Right this way, Old Man Winter.

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With Old Man Winter trying to move in for the next 6-8 months, Kian and I have been working out in the evenings to burn off some extra energy before bedtime.   And there’s the added benefit of fighting off the winter bulge because we always seem to be a bit ‘fluffier’ in the spring, especially in the midsection.  It’s sometimes challenging trying to get in a good workout with a kiddo who’s usually under your feet, wanting to be where the action is.

Challenging, but not impossible.  Kian loves to workout and do exercises.  He came up with this helpful core training technique all on his own.  Half the time I’ve got my eyes closed, praying to God that his aim doesn’t wander…..

 

Before the snowfall, Solomon, Tyler, and I took a boat ride to Akuleraq to try and catch some beavers.  They usually stir the most in the evenings and mornings.  We hunted that evening, stayed overnight in one of the old fish camp cabins, and hunted again the next morning.  We saw a few but were unsuccessful in bringing home any.  Very rarely do we return empty-handed.  I mean, not even a stick of firewood to show for the gas money I spent.  But we still had a great time enjoying the last boat ride of the year.

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I took this as a sign.   Beaver house at the end of a rainbow.  My pot of gold!

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Sadly, even with a sign from the heavens, we returned home unsuccessful.

These were some beavers I’d caught on a boat ride a few weeks before this last one.  I’ve already sent them to the Tannery in Fairbanks.  When we get them back, we’ll try our hand at making hats and mittens.

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I had some beavers in the freezer of the shop for awhile, waiting on a new fleshing knife to come in the mail.  Every day Kian had to open the freezer and check to see if they were still there, to make sure they hadn’t got out and ran off.

We usually put Kian down for a nap in the afternoons, but sometimes I have to keep him up while I do something.  Whether it’s finishing a meal I’m cooking or waiting on an airplane to get freight.  No matter what’s going on or where we’re at, when this kid gets tired, he’s GOING TO SLEEP.

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But once he’s been fully recharged, look out.

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A true Alaskan with his (Daddy’s) Xtra Tuff boots.

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Awhile back I wasn’t feeling good but I was in luck since there was a trained medical professional in the village.  Even luckier, he was in the house!

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After checking his Medical Book, he knew exactly what I needed:  A Shot.

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We’re ready for baby Isabelle to arrive.  It will be great for Kian to have someone to play with.  He wanted me to take his picture with his “friend” that he made.

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Kian helped me pick some of the pictures out to include in this post and he wanted these two so here they are.

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And with that, we are headed to check the river ice again.

Piurra.

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…and I’ll never shower again!

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the Indian sweat lodges and some such things.  Though I’ve never had any first hand accounts of the experience of anything like that, I’ve always wanted to.  Last year one of the elders, Roger, invited me to maqii.  A maqii is a small wooden building with 2 rooms.  The larger room is the changing room, where you peel off your clothes and don your birthday suit.

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The changing room also serves as a place to go if you need to escape the intense heat of the smaller room.  A small wooden door will lead you into the room where you steam, where the stove is.

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The first time I took a maqii, I could see the barrel stove glowing a faint dull red between the rocks and the bottom 3rd of the stove pipe also glowing that same color.  As I sat cross-legged and naked on the plywood floor in this little room that is scarcely tall enough to sit up straight in, I began to rethink my decision as I watched a large pool of sweat growing in the floor around me.  There were several of us taking maqii and as I reached my breaking point, Roger’s son John reached over and splashed a ladle of water over the rocks on the stove to create steam and 2-3 seconds later, the temperature of the room rose what felt like another 15-20 degrees.  After John did that, everyone (except the white boy on fire in the corner) enjoyed it so much that he splashed again.  And again.  And again.  It hurt to breathe, the heat singeing the back of my throat and the inside of my nostrils.  I remember thinking to myself “They’re TRYING to make you leave.  They wanna see how hot you can take it.”  So I stayed.  But after awhile, as thoughts of being dragged out unconscious, bare-ass naked and tossed in the snow outside while the village kids laughed and took pictures to post on FaceBook filled my imagination, I decided to go out and cool off.

I learned that this is the process; you stay as long as you can, sweating all the junk out of your body, then go out into the changing room and cool off.  Once you’re cooled off and ready for more you go back and get your sweat on again, and keep doing this until the fire starts to die down.  Then you go into the hot room with your washcloth, bodywash, shampoo, and get you a pan of water, then wash up.  Once you’re all scrubbed up, just ladle water from your pan over yourself to rinse off.  Go out and put on the fresh clothes you brought with you and that’s it, your done.

