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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The 'A' in Q and A....

From Novice Naturalist:  Got any advice for staying focused while working at home?

A: First and foremost you have to find what works for you, and part of that is to put it into practice and see how you feel at the end of the day. Are you stressed? are you relaxed? Here is what works for me...

I am realistic.  I am realistic about my time and my ability to use that time to do something with it.  I have been working at home to supplement my income since I began college, so about 16 years.  I did some work in high school but it wasn't significant enough to take up a good part of my time.  At the end of the day I want to be able to sleep well and not feel burnt out.  So to me this means that there are some projects that I will turn down, like long term (as in more than 6 months to several years) projects, or projects where I would not feel a connection to.  This also means I turn down a lot of opportunities, like serving on boards or consulting jobs and such.  I found through trial and error that even though the job might mean I would travel a piddly four times a year, it took it's toll out on my other projects in brain power and time away from the practice.

I'm realistic in how many hours I can work in one day, and in the whole week.  I know that when my husband is around I get practically nothing done, we are best friends so we chat and catch up together and goof off.  So that leaves me with the hours that he is at work , and a couple of hours in the evening after dinner and before our almost nightly movie or show.  I like to have two 'levels' of work going on, so I can switch between the two to keep me interested.  For soon I wake up I make coffee and check my emails and orders.  I then fill out the orders.  If there are no orders to fill then I move to the next 'level' of project, usually a illustration project.  I space out the hours I do illustration because though it's important to get in the 'zone' staying there might burn you out.  I make myself get up every hour to do some random housecleaning or to watch 15 minutes of a show on tv or to make a cup of juice or coffee.  This way you can see your project with 'clean' eyes, and you can still get things around the house done.

I love post-its, and lists, mainly because I love to cross things out as DONE!  This helps me sleep better at night and makes me see that I am getting something done, be it a personal project or a commission.  Even making a checklist for the steps in a project is a good idea.

When I work I always have a 'set up ' ritual.  This is a must if you work at home.  This puts your mind into work mode so you are not thinking about anything else.  For me the ritual is environmental.  I have a certain playlist of music I play that is not loud enough to be annoying.  It consists of music that enables my imagination, therefore it has no words, or no words in english so I'm not really paying attention to it.  I always set up a cup of something to drink.  I always dim the lights in the room if I am working on computer illustration, and if it's old school drawing then I arrange the lighting so that my drawing is the center of my lighting universe.  If I'm beading I usually do it in front of the tv (which is weird I know but it works for me!) and my beading ritual is to arrange the beads I will use and the tools I will need in easy range.  Basically you want to have a 'ritual' to mentally prepare you for work mode.  Always do this before you work, and after a while it will become automatic.

When I was younger I paid attention to how I 'felt' about a project, how my own personal excitement about it affected how well it went and how well it turned out.  A lot of people don't really respect their feelings about a project but when it comes to anything artistic, it will matter. As I got older I realized that it doesn't mean I should reject projects that are mundane, it just means that I have to work to identify a little more and find something interesting about it.  For personal projects I keep a journal of my ideas, and i always choose one that excites me.

Hopes this helps!

Questions from Anonymous: I love your Lichen oil.  It smells fantastic.  Do you make it with essential oil from lichen?

Answer: No, in fact it has nothing really 'natural' about it, besides the skin loving base oil I dilute it with.  When I began looking at making fragrance oils I had to decide wether or not to use synthetic skin safe scents (chemicals that are neutral that synthesize a specific smell) or essential oils and resins (oils that are distilled from actual plants.)  I chose to use synthetic oils for a few reasons:

1.  I was raised to see anything relating to plants as medicinal.  That our interaction with them is medicinal in nature.  A plant contains a massive amount of chemicals that react with human systems (not just the smell) , and this to me is very important and should never be ignored.

2.  Because all plants are medicinal, some people will react badly to them.  By using synthetics skin safe oils I reduce the amount of people that will react badly to them.

3.  There are more synthetic smells than natural smells.  Sounds weird but true. For instance I use a 'smoke' smell for my noon fire scent and a 'carnation' smell for my Wolf scent that are simply not found in nature.  So this gives me more of an opportunity to get it just right!  Lichen alone contains 11 scents to produce the one single smell that changes into several notes.  Something almost impossible to do with just the one essential oil from lichen.

4.  My scents are unique and specific to my experience,  the smell of lichen is incredibly unique, sniffing a wolf pelt is incredibly unique, and I needed the complexity that synth oils would give me so that other people could experience these things consistently and not differ from batch to batch.  Did you know that one of the notes in my Lichen scent is actually 'dirt'? I would not know how to even distill that scent! lol

Hope these answers helped!  I am looking forward to future Q and A sessions!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Q in Q and A?.....

A blog to me is sometimes way too one sided.  I am after all a very small percentage of this blog.  The rest is made up of incredibly kind people that are willing to sometimes read my rambles.  So I thought I would start doing a 'Q and A' thing.  Post your Question as comments to this post and I will do my best to answer them in the next post!  It can be about anything!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fighting the Funk....

Every winter I fall into a cold temperature Funk.  Part of the reason is that the sun really doesn't come up, it just kind of lazily casts a hour or two of dim light, but the main reason is that I am complete wuss when it comes to cold and I refuse to come out till Spring.  I am a wuss compared to most Inupiaq that is....i can't handle anything below -10 comfortably. So I sit in my toasty little house and scowl at my happy husband as he rejoices in the opportunity to trap and to drive his snow machine.  

This winter I am making a real effort to 'fight the funk'.  I have realized that as I get older it is harder to lose weight, to keep muscle and to exercise your brain.  And my usual hibernation just adds pounds and laziness to the equation, which I then have to battle through when I emerge again in the spring.  I refuse to give up my baking so I started to add some other things to my daily routine.  

I bought a exercise video, complete with way-too-energetic people and plan to either use it or get out and walk around at least three times a week.  Today was the first time I have tried the video and I have come to the conclusion of a few things.  One: no matter how much you love someone, if they sit and stare at you while you are gyrating and swinging your arms with no dignity, you will get mad at them and get embarrassed and order them to leave.  So next time I will make sure the husband is hunting or working. Two: you can actually generate enough heat to heat exercising indoors to keep the house toasty, so much so that you will have to open the windows, and Three: it does make you feel happier, and healthier. 

Another thing I realized is I noticed I stopped taking pictures.  And if anyone knows me they will always comment how I ALWAYS have a camera on me, and I will take any opportunity to take photos.  But it sort of ends with winter arriving and the arrival of the 'funk.'  So I forced myself to take a few pictures.  I found out why I hate taking pictures in the winter...the cold and dark dark dark winter.  I realized that I had not done long exposure photos since I was in college.  And that I was actually pretty happy to play around in that area, a few minutes at a time, luckily today was actually warm, despite the heavy snow. 
Our back yard, snow covered and soft.

playing with exposure taking photos of our christmas lights.  I jiggled it a bit but it made it look like neon birds taking flight.

I got too cold when I was hanging these lights on our stairs so they ended up being kind of a jumbled mess of holiday happy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Personal Choice?....

Most of what I write in my blog stems from actual conversations with real live people.  Mostly it's not even what we were discussing but maybe an echo of that discussion.  Or a seed generated from that discussion.  Or an observance.  This post is about a single statement made by a friend, and like all good and worthy statements it prompted me to seriously think about it.

The statement was this: "It's your personal choice to live where you live." It was made in reference to another comment another friend said about how harsh it was to live here.  They said this statement honestly thinking and understanding that everyone who lives in Alaska, who puts up with $10.00 prices on milk gallons, who hunts for food and deals with -90 degrees weather did it because that was the life they wanted and chose.  Because why else would we live here?

