Thursday, February 11, 2010
The CB radio was the way that people who lived in the country communicated . It was also a lifeline. In 1980 there were no cell phones. every morning we would hear from our neighbors... GOOD MORNING from would blast from the speaker and we would hear a daily scripture read from Carrie Uhl. Her voice was easy to listen to and she would bring joy to everyone. Her husband Bob was as close as an expert on the wildlife in the area. Carrie would bring the morning to life and everyone would follow up with conversation and current events. It was also a way for people to help each other if it was needed. Sometimes it was dropping off some gas so they could travel to town. everyone shared with there neighbors. It was common for the boats that traveled the river to have a CB But I was the first to mount one on a snowmachine. It was tucked away in the rear seat compartment and the antenna mounted to the rear bumper bar. We depended on the caribou for meat and when I was hunting I would share with the Elders and drop off meat along the trip and visit with them. If I came upon a small herd of caribou I would pass the information along so other family's could gather meat before they left the area. A few times the CB came in handy to call for help for people broken down out on the trail. In the evening after the chores had been finished we would brew a big pot of tea and folks would chat on the CB and say goodnight in an arctic Walton's style. Goodnight Nelsons, Uhl's , Jones camp, Oggie, Schaeffer's ect. some nights the signal would bounce off the atmosphere and people up river would come on and it would be a chance to hear news and catch up. I miss those days.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
The family took care of a small herd of Icelandic reindeer pony's . We were kind of stewards of them because My father in law had a suitable camp that seemed to make them feel like home. They were never starved for attention. In the spring time and summer they would poke their head inside the open kitchen window and nose around in the sink "really a galvanized tub" and snort and whinny for attention. perfectly suited for the arctic they had a thick coat that would shed huge puffs of hair in the spring. The birds would follow them around and gather up these tufts of hair and steal them away for nesting. They came with all manor of tack and equipment for their care. the saddles were used when they were " working " but the children rode them bareback. Can you imagine being 9 years old and having your choice of pony's to ride ? Lois had a magic touch with them . They would follow her everywhere. sometimes I think they were looking for a treat but most of the time they would beg her to play with them. She was the only one who could get them to stand still so grooming and Horse maintenance could be accomplished. Lena was also popular with them because I think they could smell the hard candy in her pocket that she would slip to a grand child when nobody was looking. More later
Monday, February 8, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
This Fine young man grew up in camp and was educated outside and has returned home to Alaska to represent. He has Honored his family and his Late Taataa Charlie Jones of the Kotzebue Basin. I am looking forward to spending time with him in the country and on the ice hunting around
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
I still love my camp coffee :) I think its the best smell in the morning... the smell that really wakes you up and says time to get that cup!!! Dad, I remember many times Taataa told me stories about how the ravens would help him home in a storm, or they knew something was "out there" because of the ravens actions.. I remember my young aunt always telling me things too that she did not want "Dad" to find out.. nothing bad but things he might raise his voice over :)
Camp coffee, Bring 12 cups water to a slow rolling boil. slowly add 1/2 a handful of fresh ground coffee to the rolling water and after 30 seconds to 1 minute a brown rolling foam will be on top of the water. remove from the heat and after 1 minute carefully place 3 or 4 ice cubes on the water surface. This will send the grounds to the bottom . Find a big mug, the kind you can wrap your hands around and enjoy on a chilly morning.
