Daazhraii

dsc05533It’s snowing, which rocks. The trail down the valley looks like bubble-wrap and jolts the snowmachine with every tussock. The snow will soften it.dsc05537We went out several weeks ago and Geoff shot a caribou: a young male. We gutted it where it fell, leaving the entrails for the wolves and foxes. We ate caribou heart for dinner at camp that night before skinning and quartering it. All that week, we cut meat after school and into the evening.

dsc05458dsc05461Camp is about fifteen miles down the trail, and we broke another fifteen two weeks ago. Only seventy more to Venetie!

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We had guests in camp the weekend before last. They didn’t visit while we were home, but the tracks were quite fresh.

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There will be a new challenge as we push down the trail this weekend. His name sounds like something between black and swan in Gwich’in – closer to swan. Daazhraii. He is a malamute/greenland dog mix, and he’s a big boy – 20.5 pounds at 11 weeks. I am smitten, and Geoff is no better. He spent last weekend cooking and freezing caribou chunks for dog treats.

dsc05603dsc05592dsc05574Bringing Daazhraii along will be tough. We’re bringing extra clothes in case of accidents, and I wish now that I’d found a light I could stick to his collar for nighttime romps. He’s an absolute sweetie and never wanders far, but I’d hate to lose sight of him out there. The fresh snow is nice though: his tracks will be obvious, and he won’t make it far, floundering along in the drifts.

Daazhraii: He snuggled up in my lap at Wright Air last weekend and showed his tummy to the world. I played with his feet and his ears and his tail and he just wriggled closer and went to sleep. He has learned to sit and come and look up when we say his name. He hasn’t mastered the bathroom, but he’s learning. The hardest thing has been leaving him for the day. I visit every hour between classes, but he still cries every time he’s left alone.

Bonus pictures:

Bye for now, Summer

I’m in Arctic Village, this time for good. I flew in after inservice and Boots took the plane low to show his granddaughter, in the copilot’s seat, the herds of caribou up on the mountains. The plane dipped and bumped low over the trees and the other passengers turned green and pukey, but I was thrilled. The tundra was red and gold and the caribou were silver and galloping under a clear blue sky. What more could you want from a flight?

Everyone in the village was cutting meat all week or scrounging for gas to get up the mountain to hunt. It was science and traditional knowledge week at school, and the kids were cutting meat in the gym and working on a dogsled. Geoff opened the fridge in the school kitchen one afternoon and a whole bloody leg wrapped in garbage bags fell out. It was crazy.

Here are some pictures from my back porch, overlooking the Chandalar:

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If I step out back at five in the morning, I can see every pond in the valley (there are a lot of them) breathing silver mist into the air before the black mountains and the red horizon.

The willows have all turned yellow and rumor has it there’s been frost in the wee hours. We’re turning the corner and I’m so glad – winter is my favorite season since I’ve found ways to get out in it. I’m running most evenings now, getting ready to start strong with skiing this winter. I want to set a rabbit snare along a short ski loop so that I can check it often, and I’ve persuaded someone to teach me how to do it.

Geoff has agreed to go with me to Venetie by snowmachine. I hope it happens. There’s a lot of work involved, but it would really be something to show up some weekend out of the blue and visit for a while.

This week has been hard. Starting something new here and imagining those kids in Venetie starting a new school year without me has been a constant ache behind my heart. I miss their personalities and their ease with me. I’ll get there with the kids here, but it will take time, and, meanwhile, I’ll miss my class of characters like crazy.

Inservice was a stupid as usual (cold to lukewarm showers, sales pitches from textbook companies instead of professional learning, no collaboration time except bits and pieces at the end of the day), but some good things happened: Terri’s Aunt Bernice came and did a poetry workshop, which was fun; Student News is going strong in its second year, with more folks than ever participating; the union meeting felt productive and energetic, which made a nice change; and the math teachers met and agreed on a resolution to offer a two-year Algebra 1 option, which will reflect the kids’ learning more accurately on their transcripts. Barring sabotage by administrators with control issues, this will mark a good change for kids.

