Follow me on Twitter

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter is HERE......For real this time.

Winter is officially here.

I know this because I woke up extra early this morning, the cold was seeping into my blanket and making me shiver like some sort of storybook creature.  All hunched over and whisper quiet.  Tickling my exposed feet.  It was unusually cold.  And the wrong type of cold.  Even in my sleep I could tell something was wrong.  So I got up and wrapped the blanket tight around myself and shuffled into the living room.

My husband was long gone as he has to be at work ridiculously early.  The house was cold.  I made my way to the Toyo diesel stove and squinted at the control panel.  It blinked an error code in lime green light, and I blinked back at it waiting for my brain to catch up.

Every year this marks the beginning of our winter.  It gets so cold so fast that the stove simply shuts off and waits for us to notice.  I'm sure that there is some technical mumbo jumbo stuff involved but to me it is just a regular announcement from our heating system, Winter is HERE, says the stove.

It will happen a couple of times during the winter.  And so far it hasn't led to anything major.  No busted pipes, no coatings of ice or frost where it's not supposed to be.  We have a separate built in heater for the bathroom to make sure those pipes stay fluid, so it never really bothered us.   But I totally forgot how to fix it so I ended up opening the oven and turning it on and sitting in a pile of warm blankets on the couch till my husband got home to show me again what to do if I get the error.  He always smiles his little smile and reassures me that the thing won't blow up if I start pressing buttons.  But that is the type of person I am, I imagine pressing buttons and starting a major internal meltdown like in the movies.  Complete with flashing red lights and an orchestra playing music in the background.

I also know it's winter when I get the itch to write.  I get poetic Tourettes syndrome.  I find pleasure in combining words and twisting phrases.  All of that energy that I usually put into living off the land gets concentrated and reemerges as a jumble of wanna -be prose.  Nothing great mind you.  I tend to write things down on brightly colored post it's and leave them around the house like Easter eggs.  Next to the tv is a note that says 'watercolor antlers', on the desk it says 'wake up God'.  I usually end up forgetting what the intention was but I love the weird winter ambiance it creates.  And I use words like 'Ambiance.'

I plan to at least share a little of my writing this winter with you guys.  Just for fun.

And here are some wintery wintery photos to help set the stage.  I just checked our outside thermometer and it read '-20 degrees.'

It's almost continually dark now.  The moon and sun glide across the horizon, peeking between mountains, doing their best to avoid making eye contact.

My husband said these are moose tracks.  But I thought it might be something else.  winter is the season of tracks.

I was standing here when a song bird flew by, it's panicky little voice fluttering around us.  Poor thing was not where it was supposed to be.  It didn't sit still long enough for a photo. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

New neighbor....

For the first time ever ...we have a mouse problem.  Well, since we live arctic technically they are not mice.   They are called lemmings.  Or in our language we call them 'avingaaq.'

I have found that they are incredibly, incredibly annoying.  Some how they have discovered how to chew through the TWO thick tough bags that we use to store our dog food.  We have resorted to storing them high up on something that is impossible for them to climb.  But the fact that they are in our covered porch searching for food utterly terrorfies the OCD part of me.  I want to bleach the whole room after seeing their tiny, tiny footprints in the snow at the outside door.

My husband and I have had many conversations on how to deal with this problem.  So far I have tried natural repellents...which worked for a few weeks. And live traps, which to my horror caught one and then it starved to death.  Poison is absolutely out of the question, since we live in a huge ecosystem I am worried that something might decide to eat the poisoned mouse.  And then this last week I ordered plastic kills traps, becuase anything metal will freeze in the -45 degree weather.  Even then we are not sure if it will shatter or not.  But I am hesitant to use them. 

Sounds weird I know coming from a person that regular makes meals of animals and has very little qualms about killing wild animals.  But it seems like such a waste to me.  A huge part of the ecosystem depends on these tiny walking sacks of proteins and vitamins.  But to me they are just little programmed machines just doing what they should be doing, and I guess I hope they would give up and move on. 

