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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'. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How does your garden grow.....

Been a while since I did an update on my garden!

The boxes are all in and filled. and performing as planned.  I first put a layer of plastic down, cut a few slits to allow it to drain, then a thick layer of magazines and newspaper went in, then the dirt.  I was very worried that the soil wasn't going to be very pretty but it was better than I expected.  We would remove the plants from an pre-scouted area away from contaminates, and use the layer just beneath that.  I found it had some old peat, some organic matter, some sand, and clay.  I found if we went too deep it became nothing but rock and clay.  Even being really picky though I found that the soil was pretty varied between the boxes, some ended up with more sand, some with more rocks, etc.  Next season I'm going to have to find a way to add more organic material though...somehow.  My boxes were 2 feet deep and I filled them about 1 1/2 feet full, I figured the bit of a lip would protect the little plants from being blown to bits and it would allow me to attach a plastic cover without it touching them if I had to.  I did a few soil tests and found the soil to be absolutely devoid of nitrogen.  Which made me panic. lol  I mixed in some organic fertilizer I bought this winter but I should have bought more.  This week I am ordering some blood meal and giving that a try...and hoping that I don't attract unwanted visitors!  I also wanted to try and get some kelp, will need to find what combo and amount will work.

*Update - I tried to order from one place and they informed me it had too much nitrogen to mail.  Which made me giggle.  Then I frowned.  This might be a challenge!

I built a short wall on the north side of the garden that is about waist high. It worked really great for cutting down the wind but on some days it is not enough.  We also found someone was getting rid of a small water storage tank and we drug it home and chopped off the top so I can reach into it easily enough.  It holds about 60 gallons or more, though I haven't actually filled it to the top yet.  We have it positioned to catch as much rain water as possible, and I have secured some bug netting over the top so it doesn't become a mosquito breeding ground.  I found that if I spend a half hour or so hauling water from the river (for my tank and the dogs) it will last me about 3-4 days, more if it rains.  The mosquitoes have arrived, and they brought the gangs of horseflies with them.  So far I have counted about 12 bites. 

Hows the plants doing?  Good and bad.  The plants that I started indoors are not looking too hot.  I think I totally did not expect the extreme differences in temperature and weather conditions that come with spring time here.  We would go from 15 mph gusts and thunderstorms to 90 degrees and sunny, to night temperatures dipping below 35 degrees.  One night we dropped 50 degrees in 12 hours.  I don't think the week that I hardened the plants off really prepared them for that!  I kept them all covered in clear plastic for the worst of it but they are all looking pretty unhappy, especially the squash.  I watched in horror as they went from happy and green to almost leafless little stalks.  I'm sure the lack of nutrients might have had something to do with it too.  The peppers are actually doing the best out of that groups surprisingly.  I have already talked to my husband about building me a good sized cold frame with some old windows that we got from the school remodel.  Maybe if I am better prepared next year they will survive!  The tomatoes are hanging on with all their might, though the growth slowed down and the old leaves are yellowing a bit.

Everything has sprouted...mostly.  The carrots took a while and I thought the seed was gone till pretty much a couple days ago.  None of my soy sprouted and I will have to figure out what went wrong there.  The oats and corn are doing really well as far as I can tell...but I seriously would not know! lol  I kept the corn under plastic most of the time, though now I only cover them up if the wind is going to be bad.  I have some leftover straw still in the bag from the dogs winter beds and I plan to use it as mulch once the plants get tall enough.  The surface of the soil in the bins can get a bit crusty from and it has me worried that water will just sit on the top and do bad things.  The radish look like they were always here and just decided to grow in my box, and though the lettuce sprouted happily they took a long time to develop the 'true' leaves and I think it's because of the nitrogen deficiency.  Both types of peas look happy, and the potatoes have merged in thick short mass of leaves, and I am thinking I should have separated the eyes a bit more than I did. I absolutely forgot to start my sunflower and so those are not going to be grown this year and I'm a bit sad about that.  I have already begun to get familiar with the little weeds trying to grow in my bins, mostly stinkweed (wormwood), grass, and chickweed.   The bugs and spiders love my bins for some reason, which means the little finches and  robins regularly visit to clean them out.  I watch them hunt the insects and if they start getting frisky and start to dig for more I 'psst!' at them ...and they stop and fly away in a huff.  A few summers ago we got grasshoppers and I'm hoping they don't come back this year!

