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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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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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!

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 moose hunting, my favorite!

     Well, it has been awhile since my last post.  I haven’t written anything in some time.  I actually deleted the website since I never thought I’d do this again, but here I sit.  We’ve had some people ask why we quit it and to be honest, it doesn’t seem like very much happens in our lives up here.  Nothing spectacular anyway.  Nothing to write about.  But it gives our family and friends a few more stories and a few more pictures to see.  And it does feel good to sit, relax, and ‘download’ your day when the sun is low and all is quiet in OUR world (which usually means that Kian is asleep).

He still thinks he’s a BEAR!

     Essie moved from being the Special Education teacher to the new K-3 teacher.  She seems to enjoy it but I’m a little worried about the long hours.  She kind of got Preschool dumped in her lap, so now instead of getting off at 3:30 or 4:00, she gets home about 7:30.   And when Kian is in bed by 8 or 9, it doesn’t leave much family time.  That was one thing we cherished about our life here, all the family time.  Money doesn’t mean much if you’re stuck at work all the time.

     I’m still working as the Head of Maintenance at the school, too.  My day is usually done by 4:00 or 4:30.  I’ll walk to the babysitter’s house, pick up Kian, and sometimes get to take him to preschool to be with his mom and other kiddos his age.  He really enjoys it when he gets to go, and so do I.  These are usually the days when I get to go hunting and checking my traps in the evening.  I’ve gotten 2 moose this year, caught a few foxes, and a couple of otters.  I only have a few traps out at any given time since I don’t have much time to spend checking them.  When I do though, I’ll take along a .22 rifle and keep an eye out for ptarmigan.  Sometimes it’s hard to see a white bird standing in snow…

Out for a ride on the Yukon River

 

My first moose this year. I caught it fairly close to home, so I decided to roll it in the sled and take it home to work it up. I wanted to try it this way so I could get the hide off in 1 big piece. I thought it would be easier, but it’s probably about the same as doing it out in the tundra, wherever the moose falls. The main difference here is when you get cold, you can step in and warm up and have coffee.

I wanted to take the hide off in 1 nice big piece because I’ve been wanting to try to ‘brain-tan’ a moose hide over the summer. I’ve watched 2 YouTube videos on the subject, so naturally I should be able to accomplish this with no trouble at all….

Here lately, I’ve had the opportunity to travel within the school district working on diesel engines for different schools.  I went to Pilot Station a couple of times and LOVED it!  It really spices up the day when the school charters a plane to come pick you up and take you somewhere you’ve never been.  Even better when it’s just you and the pilot and it’s a little 207!

The day after I got back from Pilot Station the 1st time, I got my 2nd moose.  We didn’t need the meat, but some elders and a couple others said they’d be grateful for some.  I enjoy being out in the wilderness even when I don’t have much of a reason for being there.  Having a purpose for going out, that’s just icing on the cake!

I was alone when I caught this moose, so I had to set the phone in the snow to take a picture, which may be why it’s blurry at the bottom. And let me just say, working up a moose by yourself is A LOT OF WORK!
I took this right after I got finished loading the moose on the sled, and got back on the river. It took about an hour and a half to get back home, so it was good and dark by that point. Beautiful ride back, though.