But they haven't.

Yesterday we sat at the table examining the new mouse traps, trying to figure out of they would hold up to the job, when we heard a very terrified bark coming from one of our dogs.  It was an unusual high pitch panic yip.  Anyone who knows our home knows that our dogs pretty much bark at anything wih vigor and enthusiasm, so we know their barks well.  Dog code if you will.  We can even tell when certain individuals are walking past our house.  It's that particular.  This was a new bark...

We ran out and my husband heard a tiny squeak.  He called out that he thinks he heard a mouse and I rush in help him corner the bugger.   To our surprise we saw this little face darting about....

 I must admit that I squealed in a very un-adult manner at the tiny ears and bouncing face of a winter white coated ermine.  He darted about our belongings examining us.  He even came close and gave us a good sniff.  They are incredibly brave little buggers. 

In the winter time we often store some of the dog meat in the covered porch, a bone or whatnot ready to be distributed to the dogs that evening, and we figured that this guy sniffed our occasional stash out and was regularly visiting the porch to chew on them. 

These tiny predators are fast and sneaky, and are able to take down an arctic rabbit ten times their size.  They approach their prey with a sensuous dazzling wiggling dance to transfix them and then pounce on their backs and deliver a killing bite to the back of the neck. 

Legends tells us that if we keep our mouths open...or scream...they will jump in our mouths and choke us.   Don't you love the graphic nature of Inupiaq myth?

They also eat lemmings. 

Which is why we have decided that this new nighbor can stay for the time being....though we have taken to making sure that the meat is properly stored.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pumpkin and Captain Kirk.

Sometimes when I am thinking about what to write in this blog the voice saying it sounds exactly like Captain Kirk from Star Trek.  In my head these post always start with..'Stardate.....2012....'

Just goes to show how much of an ultra-geek I truly am. 

I am mortified by the gigantic gap in my posts for this blog.   It is like admitting to people that sometimes you don't brush your teeth for a few days at a time.  But I think that my problem was that there was literally too much things going on.  Too much to properly sort and fold and place where they belong.  It was nothing really bad mind you, though some if it is tragic and some of it is incredibly mundane and dry. 

So I thought I would at least break this weird spell with a short cathartic post.  One with some photos and some updates and interesting things. 

Part of the problem is that I have started devouring books again.  I usually try and pace myself so that I do not go broke and so that I am actually part of the 'real' world' for most of the hours of the day.  But unfortunately I have found a few authors that totally and utterly engrossed me, in a genre that I usually never visit: Mystery and Thrillers.  So for the past few weeks or so I have been wondering around the house with a book hangover, rushing through tasks so I could return back to those other worlds.  You would think at some point I would have learned to control my literary addiction....

I also turned 35 this month.  I have officially joined the next age bracket.  I am suspicious about aging, though I am really curious to see what my mid life crisis will look like.  I'm thinking it would be fun to fly to North Carolina and stalk Orson Scott Card. Or maybe I will take up fencing.

We also adopted another fuzzy puppy.  Her name is Pumpkin.  She is monstrous dog with a heart just as big.  I giggle at her when she snorts and gallops all over the place, which makes her snort and gallop even more.  She has become my 'go for a walk' dog as she never strays far and she is as slow as I am with my bad knee.  The other dogs are still wary of her, but that is something time can easily fix. 

I also wanted everyone to also know that 10% of my sales from all three of my Etsy stores will be donated for this month directly to the Red Cross to be used in relief efforts because of Super Storm Sandy.  You can click on the stores on the right of my blog page.  There was a few days when both I and my husband were waiting to hear from family and friends in the affected areas.  All of them are fine to our relief!

I promise to post more in the near future.  And thank you all for being so patient with me!

Here the snow grows from the top down. 

Napping ducks on their way down south for the winter.

Pumpkin. She is a bit of everything large: St. Bernard, rotty, teddy bear.

The the transition from fall to winter is all edges and hesitant touch.

Princess and Kimbo, brother and sister.  It is hilarious that I have so much photos of them running around haphazardly. 