So basically I have begun my list of things I will do for next year, and I am crossing my fingers in hopes that something will make it to harvest.  I have several visitors a couple of times of week, locals that are curious to see how it is going and what I am growing.  The kids are especially interested, though they seem to be a little disappointed that my plants are so tiny right now.  I promise them I'll call them when if something needs to be harvested. 

The temperature is pretty stable now so now I will have more time to adventure in the wilderness, and work on my bug bite collection.  The temp gets about 70-80 in the day and 45-50 at night, and the sun never just kind of dips below the mountains, casting long purple shadows.

While I was gathering willow switches for a fish trap (if I ever finish it I will post it!) and I sat down to take a break...out of the corner of my eye I saw a brown and white blur zipping amongst the rocks.  Cute little guy.  I told my husband if I ever get a chance to have one as a pet I will take it.

Our oldest dog has a very bad knee and so can't go on the 15 mile runs like she used to.  Instead ever few days when it hot out we take her to deep pond and throw sticks for her to chase.  She absolutely loves you can see.  And it prevents her from getting bored and square.

Lingonberry blooms. 

My baby oats.  Not very impressive but I am so happy they are growing!

Baby radish. 

baby corn. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I am clothed in Regulations....

As an Inupiaq Eskimo that lives a predominantly subsistence lifestyle (which means much of our food comes from the land), I am very heavily regulated by the federal and state government. Which if you think about it is nothing abnormally really in this day and age.  But the amount of regulations that I wear daily can be pretty staggering, and is often something that people who live a non-subsistence lifestyle have no real grasp on. 

We live in a time where our subsistence rights are being terrorized, mostly by state officials.  All over the state there are cases and cases being brought against Native people that are incredibly ridiculous and fantastic, aimed at smearing the 'morality' of traditional cultural activities.  But we will get to that in a bit.

Now I'm not a expert in these regulations though I do keep one eye out form any new changes in the wind that pertain to my art or my food.  Anything in this post is based off of my personal knowledge, which is gained from perusing websites and the occasional....few and far between....paper in the mail from Fish and Game. 

The first thing people should be aware of it that the regulations that govern us are separated into to three main bodies.  State, Federal, and International.  Easy enough right?   Most of the time ,yes.  Each section usually lords over some section of animals;  State gets local-ish animals, Federal gets U.S. migratory-ish animals, and international is where animals that migrate through different countries or inter-country trade gets haggled out.  Basically State handles animals like caribou and squirrels, Federal has a love affair with ducks and geese, and international gets the animals like whales and endangered marine mammals.  This is a not a totally accurate view but as we all know complexity and masses of words somehow equals more control in big government arena's.  

One thing I should point out here is that in recorded modern history, (we might have something to with the mammoth going round the bend) no animal has ever been hunted to extinction by subsistence hunters in the state of Alaska.  All animals that are endangered or extinct have became that way through western commercial hunting and trade.  Usually whalers looking for easy marks/food/money.  And you have to keep in mind that before the native population declined rapidly from exposure to disease, there were hundreds of thousands of individuals, maybe even millions, living off the population of animals present.  The Inupiaq people alone are estimated to have gone from 500,000 to today's number of 10,000.  So in a way we became one of those endangered species also.

