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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Odd dream.....

Last night you appeared again in my dreams
Your hands are wrinkled with time and blood
Your eyes black depths of forever, dusted with pain
You smell of old skins and black seal oil dust

How can I smell in dreams?

You hold a stained wooden bowl in your hands
the rim is chipped with use and endless travel
The seal oil lamp made it's surface dance and writhe
The taste of molten copper colors my vision

How can I remember every detail?

Again you speak liquid words
Again I do not understand the confusion
Again I watch your dry cracked lips move in silent vows
Again you dip your fingers in the bowl

How can all this happen again and again?

Your fingers come up covered in blood
Not human blood, not animal blood
It clings to your parched skin in an odd way
You reach across the bowl and brush your fingers across my lips

How come I always feel so sad after this dream?

I am always afraid to lick my lips
Not because of what it might actually be
But for the unknowns it places on my soul
but I always end up swallowing the sickly sweet and violent liquid

How come I can always remember what it tastes like?

You smile you smile you smile you smile
And then you are just an old woman again
An old woman I do not know
An old woman with with an old bowl in an old sod house

Why do I always wake up crying?

"Brown Bear Sleeps" New drawing. Prints and Original up for sale in my 2d store.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I haven't done much since my last post. I thought alot. I wrote some notes down. Maybe later today I will share them with you all. I find that this blog is a mixture of things. Of my thoughts. Of my thought process. And of my life.

Today I will give you a snapshot of one of my days.

My other half works all week. Then he takes most of the weekend to check traps or to hunt. Sometimes he takes the hours after work also to check traps and to hunt. So I rarely get to spend time with him during the winter. I am a bit of a wuss you see. I refuse to go out with him into the wilderness when it's so cold that you can spit and it will freeze before it hits the ground. So during the deep winter, I rarely see him besides the normal meals and working on skins or repairing gear. This weekend he gave me a day. Sunday. I told him since it was warm enough that we should go for a ride. Go down south to see the trees, make some tea. In no time flat we were ready to go, and we were lucky to have people come with us! Three awesome women. One of which was the elder that showed me how to cut and sew isigviks (ruffs). We left while it was warm and overcast. The mountains pulled the fog around them like a warm blanket. Sounds were muffled. Ptarmigan would surprise us once in a while, exploding from bushes, and because of the weather they would "suddenly" appear and dive across our vision like white feathered missiles. I wore my heavy gear. And I had to be careful not to sweat because it was quite warm.

Here am I in my gear. They insisted I take pictures of myself. I was embarrassed to see how GIGANTIC my ruff was. It was a gift from my Fiance. A luxurious Russian raccoon pelt. I briefly thought about taking it off and thinning it, but it IS extremely warm and efficient at keeping the cold at bay. As you can see, my parka is not a very feminine one. In fact it looks exactly like my other half's parka. No trim, no pretty, except for the occasional blood or oil stain that won't come off. This parka is also used as the "extra" parka, so when Ben takes younger guys out hunting they borrow it. I do not think they would appreciate it if I added some pretty to it.

Here is the elder that has taught me so much. I want to be like her when I grow up.

A couple of hours ride later we made it to the trees, built a fire and made tea. We shared a meal of raw frozen caribou, muktuk (whale skin and blubber), crackers, and silly stories of younger days. I learned about this area, about whose cabins were there, what they use the area for, and names of places. While we chatted a huge hawk of some sort flitted from tree to tree. Looking for rabbit or ptarmigan I'm sure. The fog turned to a light snow. I noticed our food bag filling with powdered snow. The elder of course had pulled out a plastic cover and placed it over her bag. Now I know to always carry plastic. And then we went looking for Inupiaq cough drops.....
I followed them up a steep and heavily snow covered hill. Our steps were slow. She pointed at a certain bush. Showed me what to look for when I need a handle for a scraper. I learned what plants will dye a skin red.
When she found a good tree she took out her hatchet and chopped strips of the bark. Then she carefully picked the dark outer bark off. You chew the thin white layer underneath like gum, it helps with coughing. She chatted about other uses of the these particular trees sap. I tried my best to burn all that knowledge into my brain. Today I was a very, very lucky girl.

