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.

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!

…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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