Traditionally the maqii is a social event.  A time for people to gather together, visit, and tell stories.  This was a way for a lot of people to bathe without using much firewood, as this isn’t easily available in the tundra.  And since running water wasn’t available when everything was frozen, they could gather snow and ice in metal pans and bring it in the maqii to thaw while they took their steam.  Also traditionally, the men and older boys would maqii together first.  When the fire began to die down a bit, the women and girls would maqii together with the smaller children.

Now I have to say, that was the cleanest I ever remember feeling and I don’t remember a time that I slept as good.  I woke up in the same spot I laid down in, blankets still straight; I don’t think I ever moved.

I hated that maqii so much that I’ve been back several times since and I’ve just gotten permission from the tribe and the native corporation to build my own maqii on the tundra behind our house.  I told Essie that when I get it built, I’ll never shower again…..

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Spring Fever

After months of mostly dark, cold days the weather is finally changing.  Most of the snow is gone and the river should be breaking up any day.

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Before the snow started to fade from the tundra, Kian and I took a snowmachine trip to Black River.   An older white couple has lived there since the late 70s in a small cabin they built.  They just got back from town and wanted to go check on the place and get some things.  I’d been waiting for an opportunity to go look at a snowmachine they’ve been wanting to sell and since it was a nice day, Kian and I tagged along.  I’d never been to their cabin before so it was pretty neat.

002003013014017Kian had gotten a little cold playing in the snow, so Mrs. Carin made him some hot orange drink.  He slurped down 2 cups before going back to playing in the snow.

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Hiding in the back is what I came to look at, a 2010 Yamaha Bravo

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I peeled the cover off only to be pushed out of the way by a 3 year old.  “Daddy, do you like my new snowmachine?….”

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Only 2 more days of school left and only 1 week until we leave the village for our summer break!  I am SO READY!!!….I think.  I look forward to the changing seasons here because it means I get to do something I haven’t done for awhile, or haven’t done at all yet.  We’re gonna miss the fishing.  Gonna miss hunting for eggs: duck, goose, seagull, etc.  But we did get to go pick some greens already.

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We also got a lesson in gathering Tundra Tea.

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Andy and Sara showed us how to gather Tundra Tea.  Andy is the one who has introduced me to most of the native foods I’ve tried.  And I have loved every single thing I’ve tried so far.  Well, almost.  A couple years ago, while we were field dressing and quartering up a moose I had just caught, he talked me into eating a piece raw.  Yes…raw.  He gave me a chewy piece that I gnawed on for several minutes, really trying to suck it up and go native.  Eventually I caught him with his back turned and spit it out.  I tasted that bloody piece of fat for the rest of the day…Yuck!  But everything else has been great.  Or maybe I’ve gotten more accustomed to it.  When I first came here I tried Akutaq (eskimo ice cream) and I didn’t like it at all.  It’s made with fish, berries, sugar, and crisco, and I thought ‘This is disgusting, how do they eat this stuff?’  Now I can’t get enough of it,  I’ll eat it by the bucket!

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One of my all-time favorites has been dried fish and seal oil, but recently there’s been a new favorite:  Culunaq, which is fish that is salted and put in a bucket and left there for awhile.  After some time (a few months?) you take it out and soak it in water, changing the water 2-3 times to remove the salt, then it’s ready.  The 1st time I tried it, it was cooked in boiling water.  Shortly thereafter I was speaking to a couple guys, one is an elder who I really respect, and they told me that cooking the culunaq just ruins it.  “You’re killing the taste!  Eat it raw.”

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Heaven help me, they were right!  That’s the only way I’ve had it since, and I’ve lost count of how many times Andy’s invited me over to have this for breakfast, to which I always respond, “I’m on the way!”

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One of the best things about springtime is manaqing (ice fishing) for sheefish.

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Essie and I both caught a fish this day.  I had planned on taking a picture of my first fish of the year, but after Essie pulled hers out of the ice, I refused to document my shame.

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We brought it home and put it in the freezer.

“Kian, what are you doing?  Close the freezer.”

“Mom, I just gotta look at the fish, I gotta see it’s ok.”

“It’s sleeping, Kian.  Leave it alone.”

“It’s not sleeping momma, it’s eyes are open.”

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For the next few days, several times a day, Kian would have to go check on Mom’s big fish.