Hunting in fishing in Alaska is big business.  Millions and millions of dollars are spent in the state to be able to hunt and fish and even more is spent on just taking pictures of all the animals.  People come from all over the world to experience the Alaska wilds.  Here in Anaktuvuk Pass alone I sat and counted hunters flying here to go to the three nearby hunting camps (non-native or local by the way), and in one day I counted 35 individual hunters.  Times that by about 30 days during caribou and sheep prime season and it will give you an idea of the numbers even in this tiny far away place.  They each spend anywhere from $4,500-$10,000 a trip (we looked it up and found some brochures) regardless of what they are hunting.  And what do subsistence hunters pay?  We pay $25.00 a year for a permit to hunt as much as we need, versus the one or two animals the outside hunters take.  So you can imagine the type of feelings that state and government officers have for us, those that use the resources and give such little back.  Especially the villages that ban tourist companies.

So what regulations do I have to live by?

The most interesting one is the salvage regulation.  It sounds really amazing on paper: you absolutely must take with you 80% of the animal you harvested.  No matter what.  You must take it with you back home and store it.   And this sounds really well thought out (because what jerk would take an animal and not use it right) till you realize that animals do carry human contagious diseases.  Animals also have 'mystery' diseases.  It is like saying if you went to the market and purchased a beef roast and you got it home and noticed that it had some pretty substantial sized green pus filled tumors (which we have seen), that the law would require you to bring it home store it with your other food, and wait for test results to come back to tell you if you could eat it.  And from experience we know that it takes almost 3 WEEKS to hear back from the state biologists after you have given them a sample.   And by the way there is no system set up to regularly test and provide feedback on whether an animal is fit for human consumption or not, we had to hunt down a state biologist to do us a favor and she did it more out of curiosity than anything else, because we included pretty digital photos.  I have talked with people who have accidentally consumed sick animals and have as a result suffered for months with painful sicknesses and doctor visits and it always leaves me wary. 

Then are the things I can do with leftovers and the things I can't do with left overs paragraphs.  As an artist this area of subsistence regulation fascinates me.  I have looked far and wide for the reasons behind these regulations and have yet to find any that make sense (though I'm sure you can find good reason eventually) .  I have even sat down with a ex-state F & G guy and he was as baffled as me.  Here are some examples:  I am not allowed to make any product out of any feathers of any of the birds I eat the exception being ptarmigan. The wording behind the rule is that every other single bird is considered to be a migratory bird.  That includes snowy owls, ravens, eagles...everything else.  The government will allow you to make religious items if you petition for it, and special permission is given to educational entities, but personal use and for sale items are forbidden.  Pretty much every single animal has it's own set of rules.  Brown bears can be used but nothing sold from them, polar bears can be used and artwork sold from them as long as it is 80% changed, no one cares what you do with caribou parts, some sea mammals parts can be sold as long as it's not any type of 'hard' substance like bone.  The list of rules pertaining to each type of animal is huge and daunting and a maze of political red tape.  And of course, as you may have guessed, the government does not provide a clear and ready place for people to get to know these regulations.  I receive at least 5 or six calls/emails/facebook messages a month from other native artists wondering of they could use certain animal leftovers in art simply because the information via web is extremely sparse and contacting a the person you are supposed to contact is a crap shoot.  I have left messages and sent emails to the person that is supposedly in charge of the giving us this information and I have never ever received a response.  Even a simple brochure or pamphlet would be helpful, after all visitors to Alaska spend over 7 million dollars a year on Alaska Native crafts....we should at least have a pamphlet will all the rules right?  It is my contention that the F & G were built to be enforcers and nothing much else.

These are just examples of a small part of our regulations.  I didn't even enter the discussions on seasons, or how they change according to whose land you are in (in Anaktuvuk Pass this land is divvied up by 5 different entities), or rules on how to handle animals, or how you can kill them depending on the time of year, or how they change according to what vehicle you are in....etc etc.  The regulations are a huge huge list full of mysteries and qualifications and twists and turns and any normal person will tell you that they are not always sure what is going on with the regulations.  The state sends you a small pamphlet to your house every year with the season dates for your area (if you bought a hunting license)  and if there are any changes to any regulations they will post a sign at the post office and hope people see and read it.  I know they are understaffed and underfunded but I am always befuddled at what they do.   If you visit the state interwebs site, it will give you some infoand more links to other websites, which will give you more links to other websites.  Confusion is they feed you, yet you are require to be fed.  After all, it's your fault if you didn't know right?