Frost is my new obsession.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lingonberry Mustard....

A quick post!  One of the things I thought would be neat is to do a few recipes posts.  I dabble in cooking stuff, I find it a very relaxing and soothing and challenging!  As my husband calls's one of my 'happy's'.  Thank goodness he has a hollow leg.  I think the only thing he refused to eat was my crab cake experiment, which was a complete disaster....but he swallowed one bite because he loves me so much! 

Today is my lingonberry mustard recipe.  I am a mustard fan.   I adore mustard.  I have three types of mustard in my fridge.  I add mustard to every recipe I can, so it was only a matter of time till I decided to make my own.  After much thought and experimentation I arrived lingonberry heaven.  We actually call these berries 'cranberries' as they are similar in looks and taste.  They are my favorite berry.  They have twice the amount of vitamin C as oranges, and have anti-inflammatory properties...and they taste like heaven.  Dr. Oz. calls then the new 'superfruit', which I agree with! They are usually very tart and tangy, and they bloom in flavor when you add sugars.  I have tons of recipes for these pretty little berries but I thought I would start with this one cause it's so different than what people expect you should do with berries.

The result is a tart, tangy berry filled mustard with tons of texture and a little bit of a spicy kick.  It works great in marinades, and goes well with pork and fish.  It also happens to be so very VERY pretty and make great holiday gifts.


Lingonberry Mustard Recipe

1 cup red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
2/3 cup whole mustard seed (brown or yellow or both)
1 cup filtered or bottled water
2 cups lingonberries washed and sorted
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup yellow mustard powder
2 teaspoons all spice
1 teaspoon ground orange peel

Boil vinegar pour in a jar, add whole mustard seeds and let sit over night till vinegar is absorbed.

Pour seed mixture into a grinder or chopper and chop.  Pour this into a sauce pan.  Place lingonberries into grinder and chop. Add water, chop some more.  Add this to seed mixture in pan.

Boil over high heat, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients.  Then simmer till it is your desired thickness.  For me it's usually about 15 minutes. It will thicken a bit as it cools.  Makes about 3 cups or 24 oz.

Pour in jars!  And that is it!  The mustard gains flavor and complexity as it sits.  I like to put into small sterilized 4 oz jars and use hot bath canning to seal them up good for selling and gift giving but that is an extra step you don't need to take.  A note, brown mustard seed makes the mustard spicier. 

I found some cute jars to put the mustard in.
My cute potato yield I got this year and a couple of garlic.  They tasted AMAZING

We purchased a Biolite stove and will be testing it this fall and winter.  I will eventually do a review of this and some other products and gadgets we use here.

The boys searching for arrowheads and artifacts as I pick berries.  This is what they call 'watching for bears'.  lol

Friday, August 24, 2012

Picture time...

Just thought I would post some photos!  Happy Friday everyone! 

Aunty....I wonder what I look like in her photo?

Tourist planes almost constantly fly over all day long, from 8 am till 11pm. 

Fall time colors are my favorite but it never lasts long enough.

Been painting caribou antlers, which is so much fun for me it should be illegal!

Found this guy sunbathing in my garden. 

Fireweed in fall colors at dusk.  They glow with color. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sniffles and blooms.....

 It's been awhile since I did a post so I thought I would do a quick one!  A tad more than a couple of weeks ago I caught a cold, just your average snotty, sneezy cold.  After a few days though it started turning into something else.  My ears plugged up and I found myself sleeping for most of the day with a mild fever.   My sinuses were bags of slimy pain.  When I was a cigarette smoker I used to get sinus infections at least a couple times a year, but since I had quit I haven't had a single one.  Till now!  It was a doozy.   Getting sick in the village is different than getting sick in the city.  For one thing the store usually doesn't stock much of anything more than aspirin, so you are left with whatever you remembered to buy in your last trip to the city, or whatever you can scrounge up from relatives.  Even our clinic can't give you more than tylenol most of the time.  So you become really good at knowing home remedies that work and you drink tons of water and sleep.  Eventually my husband trucked me over to the clinic so that they could send for antibiotics though as it became obvious it was an infection.

