along with my brother Sunny, who is a bit allergic to cats. Which I seriously think cats can sense. He will approach her and slip off a shoe, and tap her with his socked toe, which is when she flops on her side so she can get a good socked belly rub. She also adores Bill Hess, a photographer and another lover of arctic cats, which I'm sure she can also sense.
She is also very much an indoor cat. On nice summer days she will venture out a few feet on our porch to watch the world go by, her sooty nose sniffing the air. But other than that rare adventure she stays inside. Which is how I like it, as we spread bird seed around the house so we can enjoy the birds. As an indoor cat she has to get quite creative to keep her mind stimulated. I provide random toys and bits of cat nip off and on and play with her as much as possible, but for most of the day she is left to her own devices. So one of the things she loves to do is to sleep in odd places. We have found her in drawers, in cupboards, on cardboard pieces on the floor, in the middle of the kitchen, on rifle cases, on wolf skins, on the heaters, and even in the dryer (which now makes me check TWICE every time I do a load).
And there I present Harley, the arctic cat, ruler of this household and stealer of sheep meat.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Green Machine.....

Winter arrived. It dusted our world in sparkling diamonds of frost this morning, which made me feel sorry for the berries (as anyone who knows me, knows that I amaddicted to picking berries!). A couple days ago we saw flocks of hundreds of ptarmigan all wearing their white coats, little harbingers of the coming cold. I could not help being angry at them. Traitor birds.

Me and my husband began the winter vehicle planning. Or should I say he talked in length and I nodded and listened and asked a question here and there. It's a weird thing that is almost unique to our lifestyle. We discuss wether or not we will purchase a new snowmachine, or a used snowmachine, or just buy parts for the ones we have. We discuss the winter gas bill, decided how much to spend on new clothing, what items were worn through or had too many holes to repair. We talked about the emergency winter kits, what needed to be replaced in them and what new items were on the market that we should try. But mostly we talk about our snowmachines, as it is the biggest winter cost.

To supplement our winter income my husband traps all winter long. He travels a minimum of 12 hours a day to tend to his trap line, at least once a week, most times twice a week, all by snowmachine. 90% of the time he is alone. He would not do it if hedid not enjoy it, not the taking of life, but rather the challenge of pitting brain against brain. Most people assume that animals are robotic beings only existing in a weird loop of instinct and survival. But if you have interacted with them you realize that they are incredible thinking beings, tricky and learning beings. Add to the mix that they have hundreds of thousands of miles to roam.....

But I digress from my original thought. Vehicles. When I lived in California I recycled. I had a bike that I used. I carpooled. I bought organic and local produce and products, if I could make the product myself I did. I grew my own herbs. It felt as if I was doing something to take care of nature, which I loved so much. It also allowed me a tiny way to rebel against the concrete and metal that I deemed confining to my Inupiaq soul. But here in the village, what options do I have? Are there "green" snowmachines and 4x4 vehicles? (as a side note a few minutes ago I asked my husband if he knew of a "green" snowmachine. He replied "the arctic cat makes a bright neon green." ....I rest my case.)

I know that at several points in time "outside" people have tried recycling. But what they found that it was VERY expensive to ship out the materials to a place to recycle it. Instead of gaining money they were paying money, which leaves little incentive. I think also that as villagers we do "re-use" everything, as we never know when we will need it, to the point where we are bordering on being diagnosed as hoarders. But I wonder what other ways we can reduce our ick on this world. Living in the boonies means we are often restricted by what product we can use, as it often comes down to whatever the ONE store decides to stock, if anything at all.

Should we even be trying to find ways to do the three "R"'s? Has anyone done a study to see what a subsistence native "carbon footprint" is?

I do find some comfort in the fact that we eat mainly "organic" foods, ultra organic. Is there a word for more than organic?

Shameless self plugging follows.....

I do randomly design shirts... here is one of the latest designs. I saw "Eskimo" spelled like this on a very old book in the Tuzzy library in Barrow (if you ever get the c
hance to visit please do!), I WANTED that on a shirt! you will find this and others in my "Nuna Inua" T-shirts link on the right side of this blog.
I also have decided to sell some of my jams and jellies and preserves, just a taste! View this and other neat things at my new store

Crowberry jelly aka Blackberry Jelly

Friday, September 17, 2010


Interesting things I experienced this last week:

While walking in Barrow I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. There was a tiny pond surrounded by buildings, old vehicles, and small anemic patches of grass. Various bits of trash floated at it's surface. The acrid roar and smokey smell of cars surrounded the tiny pond, making it seem so out of place and indeed it seemed embarrassed to be there. What had caught my eye was the movement of several canadian geese floating in that tiny pond. One of them stood stock still, a shiny dark eye observing me. The others stirred the tiny piece of water, bringing bits and flecks of edibles to the surface. Their beaks worked and clacked as they ate. I think I got about 5 feet from them and not one of them looked up to wonder if I was predator, except for sentry. I walked by, thinking that this tiny scene must mean something deep and ponderous. But I couldn't come up with what it might be.....