The Ravens... My hunting buddy's. When you live close to the land you have a mental connection to the animals and the seasons . There was a family of ravens that lived in the trees up behind our camp on the hills. At first I thought that they were irritating as they would hang around it the tree branches as we did our daily routine. I would mumble under my breath..." flying rats"... and as if they could read my mind they would squak... rhaa rhaa rhaa... as if to say in protest ... hey watch it !!! . I know that you have heard that the subsistence way of life uses everything possible and it is really true. the caribou is lean and healthy meat. the bones have rich marrow and the 2 to 3 year old young bulls have good fat in the back end . the hide is saved and clothing is made from it and the leg area. we never harvest the older bulls because they breed the heard and their strong seed insures the return of a healthy yield year after year. big horns do not make good soup. these ravens began to interact with me over time and I began to appreciate how smart they really were. I would leave them a small portion of the edible insides . If I had a tool in my hand they would watch from a distance and disappear for a wile during the day. but I began to notice if I was getting ready to hunt they they recognized my white parke and rifle. As I would head out the male would take to the air and fly ahead of me up high to tag along. he would watch as I found the heard and sat watching as I selected the days blessing of life sustaining meat. These birds knew what a snow machine was and that it was mans wings over the snow covered back country. I would always thank the maker of all things in this world before I would harvest a living animal.He blessed me and gave me the gift of an instant kill skill as a hunter. I selected a young bull and trained my sight between his eye and ear and left it there as I prayed and I would time my shot after a long exhale and in between heartbeats. Believe me... anyone who says that you can not feel your heart beating in your chest when you are about to harvest a soul is a liar. The 270 found its mark and the caribou settled into the deep snow as the sound of the shot slowly worked it way around and exited the canyon. I sat for a minute and then started the snomachine and rode down to the caribou. Again I thanked the maker as I rolled the caribou over onto its back and tilted its head back and planted its rack into the snow. Then I pulled its front limbs back and placed them under the rack on each side. this is the way I was taught and the way it had been done for the last 10,000 years. The raven landed on my snow machine and watched as i went to work , I tossed him a meal and he ate it and squaked rhaa rhaa as if to say thank you. I smiled at him and said go get mama and the kids . He kind of cranked his head to the side and took off. I had the caribou in the sled by the time he returned with his family and they made many trips back and forth until they had their portion all packed home. As time passed I observed that this raven would head out ahead of me and I swear he would scout for me from his winged heights. I would watch him soar and circle and hover ahead of me as I traveled into the back country. Then I would see him dive bomb and disappear below the hills ahead of me and as I snuck to the top of the hill there would be caribou. Sometimes 1 or 2 and sometimes 10 or more. I would always reward him well for his scouting missions. One day he rewarded my friendship and I will never forget this day. I had bought my wife a new Polaris 340 snowmachine which in the world of snowmachines in that day would be like a chevy cavilier. My wife's 16 year old sister had borrowed it for the day and she was over due. As I started my machine to leave to look for her I had no rifle or tools just a cooler bungecoarded to the back of my machine. The raven took off ahead of me and I followed him into the back country. He started to dive bomb into a deep draw and I followed him down until I found snogo tracks . She was stuck and dug inn deep snow and she was exhausted from trying to get out. The only way to get out of that situation is to stomp a section long enough to launch from and get up on top again. I swear that bird had followed her earlier that day and knew where she was. On the way home she stopped on the trail made me promise to never tell her dad what happened in that 16 year old... OH PLEEEASE!!! teenage tone . I told her to go on ahead and I would be along in a few hours. I sat there in the silence and thought about the miracles that are waiting for us if we are willing to accept help from the creator and all of his creations. As the years went by I always made sure to leave a large present for the raven at the kill site... and I never told her dad what happened that day . : 0 )
Kids and dogs and moose . Camp life was always busy during the day. first thing in the morning, after a breakfast of sour dough hotcakes and sliced caribou meat.... seared in a well seasoned cast iron skillet ... we would head out for chores. The air in the cabin had that suttle mixture of wood stove smoke, an oven that had 20 years of biscuits, bread and that little bit of roasted meat drippings that always seems to spill... and linger when you warmed it up. the boys had about 60 dogs in various stages of life from the pups that would tag along behind the small kids to the adults that could leap straight in the air about 5 feet to the old timers who always seemed to find their way inside or at least the inside the shop at night. The dogs were happy living in the groups that they teamed in . some were at the bottom of the hill and some were no more than 30 feet from the back door. the chores were were laid out in a kind of natural circle that made sense. head down the hill with a sled to get ice and a drum of water from the river, over to the net to check for fish, the net was under the ice in the winter, over to the dogs to cook them their meal and back up the hill for firewood and by then lunch. we timed the clothes washing and sled building and boat work for the afternoon when the generator was running. a natural rhythm for mind body and spirit. cut the sled runners, boat hull planks , plane ribs and sand with the power tools. steam the runners and tighten the clamps a little more each day until the hardwood scummed to the shape that would be its final calling of form and function. hand saws had to be constantly sharpened as well as power circular saw blades. no just running to the store as town was 20 miles away and depending on the season the route may be impassable. so you did lots of planning and thinking at night while laying in bed and listening to the dogs chat back and forth,growling yipping and howling. it was a music all of their own and you could tell what was going on outside. the generator was far enough away that the faint hum could be heard in the background . the noise was not overpowering but you knew if it was not running also.we counted on it to charge the bank of batteries that the CB and shortwave radio ran off at night. because of the " skip" we listened to Europe and Russia with no problems.one afternoon we were inside the cabin on a coffee break when we heard a growl and snap that was deep and usually meant that a wolverine or fox was looking for a napping dogs bowl of chow. then we heard tree limbs cracking and dog pots clanging and when my daughter looked out the back door she said a moose was stomping the dogs. this fella was bigger than an adult horse and his rack could kill a man. one of the boys put his book down and walked over to the door, picked up the rifle and walked out to the moose who was really trying to trample these dogs. he hollered at it and waived his arms and tried to shoo it away from the dogs and when it moved on him he dropped it about 5 feet from where he stood. the routine this afternoon would have to wait as we had moose to butcher and put up in the root cellar. well we will just do the afternoon chores tomorrow...