And I absolutely love that type of statement because it offers a window into my own thoughts and thought process.  At first my initial reaction was 'it's not a choice!!!!' ...and then immediately I thought 'crap I totally sounded like a blind cult member' ...and then a few seconds later...'why do I not see it as a choice?' And more importantly why does someone else think it is a choice?

Alaska is made up of basically three groups of people; those that are aborigines and have been here since the mastodon roamed, those that came to Alaska to make their fortune and were a little crazy and 'off' to do so, and those that are born of those two groups. But one thing you see with those that do stay and revel in the crazy called Alaska, is this almost fanatic denial of living here as a choice. 

And in the end I think it all boils down to a question of Culture, though no one at first would first see it that way.  After 10,000 plus years of the same people staying and thriving in the same place, as you can imagine the culture itself reinforces the concept of wether or not this option exists.  Leading of life of following abundance, wether it be melting ice or migrating caribou, has created a ancient bond, a loyalty.  To the land, the animals, the people.  To specific invaluable knowledge.  People who stuck together and who listened to this ancient knowledge ...lived.  And this understanding became fundamental to our culture, and has seeped into the modern Alaskan culture.  

American Culture is often described and understood as the culture of separateness.  Of independence, of making it on your own.  It is a cultural understanding,  one that is reinforced and rewarded.  Individuals are held up on pedestals, and paid the big bucks.  And sometimes in this world we forget that other worlds exist.  America is a young culture, but big and bright and shiny.  And even I have a hard time realizing that there are different ways of thinking. That there is a culture that relies on anchors instead of sails to succeed. And that it has been succeeding for thousands of years.

But I have to ask myself how can this ancient culture is affecting us, can this cultural bond with land and animal and family be detrimental in anyway?  has anyone thought to question and contemplate this?  There are very good sides to our culture, like having no homeless, no starving in our small villages, but what can be the downsides?  I think I see these tiny dark creatures hovering at the edge of my vision...and they have yet to reveal themselves.

Random info section:
For those who are waiting to purchase items from my stores for Christmas gifts, I will be taking a early vacation this year (sacrilegious for a seller I know!) So I will be traveling from about the 9th of December till I get back to celebrate Christmas with the family.  Which leaves very little time for you to shop!  I will be blogging about the experience though!

I am working on more amazing brother, who stole all the musical genes, is scoring the music!  Hopefully I can do it justice!  I'm trying to find a better way to post the videos here, as I am dissapointed with the quality.

I added a Christmas ornament for sale with two full sized scent memories in it, visit for more info!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there!  I have always celebrated this day, not as a Pilgrim type thing, but instead as a opportunity to show the world that I am grateful for what is Good in my life.  May this post find you warm and fed!  Thank you for your interest!

Nasugraq Rainey Hopson

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Arctic Terrorists......

There is a war within me.  Amongst the other wars.  It's a smaller war, to be fair.  More like a squabble really.  Like two ravens fighting over a tidbit mid winter.  And after thinking about it all of these years I still cannot seem to really convince myself of either side.  I think I keep hoping someone will come up with a happy medium, because my brain cells and heart just doesn't seem to know what to do with it.

It is something that every villager thinks of at some point in their life.  I know I have been asked many times about my opinion on the subject and it just depends on what day it is, what my answer will be.  It's a simple question: what do you think about tourists/visitors/'others' coming into the village?

As you know I have was very lucky to know several villages.  I grew up in Point Hope, a small village on the coast with more than 90% of the population being Native.  Tourism is actively fought off, visitors are kept to the minimum and are restricted to what is necessary,  if we could have sat at the airport with  spears we would have.  A person I admire immensely once said, 'If we could just put a big bubble around our village!', and I wholeheartedly agreed with cheers and vigorous hand claps.  Mostly I agree for a couple reasons.  The biggest one is that 'outsiders' tend to bring bad things along with them (as a majority). These types of people are usually temporary bursts of Different.  In a small village you usually adhere to a type of social code.  A village knowledge base of who is who and what is what.  If you think about it it makes sense, considering you will have to live with the exact same (very small amount) of people for probably the rest of your life.  You learn what is serious and what is not, and more importantly you learn where to apologize or when to ignore.   We also have this clash with teachers, and more often than not it ends with the teacher leaving in frustration or the teacher being asked to leave.  Cultural differences often shape the social landscape.  Construction workers also sometimes bring drugs to help with the tedious winters, and sometimes hook others onto it.  People come in and start relationships willy nilly, or end up kissing a bored wife, or a million other tiny things that are not amazingly bad when viewed alone and without major context, or in a huge lower 48 city.   But they leave major hard to ignore scars in a small social setting.  In a world where temporary and disposable are the norm, ignorance can harm an old society, one as different as you can imagine.

I also am very lucky to live in Anaktuvuk Pass.  Where tourism is tolerated.  In the warm months 4-10 planes fly in with it's load of gawkers and hippies, some adventurers or head hunters.  People that want to fill their lives with a tad bit of Different and Amazing.  I live near the airport and in one freak of a day I counted about 30 planes, flying in and out.  Because of how I make my money I depend on the seasonal income, I sell random art pieces and products at the amazing Museum at the top of the hill.  The tour guides lead the group of tourists around the village, pointing out the various bits of history poking out of the tundra.  As a resident I find them fantastically annoying.  We have playfully nicknamed them 'terrorists.'  My home is unfortunately on the tourist route, and as a consequence we get the full brunt of their visits.  I don't really blame their curiosity though: my yard is a tidy mini-city, filled with excited burly arctic dogs, fantastic displays of my husbands prized antlers and sheep horns, and the various exotic tools and vehicles needed to live in a arctic world.  I am, however, always amazed that they find it acceptable to enter our yard and examine our belongings and poke at our dogs. They laugh and take pictures of themselves with our belongings with their usually incredibly expensive  cameras and camera phones.  I use to sit at my window and scowl, but for some reason some of the less timid tourists found this as an invitation to approach me and try to get me to pose or to pepper me with questions or ask me to show them what it was 'really' like living here.  Every one of them did not realize that they are a small annoying pebble in a seasonal avalanche, and some were even offended that I would refuse such as honor as they are.  So now....without any shame....I duck and hide when I see them pass by.

For 7 years i lived n Barrow Alaska, the Top of the World, a short stay in arctic terms.  It's population only about 50% Native, and the rest is a beautiful mix of people from much more tropical places and random misfits that found their way there.  Tourism is a thriving industry there.  It's a structured and well cultivated system that feeds it's supporters well.  I made a tidy living there easily, not having to rely so much on internet sales or cold calls.  It's a place where Celebrities and famous people stop by, a place where thousands of scientists pontificate, a place where old meets new and melds in a ying yang type situation.  Amazing things happen there, but there is the darker side to the mix.  A place where alcohol and modern drugs are easy to obtained and abused, a place where cultural clashes become violent, a place where hope is mixed with despair, a place where you can be a stranger and an unknown.  

So I have experienced somewhat the various levels of West meeting North and I still can't see how it may be resolved.  I would hope that the villages would take control of the tourist industry in their neighborhood, take the reigns so no one else can drive them.  But the village leaders are hard pressed to have nothing to do with tourists be they benign or not.  And so we are left with this weird dance of frustration and reliance, of feeling guilty of living in a world that will have outsiders coming in.  Of hating the new stuff and loving the new stuff.  Its a time of birthing pains with emotion and logic warring in our Inupiaq Psyche.