Fall harvest is here, and I dream of drying meat on the racks and filling our freezers and our trading partners freezers with multicolored berries.  Last week the mountain tops were covered in snow, which made everyone panic, but eventually the snow melted.  The weather has been odd and random. So what time I have is spent readying our stuff for fall and winter, cleaning out the freezers, picking as many berries as is possible till my back goes numb, and fishing for fat grayling and char when we get the chance.  So you will not see me very often till at least mid September, weather dependent.  We have to store enough food to get us through winter, or it can get incredibly expensive. 

Some photos! 

moose hide and coral bead bracelet. I always have a few art projects in the works, they make really good stress relief projects!
Family picking blueberries

these are what we call 'blackberries', but they are also known as crowberries or moss berries.  They are amazing frozen with a bit of milk and sugar and they also make the best jelly.  Good for stomach aches too.

view from one of our berry picking spots.  While I pick berries my husband keeps watch with the rifle in case any bears come too close.  He also walks around looking for artifacts and caribou shed antlers.

we have been seeing mushrooms the size of our heads peppering the tundra.  Inupiaqs do not eat mushrooms as it is easy to eat a deadly type.  In our language the word for mushroom means something like 'it will make your hand fall off.'  Good way to keep kids from playing with them!

I noticed these plants growing around the dog houses.  At first I pulled them out as usual, but I realized that they are seed from the straw we use for the dog bedding.  I was going to try and figure out they were and see if I can plant them next year on purpose.  Barley maybe?

My oats have gone to seed, they are short but they look all right. 

A tomato bloom on my spoon tomato plant.  The tomatoes have all got blooms.  I'm excited to see if they produce anything.

mini lettuce plants. 

I think I will get tiny cabbage this year, they are beautiful plants, though I haven't found what being is nibbling the edges and nibbling on the potato plants. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

How does your garden grow?

It's been raining here for weeks.  Which is very unusual for July.  Usually we will get a stretch of hot mosquito ridden weather, where we turn on all the fans in the house and dream of air conditioning.  But July has brought us nothing but overcast skies, a cool fall time feeling days, and heavy rains.

Which has affected my garden immensely if you can imagine.

I was gone for almost a week to attend and sell my wares at WEIO in Fairbanks Alaska and just got home yesterday so the change in the plants was pretty noticeable to me.  I had the most amazing time visiting and chatting and general hob-nobbing.  I forget how much I like to talk! I also forgot to take photos, I even left my camera behind in the rush to get there.  It was awesome to meet some of you all!

 I thought I would just do a run down of what all the plants are doing so that those who are curious can enjoy the update and maybe offer some advice! 

Plants that are doing extremely well despite the weather are: green peas, oats, cabbage, and potatoes.  Though I suspect their growth is slowed down a bit.  They are all green and happy and growing, and they almost glow in the gloomy weather.

So-so plants: My tomatoes are probably the best fighters in the arena surprisingly.  The early variety and the spoon variety both have grown flower buds and now they are just beginning to open, which has me so excited! They are protected a bit from the rain, as they are under a small amount of leafy willows and are positioned to get all the morning and afternoon light.  My echinacea plants are steadily growing, though they do look like their leaves are not as green as they should be.  The garlic is doing okay, we actually dug one up because we had a garlic emergency situation and though the bulb was small it was tasty! The pepper plants have probably suffered the most from all the rain, and we have actually taken to covering them up in the heavy downpours.  I suspect it has something to do with the box I have them in also, which is small.  They have started creating flower buds and some new leaves though which is good and bad.  My carrot sprouts are growing slowly, and I wonder if they will actually be able to produce anything with the weather misbehaving.  The oriental peas have started showing signs of unhappiness, they stopped growing and started yellowing a bit, which is a huge contrast to the other green peas.  The corn are about six inches tall at most, and I doubt they will mature if the it continues with the weather trend, we also cover them up a bit when it gets chilly out.  My lettuce plants are still tiny, about 1 1/2 inches tall, and are growing very slowly.  