As most of you know I grew up in a village called Point Hope.  Some of you might have heard of it from an incident that happened a few years back.  The fish and game guys reported that a very substantial amount of caribou had been shot and left to rot outside of Point Hope by subsistence hunters (some weird exact number like 112).  They sensationalized it and it was broadcasted across Alaska as proof positive that subsistence hunters abuse their rights.   They accused elders of protecting criminals and took pictures of lonely baby caribous to prove how horrible it all was.  I received a few phone calls from people from home, everyone was confused and frightened by how viral this situation became.   In the end it was found out that only about 6 caribou had been left, one because it showed signs of a disease that is highly contagious, and 5 because the hunter sliced his hand open and had to go back to town for medical aid.  The trial was extremely public and called for action to hold native hunters to higher 'moral' rules.  The interesting thing to me though was not that this had become such a poisonous account, but that a year before this an even more horrendous act was completely ignored.  A man purchased a new pistol and went out of town to play with it.  He found a big herd of muskoxen (a protected species) and proceeded to shoot 6 of them for target practice.  The f & G made a small statement in the local newspaper about how horrendous it was, but when they caught the guy it turned out to be a non-native local who apologized briefly and paid a small fine.  He showed up once or twice in a small newspaper after that but nothing more was said.  I found this interesting simply because of the obvious difference on how the situation was treated.

Stuff like this is happening all over the state though.  In Barrow a man was fined and his car and shotgun was taken away because he was found hunting geese after 10pm, Alaska natives are splashed on newspaper front pages almost every month and are portrayed as abusing subsistence rights.  I hear of other similar stories from the different  tribes of Alaska, and these barely make it in the news.  But in the end the government has us by the neck, each finger a hairs breadth away from starvation and destitution.  So we squint, and growl and write blog posts. 

So I wear these ever-changing regulations like multicolored rags.  Each one a mystery and dusty burden.  And I think about who knows more about these animals?  The ones who sit in offices and use calculus to estimate numbers, or the ones who breath the same air and drink the same water?  And then I realize that stuff like that doesn't matter anymore.  But I am forever hopeful that it will matter one day.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

An Arctic Pantry

What does an arctic pantry look like?

I get asked this question every once in a while, especially by teachers moving to a small village or other professionals.  So I thought I would show what I like to stock up on and my general way of stocking up on things.  But first you must keep a few things in mind:  1.  I like to cook - Not at like chef level mind you, but I like to try new recipes and explore.  Normally for meals I like to include a protein, a starch and a veggie.  My mother made me OCD like that. It's WAY cheaper to cook your own meals rather than relying on microwavable food or canned food.  TONS cheaper and tastier.  2.  We use hundreds of pounds of subsistence meats every year, mainly caribou (we also ground our own), ptarmigan, geese, and various fish. It's much more healthy and lean.  So we buy very little meat and it's mainly pork and chicken.  We also trade with other people on the coast for muktuk, seal meat and oil, and fish that are not available here.  3.  We also supplement our diet seasonally with fruits, leaves, and roots.  Like Masu (eskimo potato), tons of berries, bistort leaves and such.  Most of which get frozen and stored.  We have a normal freezer/fridge, and two chest freezers which we try to keep full at all times, both for us, our trading partners, and family that might need it.  In the winter we use a wooden outside box to keep meat frozen and protected from predators, dogs and our sneaky resident weasels.  4.  We eat alot, especially my husband.  In the arctic you will burn more calories per day  than expected.  You will burn about 4500 a day if you spend any of it out of doors.  I swear my husband has an empty leg.  We also usually have a visitor or two for our meals, or we bring some to relatives, so we love bulk foods.