Next year I plan to nail a tin can next to our dog cage and paint it with a single phrase... "Tips are appreciated.'

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blog updates...

Some of you might have noticed some changes in blog.  The colors and whatnot changed because I hit a button on accident.  No amount of frowning could make it change back.  My birthday was on the 2nd and as usual I do a mini-age-panic and force myself to learn something new and different.

So I created a Twitter account.  I will post little things at least once a day, probably more in the beginning since I'm trying to get used of the process and how it all works.  Just another tiny window into my world.  If you have a twitter account you can click on the little birdie on the top left of my blog page to follow me.  It took way longer for me that I thought it would to figure out how to add that dang birdie! But age will do that to you.  If you don't know what twitter is's sort of way in which to sign up for random updates of 140 characters or less.  It's perfect for the phone users or mobile users.  I have a new ipod touch which will keep me connected and allow me to post random daily photos.  I love how you can follow famous actors and well known people, and it's fun to be socially connected in a different way.

I also added 'response' buttons to the bottom of every one of my blog posts, so now you can do a quick click about how you felt about the post.  Feedback is always appreciated!

 We find ourselves, my hubby and I, spending more calorie-saving lounging inside, we love to watch television series and movies, of which we are running out of things to watch!  Do you know of any tv series or movies on disc that would be worth watching?  We love random things as long as they are good...everything from Battle Star Galactica, to documentaries, to 50's and 60's films, to Big Trouble in Little China.  Though neither one of us are big fans of romance movies.

I hope everyone is surviving the Fall time (in our case it's early winter) well and I hope this post finds everyone warm and toasty!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I am my Percentage.....

I was watching the movie 'Snow Walker' the other night (if you haven't seen it you should) and there is a scene where the main character asks the other main character (Inuit) what her name was, and she reaches into her parka and pulls out a medallion with her number on it.  And I was thinking to myself how horrible that was, and how it echoed a very tiny bit like the Holocaust years.  And then I realized that this type of stuff still goes on, right here in the U.S. in fact, and that it was amazing to me that something like this could seem so normal and so foreign to me at the same time.

As a Alaskan Native I have a number.  A card really.  From the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs).  It lists my name and my birthdate, my tribal name, the blood quantum percentage, and a number.  I also have another card from my tribal Corporation.  With my name and birthdate and blood quantum and number.  When I actually look at these cards I am bothered by the numbers.  Mostly I am bothered by the blood quantum number. 

You see, most people don't realize that I am only half Inupiaq.  The other half is a very exotic mix of African American and North Korean.   But that's a very long story for another topic. But what bothers me is that they list my blood percentage in the first place.  Why do they need the percentage?  In this day and age it is a normal thing to be only part Native.  When the diseases demolished our numbers we were at one point left with only 1,200 known Inupiaq, from an estimated 600,000 members.  And there are suspicious reports in  ship log books about carrying sick people and making them visit as many people in the villages as possible. But that is another long story.  What it comes down to is that one day, the government came and chopped up Alaska into sections, and they deemed anyone in that section a certain type of Native.  In our area it was Inupiaq, Athabascan, and Yupik. The registered everyone and gave them numbers and cards.  

There was no actual way to tell if you are what you say you are.  Back in the day my people were very war like.  We had the largest territory pretty much in Alaska.  It wasn't cause we were good at making treaties either.  The extremely submissive wife-sharing Eskimo you see in a lot of old films was a thing made up in Hollywood.  We warred.  Thousand were killed in the struggle to keep hunting territory lines.  Children and women were never killed, instead they were adopted into the tribe.  Especially Children, as they are very much treasured and not many survived in this type of land.  Adoption is a common practice still in my culture (though not as a result of war) , and once adopted you are seen as what you parents are, no matter where you came from. Family ties are paramount.  So as you could imagine the 'type' of native we are is blurred.  Even more so when you realize that we did not adhere to political lines, and that we share bloodlines with Russia and Canada.  It is seen as the reason that there are different dialects of the same language, it just depends on who your neighbors were.  Our people are incredibly nomadic.  A real thing of beauty if you ask me.  It was also not uncommon to adopt travelers into your family, people with no real blood ties.  In our culture we have many types of relations.  The strength of those ties do not rely on blood lines, and some of them even rely on spiritual ties.  This of course could have blurred the lines even more, as some family ties are determined by just your given name.

To make it even more complicated there is now evidence that we traded with other Nations.  Shells and trinkets from far away are found in the possessions of the ancient Inupiat, even boats and tools.  Some as far away a the Polynesian islands.  Evidence of different foreign technology is also found mingled in our history, like Chinese and Greenlandic.  I could be a mix of Polynesian -Inupiaq-Mongolian-African American-Korean.

So we mixed and melded with people and other is completely normal and expected.  But one day the government came in and froze it.  Mixing and mingling began to be closely tracked.  It's even deemed punishable. In my tribe if you are less than 1/16th Inupiaq you do not qualify as Inupiaq. This number differs from tribe to tribe and is set by the Tribal government, some tribes are even more strict than ours. It does not matter who you were adopted by or how you were raised, or wether you speak the language or wether you know ancient hunting techniques, as the government has deemed this so.  And I always wondered what exactly was the purpose of this blood quantum?

We as Native Americans get free health care and other important stuff because of the treaties.  Our subsistence hunting rights are also determined by the government.   You really should read that section at the BIA website, I must have snorted at least 10 times at the wording they chose.  But it means that they needed some way to identify Natives from the general public.  Our cards allow us some health care, and some assistance from the government.  But all the government has to know is wether or not we are Native American, why do they include the percentage? 

Some say it is a 'out' for the government on the treaties.  A contingency plan or expiration date on their responsibilities.  Because of you think about mathematically there will be a time when the Native population will not exist.  There have been some tribes deemed 'extinct' by the government already, because they have too little members with enough blood quantum.  It chills me to think that one day we will be deemed 'extinct' because we are mixing and mingling like is expected and normal.  The blood quantum restrictions could not exist for anything else, could they?  The government requires us to adhere to their own idea of what 'family' is, and this is such a culturally unique concept that it is amazing to me that it has never been challenged.  It is again another way the United States tries to make everyone conform and sever ties with differences.  The government closes their eyes to everything different, instead of celebrating it.

And this of course is nothing new.   And no I am not a government hater type.  It's just sometimes I get a little suspicious and I wonder if anything could be done about it?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

An Arctic Halloween.....

Just thought I would post some pictures.  Our Halloween may look a bit different than most.  It means snow and cold and barely lit days.  Tomorrow night is when the kids will put costumes over their fluffy thick winter gear and go to a few houses to get goodies.  I plan to bake some green spooky cookies to give out. Last year I gave out chocolate covered popcorn balls, but the store doesn't have the type of popcorn you can put in a popcorn maker and microwave popcorn doesn't taste as good.

My husband caught four caribou yesterday,  incredible luck.  He has been driving around in the wilderness on his time off for at least a week before he found the small herd.  He drove back in the dark with no headlight on the snowmachine.  His younger sister Kayla helped skin and quarter the caribou in the dark while it was snowing.  They had to be at least skinned before they got too cold.  I would have helped but I have been fighting a sinus infection (tis the season!) and so instead I cheered them on as best as I could...from the warmth of the house.  Our meat will be stored outside in winter bins, protected from weasels, ravens, foxes and loose dogs.  Most will go to elders and people who need it.  We kept all of the hides and will dry them in the deep winter for new bedding for camping next year.  Nothing goes to waste: the dogs were ecstatic because they knew they would get all of the parts that we would not be eating.  These pics are a bit bloody, but I thought they were neat.