Meh plants:  the squash still look horrible and stunted.   I'm pulling them this week completely.  Next year I think I will put them in better soil.  The radish bolted, with only half the plants producing a big enough bulb to pull and eat.  They are also being dug up this week though I think I will try and see if I can plant another round before frost since they grow so fast.  We were able to dig up and eat about two dozen of them and they tasted wonderful.  My tiny little spinach plants are the most interesting.  It looked like something came along and nibbled the tips off though I haven't been able to figure out what.  What plants are growing have already developed what looks like flower buds...which look odd on the small 2 inch plants.  The weather is doing a doozy on them I think. 

I have also noticed a huge amount of brown golf tee looking fungus (cup fungus?) growing happily in the boxes.  I carefully scoop them out with the edge of my trowel as I find them.  For some odd reason they kind of gross me out, with their slimy surfaces and disease looking growth patterns. 

I did add a little bit of blood meal to the nitrogen loving plants and some kelp last week to everyone to try and help them survive me, but I can't tell if it worked.  I have started saving stuff for this fall to try and help add nutrients and organics to the soil, like fish bones and egg shells and veggie leafy left overs.  I put them all in our freezer for now in plastic bags, hoping the temperature will help break them down a bit.  I plan on grinding and smooshing everything up and burying it in the garden boxes before the freeze up.  Hopefully if I time it right it won't attract animals.  A man from the Fairbanks area said it worked well for him, though he says it probably made it too nitrogen rich for his tomato plants to make fruit.

happy peas

oat plants, they about a foot tall.  I hope they make it!

poor little spinach plants.  you can also see the weird little alien looking fungi growing in my boxes. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Goodbye Bullet......

We had to say goodbye to one of our faithful furry friends today.  He had gotten loose from his cage and we found him behind the house suffering from what looked like poisoning.  He made it in time for us to carry him inside, where we held him and stroked his face and told him what a good boy he was till he left us.  I'm so grateful that he wasn't alone at the end. 

Four years ago he showed up in our brand new (to us) yard here in Anaktuvuk Pass with a black Shepard mix as his shadow.  He came up to me and Ben and just decided, with a toothy husky grin, that this is where he was going to live.  We shooed him off and called the owners and brought him back across town over and over again.  But he would get loose and show up a day or so later, that same bouncing grin on his way too pretty husky face.  Eventually we asked the owners of the dogs to let him keep us.  And luckily they agreed. 

I encourage people to never leave an open container of antifreeze ever, where animals can get to it.  From his symptoms I'm guessing that is what he got into, probably in a neighbors yard.  It smells and tastes like candy to dogs. 

I have owned a little over 30 dogs in my lifetime.   And I have held about half of them in my arms as they took their last breath.  I am always humbled by these creatures and their capability to adore us, no matter what flaws we hold.  I always feel so incredibly lucky to get to know each and every one of them, and all their unique and one-of-a-kind quirks.  None of them are ever alike, like snowflakes.  Like smiles. 

Bullet loved to greet me by pushing me over,  rubbing my leg with a happy growl.  When he would get excited he would jump straight up and down over and over like he was on a trampoline. He was always the saddest dog if we left him behind to go on trips, his howl was melodramatic and exaggerated.  He only really listened to Ben, but I never minded.  When we were going on camping trips or just for a run, he always had to be the lead dog, running at top speed to stay ahead of everyone.  He loved to chase squirrels, but never actually would try to catch them.  His best friend was our Kimbo puppy, and it always bothered them if they were separated for too long.  He loved little kids and was so incredibly gentle with them, he would even scold the other dogs if they so much as barked at them.  His right ear was broken at the tip and could hardly ever be held straight up like a proper husky.  He had a natural talent for pulling a sled and skijoring.  And he would always let Kimbo get a treat first, before taking one for himself.

Goodbye Bullet.... our 'First Boss'......