I have decided that the best sushi I have ever ate is in Barrow Alaska. It practically melts in your mouth in a carnival of flavor and texture.

I haven't met one person in my life that absolutely loves sitting in the middle seat on airplanes.

We are all tourists of this universe. Annoying ones.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Things I learned.....

Some nights in the village. Some nights we make sure the doors are closed and locked tight. We take the keys from our vehicles in our front yard. Things that take a minute or two. Nothing drastic.

But some nights are different than others. Some nights while chatting with family we hear about how someone has brought burning coals to the village, to set fires of destruction. So we lock our doors to make sure the fire does not spread, so that it does not burn what we love.

Such small things that we do. Small things are all that you can do sometimes.

We must become willing learners and willing teachers.

My parents taught me a few things, these things I hold close to my forever life. They loved me so much that they taught me to be sad. Sounds weird, and obvious, I know. My parents taught me to mourn. They taught me how to cry. They taught me that it is a special thing that I can do, one that is almost uniquely human, a gift from every God and Deity. When the first dog I ever loved died when I was very young, my father shed heavy tears, and held me close. He showed me it was okay to express sadness, he showed me how to make it paint my world. He showed me it was okay for these painful things to exist. And when my mother died, she showed me that I could survive even the most painful things. The things I thought no one should survive. She taught me that pain can be used to fuel brighter things, better things, and that death can leave behind seeds of hope and wonder. That we are but what is left behind in the hearts and actions of those that loved us.

How can some people burn these gifts from their parents in a haze of numbness and alcohol?

My friends taught me a few things, these things I hold close to my forever laugh. They loved me so much that they taught me how to have fun. Sounds plain and silly, I know. My friends taught me how to enjoy this world. They taught me what it was like to laugh so hard I cried. They taught me that it was a special thing, a gift from every God and Deity. Something unique and wonderful and ME. When the summer days were long they came and showed me that fun was exploring old buildings, trapping ground squirrels, and laughing at the silliest of words and gestures. They showed me it was okay to find fun in things that some people thought were boring or empty. And when I left and they moved they also taught me that I could make new friends, and find new things that were fun, if only I was brave enough and unafraid. They taught me that fun and excitement could exist without hurting others or myself, and that it could last forever, like those long summer days.

How can some people burn these gifts from their friends, in the acid lake of unhappiness?

My Love taught me a few things, these things I hold close to my forever Happy. He loved me so much that he taught me how to be Happy. Sounds small and weak, I know. My Love taught me how to be at peace with my life. He taught me how to find actions that added a drop of Happiness to my soul, so that these drops could become a lake. He taught me that it was a special thing, this ability and opportunity to be Happy, a gift to myself, from myself. Something that had no keys, no locks, no codes. When I wrapped all the bad things in my life around me like a sodden blanket, he showed me that I was the one holding that blanket, with clawed fingers. And that it didn’t make me a bad person to let it fall to the ground. He showed me that my happiness was hard work, and needed to be tended to like a fragile plant, and that if I fed it anger and hate and confusion, it would shrivel and blacken. He showed me that happiness was real, and not some fairy tale.

How can some people burn these gifts from the people that love them, in the coals of bootleggers and pimps of self destruction?

We must become willing learners and willing teachers.

We must teach each other how to mourn, how to have fun, how to be happy, without drugs. Without booze. We must teach each other that we can have these things, without running the risk of causing pain on each other.

Our Inupiat ancestors knew these ways, knew them and rejoiced in their ability to experience them. We need to stop trying to be something other than Inupiaq, something other than brown skinned, arctic legends self made prisons.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The darkness....

The darkness has come back to our village.......

And no it's not metaphorical darkness, it's actually darkness. The long endless sunlit days are gone, and night time has reclaimed her willow spiked crown.

It's a shock to the psyche, more so than the change from dark to light in the spring. In many many ways this is my favorite time of the year though. The caribou are fat and proud, the berries have grown plump and sweet, the mountains exchange green clothing for red and yellow, and the stories...the stories also ripen and sweeten and become beautiful things to share.

