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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Fall Moose Hunt 2017

The changing color of the tundra grasses and the cooling evening breezes usher in a special time of year: fall moose hunting.  Last fall, Solomon and I went on a 2 day moose hunt, camped out overnight, caught a moose and returned home successful.  This year we set out again.  But instead of hunting Akuleraq, a place I know, he wanted to show me an area Northeast of here.  We saw lots of moose and even more birds (ducks, geese, swans, etc).

There were several places like this along the way.  Nothing around for miles.  Someone’s fish camp/hunting getaway.

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We ride around in the boat most of the time, checking both sides of the river for moose.  But when we see a clearing in the trees or a field, we usually stop to check it out.  Sometimes the moose are staying just barely out of sight of the river.

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Later that evening, we set up camp before it got too dark.  Even the best tents are a headache to put up in the dark.

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So with our shelter for the night secured, it was time for some warm supper!  It’s not as good as what I would’ve hoped.  But when you’re chilled and hungry, if it’s warm, it’s awesome.

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The next morning, I woke up a couple hours before Sol.  Some commercial fishing boats had passed during the night, coming back from the coast, and had him up for awhile.  I never heard ’em.  Some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten is outside in the cold, tucked in a warm sleeping bag.  A little before 7:00 I rustled out, had coffee, and waited on the sunshine.

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Having the sun warm the chill from the air is a great feeling.  I never truly appreciated that when I lived in Arkansas.  It was strange when I first came here, my first winter; some days the sun would be out in full force but it wouldn’t raise the temperature 1 degree.  Not one single degree.  You could move from the shade to the sun and feel absolutely no difference whatsoever.  Knowing that winter is just around the corner made the morning warmth all the more special.

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After Sol woke up, he whipped us up some powdered eggs.  I know.  It sounds horrible.  Surprisingly, it was pretty good.

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That was our breakfast.  Powdered eggs with some moose jerky I’d made a week ago washed down with coffee.   Mmm-mmm!

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We saw a couple of young bulls that morning a couple miles from where we camped but they didn’t hang around long enough for a shot.  They were in a bad spot too, right beside the water.  If we got a good shot and it fell in the water………oh Lord.  I’ve never tried to pull a Volkswagen Beetle out of a creek by hand but that’s probably what it would’ve been like.  Either that or we’d be quartering it up while standing in the creek.  Neither outcome was appealing.

We took Akuleraq on our way home.  A few miles from the main channel, Sol caught his moose with one shot.  100+ yards at a moving target, from a moving boat, off hand, a decent cross wind, with the sun directly in his eyes.   Not bad Sol.  Not bad at all.

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On our way home I was able to catch a couple more beavers.  I trap some during the winter, but I prefer this time of year to get beavers.  It’s a LOT less work.

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After they come back from Alaska Tannery in Fairbanks, we will try to make ourselves some nice, warm hats and mittens.  I’ve tried lots of gloves and mittens over the last several winters and I can tell you from experience that nothing compares to real fur mittens.

Another successful moose hunt behind us and some fur for winter clothes.  We’re already planning and looking forward to next year’s Fall Moose Hunt!

Berry Picking Adventure

Another one of the awesome things about living out here is the school field trips.  Instead of buses, we get boats.  Instead of chaperones, we get men with rifles in case there are bears.  Once everyone was loaded and ready, we set off on the first of many Cultural Days that we are going to have for school this year.  This first Cultural Day was Berry Picking!

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We stopped at the first cabin on Akuleraq and had lunch.  It was a beautiful day to get out and let the kids enjoy the tundra.

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Essie stayed at school to go berry picking around the village with the kiddos that stayed behind, so I brought Kian with me.  He always has fun getting out of the house.

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He fell in the water a little bit and got his boot and leg wet.  Shortly after that, I couldn’t find him.  I thought “Oh crap, where’d he go now?”  Apparently we were playing ‘Hide and Seek’ and I didn’t know it.

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So after a long day of picking berries and keeping an eye out for kids and bears and moose, it was time to head home.

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On our way home, we saw some fresh bear tracks.  These were on both sides of the river, some really fresh, some a day or two old.  These were fairly big tracks.

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Friday before last, the 18th, I took a boat ride up Akuleraq with Solomon and Tyler.  Tyler is the new teacher’s husband.  They are both from Arkansas and appear to be loving it so far.  My plan was to get a moose, but there were so many beavers that I changed gears and started catching those for the fur.

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We saw a few moose before we saw the young cow that I caught.  I didn’t get any pictures of the moose I caught since it was close to dark and I wanted to get it loaded and home before it got any later.  This is a cow and calf we saw that evening.  The pictures aren’t great.  I keep threatening to buy a nice camera, but it hasn’t happened yet.