Friday, July 13, 2012

Native is not enviromental....

We are not Environmentalists.

I read a lot of stuff online.   In the boonies it's pretty much where you are going to get all of your news.  Sometimes in the morning I will turn on the news on the TV and listen to them in the background as I do my morning abulations.  One thing I noticed when it comes to the world of 'Native' News is that most...if not all...of media will automatically lump Native people in the 'Environmentalist' category. This always makes me frown because it is so wrong on so many levels. 

I know part of the reason for it is it's so easy to do.  You see people in parkas carrying signs at D.C. saying 'NO DRILLING!' and 'SAVE OUR OCEAN!' you will automatically say to yourself....they must be hippies and tree-huggers.  Environmentalists.

But we are not Enviromentalists.

We are more selfish than that. More alien than that. 

This blog entry sat as a draft for a very long time, because I was trying to think of a word that better captures what we are about.  Culturalists.  Survivalist.  Subsistencists.   Simbioticists.  Community-ists.  A hundred words I could use to describe our relationship with the environment but none seem to fit just right.  But we are not environmentalists.

Environmentalists want to save the environment from humans, and we on the other hand want to save the environment to save ourselves.  A clean environment for us means a clean body and mind.  Environmentalists want to separate man and place, we on the other hand want to tie ourselves closer and make our destinies the same.  If you think about it then our way will actually lead to a cleaner and forever world.  Because who wants to contaminate and sell the food on your own table?  It's like having only one grocery store.  Forever.  And you knew this store was the only store you would ever be able to use, and the only store future generations would know.  Wouldn't you take care of it?  Paint it once a year.  Fill the potholes in the parking lot. Keep the aisles clean and uncontaminated?

Well that is how we see the natural world.  Our one and only forever grocery store. Our only garden.

And that does not make us environmentalists.  Instead we become one of the beings that live in that area, not just a visitor taking photos to post on facebook.  We make deep trails across the tundra as we travel, exactly like the caribou do.  Exactly like the sheep do from mountain to mountain.  We drink from the streams and glaciers.  Exactly like the wolverines do.  We break willow branches to use, exactly like the moose does.  We follow the game and wish for them, exactly like the wolves do.  We hide from the storms and build appropriate shelters, exactly like the rabbits do.  We are part of this world.  Not better than this world.  Not above this world.  Not separate from this world.    And this is the message we hope everyone understands.

We are not environmentalists.  We are Inclusionists.  We are Old-schoolists. Bind-ists.  Forever-ists.  We see the natural world as a family member, a respected elder, a favorite uncle.  Our connection to this world is a relationship that must be tended to and defended and upheld.  It is not a dead or temporary thing.  And in any after-life, we all believe we will be held accountable for our actions, or our inaction.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Photo Day....and stuff

This blog could easily turn into nothing but pictures of flowers and pretty things.  It seems like summer is always easy and a warm hazy blur of slow meandering.  We haven't been doing much, the husband is working 10hours/6 days a week and both the vehicles are undergoing several vital repairs.  We wonder around nearby, me taking photos and picking the plants in season and him trying to get in shape for the extremely physical sheep hunting season that is upcoming.  I can't complain though, though I wish we were getting more fishing done.  I think I'm waiting for the reduction of the mosquito population, they are a constant hum in the air and I have yet to get used to how they flit around my face in a desperate bid for my blood.  Arctic vampires indeed. 

I have found a few flower buds on my tomato plants and I'm oh so excited to see if they are going to make fruit.  Everything else is growing steadily, though the squash aren't looking ...alive.  I've pulled two of the squash so far, since they were beyond any help really.   The weather cooled down a bit from the crazy 90 degree days and the spinach, lettuce, peas and cabbage absolutely love it and have been visibly growing everyday.  The corn has slowed down a bit in growing and the leaves have turned a bit yellow, I think they will benefit the most from the blood meal.  The radish are making round bright red bulbs, but even they are starting to yellow a bit in the leaves.  The potatoes are vigorous and exuberant....if any plant could have emotions then they would be it.  My husband assures me that my oats are indeed getting taller, but since I stare at them pretty much everyday I can't tell. 

