Lily won the one-dog race with Daazhraii yesterday!
Lily won the one-dog race with Daazhraii yesterday!
It’s been weekends in the refuge on a hilltop with an all-around view. At night we can see the lights of town twinkling twenty miles away. I named the spot Weathertop for the way it overlooks the Junjik valley to the north and the Chandalar valley to the south.
In March, my dad visited Arctic for the first time. We camped at Weathertop, went skiing, and toasted St. Paddy from the top of the world. It felt wonderful to finally be able to show someone why the isolation and frustration are so worthwhile – chump change compared to the compensation of mad-glorious wilderness.
One weekend, Daazhraii ran sixty miles in three days so that Geoff and I could have a picnic at the end of the trail. Geoff’s been out riding it endlessly, trying to push farther each time and coming back to camp grinning through a beard of snow with the zippers on his carhartts iced in. This weekend, I stayed home and he and Albert camped rough out beyond Spring Creek so that they could just keep pushing out and out.
There is no sign of caribou north of the village yet, but there is plenty of moose activity. Once, I was so close on the trail of a moose – though I never saw it – that its smell still hung in the air. I have noticed the tracks of weasels and marten, and a few times the imprints of hunting owls. There have been wolves, too, though we haven’t heard them howling this year. Their tracks make Daazhraii’s look like tiny butterflies in a field of heavy, wide sunflowers.
Kristie came out to camp last weekend and I got the Skandic stuck. We were cutting firewood, and I’d no sooner run off into the deep snow to get turned around than the machine went down on its side. I couldn’t drive out in forward because I’d gotten myself wedged against a tree in the process of tipping the machine upright. I couldn’t get enough purchase in reverse to make it more than a few feet. In the end, I had to go for help, which was awfully embarrassing. We’d borrowed a short-track Bravo for Kristie to ride – it’s so itty bitty that riding it feels like cruising on a tricycle! – and I was actually able to pick up the back end and just spin it in the trail so that I could ride up to camp to get Geoff. He solved the Skandic problem by running over the tree (maybe the diameter of my knee and fifteen feet tall?!) that I’d been fetched up against. Yikes.
When not on Weathertop I’ve been obsessively googling yurt things. I’m going to look at some property in Fairbanks on Friday, and if it works out the way I hope it will, I’m going to erect a yurt on my own land adjacent to the trail system behind the university. I’ll be able to ski or bike to class! It’s all about yurt companies and wood stoves and incinerator toilets for this gal right now. I have developed a strong distaste for indoor bathrooms, so I’m hoping I can get away with an outhouse, but, if not, did you know that incinerator toilets can function at temperatures as low as -35 fahrenheit?! You could totally put one in an outhouse of sorts. I also know how to get a permit to cut firewood in the borough and that the city of Fairbanks considers yurts “single family dwellings” for permitting purposes. I love the rush of having something really pressing and fascinating to research.
This weekend, while Geoff and Albert were out breaking trail, Daazhraii and I stayed home and stayed busy. In addition to yurt-googling, I made cookies and cranberry bread, hauled water and started laundry, swept and mopped and made a wood-burned axe-handle for Geoff. The snow-puppy and I went skijoring and checked out the spring carnival where the kids were trying to pop balloons tied to each other’s feet. I mailed my taxes and a letter and sent off an essay and some photos to a magazine that’s actually paying me for some writing! Woo! Look for more on that in November of 2020. I had to keep chopping wood to have an outdoor fire, too: I’ve been trying to figure out how to extract the teeth from these skulls I’ve got, but I need to macerate them first, which meant boiling them over the fire pit. Anyway. I’m going to call an orthodontist friend soon for some advice on that one.
School is still chugging along, but it seems like an afterthought now that the sun is up. We have been doing all kinds of cool stuff, though none of it is really reading, writing and ‘rithmetic: We’ve been skiing, performing wolf dissections, checking out Jim’s polar bear skin, and planning for our spring trip to Homer and Seward. We’re flying out on Friday with nine kids and we’ll be gone for almost ten days. It’s going to be awesome, but I hate to miss the last weekends of spring.