My husband used a sled to block most of the wind and used one of my studio lights  to light up the area.  Here is is showing his sister where to make the cuts.  She hopes to be able to butcher a whole caribou by herself one day.  Not an easy job for a petite girl weighing not more than 100 pounds wet!

Kayla working on meat.

A bit blurry but it is my favorite photo.  My husband was wearing a head lamp, which he used to help him make the first cuts. His hands were very cold, but I think that Inupiaq people who spend a lot of time in the cold have an incredible high tolerance to it.  

It was amazing to eat fresh caribou meat again, I roasted some with olive oil, onions, garlic and salt and pepper.  Here is a pic of our 'dressing.'  It is seal oil with black dried seal meat, I have added carrots and a plant called 'ipiq', or Bistort leaf.   Very sweet, crispy and salty, perfect for meat and rice.  Incredibly high in vitamins as nothing in that bowl was cooked.

Our post office at night.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wooly Lousewort

One of my projects this winter will be compiling and organizing information and photos for a 'Anaktuvuk guide to plants' thing I am putting together, which is going to take me years and years but you have to start some where right?  I do it only for my own sanity!  I thought it would be neat to post some info and a couple photos of various plants I am learning about.  This is not going to be gospel people, I am not a scientist or expert on herbal anything and I m not diagnosing a darn thing. Insert your expected disclaimer here.

This post is about one of the weirdest looking plants that I have seen here.  The Wooly Lousewort, aka: fernweed, bumblebee plant or Pedicularis Kanei or P. Lanata. It was literally the first plant I took pictures of when I moved here, as it looked very alien and intimidating.  The new plants grow with a furry coat that protects them in the early spring from the cold unpredictable weather.  And because of that they are one of the very first plants to start growing.  Once the plant is secured and the sun comes out in the summer in force, the wooly plant starts to grow tiny colorful blooms (here they are a very bright pink).  The whole plant can be used for various things.  The root is a bit like a yellow carrot, and can be fermented with the bloom (like a sauerkraut)  or boiled or just steamed.  I do not pick this plant regularly but I did taste the root a couple of times, it has a pleasant but faint taste, much improved by actually washing the root in water.  You can lick the nectar from the blooms or even use them for garnish for a salad.  The whole top of the plant is a very strong sedative, though if you take too much you can end up lethargic and with temporarily paralyzed legs...scary but not permanent.  I myself have not actually taken the plant as a tea, but I did dry some and stored it.  An adult dose is about one teaspoon, a very small amount.  I think I will actually wait till next year to try the tea as I have been reading about how the plant is actually parasitic and will take some of the chemical attributes on of the plant it attaches itself to.  I plan to observe what plants they like to bond to, before I start experimenting.  In the Fall after being pollinated the flowering parts withers a it then grows a very tall and odd stalk with the seeds.  After drying in the fall the seeds are released.

The newly emerged wooly lousewort with it's fuzzy coat

A pretty pic showing the showy pink blooms
A pic showing the seed stalk empty of seeds
This is actually a non-usable type of lousewort.  But it is very pretty!  probably a red tipped lousewort.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Winter is officially, the snow is...almost...deep enough to drive snow machines on.  I have switched to what I call 'Hibernation' mode, which means I pretty much stay inside and gain weight.  For some reason cold weather inspires me to bake....and cook....and bake....and spend way too much creating edible edibles.  So far I have made a batch of cake balls, pickled muktuk (whale), some berry and apple crisp type thing, some berry ice cream toppings, and I have started experimenting with a drink called 'butter beer' which is as fattening as it sounds and contains no beer.  For some reason creating food is so very comforting to me in the winter time.  This year I plan to do something to burn calories, my idea is to take one dog a day for a short walk and start training them for packing and pulling.  I was going to take up skijoring but my knee doctor had a red faced fit when I told him and so those plans are out the door.  I'm sure he will be fine with me just walking.

My husband is preparing for trapping season, and I nod my head and look interested when he sits at dinner and regales me with the details of his plans for the winter.  To me it seems so very much complicated, and I could imagine that he feels the same way when I discuss my beading and art finishing techniques.  But we love each other so we try to be involved and aware and provide support where we can. I am very proud of him and the knowledge he gathers, it is a very dangerous venture to take and one that requires a lot of preparation and forethought.

We went for a ride this last weekend, to sit atop a hill so we could watch down the valley for caribou.  They have entered the mountains and are now spreading about in smaller groups to try and avoid starvation and being eaten by wolves through the winter.  They use their tough-as-nails hooves to dig through the snow and graze on lichen, a plant that never dies in the winter time.  The cold shocked my system, and I could almost physically feel the adjustments my body was taking to keep me warm.  Mentally I also adjusted to what my idea of 'cold' was, as it will change dramatically over the winter  My husband was lucky enough to find three caribou the day before our ride, we gave one and a half away, and finally have some for our freezer.  Because of the shortage of caribou meat the one tiny local grocery store has been hard pressed to provide proteins....they ran out of hamburger meat, steaks, chicken breast, and pork chops and so for a long couple of weeks we grudgingly ate precooked oven chicken, microwavable foods, and spent way too much money on it.  A weight on my soul was lifted with the caribou we got, and we finally could start eating much much more healthier meals.

I made a quick video of some images of my weekend....

I also have been experimenting with dyeing ptarmigan feathers using koolaid....

Friday, October 7, 2011

Clash of the titans....

One of the first things my Father ever taught me was to see beyond words and platitudes. I think he meant it as a way to teach me to avoid the wrong type of boy in my teenage years but I guess I carried it on into my adulthood and tend to apply it to pretty much everyone.....  I learned to judge people on what they do, and not what they say.  Which is why you can imagine that I avoid politics.

One of the most persistent litanies I heard growing up as an Inupiaq in a small native village was "get an education, come home and use it here."  My elders proclaimed that it was what I could do to help, that I would become valuable in their eyes.   Everyone talked about the need for sustainability and home rule and reclaiming the reigns.  Corporations created scholarships,  fancy plaques were brandished and speeches were given about how it was the next step in our growth as a people and as human beings living in this day and age.  

So I did.  I left and got an education.  Many people ask me why I did it.  And I always answer them truthfully.  Because my parents were SERIOUS when the said I am going to college.  They put away a very large sum of money piled from PFD's and ASRC shareholder checks.  My father sat and growled at me till my paperwork was done. Since I was young he had been grooming me for an education, slowly adding more and more responsibilities, getting a joint bank account, making me memorize my social security number, and many many other small things.... it was never what was aid to was always what was done....

And I still apply that sentiment to what everyone was telling me as I grew up.  And I find that we are at a turning point when it comes to educated villagers.  A place of change and thought and changed thought.  We are at the meeting of generations, which is normal and expected, yet no one really is looking closely.

I'm still sitting on a large school loan I had to take out to go to grad school.  I was very very surprised to find out that my local village corporation does not provide scholarships for Graduate level school, only a small amount for undergrad.  The only funding I found was from the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation of which I am a shareholder (and pretty much every Inupiat on the Slope is), and it was at the same amount given for undergrad school.  I knew from experience that I did not qualify for any state of federal level grants as I was too 'rich' as a ASRC shareholder.  The school I went to for my undergrad diploma had promised me a $1000 scholarship per semester for four years, but when they took a look at my FAFSA and found out I was a shareholder at ASRC they took the money back and sent me a letter that said that regrettably it had to be "reassigned."  So I took out three credit cards and maxed them out and took out a $10,000 loan and burned all of that money in a years time.  I ate mainly cup o noodles and lived on campus in a very small dorm room the color of chalk.  I remember thinking back to those speeches that I heard growing up, and I wondered where all that support and encouragement went, and if it was only empty words.....

