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.