A couple of nephews wanted to see the garden yesterday and since they were so excited I went ahead and pulled out a couple of tiny radishes for them.  They were about 3/4 inch across and both boys were amazed at the fact that something that was growing became food once you washed the dirt off.  They had a million questions and I had to promise them they could come and help me pick the other vegetables when they were ready. 

Some photos of our days.....

it seem the flowers bloom in waves.

the mountains play with clouds like children play with toys.

horrible picture but I keep trying!  I think he has a nest near my garden.  While I weed he sits in the bushes and chirps at me in a rather offended tone.  i get brief views of his bright yellow chest. 

Self promotion! I now have for sale a bath tea made with arctic herbs.  My favorite mix!  more info:

We hike around and find deep pools that are good fishing spots.

A nephew ...being a boy. <3

Gives you an idea of the amount of mosquitoes we get here. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Changing world. Racist world?

The world is changing.  Literally.

A hot topic here in Alaska is the state or un-state of global climate change and it's effect on us as human beings.  And before we go any further, yes, I completely believe in the climate change theory.  I find I cannot call it 'global warming.'  That simple term is too simple, and suggests so much and confines an understanding of what might be happening.  But I live too close to the arctic to believe anything else.  There are at least 300 scientists in Barrow Alaska alone in a state of the art brand new science facility, and most travel all over the North slope doing research.  We hob nob with scientists whose data you will not see for 10-20 years, driving them around in the wilderness to observe and take samples.  But most importantly we have cultural memory to rely on.  Both with elders that have intimate experience with this vast wilderness in their extensive life spans and with oral and artistic histories that have survived thousands of years. 

Did you know that the Inupiaq have a dragon?  Not really a dragon, but more like a large crocodile, a scaled being that thrived in the hot humid temperatures of yore.  Here in what was eventually named the 'arctic.'  Yes our memory goes that far back, beyond knowing how to butcher and prepare mammoth meat even.  We even have Memory and Story of glaciers and animals that people insist are just legend.  The polar people are very adaptable, it is our strongest attribute.  We adapt, we learn, we even have 30% higher spacial intelligence just to be able to mentally manipulate and predict this environment and what it might do in the future or what it did in the past.  Our whole culture is built on knowing and living in this environment;  intelligence and 'goodness' is judged on how proficient you are at observing the world around you, how much knowledge you absorbed from elders, how much knowledge you retain, how much knowledge you pass on. For thousands upon thousands of years only the people that could memorize a full ecological system would survive.  Your life literally depended on how good your memory was, and your children's lives depended on how well you passed on that memory.  And Alaska has only been a state for 50 years.  Less than a single lifespan. 

So yes we know the arctic changes and did not look like it did.  But we also know is what gradual normal change feels like, versus violent immediate unnatural change.

But I bring this up simply because I am again disturbed by the trend that is blooming in Alaska, like the green waterway clogging algae in our waters.  The animals are being affected by the World.  And in newspapers and online people are pointing towards subsistence hunting as the culprit.  And this greatly distresses me.  Not simply because this can threaten our rights and cause starvation or greater dependence on wellfare and federal monies (your tax dollars), but because people are ultimately being mislead.  It disturbs me that 'Big media' might be using Native people as a scapegoat, an 'easy' target.   News reporters point out how Natives eat animals, after suggesting the numbers of these animals are failing.  They print photos of laughing native children under headlines of 'no fish this year', or 'declining caribou numbers' ...etc. And no one ever points out that Natives have been harvesting animals in way larger numbers for over 10,000 years and these same animals never had a problem before....but...