ASRC is the richest native company in the State of Alaska.  It pulls millions ,billions?,of dollars a year from the oil being pumped out of Prudhoe bay.  The board members get fat bonus checks every year, and subsidiary companies span across the lower 48.  Yet despite all of their money they proclaim to be established for the good of the people, our people, to better our lives.  What I think is glaringly opposite of their claims is that in 1995 when I went to college they gave me $3,500 a semester for school.  I'm grateful for it don't get me wrong.  But it is odd that despite the massive increases in college expenses over the years since then, they have not increased their scholarships a dime, and no one has protested this weird disconnect.  If it wasn't for my parents forethought in saving a bunch of money I would never had been able to afford college.  I was actually thinking of going back to college but realized that there is no way I could afford it.  And I have no idea how kids afford it now.  If Education was really a real priority, wouldn't the proof in action be that no native ASRC shareholder would ever have to worry about paying for an education?

But lets say by tooth and nail and struggles you do get an education and return to the village you grew up in.  You are looking for a job.  Here is where I think where there is a culture clash.  Getting a degree or two or three and beyond is a 'western' thing, knowledge and respect is based on passing tests and taking classes and doing other things far away from your village. For thousands of years we as Native people have based respect on age and observed actions and use of knowledge.  The leaders in the villages are often older than 40 years of age, and have gained knowledge through...well BUILDING the systems that exist today.  A clash is born.  

Now back to the 'actions' thing.  I do not believe that any young punk should be able to just come back and take over no matter the degrees or education.  But I think that if those who came before us really wanted educated youth, there should be an established system to incorporate newly educated Inupiat into the established system.  I think a paid mentoring system would benefit everyone, at every level, in every corporation and local business.  If what they are EXPECTING is highly educated people returning then there should be a smooth transition into positions that already exist.  What we are seeing is a very tangible frustration of the people returning to the village to find that they cannot get a job, they are 'overqualified' or the position is filled already indefinitely, and so they leave to the cities to find work.  

I don't really speak much about my experiences as a teacher, simply because they were a bit traumatic to say the least.  But one aspect I thought was incredibly peculiar was the expectations on me as a Inupiat teacher from other Inupiat.  They were vastly higher than what they expected from non-native teachers. At first I thought this was simply because I was new teacher, but befriending the other new teachers made me realize that I was being treated ...differently.  I was continually reprimanded by my supervisors (non native) and by locals (native) for ACTING Native.  For using Inupiat words in my classroom.  For sitting next to and chatting with my cousins kids.  For talking about Inupiat hunting and stories and.....well for just BEING Inupiat, which was always met with a sort of confused panic.   I always felt that this world that exists on the Slope today is not actually built for Inupiat people to take it over.  And it seems that in every institution there is this belief that by ignoring the cultural differences it will somehow make those differences disappear.  The system as it exists is not built for us to run,  it is instead modeled after a system found in a western world, which worked to save what we have and get our fingers deep into the fabric, but does not move us beyond hanging on by just our finger tips.

I also think there is a disconnect in communication of what jobs are available in the villages.  Leadership positions are almost always filled by locals, yet the ranks and ranks of workers under them are almost always contracted out to non-natives in the cities.  Positions like lawyers and accountants and teachers and managers and mechanics.....which to be fair are positions that places like Ilisagvik College are educating people to fill, but they are finding little to no support despite their efforts.  No one thought to define what they meant by 'get an education' and so we are finding young people very confused....and educators scrambling....

I do believe in the strength of our people, and the amount of greatness achieved in such a short time is amazing. But one thing I want to see is when buildings are decorated with photos honoring our elders and those that are amazing that they include some young faces, to give hope and make a place for the young punks coming up behind us.  And personally I know that I will work to take the brunt of anger and crazy and birthing pains that this time offers if it means that the youth in college right now will have less frustration to deal with when they return.  And I hope that there will be places for them to return to.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Good bye Harley.....

As some of you might remember this blog did have a resident cat....who I introduced you all to in my blog post entitled Harley..

She past away yesterday, surrounded by my husbands soft singing.  She will be greatly missed, and I am trying to adjust to the absence in my heart.  She had a great life that included traveling with me from California to various villages on the North Slope, long sun filled summers, and both of us falling in love with my husband.  She made a few good friends and a lot of enemies as cats are wont to do.  She was such a presence in our lives, and I will miss most the mornings I woke up to her purrs and gentle nudges.  I find the hardest thing to do for some reason is to remove her from my intro on my blog page, so I thought I would at least make a post just for her, so she can live on indefinitely in the digital world called the internet.

Sometimes it's such a curse that our fuzzy friends never live forever, instead they make brief little paw prints on our hearts.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Labrador Tea.....

One of my projects this winter will be compiling and organizing information and photos for a 'Anaktuvuk guide to plants' thing I am putting together, which is going to take me years and years but you have to start some where right?  I do it only for my own sanity!  I thought it would be neat to post some info and a couple photos of various plants I am learning about.  This is not going to be gospel people, I am not a scientist or expert on herbal anything and I m not diagnosing a darn thing. Insert your expected disclaimer here.

This post is about Labrador tea, (in Inupiaq it is called tilaaqiaq) one of the most used herbs in the arctic.  My 'arctic tea' journey started with this plant and it is one of my all time favorite plants. Inupiat have used it to treat everything from colds to to lethargy to wounds.  It has a pleasant spicy taste and gives you a bit of a pick me up similar to a caffeine high.   We use it almost everyday in the winter, to fight off colds and warm chilled toes and fingers. It can be picked all year long and I have heard and read of great debate on when the best times to pick it might be, from when it's brown to during flowering to after flowering.  I do know that the flowers contain the highest concentration of ledol, the stimulating substance found in the plant, which is also poisonous in high doses.  Ledol can cause horrible things to happen to you, but from what I can tell all of the information is gathered from cows overgrazing on huge patches of the stuff.  So don't graze on it people!  and don't boil in a covered pot for more than 10 minutes.    Use only a pinch or two per cup, it blends well with modern teas.  It's one of the hardest herbs to pick simply because you cannot just reach down and pull it out, as you tend to take the whole root system and the dirt it was attached to.  I have started to carry a small pair of scissors with me just to clip the tips of Labrador tea plants.  I gather it when they are not in bloom, as I like to let the plants have the opportunity to procreate.  You can also dig through the snow and find the leaves for emergency rations.  Be careful as the more poisonous plant called bog rosemary resembles this herb.  Bog rosemary will not have the intense scent and the underside of the rosemary leaves are smooth and not fuzzy.  I have noticed that the ptarmigan here will eat labrador tea and old berries while they wait for the willow to sprout their tasty buds.  And this gives the ptarmigan a very yummy herby taste, much preferred over the overdose of willow taste they gain in the spring.  It makes an amazing herbal satchet and will release it's scent for a long period of time.  European people used Labrador tea to brew an herbal beer called Gruit.   Northern lore says that it was an herb used to rid an area from ghosts, just twist a stalk of it in the room, and then remove it from the area.  The same procedure was used it a house where a child was sick.

To me this herbs is the herald of the growing season, as the metallic snow smell is replaced by it's heady scent.  It is the temptress of bees and softens every tundra corner with its velvet like covering.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Winter....oh you vain woman you!

She is staring at me from a distance.  The mountains have changed their parkas to what looks like a powdered sugar coating.  The air is sharp and metallic.  The fish have moved on.  The dogs are almost visibly producing a thick undercoat.  Any exposed water gets a thin coat of ice over night.  And we have begun our winter preparations.