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This is from one of our trips to Emo.  Kian found a new friend with Kaitlyn, the new teacher from Arkansas.

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Every time I go stack firewood or fill up the buckets with water for my next steam, Kian has to show me all around ‘HIS’ maqii.

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And he is always ready to help Dad go get more firewood.  Sadly, I’m sure this will pass by the time he’s big enough to really help.

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I’ll end this with a picture of a rare calm day.

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Finally ready to maqii!

It has been a long process of first getting permission from the Tribe to build on their land, waiting for good weather, gathering and buying all the materials needed, building it (with the help of LA), and it has all culminated into exactly what I’ve been waiting for, a finished maqii (steam bath house) that is ready to use!

After receiving my stove kit in the mail from Amazon (aka: that damn website that takes all our money), I took a ride down to the dump to look for a good 55 gallon barrel to use for my stove.  After cutting the holes in the barrel and installing the stove kit, I burned it out to remove the oil residue from the inside and burn the paint off the outside.

Burning out the stove for the maqii.

After welding some angle iron onto the sides of the barrel to hold the rocks, I put it in and set the chimney in place.

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I waited until I had the stove inside the hot room before I finished closing it in.  I didn’t want to buy any more plywood to finish the inside, so we took apart some old pallets and used those.  I’ve still got some trim work with driftwood to finish but there’s no rush on that.  And let me just say, trying to do trim work with a chainsaw is, well, horrible.  Disastrous.  Rustic.  Very rustic.

Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood.Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood.Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood and old pallet boards.Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood and old pallet boards.Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood and old pallet boards.Old chair in rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood and old pallet boards.Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood and old pallet boards.Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood and old pallet boards.Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood and old pallet boards.Rustic maqii steam bath house with drift wood and old pallet boards.

Yesterday evening was the big moment.  Time to build a fire and see if all the work paid off.  And boy, did it ever!  Not only therapeutic, it’s also the cleanest you’ll ever feel.  And another added benefit of doing it right before bed is that you’ll sleep like a drunk coma patient.

Building the 1st fire in the new maqii.


A few days ago I was out commercial fishing with Andy.  While we were at the fish tender waiting to get fuel, Boya and Francis pulled up with a surprise.  They’d caught a baby seal in their net.  After gassing up their boat, they turned it loose after they drove out past everyone’s nets so it wouldn’t get caught again.

Baby seal waiting to be returned to the water in a safe place.Baby seal waiting to be returned to the water in a safe place.

Seal Hunt

This past Sunday I took a boat ride up to Emmonak with Andy and his family so I could get a few groceries and buy my commercial fisher helper’s license.  We had a snack before we left: dried smelts and seal oil.   Ahh, it’s good to be back!

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On our way up to Emo we saw some beluga whales, which is always a welcomed sight.  Wasn’t able to get a picture, but a few miles outside of Emo, we joined in on a seal hunt.  We saw a couple boats chasing it so we joined in as well.

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As the minutes rolled by, more boats joined in.  It was a beautiful day, so there were lots of people out on the river.  When they’re trying to catch the seal, they have to wait on it to come up for air and then try to either harpoon it or throw a spear.  You never can tell where it’ll surface so the more boats, the better.

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Andy’s boy, Jermaine, was the one who finally caught it.   Jermaine is in the blue sweater.  The seal popped up right beside the boat and he was able to harpoon it.  They decided to give it to an older gentleman who was out there in another boat.   It’s important to note that when I say “we” joined in, and “we” tried to catch the seal”, I’m using the term “we” very loosely.  It’s illegal for a non-native to participate in this.  I can sit and watch and that’s about it.  Still, it’s pretty special to witness them doing something that has been in their way of life for as long as anyone can remember.

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After we left Emo and headed back for Nunam, we stopped and got some wood for smoking fish.

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Always up for a reason to get out of the house, we all stopped at Munson Island and had a campfire picnic.

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Oh, the good life…….

Summer Fun on the Yukon

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It’s that time of year…..Time to FISH!  A few days ago, I bought my commercial fisher helper’s license so I could help a buddy of mine fish.   Hopefully I’ll make a few dollars, but there’s an important fringe benefit to consider:  King Salmon.  Since you can’t sell Yukon River King Salmon here, if you catch any this time of year, you can keep them for subsistence.  And because Andy’s freezer is already full of fish, that means I get to start stocking our freezer.  We caught 8 Kings on Monday and Boya, another fisherman, gave me 2 more.  Most of these fish aren’t exactly SMALL.

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So the freezer is filling up fast!

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Fishing was a bit slow but I had a blast.  I’ve never fished like this before.  First of all, I didn’t know you could fish without beer.  And then there’s the whole ‘net’ thing, which is still relatively new to me.  Add on top of that the changing tides, and I’ve got a little learning to do.  Where I’m from the water level doesn’t move unless it rains a lot.