DRY PANTRY.  Ours is just a series of deep shelves in the back, away from windows and such.  The things that go here are:
Toilet paper in bulk, paper towel in bulk, dish soap, clorox wipes in bulk, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, lotion, q-tips, laundry detergent, canned tomatoes, bulk rice, bulk pasta (spaghetti and penne are my favs), bulk flour and sugar and brown sugar, salt, plastic trash bags and ziplocs, Various snack foods in bulk (we grab a handful for trips and camping and it includes some 'sweet' like mini chocolate bars, fruit leather, granola bars and hard candy etc).  Some cold meds and various meds (in the Vill the store regulary runs out of OTC meds), a small amount of canned soups, dry soups,  and canned veggies. A couple of boxed brownie mixes and cake mixes and frosting (only if I found them on sale for really cheap). If I can find them I get dried egg powder for camping and just in case the store can't get eggs.  Batteries (we use rechargeable when possible since there is no recycle centers in the Vill), hand soap, coffee, tea, boxed 2% milk and boxed soymilk. 

FREEZERS.  Meats, frozen veggies (broccoli, corn, peas, etc these taste a gazilloin times better than canned ones), berries, frozen fruits, seal oil, store bought meats (I usually get pork chops, chicken thighs, alaskan sausages).

FRIDGE.  a billion different sauces in bottles, including mexican and asian varieties. The stores never stock a huge variety.  I also get tons of fresh garlic, tortillas (can be frozen), and butter (can be frozen).  Some random things I like to keep in there that will last are lemon juice, parmesan and feta cheese, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, pickled things etc. 

Where I get my stuff.  I know it probably differs depending on what village you are at, but I can share where I have found the best prices (including shipping) for here.  I do try and make one or two trips a year to Fairbanks to pick up things that they will NOT ship, which includes random things like fresh veggies (beyond the stuff at the store, like asparagus, cabbage, and such), kimchi, vanilla extract, pepperoni, etc.  Living in the Village you will become VERY intimate with the list of things that cannot be mailed! 

Sams Club -   They sell in bulk for cheap and do the shipping for you.  They charge about 45% of cost to ship, which sounds like a ton till you try and do the shipping yourself.  I found in the end that it will cost you the same and it will take the better part of a day to do if you ship yourself.  They charge a yearly membership fee which is not too bad at something like $40.00, I share mine with my brother who is at college in the same city so he can buy bulk or just stop by for a cheap slice of pizza.  If you are ordering online from a village you must choose 'pick up' and write your phone number and that it is a Bush order in the message or they will not ship.  They will contact you with any questions.  It is a little bit of a headache to order online which is why I hit them up whenever I'm in town.

Fred Meyers - they used to have a website up but it is now being re-done, they don't sell in bulk but they do provide variety and convenience.  They charge exact cost of shipping which is nice, and you have a choice between Parcel Post or Priority mail.  I love using them because I can do it all over email. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

Safeway - I have heard they now have a service for shipping to rural areas.  I haven't tried them out yet but would love to hear some feedback and instructions.  They do send out a weekly sale pamphlet/deal thing to order from.

Span Alaska - My fathers favorite place to shop.  Also sells cheap and in bulk but only high volume so your bill will be huge.   CLICK HERE to visit them.

Alaska Feed Company in Fairbanks - I buy our dog bedding straw from these guys and I am planning to try and order bulk whole wheat flour.  They offer bulk items that are not offered at Sams club, like regular rice, whole wheat flour, and dried beans.  

A few online stores that ship to Alaska.  Believe it or not 80% of stores will not ship to Alaska or if they do they will charge ridiculous amounts of money. I once tried to order $10.00 worth of shipping boxes and was told that the shipping would be $75.00.  Some places I know will ship to rural Alaska and that I regularly use are: (can be expensive to ship, can have some items that will not ship.  I found that if I clicked on the thingy on the left after a search and chose just items from themselves they are more likely to ship.)