Numbers are important.  They hold great dominion over whether or not we will eat this next year.  So how do they count?  For caribou they put collars on a few caribou, an extremely small population, and visit them the same time every year.  They hover above the collared caribou and their compadres in a million dollar helicopter and take a picture and go back to an office and count the caribou.   Which sounds fantastic until you realize that this method allows so much error that it is ridiculous.  Caribou are extremely affected by the environment, especially temperature.  We have noticed a few things with the caribou these past years:  They are staying in smaller herds for longer periods of time as it has been getting colder later in the year.  Cold means they herd up, travel to wintering grounds, then split up again in tiny herds for winter.  They are using different routes and traveling them in smaller herds.  They are staying together at different times than usual and you can see this by the rise in communal social diseases.  All of these would easily account for a reduction in the counted numbers.

But this is how the government determines pretty much every animal count.  They find a bunch of them, take a photo and sit in an office and count them.  Or they count a days worth of them passing by and use math to pretend they know the exact numbers.  As you can imagine we who see these animals all year long find this method pretty mind boggling and hilarious.  My bio-calculus teacher in college and I did not get along at all if you can picture it. We scowled at each other across the room, and I had to swallow my tongue just to pass that class.  Barely. 

The other side of this type of media circus is the almost non- reporting done on other reasons that are probably actually affecting or going to affect the animal population.  Like the offshore drilling,  oil spills, mine development, road building, and general encroachment of metal upon the arctic.  None of these things are ever suggested as possible reasons for affected numbers.  The media also abhors even suggesting that the reason for low numbers and failing populations might be caused by non-native men in cities behind desks.  They instead tote these guys decisions as being 'good for Alaska' and 'moving forward,' and I feel like they are trying to make me drink castor oil. 

But we have seen these types of things happen in the past.  Our modern history is peppered with blatant racism against Alaska Native people.  And yes I consider using Natives as scapegoats as racism.  If you are interested there is a book called 'Firecracker boys' by Dan O'neill that is a good case of how the U.S. government sees Alaska land and it's people. But there are unfortunately many other cases that never see the light of day.  Like when the military fed Inupiaq children radioactive material to try and figure out why they could withstand the cold better than most.  Or how the government forbid Alaska natives from hunting ducks because the only season that counted was for the hunters in the lower 48.  Or how they dumped millions of gallons of gas and oil across the arctic in metal barrels that leaked and poisoned village water wells.  The unfortunate list goes on and on in a parade of shame and secrets, that still abound in this day and age  Whats funny is that I have been warned many times that I will end up being thrown in jail for looking for information about this stuff, the elders insist that to even talk about what the government does in the arctic will warrant me disappearing for the rest of my life.  Most of these stories you will never hear because the participants were paid reparation fees and they feel like it meant they had to be quiet.  When it didn't.

But the absolute most damaging part of these suggestions is the harm the media is doing to the Native psyche. And I know that it's not the job of the media to do otherwise but in some ways with the wording choice they are trying to rabble rouse against the Native population.  Our identity is extremely tied in with subsistence hunting.  Our means in which we feed our population, that action alone, defines our self image.  Defines if we see ourselves as good human beings, or bad human beings.  And when people make a point to say how horrible it is, well they are in fact telling us that we are horrible people.  A past prominent Alaska University president once said in the presence of many native people: ''Native subsistence is nothing more than grown men pretending they were Boy Scouts, thereby evading "real jobs."'  And this sentiment is echoed throughout the state, usually stated with a sneer or a laugh, and is regularly accepted in media circles and forums.  They no longer use as guinea pigs for experiments but they do use us as scapegoats to avoid bigger issues. 

(steps off soap box)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Photo galore....

The arctic is in full bloom, every flower vying for the special attention of the fluffy bees and wondering flies.  Every where I go I try and take as many pictures as possible!  The air smells like a mix of green things growing and pollen and perfumed petals, or as my youngest brother says...'It smells like Plant.'  This time of year we bounce back and forth from 90 degree hot sunny days to heavy thunderstorms that echo through these ancient mountains.  The other night the thunder shook our house and it sounded like a huge plane was crashing next to us over and over again.  But the plants are exulting in the life-giving rain, and the birds come and sing outside our window everyday.  And we are almost in what we call 'summer time'.