My mother died when I was young. I have vague memories of her showing me plants and their uses. Often I will remember what the plants looked like, but not their names. So this was an especially wonderful treat for me. The two women talked and pointed. Shared stories about how they would spend hours looking for sap and trees. It felt like a balm for a wound I did not know existed.....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wolf umalik.....

Too much has happened recently to write about all of it much. I'm sitting at home, sore from head to toe. I forget that I haven't driven a snowmachine for more than a few miles since last winter. So when Ben asked if I wanted to go with them on a caribou hunting trip, and the weather was perfect, I quickly volunteered....forgetting. It's amazing what a 8+ hour drive will do to a body.

We got 5 caribou. Which sounds like alot till you realize that we were hunting for 5 households. We kept some for ourselves, since we are down to about 1 pound of caribou meat. The lowest we have been in years. I take a camera with me wherever I go, but I don't always get an opportunity to take pictures. We rarely go on "pleasure" trips, so there is very few breaks, and sightseeing is reduced to quick snatches of awe when you can look away from the trail for a second and hope you don't embarrass yourself by crashing.

I did take a couple while waiting for the guys to finish getting into position to shoot the caribou. I myself don't shoot as I am "cock eyed", which means I am right hand dominant and left eye dominant, and I have never really learned to conquer open sight rifles. So I waited. And took pictures.

Later we made a fire and cooked fresh caribou ribs over it. The moon showed up like a slice of fire. Later the stars made an entrance. With our snowmachines turned felt like we were covered by a dark bowl of sparkling diamonds.

Other big news. My other half caught a gigantic wolf. In the photo below you can get a sense of it's size. He is about 6 foot 2 inches with the boots on. We give away about 60% of our prized furs, our best furs , for a prayer, or a blessing, to people who need them the most. We keep only what we need ourselves. Apparently someone heard them. Not only did we get two wolves in one trap, but we were blessed with a soldier. The men say that every pack has at least 2 or 3 of these gigantic wolves in them. They are the old ones. The smart ones. The wolves that chase prey down first and slow them enough for the rest of the pack to catch up and latch on. But they are very elusive.

We will keep him for ourselves. And give him a place of honor in our home.

Thank you very much cammilroy and debmilroy! Your boxes made it to me. Your kindness and generosity will be blessed!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sore fingers....Happy food.....

Yesterday I made a Inupiaq feast.

Ben asked his brother and his family, and one of his sisters to come and eat at our home. He knows I love cooking. Cooking is another form Art in my opinion. The senses react to smell and taste just like the eyes react to color and form.

But this time I made an Inupiaq feast. Which is not really about cooking, but is all about timing. I did make a large pot of my famous caribou soup, rich with subtle flavors and old timey secrets. I also added larger chunks of meat to cook in the soup and absorb the flavors. Once the meat cooled it made for good dipping in seal oil.

An Inupiaq feast is more than food. It's a time to chat. To laugh. To catch up on things. To admire the food. Our food can take a very long time to get to the table. For example the "kiniqtaq", or dried seal meat soaked in seal oil, starts in the spring. The seals are hunted, giant bearded seals, sleek and quick amongst the floating seal ice. We would stay up for days sometimes, only returning home because we ran out of gas. They are alot of work. Their meat is cut then hung to dry and here care is taken to keep scavengers at bay, to keep it from getting wet when it rains, and to protect it from dust so that you don't get an unwelcome "crunch." When it's just dry enough it's soaked in the oil that is rendered from the fat of the seal in 5 gallon buckets or wooden barrels. And from there it's split into smaller buckets and gifted or traded. We are lucky enough to know a woman who mixes tundra greens with her kiniqtaq, which adds a sweetness and a freshness to the mix. It stays frozen for weeks, sometimes months....
Boiled caribou meat, frozen whale muktuk, and kiniqtaq

Whale muktuk (which is the skin and blubber of the bowhead whale) another time consuming and wonderful food. Practically the center of our culture.