This will be a hard winter for us.  The caribou did not migrate South anywhere near here, so meat is going to be an issue, and we are disappointed that we will have to buy almost half our meat this winter in plastic pre frozen blocks of ground beef and chicken breasts.  Luckily my husband did get a little bit of sheep meat and a cousin got a moose, so we will at least have some non-fat laden-high in hormones - and whatever chemicals they vaccinated cows and chickens with - meat.  The fish also were not cooperating with us this year and since I had surgery I could not go ice fishing in the early spring.  Our freezers are the emptiest they have ever been and it feels like we are ...Inupiaq lean.....not really poor....but close.  We have traded berries for seal oil and meat, and a few huge chunks of whale meat, which will pad our larders well.

Luckily my brother has moved to the nearest city and will be shipping us veggies and fruits and whatnot through the winter, which will at least provide a variety of goodies.

But I am finding more time indoors, to do things that were abandoned in the late winter.  I can blog again,  bead again, write again, philosophize again, and work on skins as I repair our cold weather gear.  But first we work to  prepare for winter.  Today we will make sure there is nothing in the yard that is important and that will get buried in the snow, and we will also dig out the stuff for winter and trapping and order straw for the dogs, and a million other tiny thins that will need to be done before we succumb to Winter.

I also decided to experiment with the blog....and add some video.

They won't be much more than tiny (and probably way too artistic)  peeks into my random life but it looks like it will be fun!

Lingonberry Mustard.  More info CLICK HERE

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


There is a little known and very little discussed phenomenon that occurs on the North Slope.  And I'm sure that it occurs in every other native territory in Alaska, wether it be Athabascan or Yupik or Tsimshian.  Some people just label it as politics, owning it up to 'normal' infighting.  Outsiders see it and are confused and become wary.  Children absorb the conflict like the sponges they are and reflect it back onto their world.  Parents unwittingly reinforce it, and village political figures fight for hours nit-picking over it's bones like angry ravens.  I've been in meetings where whole hours were spent elaborating on this bottomless pit...and I wonder why it has become so .....normal.....and why no one moves to eliminate this social roadblock....

I guess it started when the villages arose and the Inupiaq adapted once again to the changing times.  They became Villagers and hung up their dusty nomadic gear to be able to offer more to their children and grandchildren.  It took bravery and faith and ultimate understanding and sacrifice to grow roots and to change their way of life forever.  With the raising of the modern Native Village they closed a chapter of life and opened up a new chapter.... entitled 'Square buildings and schools and the Post office.'  These villages became a base to fight from and for, a platform to launch the Shield that would protect our way of life and lands.

But some where along the way the Inupiaq mind was twisted.  A small but far reaching hand.  Through the trials of history the native identity was questioned and condemned, numbers fell from disease and chemicals.  The Inupiaq Mind struggled to stay afloat in the sea of the lost and forgotten.  And a small spark of hope emerged, and the people began to find Pride and safety in themselves once again.

But somewhere along the way this Pride become not something to find comfort in, to hang onto to fill the emptiness in the soul, it grew edges and a killing point and became a weapon. A small weapon to hurt others and to feed with anger and ignorance.

I remember reading transcripts from long lost elders, even some that were my family, my ila, and the one aspect I remember reading a lot of was their travels.  They would move from place to place, be adopted by a family, learn amazing and new things, build relationships and bonds, and travel again to other different Inupiaq lands.  They never spoke of how one place was less than or more than another.  Instead they spoke of what things were seen there, what things they did there, and about the uniqueness about that place.   Though they talked about where they grew up and where their travels began, they saw themselves first and foremost as ....Inupiaq.

I haven't done as much traveling as my ancestors have, but I was lucky enough to have lived and explored three Inupiaq villages.  And I can tell you how amazing each one is, how each one has expanded my Inupiaq World veiw, how each one has fed my Inupiaq soul, and how each one contained something impossibly amazing and unique.  And I wish everyday that all Inupiat could see what each village could offer.

Some people look to my village jumping and learning as betrayal of each of those villages.  But I always tell them 'I'm old school Inupiaq' and I smile and nod a bit.  Because it seems that our amazing new generation has forgotten our nomadic roots.  They have forgotten that the villages were loaned to us by the US government.  They have forgotten the joy of exploration and learning new things from different people.

And it makes me incredibly sad to see how people fight about how no respect is shown to the differences of the villages.  The tiny differences.  They fight over them like that is all they are in this world.  Differences.  And they become blind to the thread of Sameness, even though it's stronger and older ,it's never as flashy and sexy as Differences.  It's almost like they are only proud of how separate they are from everyone else, that the separateness is the only identity they have.  And this is not a good place to live, a lonely and scary place to live.

When I was teaching both children and adults I saw this sharpened weapon being used to hurt each other.   Children teased and bullied and threw rocks at kids who might have one parent from another village.  They came up with horrible nicknames for each other, became angry at other villages for their differences.  Some people would label it as 'kids being kids', but it was obvious that it was kids borrowing this weapon from their adults.  Adults should never arm heir children with such weapons in my opinion.

My adult students, who would normally be from several villages, would speak of their home with faces twisted with defensive pride and in the same breath condemn other village for their differences.  In most cases they were blinded to what each could offer and benefit.  And so in the end they rejected learning, they rejected even the possibility of learning.

As my life has progressed my attitude and opinions have changed dramatically on this topic, and it has only recently came to a few questions.  

What will we gain from worshipping our differences as a weapon?  When did Pride include hate and anger and pain?  Did we learn that, or did we create that?  And why do we accept this behavior as normal?

I type this knowing that even now some people will only actually see some of my words, and not all of them, that they will only know how to wield the weapon and not to remember our incredible roots go father than the villages.  Across continents even.  Across imaginary made up borders.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The language.....

Saving the language....

When I hear that term I always picture our language as a small frightened puppy floating on a piece of battered wood slowly drifting away on a vast ocean, and we only have one rope and are desperately trying to hook that board! Yes I know I have the greatest imagination ever, but besides that.....I always wonder why they refer to it as 'saving' the language. Maybe it refers to how digital our language has become, how it has found a home on huge hard drives, the modern version of a museum.

One of the problems I see is that everyone has vastly different views on exactly what they are saving. Some see it as a preservation of just the words themselves. Lists of letters and descriptions and definitions. They move to create a living dictionary out of us, praising recitation and memorization. Brown skin robots trained to make more of themselves.

Or maybe they are of the group that insists that it is spoken correctly and traditionally. They pound and glare our pronunciation into perfection (for that region and family), making us recite the sentence over and over and over until it loses actual meaning and just becomes a spot of shame on our shameful lives, because we will never live the life or understand fully our great grandfathers and mothers.

What boggles me is that no one has ever sat down to prioritize what was the most important aspect of our language. And yes there are aspects of language. Should we focus on saving words that will never be used again? Should we focus on teaching what I call 'classroom' language, full of memorizing and reciting? Should we focus on social language first? Should we try and erase or use Inupiat Slang? Or should we focus on language structure first? What path should we take?

Like the Old time Inupiat I am from three different villages here on the Slope. Like my great grandfather and my great grandmother I was lucky enough to be adopted into several villages, lucky enough to learn different Inupiat things from different types of Inupiat three different dialects. And what I found was that the absolute best teachers of the language were the very sneaky ones. And when I say the 'best' I mean it in that instead of teaching me a word or a phrase or the structure of that word and phrase, they instead completely and utterly change my world view of that particular action or object. They made it so that when I look at that object or when I think of that action....I only think of it in the Inupiaq language. And they usually did it without me even knowing about it. Without fanfare or preparation or buildup. Without stress or testing or frowning correction. It feels as if they were learning with me, experiencing the newness with me, laughing at the mistakes with me. When they don't know a word, they drag me along to find out what that word is. And not once do I feel like I was wrong or that I was learning.