The darkness brings with it many things, one of them being tarnished fears. Old fears brought back out to be polished and handled. The bears become fat and brave, and their eyes glow blue in the night as they stalk your camp. But we fend them off with the howl of dogs and the crack of rifles. Other things also roam in the darkness, beings of wood and flesh and spirit. And we fend these off by telling their stories.

My favorites are the stories of the Imanauraq, or the Inuk as they call them here. Small people that live in caves or underground and set deadfall traps. They see the rebirth of the night as we see the coming of the sun, a chance to roam and go unseen and walk among us. The stories range in the hundreds if not thousands, and are as recent as last year. They run after your sled in silence, nothing but a bulky darkness, trip you in bushes with quick fingers, or even set small cooking fires high up in places no human can reach or would go.

Other creatures include tall pale willowy beings filled with curiosity, lost spirits, bouncing lights that lead you into danger, river beings, "bigfoot", and a handful of others that appear after the night has returned. The stories are like tiny gems, passed around a fire to be shared and admired.

Yes this is my favorite season of the year!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My hard life....

My life is hard.....

Or at least that is what some people think of it. I get comments a lot about how tough I am, how the life lead must be harder than the one they live. How they admire me for my persistence and dedication and strength for being able to handle the heavy burden of living a subsistence lifestyle....

Mostly I just blink at these comments. Maybe an eyebrow lift or two. Almost always I do not respond.

Mostly because I think it odd that people think this life is hard. Comparatively. I wonder what they mean by "harder". Physically? Mentally? Financially? Socially?

It's a tad bit physically harder. I read once that just being out in the country here and doing what we do, you will burn more than 4500 calories a day. So we eat a lot more than most people, usually high calorie foods snacks. Visitors that we take out are always amazed at how hungry they seem all the time. I think that this would be a benefit though. Muscles get worked and are toned while we hike and ride and hunt. Calories are burned and endorphins are released as we fish and gather herbs and pick berries. My body feels ...useful. Part of this world. Though sometimes the next day my muscles rebel and laugh as I grimace with each move.

Our lives revolve around a non-timetable. A general gesture and nod to a calendar. Though we know when things will be ready for harvesting as the year progresses, we also cannot tell exactly when things will happen. Just this last week we were dismayed to find that the plump little salmonberries had turned pale and white, like ghosts of their former bright orange selves. Which means they are beyond ripeness and have started their death knell. It's sometimes frustrating and sometimes wonderful, but most of the time it is an odd exercise of what becomes a monster ability for patience and acceptance. An acceptance of the fact that we cannot control some things, an acceptance of a greater dance of which we are only an audience. We never work for time, only for food or clothing or tool.

The time thing bothers me the most when moving from world to world. The western world is obsessed with clocks and calendars. You are even judged a better and more superior being the more you adhere to this measure of time. It's a sign of honesty and general intelligence. But in the other world it is definitely not an asset, and in fact can be a persons downfall. I can imagine that in more ancient times if you restricted your harvesting to a few hours a day and during only a few days a week, you would find yourself a victim of natural selection. In this world you are judged on wether or not the task is finished and finished with honor and attention to detail, no matter the time taken.

I also think that some people have a certain type of misconception of living a subsistence lifestyle, that for some reason we do it exactly like they did it two thousand years ago. The Inupiaq Eskimo of the arctic have thrived here simply because of our amazing talent to adapt and accept. We are magicians of tool and invention, of theory and imagination. We can take a hunk of moss and use it for a thousand things, a length of wood, a million things. So in this day and age we definitely take advantage of the tools the modern world has provided us. Some people are surprised to find that we use range finders, and high powered scopes, and vhf radio's ,and satellite phones and gps devices, and high tech clothing and footwear. We use every tool we can, because in the end it is not how we did it that matters, but only that we did it and that makes it fit this world. One example of this is when the Alaska Fish and Game had to stop posting updated locations of collared caribou because everyone would get online and use the coordinates to hunt caribou. It makes me chuckle that they did not even once imagined that it would be used for something other than ooh-ing and ahh-ing at in the lower 48.

Another comment I get a lot is about the knowledge that is needed to live a subsistence life style. That maybe it is somehow more greater and more vast than anything really imaginable. But in the end it's not much different than other knowledge. That once learned and embedded into instinct it becomes automatic. It's like asking if an accountant has to relearn how to add and subtract and count every time they balance books. Some things become part of your base knowledge. The only difference is that our books and universities are actual people, Elders with as many stories as wrinkles.

I could write forever on this topic. But I'll end it with what I usually comment: that our life is not more difficult. It is just Different. And Different is not harder or easier nor better or worse.