Our nephew. Me and Ben got our weekly baby fix.

Today I worked on wolf skins. It has taken the last week and a half to tan three of the hides. Add another few days to scrape and work them into buttery soft and clean pelts. Today we went and visited an elder who taught us how to cut the skins into parka ruffs. I had seen it done before so I knew what to expect, but Ben was lost half way through and was muttering about "too many pieces" for a couple of hours afterwards.

I enjoyed visiting with her immensely. She giggled like a little girl as she gestured and measured and cut the skin. I was also tickled that even though she spoke half in Inupiaq and half in English I understood her perfectly. I think my ear is getting better at understanding the dialect here. She told us stories as she worked. Told us about places that she traveled, about how to make a fancy "sunshine" ruffs that made a woman look beautiful, and about what she thought of those whose ruffs were too wide.

I finished two ruffs today, and I hope to finish a couple more tomorrow. We will sell a few and gift the rest.

I should not have worn a black fleece vest. As it is now covered in wolf fluff.

The back of the ruff showing the many pieces that are involved.

The front.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The sun has become noticeable

The sun is finally peeking over our great mountains here in Anaktuvuk Pass.

It's quite shy. It's not quite awake yet. It stretches it's arms once in a while, and touches our bare faces with cool fingers. And then it's gone again.

I have almost forgotten what it feels like to be in the sunlight. Aapa Winter has completely dominated the land in his gruff and tough love. I have gotten used to wearing down snowpants and my heavy hunting parka. I have gotten used of wearing layers and gloves and heavy face masks. I have gotten used to checking the dogs feet for cuts and broken nails. I have gotten used to seeing the mountains wearing white parkas dappled with tiny floral patterns in gray.

Winter has it's own beauty in the arctic. It's a painful beauty. A dangerous beauty. It makes you aware. It makes you remember. You remember what frost bite feels like. You remember how to look for tiny holes in your face mask. You remember to never sweat. You remember to change your sheets to flannel and take out your heavy blankets. You remember first and foremost that this winter world can easily take lives.

This time of year is dangerous for hunters. My other half leaves a few times a week to check trap lines, to search for caribou, and it also the time of year we women worry the most. I check his supplies often. Plan for the worst. PLB, first aid, canvas tent, duel fuel stove, extra clothes, flares, high calorie food to last for days, everything you would need if something went wrong. So far the search and rescue has left to find him once already. He was 5 hours overdue. Later we found it was because of a broken sled. But I don't sleep till he comes home and is warm and checked over for frost bite. In the old days the women would hang a pair of the mens boots from their strings, and if they kept moving then the men were still alive, and still trying to come home. I'm too afraid to hang his boots.

But the sun is coming back. And the knots in my shoulders are coming untied.

Yesterday I sat in the house, carefully scraping the membrane from a wolf skin. So far this winter we have been blessed with five wolves. With seven red foxes. With one wolverine. It's hard to explain the wealth this brings to mind and body and soul. Most people just see dead animals. We see wealth. We see parka ruffs. We see gifts to family. We see parka trim. We see materials to ward against the unimaginable cold. We see Natures way of providing us with the best to survive. We see protection. We see Inupiaq wealth, which is measured in usefulness and not green smelly money.

It's not as easy as it looks either. We spend at least a hundred fifty dollars a week to be able to even sustain this type of life. And most weeks we gain nothing. Most weeks there is no pay back. but I live with a very lucky man. A very good man. A man they say attracts the animals with his generosity. With his humility. With his willingness to give more than half of his catch to those who need it. With his kind heart and kind words. This is the old way. A way we try our hardest to uphold. It's both simple and complicated but extremely rewarding life.

The sun is coming back.

my studio where I work and type at people.