I’m starting to have trouble sleeping, or at least trouble finding the rhythm of sleep. Spring is the hardest because I still feel the need for the dark to give permission for me to rest. When the midnight sun comes, it’s like a license to nap at will through the long syrupy afternoon. I wore cutoffs and winter boots this weekend to haul water, and I saw a cardinal yesterday. The ducks and geese will start appearing as soon as we have open water. Maybe I’m having trouble sleeping just because I don’t want to miss a second of the season. It’s like soft serve dripping down the back of your hand: eat it quick before it melts! There is no time for savoring, just slurping.
Slurping with relish,
I won first place in the women’s wood chopping contest!
Just so that everyone knows, I beat this (charming) person’s butt fair and square in a tea-making contest this weekend.
Tea-making is a spring carnival race that I’m planning on entering this year (along with the egg toss, and perhaps the snowshoe race), so I spent some of the weekend getting practice. I lit two sturdy little fires on Saturday, then challenged Geoff to a race on Sunday.
The idea is, you race to be the first to get water to a rolling boil in your pot. You get an axe and a knife and a lighter and some dry wood and go to town, huffing and puffing and panicking. I burned off some of the wispy hair that sticks out from under my hat this weekend.
The real deal race is Thursday, and I’m sure to embarrass myself magnificently in front of the whole village.
Wish me luck.
On Friday, I walked over to the community hall in the evening to watch the princess coronation. There were three young ladies in the running, all from my class, and each had spent some time in the week prior perfecting her speech and running it up to the Gwich’in teacher for help with translation.
The girls walked down the aisle through the middle of the crowded community hall slowly and regally, and everyone’s attention was riveted. All three looked stunning in their handmade dresses and fur-lined slippers. Pride was palpable in the hall. Each girl stood up and quietly thanked the women who made her outfit, her mother, grandmothers, aunties.
These girls are not accustomed to speaking before an audience. Just standing up there took tremendous courage: A fourth girl dropped out a week ago, too frightened to go through with it, and G was sick to her stomach all afternoon at school.
G is outrageously funny: she can bust me up effortlessly with her quick wit and her innocent deadpan. Her writing sparkles with her sense of humor, and when she’s relaxed, she absolutely oozes cool confidence. I hate that this situation, where all of that should have been on display and celebrated, completely robbed her of her charisma. Princess C, similarly, spoke in a whisper as she delivered her speech. In the classroom, she’s not afraid to take a stand on anything, and her force of will and no-nonsense, tough-girl attitude make her a natural leader. I expected to see her taking on the world the way she takes on school, and I was totally shocked by her meekness. I want to work harder next year to give my students opportunities to practice public speaking and performing. Their voices are important, and no one will hear them if they whisper Cookie girl C, characteristically unlike the others, was perfectly herself. She’s unshakeably self-assured, and I love her for it. Later, Terri, Ben and I walked back to the community hall for another dance. I spent what time I didn’t spend dancing playing with the little kids that always swarm like remoras around Ben and Terri. My partner for the second dance complained to me about the heat and the teenagers who sit against the far wall, putting too much wood in the stove and never dancing. I tried to drag B away from the wall to dance with Terri, but he was too embarrassed. I bumbled and erred my way through another square dance, and finally realized that I am not totally inept, it’s just that there are only so many dances and everyone knows them already, so there’s no need for a caller. Next time, I’ll know what to do.
Late in the night there was a jig contest for each age group, and it was a joy to watch my kids show off steps they’ve known all their lives. The very littlest couple in the five-and-under were three and two. She pretty much towed him around the floor, giggling, to much applause.
Wisely, I think, we left before the twist and the jitterbug contests. I don’t think I could have handled the pressure.