I am very proud of myself for learning the little I am learning. When I use the word or phrase correct, the Speakers around me never stare or guffaw or pat me on the back loudly or pin a prize onto my chest. They instead listen to the sentence I was actually saying, and the fact that I said it or part of it in Inupiaq they accept as normal. And I feel like it's normal. A normal and permanent part of what makes me

But how do you bottle that and sell it?

In truth no matter what we do our language will 'survive'. It is forever digitally crystallized. Safe from ever being really and actually lost. But so is Latin.

One day I will dream in the Inupiaq language. I will write poetry with brilliant twists of phrase in Inupiaq. One day I will be teaching the little words I know to a child that is struggling with their own Identity, and I really hope I remember how painful it could be, and how amazing it is to become a Keeper-of-Small-and-Fantastic-Inupiaq-Things.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


For those of you looking for a way to help out the community of the North Slope and it's wonderful residents:

They are fairly new but they are very much needed and appreciated. We hope to apply for equipment to take kids out with the elders like they did in the old days. And we are hoping for equipment to take kids fishing in the summer and spring camping with the elders.

There is so much hope placed at this place!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Good person....

What makes a 'Good' person 'Good'?

How can you tell they are good? What do they do to earn that title? How WELL do you have to know them?

This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. It's a question that has been hovering over my head like a flaky butterfly hovers over a virgin flower.

Some things everyone can agree are characteristics of a good person. Some things are obvious symbols of bad people. Like physically hurting another person, abusive drug use, robbery.....basically anything that are standard human no-no's. But what characteristics are culturally defined? What actions conflict and are permanent residents of the gray area?

I remember a conversation with a friend that was having problems with a native worker. This man would, in what seemed a random pattern, leave his job for days and sometimes weeks at a time. It was frustrating for his supervisor as the job was a job that had an end and a beginning and a goal. And the delays were not really planned for. I ask what the worker was doing and was told it was 'hunting.' I have heard this comment time and time again, but what came next startled me. This person added another comment offhandedly ...'a Good person would work this job to put food on the table for their kids.' Of course I said...'They are putting food on the table for their kids.' We blinked at each other for a bit. And like any other awkward moment requires, we moved on to the next topic of conversation.

When I was a student teacher one of my instructors pulled me aside for another awkward conversation. Like any other college student I never really paid much attention to how I was dressed. Or wether my hair was perfectly coifed. I never wore makeup or made sure my socks matched. I showered everyday, brushed my teeth (the worst teacher is the one with bad breath), and combed my hair and pulled it back out of my face. All of my clothes were clean if a bit worn out, but I was living on a credit card/loan budget and never gave it much thought. Her face was flushed a delicate pink so I knew this conversation was uncomfortable for her. I schooled my face into a mask that said 'I promise I won't hurt you if you insult me, I am your friend.' She cleared her throat and in a very straight forward and friendly manner told me to buy more 'teacher oriented' clothing. She described it as clothing that would inspire 'trust.' And that would tell everyone that I am an authoritative figure. After the weird moment I decided to make a joke to defuse the tension and said something about not ever having to worry about clothing when I started teaching in the villages. I smiled a big smile and she stared at me with something akin to terror. She replied, 'when you are teaching in the village it will be even more important to dress well and to present yourself apart. How else will they know you are a teacher and someone they have to listen to?" I thought about the women in my life that were authoritative figures. The elder that taught us dancing and stories...She wore a worn out oil stained jacket with hair that looked like an electrified lint ball. One of my 'Aunts' that taught me how to cook any meal that was palatable, her hair was always neat but she wore t-shirts and jeans just like me. I answered her seriously in a tiny voice, 'Because everyone knows me.' We blinked at each other and at the vibrating gulf between our two cultures.

There are many many more anecdotes that illustrate the cultural differences between how one judges a good person, a trustworthy person, a dependable person, a responsible person. I think that the biggest difference, and this is just my opinion, is mainly in how we interact with each other in a society.

In the 'Lower 48' I was both appalled and amazed by how separate everyone was from each other. No need to be nice and decent, there is a good chance you won't see that person again for the rest of your life. Being patient with each other seemed to be a matter of choice. Power of the individual was worshipped, encouraged. Celebrity came with gobs of money. A successful person was judged on how much stuff and paper certificates was amassed. A Good Trustable person could be, in most cases, immediately identified by the clothes they wore, their hair and the shoes they wore. You could walk past a homeless elder on the street and sneer at her, even say mean words, and no one would judge you a bad person because in most cases they would never know. It is easy to do such things in a world filled with thousands...millions....of strangers.

In the village you know everyone, and everyone knows you. You know their secrets and their deeds of kindness. You know wether they are kind to the elder that needed help walking on slippery ice. You know every mean word that they ever said. You know the bad as well as the good. You always act as politely as you can, because you know you will have to deal with this person for the rest of your life, wether you like them or not. You know, after years of interaction and observing a persons actions wether they are good or not, wether you can trust them for certain things, wether or not this person speaks with authority and knowledge. We see each other as permanent beings in our life, and the job and the money and the physical objects as fleeting insubstantial things. A very different view. A different set of scales.

This difference causes much strife and heartache in our changing world. It makes the father hunting caribou in the fall doubt wether he is a good person, it makes the supervisor wonder why he is having trouble getting through to his worker, it makes the teacher wonder wether or not her authority lies only in the costume she wears, it created frustration in the simplest of jobs and friction in relationships. These are things never talked about because each side assumes that what they see as normal and acceptable symbols of the world...everyone knows about them......

So how do you judge a good person? How well do you need to actually know them? And how do you use the answers to those questions to benefit?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

On The Ice....

The first time I saw this film it left me with a very complex feeling. I was fascinated. I was excited. I felt a tad of trepidation. It left me a bit uncomfortable in that way that sriracha hot sauce will if you add too much. But it left me wanting to see more of it's kind. It also left me a bit sad because there is a huge risk that it will only a tiny spark in a mass of gray...without becoming a burning torch like it needs to be. And I think that is what makes or breaks a film. When I think back to it I don't necessarily remember details...but I remember the emotions it stirred in me. Beautiful emotions....

I really hope everyone gets to view this film! A wonderful span of time mastered by a Inupiaq Native filmmaker.

They are currently are looking for donations and/or pre-purchases.....

More info: ON THE ICE

Friday, August 19, 2011

Village internet.....and berries....

Our internet was down for a long time. Which made me aware of much I rely on the 'Net'. Is there such thing as internet withdrawal? All I know is that I burned through five books in about a week and a half!

It's Fall here in the arctic mountains. A time when we frantically run around and try to take advantage of this short and important season. My muscles ache from hours and hours and days of berry picking and from cutting and gathering roots before Sister Winter takes them away. Its a time of hunting and gathering, and of the Night returning. My first experience of a full dark night left me fearing what could be hiding in it! The bears have gathered for their own harvest too, as someone mentioned that they saw 11 bears in a single valley. We find evidence of them everywhere, but have yet to have a confrontation. In a week we will be camping for 2 weeks straight, while we dry caribou meat on willow wood racks. Our dogs are restless...knowing that this is the season they do the most work.

Some pics!