Cabelas (dependable where other outfitters sometimes aren't) (I have noticed a couple of times some items took WAY too long to get here.  I have no idea why some get here quick and some don't)

Herbco (if you like cooking this is where to buy bulk seasonings and teas, always good quality)

Etsy (for awesome homemade goodness!)

Sears (for random house stuff.  I also buy large house appliances from here because they will deliver to your preferred shipping provider - but contact the store itself for more info)

Denali Seed Company (For Alaskan seeds to grow your own veggies!)

I don't keep all of this stuff stocked up at all times, but I do try and save up money to make orders.  In the long run it really does make a huge difference.  Since me and my husbands work is heavily seasonal and can be sporadic we found that stocking up when we can really helps in the lean times. 

I also tell people to invest in a few things:  Thermal light blocking curtains - in the winter your windows will be blocks of ice, in the summer the sun never sets.  Get quality curtains, I think I bought mine at Sears.  Internet - you will go crazy without it, unless you are one of those people that can live completely on books and reruns.  Some options are ASTAC dial up, Star band, Hughs net and GCI.  They vary in speed and cost.  A hobby - to fight the winter time blues.  Your favorite OTC meds and products.  A vacuum sealer to store meat and goods.  Multivitamins.  Nutella.  Seriously.  Nutella.

And now some spring time photos to make sure this post is not nothing but words.  I realized after uploading this set that it totally looks as if I am just rolling around on the ground taking pictures...which is almost true.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Garden stuff and photos....

We have been working non-stop on the garden.  We crawl into bed with sore muscles and dirt under our nails.  Today we finished hauling dirt to our site and filling all of the boxes.  I've planted seed or mini-plant in pretty much all of them.  I'm holding on a bit longer to the warmer weather plants, waiting to make sure the frost is gone.  The weather has been a steady mix of light rains and hot sunny warmth.    I have also found that I am a bit obsessed with taking photos of birds so that I can look them up in my husbands bird book. 

One of the weird things I have been dealing with is the massive urge I have to run every time a bee comes to look at my plants.  Most people are unaware that we Inupiat are usually absolutely terrified by the arctic bees.  They are huge and extremely furry and come with their own stereo system.  It's like seeing a flying mouse ...with a stinger.  We run.  I have been training myself not to run, because I would never be in the garden if I did.  I actually came up with a theory of why we are as a whole afraid of these fuzzy beings.  The warble fly actually looks pretty similar to the bees, but the warble flies land on a good host being (usually caribou) and deposit their eggs in the fur.  The larvae burrow into the skin of the animal and live there all winter to emerge as adults in the spring.  Yes.  It's THAT gruesome.  My theory is that to fight this thing off we as a whole have evolved to run screaming without an ounce of dignity to avoid becoming host to these insects.  That's my theory and I am sticking to it.  I know have a mission to take a photo of these bees with a size reference.

Fireweed sprouts have emerged, officially announcing spring.

The empty husks of Stinkweed seeds dot the landscape and make it look fuzzy.

I was surprised to find these little flowers.

every single photo of this bird was blurry because he was moving so fast.  Spinning in circles and bobbing his head.  He looked like he was listening to the wub wub of techno music.

I literally have had a nightmare about this robin.  He comes around every night and digs a bit in the dirt between my garden boxes looking for bugs.  So far he hasn't found the tasty seeds I have carefully planted. 

My garden.  The plastic covered box in the back left is corn, and I have covered up the little seedlings for the night under plastic.  You can see part of the rock wall we are building to the right, to cut the wind down a bit and protect it from the area that had dogs living in it.  I told my helpers that one day they will write poems about that wall...none of them believe me.
Almost completely camouflaged in the gravel in our front yard.