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We lost a buoy off of one end of the net and it floated to shore in a place where we couldn’t get to with the boat due to low water.  Andy’s boy Daniel, always eager to play in the water, hopped out of the boat and took off walking.

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All in all it was a good day.  Had some fun out on the river, caught some fish to sell, and got some Kings to put up for winter.

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The sun finally went down a little after midnight and fishing ended at 2am.

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Another priceless commodity, for me at least, is getting a supply of dry fish to put up for the winter.  This is my go-to snack food when I’m out hunting and trapping.  Andy and Sara were nice enough to share some of their smoked King Salmon with me.

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One project I’ve been looking forward to ever since I got permission from the Tribe to build it on their land is my maqii (steam bath house).  LA, a teacher who stayed the summer, agreed to help me put it together.  And as anyone who’s ever built anything can attest to, having someone to help makes all the difference.  I was able to scrounge around and forage for most of the supplies.  Some of the wood had been sitting outside for so long that it was ‘questionable’.  I had to just keep reminding myself, “It’s just a bath house….”

 

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It only took a few days of working in the evenings to get done with the outside.  It may not look like much, but I’m happy to have it done to this point and look forward to finishing the inside.  Then it will be time to get a hot fire going and start enjoying it, hopefully for years to come.

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In my last post, I mentioned that I had to come back home before Essie and Kian in order to meet the fuel barge that brings us our fuel once a year.  Here’s a couple pics of that.

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And 24,000 gallons of diesel later, we’re ready for another school year!

Summer vacation

Every year we look forward to going back to Arkansas and visiting family and friends that we haven’t seen for awhile.  We love Nunam Iqua and we love Alaska, but it’s nice to get a break and go somewhere else just for a change of pace and scenery, if nothing else.

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 And let me tell you, the ‘pace’ is a drastic difference.  It seems like everyone has somewhere to be and is already late getting there.  I’ll go several months without driving or even SEEING a car.  Then as soon as we land in Arkansas and hop in the car, it’s like we’re thrown into an auto-race.  On the way home from the airport, driving down the interstate after months of only driving a snowmachine down a frozen river with nobody else around for miles, I feel like an old lady hugging the white line in the slow lane, white knuckles gripping the steering wheel as everyone speeds past me.

But it is nice to see everyone and let Kian get in some time with all the grandparents.

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He likes helping Grandma Beck make biscuits, but he loves going to the cabin.  A place where he can garden (play in the dirt and throw rocks) and drive the tractor (wiggle all the levers and switches).

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Even though it was warm, it’s always nice to go somewhere a bit more peaceful.

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My sister Stefanie lives in Maine on Mount Desert Island and works in Acadia National Park as a park ranger.  She’s been after us to come visit for a few years now and we finally decided to hit the road.

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I’m not sure we’d even lost sight of the house yet before Kian was out.

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But we’ve been blessed with a good little traveler.

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4 days and 12 states later, we finally arrived!

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Notice the baby bump?  Yep.  Kian will have a little sister to play with this December.  Due date is December 10th.  I was SO EXCITED that we were going to have a little girl!….Until everyone told me that girls are WAY worse than boys.  I’m afraid to find out, but excited all the same.

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My sister’s fiance’, Benton, took us out on his sailboat.  Kian had been talking about driving the sailboat and having a picnic for weeks.

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But after getting sea sick, he wasn’t too sure if being a pirate was in his future….

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Nevertheless, we still stopped for our picnic and we all had a good time.

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We had fun but we were all ready to get back to Arkansas.  It took us 4 days to get there and 2 to get back.  Yeah, we were READY to get back!

Now it’s back to Alaska for me, so I can be there when the fuel barge arrives to deliver the school’s once a year fuel shipment.  Essie and Kian will get to enjoy the hot sunshine for another month or so.  This summer was fun but I’m ready to get back home and get back to hunting, fishing, and working (listed in order of importance).

 

Happy Mother’s Day

Yesterday we had a great Mother’s Day.  After Kian and I let the Mom of the house sleep in, we cooked her favorite breakfast.  That afternoon one of the teachers put on a Mother’s Day Tea at the school.  Lots of mothers from the village came with their kiddos and enjoyed tea, snacks, and desserts.

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Shortly after that, we were invited to a Mother’s Day BBQ.  Naturally we said Yes.

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After we stuffed our bellies, visited, laughed, and watched the kids play, it was time to head home and get ready for our last week of work.  We may not have access to fancy restaurants, gourmet meals, or 5-star establishments, but we still manage to make certain days very special for those involved.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

~–Sorry, I wasn’t able to take pictures of all the moms since I was banished to the front yard with the other men–~

…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.