Geoff and I ran his boat up from Circle and camped on the Yukon for the week. We spent some time exploring the route to the Chandalar and some of the rivers that feed the big one just south of Fort Yukon. I’d write more, but there are things to do. It’s the last long weekend before Thanksgiving, and the mountains are calling. Here’s the photodump with illumination by caption:

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Packing in Fairbanks, prior to the great canoe heartbreak of 2016

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Camp on a high bank just north of Circle

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That log has ears

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This was my first bear sighting in Alaska, and the gorgeous animal was swimming across the Yukon. Pretty amazing.

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Island Camp. We were visited by a moose (he left only footprints while we were out) and a beaver, who slapped his tail and turned his nose up at us as he flew downriver. There was old bear scat in the dry slough, but we didn’t see any recent sign.

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Before inservice began, we explored miles up the Christian River.

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I got Chainsaw 102 in this dreamscape of an old burn on the Christian River.

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Firewood!

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The confluence of Cutoff Slough (part of the Yukon) and Marten Creek. Look closely: Marten Creek is the color of black coffee. The Yukon is the color of chai. The Christian River is the color of black tea. The Chandalar is blue.

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Yukon sunset, just north of Circle.

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Two-Step in Boots

DSC02649put some miles on my boots
this week past
maybe some fifty miles
the same and same trails
In snow and slush and mud and dust
and a sun that throws daily different shadows
It’s fast, this business of spring
And I have made fast miles to keep up

slip-slush-splash and a few miles in wet jeans
That chafe and tug
what of it? It’s ice and mud
and laugh it off and welcome the sun
Did it again the next day, too
and again and again with sore feet and
giggling like the white goose flying
the first one shot
a hundred bucks to the gun

blue lake ice and then the same ice pitted
caribou antlers bend like mossy rubber
and in two days the white slough buckles under the bank
and disappears and unveils the carcasses of salmon
lying glinting in the river like silver gold
And dried on the sand like paper cranes

girl prints and caribou moon prints
by the gravel bar where bears are
and wolf toenails and boot heels
cutting the sand on the driftwood bank
slush steps fast-sinking in the melting lake
and the moon fading in the summering sky
this hurrying business of spring
is dancing miles on my boots
this week past
maybe some fifty miles

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Cookies and Caribou

The cookie girls came by tonight. We have a weekly deal, now, which brightens up my Thursdays. This Thursday was a little different, though. When one of them had called me at school earlier, I’d expressed my regrets: I had a dinner to get to and couldn’t make cookies with them. She was sad, but we agreed tomorrow would be fine. She asked if I could bring home the schoolwork she’d missed today so that she could swing by to pick it up, and I agreed on the condition that she not stay long, since I had a lot to do.

At around six-thirty, there was a knock on the door. I was on my way out, ready to tuck my cabbage salad under my arm and run through the cold night to the school building for the potluck, but when I saw the girls’ big brown eyes peeking out through frosty tunnels of winter gear, I had to let them in. I gave the young lady her homework, and she held out her hand in its grubby glove and offered me a wadded-up paper towel.

“what’s this?”
“Fry meat! You said you wanted us to bring you some” It was indeed meat, brown and greasy in its questionable paper towel vehicle. I popped a cube into my mouth and chewed. Tender. Sweet. Unfamiliar.
“What kind of meat is it?”
“Caribou.” This was my first caribou. I spotted a long, pale hair on one of the other chunks, smiled, and popped it in my mouth.
“Really! I’ve never had caribou before. It’s good!” I said, chewing.
“I’ll tell my auntie you liked it. Let’s go.” (this last to her sister)
“Wait, let me give you something.” I went to the cupboard and pulled down a treat “You guys will have to share, and this has to be a secret because I don’t have enough to share with everybody, but this is something special my parents sent me from Maine. You can only get caribou here in Alaska, and you can only get these in Maine, so it seems like a fair trade. It’s called a whoopie pie.”
“what is it?”
“Chocolate cake with frosting sandwiched in the middle”
“Yum. Thank you.”
“you’re welcome, girls. Thank you so much for sharing with me”

I should have said mahsi’. It’s the only word I know in Gwich’in, so I should start putting it to work.

They left and I finished throwing my cabbage salad together and flew out the door, savoring my last chunk of fry meat. It really was delicious, but that wasn’t the biggest reason for the grin on my face.