An old Salmonberry (cloudberry) most favorite berry. It's also the most delicate and hard to pick. After about 5 hours of picking my back went numb! I do offer a small hot processed portion of salmonberry jam (and other awesome sweets) in my store: Salmonberry Origins
We often pick the tundra in groups, and here is a picture of a couple of kids that were with us, exploring and entertaining themselves. I appreciate the parents that require that their kids bring nothing electronic when they are 'out'....

We always watch for bears....cause if you think about it....we are gathering the same foods as they are.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wolves and Mothers

As Inupiaq People, we have a special connection with wolves.

We see them as equals, a fellow predator that uses wits and wiles to to feed our respective families. We both wander the tundra searching for the life that the caribou bring. We both know what it is like to rely on another animal for sustenance.

We as Inupiaq also have a special bond with the wolf. The scent of wolf fur is one of the First memories. A memory that is closely tied with the smell of Mother. A scent closely tied with the scent of love and safety and warmth. When a Inupiaq is presented with a wolf pelt, more often than naught they will bring it to their nose and inhale the scent, or maybe they will ruffle the long furs to release it into the air. Generation after generation of Inupiaq Mothers have carried their infants on their backs, surrounded by the Wolf.

This post goes out to the Wolf, and to our Mothers. Forever entwined.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Knee update and pics!

I feel as if my mind will never pace itself. I jump from idea to idea, adventure to adventure, and place to amazing place, reveling in the experience of that specific moment. And it seems as I get older I try to cram more and more into the time given to me. I wish younger people would take heed.

For those wondering, my knee surgery went very well. It was a quick day surgery type of thing, where they rolled me in one side and out the other, groggy and grumpy. My husband and brother were there, alternating between pampering me and giggling at my stupor as was needed. The pain was very minimal, of which I could not decide if it was because it wasn't that big of a surgery or if my tolerance for pain was increased due to old age and many previous bumps. The doc did inform me that I cannot take up running and that I have arthritis, and that I should keep tundra walking to a minimum. I scowled at him for a moment. I think I growled a bit too. In the end we agreed to both be cautious.

After a couple of weeks of very frustrating and mind numbing recovery I finally can safely go about exploring again. In celebration, nature has decided she missed Winter. It snowed heavy all day the day before yesterday and continues to pour down a very cold and wet rain today. Even so we still did a bit of fishing, glad that at least a few million of mosquitoes must have died in the flash freeze.

The theme of this post is: The doc told me I can't run so now I will take up soap making/candle making/ and possibly print a book of the local fauna as over compensation....

I will also be trying to do a weekly giveaway on my facebook page CLICK HERE so if you have facebook add my page and get a great opportunity to try some stuff out :)

One of my teas I now offer in my store...this one is a healing tisane made with caribou weed, labrador tea and other yummy healthy herbs. It gets its bright color from hibiscus flowers I added. click for more: Salmonberry Origins
A plant/flower I'm trying to identify.
The flowers bloom in waves here.

A weird combination of snow and vibrant springtime green.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Random rant-ish thing....on artist opportunities

I get notes all of the time for really great opportunities to expand my business, or even just to expand my career as an artist.

Most of these I immediately dismiss.....With a grateful thank you that someone showed a stranger some random awesome careing....and people often wonder why.

When I decided to move back to the North Slope, I made myself a promise. I promised myself that I would do what I can to be happy. It sounds like a silly thing to do, since it first has to be defined per individual person. What makes me happy? I found out through trial and error and error and error that what truly made me happy was a very short list. Laughing with friends and family. Exploring and learning Arctic things. Learning compassion for myself and those around me. Of course these pursuits often left me broke, and in this world many people assume money is the root of much ease.

Don't get me wrong, I wish very hard for money sometimes, when bills pile up and stress becomes a visible roommate in our household. I'm not immune to it's demands or critiques. But sometimes I am lucky enough to be able to choose Happiness over money ...most of the time.

So this means I miss out on a lot of opportunities. After all you can't really get paid to hang out with friends and chat, or walk around the tundra collecting sweet roots and listening to elders chat. But there are some characteristics to these offered opportunities that really interest me and seem very obvious. Of course these are only items that apply to me...but I heard some others mention them often.

Most of the time its the timing. Such a simple and often overlooked insight. Spring and fall are very critical for us that live a heavy subsistence lifestyle. The animals are moving, sometimes out of reach till the next season, sometimes it's the only time to get certain healthy and good tasting individuals. Sometimes it's the only time certain plants are ripe for the picking. But oddly enough this is also the time that the bulk of awards have their deadlines, or that require that you travel for your presentations, or they require you to show up at workshops/teleconference calls/meetings. What is also kind of funny is that most of these awards and opportunities are often centered around those that have low income or that are targeting Alaskan Natives for the ones that need it the most, but it's also the same type of person that relies on the seasons to collect food for the coming year. You may think missing a season is okay for a one time thing....but what if you apply every year?

If I read anywhere where they require me to do anything in these critical times, I immediately write off that opportunity as a 'no go'....

As an artists another thing I find as a barrier is when you are required to submit photos of your work. This is a very common and understandable requirement, especially if you are applying for any type of art based award. But it can prove to be an automatic handicap for those that live in a village. When I lived in California I paid a professional photographer to take beautiful pictures of my work. In a large and very expensive studio. With a very expensive camera, and perfect lighting. He did it for a living. But here in the village all I have is a very tiny and cheap light box set up sitting on my window sill and a mid level 'amateur' camera. I get good pictures...sometimes. But they are never as beautiful as the studio photos. It's even more discouraging to my fellow village artists that have a basic point and shoot camera and little or no camera experience. Not to mention basic computer skills to even the contrast and crop the distracting bits. If any type of opportunity requires I send photos I automatically reduce my chances by I'm very aware of how unprofessional my photos can look, next to professional portfolios. One option is to send your work to a studio in the city, but no one will guarantee that it will survive the trip, and it will also take them off the market for weeks, sometimes months. And of course most of the time I cannot afford to have them take photos.....

Another thought I had is the application itself, Sometimes there are pages and pages of writing required. I must create beautiful prose to explain how awesome I am and how awesome my work is and how awesome I will be. In our culture one is raised form birth to never speak of such things, your actions speak louder than your words. It's immediately frowned upon if you do talk about how great you are and you would find yourself with very little friends if you did so. So when forced to go against cultural grain and write pages of the uncomfortable stuff....well it's ...uncomfortable. And this shows I think. It's much easier to do this in person...without an audience...perhaps with differently phrased types of questions. If I was required to tell someone in person about my work I think I would be much more comfortable. Another aspect concerning my fellow artists is the fact that only about 50% graduate with high school degrees, and so they have very limited writing skills, which can make it a daunting task indeed. My husband applied to a business seed money grant and had to take a course just to learn how to create a business plan. It took months of preparation. But what hope is there for others who did not that opportunity?

When I point these things out to people half the time I get replies like.. 'but if you really needed it'....or 'can't you try'....or 'this is how the world works and you must adapt'...type of thing. And I agrees sometimes. But for now my priorities are different. Maybe next year or next month or even tomorrow my mentality would change. Both me and my husband have applied to numerous awards and opportunities specifically targeting our types of businesses, and we have been rejected....why? I have no idea. Neither one of us has been told. Who exactly are they targeting? Must not be us..... And yes it makes me a bit bitter at times. For a minute or two. Why wouldn't it?

Add to that that in a way I kind of wish that the world would find itself adapting to our life and not the other way around. I kind of wish others saw it was as special and as different and wonderful as I do, and that it would be taken in serious consideration...not just in words....but in actual actions and changes in thought....