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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.


  1. As someone who grew up on a small farm it is interesting seeing the differences and similarities between the cultures. I have always had to balance natures clock with the clocks of society and the scheduled work of school and a job with the work that revolved around when crops were ready and when the meat animals were done. I love seeing your views which are entirely to the one side as mine have adjusted to be entirely of the other until I can afford to buy my own land. Thank you so much for sharing, as always, a lovely post.

  2. I am comforted by your good sense and thoughtfulness in talking about "different".
    Please keep talking.