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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)