One evening after going to town to pick up mail and grub boxes and pick up my oldest daughter from town we headed back to camp across a frozen Kotzebue sound . It is about a 20 mile trip on a good day. the trail is staked well and it was usually a fun ride. light blowing snow... things can change fast and after about 15 minutes into the trip the weather got real bad. soon it was a white out and you could not see. The wind blew so hard it pushed the temperature down to -50 . you could not see the light beam from the headlight. I was taught if things got bad to ride just enough off the trail so you could look down and to the side out of the wind and see the ski and track marks on the trail. of course I was taught not to get into this jam to begin with but here we were. the wind blew so hard that soon the drifting snow covered the trail and there were no tracks to follow and the trail markers were gone ! Had I stopped there I was only 2 miles from Camp. I thought I knew where I was so I kept going. after I traveled far enough that i should be home I stopped when I could smell Salt Water ! yes the smell of an open water lead. I had heard of people traveling and running off into the open water. we turned back and followed our tracks to a spot that I knew was on land and stopped to shut off the machine. I rolled the sled and the machine on its side and pointed into the wind like a VEE ^ shape to block the wind. The wind was steady at 60 mph. we used the tarps and skins to make a little tent. we had lots of food . My daughter was about eight years old and she snuggled up under my parke . We were warm and safe and I should have done this earlier... always trust your god given instinct . we sang songs and snacked on the grub box . when I asked her if she was scared she said " no if we don't get home soon my Taataa will come get us". A few hours later we heard a snow machine pull up and her Taataa popped inside our little ice camp and grinning said ... "If you have no Thermo with coffee than lets go home!!!" I swear that man had a compass in his head and he tracked us down and found us out there. the next day we went back out to see where the storm had lied to us. right at the spot that I wanted to stop at first we were only 2 miles from camp. God gave us a brain and emotions for a reason. to warn us of danger and to comfort us in our time of need. He also gave us Taataas.....
In camp we were always repairing something. there was a big shop tent that always had at least 2 sleds under various stages of construction or repair... 3 sno-gos with engines,tracks, undercarriages, everywhere, welding machine, torches and tools of all kinds. we ran a generator when we needed it and in the evening when we cut it off the silence and the night sky seemed to surround our souls. depending on the season we stocked up on what ever we would need in the following season. marine plywood , stove oil , gas , firewood in the spring and fall, and lots and lots of pilot bread... you know... bush biscuits ... that blue box that we all grew up with. many a night was spent after the lights turned out laying talking about the flavor or lack of flavor that the round tundra cookie would be enhanced with. dip it in soup...seal oil... mayo... and how we would make them if we were the bakery. after many years of experimenting we were able to make our own that taste good and were healthy for our diet. more on that later. one year I bought a 300 win mag with scope and left it in camp to share and be used. my father in law loved that gun. he hunted walrus with it and it hung outside year round in a spot out of the weather but where the scope and barrel would always be at outside air temperature and never fog up or rust. he taught me to shoot an old 270 pump with a peep sight and an old Winchester leaver action 22 mag . he said that they were the only rifles I would ever need... He was right. I still use them to this day, the wood is colored with the oil from his hands and now mine. it is a beautiful natural stain. I will pass them to my son Ahkook when he is ready. one day he said " lets go sno go hunt ... you pull the sled and I will show you how we do it over here ". we rode into the back country and after about 2 hours he slowed down and I stayed about 200 yards behind him. he signaled me to stay put and rode to a ridge and as he stepped off the moving snow machine he slung the rifle around and raised the rifle at the same time. still at a trot he tried to get a bead as the snow-machine slowed to a stop about 30 yards ahead of him. the snow tossed up from the rear of the track from the last 2 hours ride had covered the scope in a layer of ice. he simply laid the 300 win mag rifle over on its side and aimed down the barrel like an arrow. boom... jack jack ... Boom. he motioned me to move up and as I topped the ridge there lay 2 caribou about 200 yards away in the valley below. he showed me how to check the liver and other organs for as he said " sick ... always check for sick " . The caribou graze on the tundra and 20 Years earlier the U S government sprinkled radioactive soil material from the Nevada test site around an area about 30 miles south of point hope as part of the project chariot . That site is still hot today. Google project chariot or watch video from u tube. those kids did a good job in the video and look past the f bombs to see the sincere content of the video. any way in the 80's about 1 in 10 caribou that I hunted had " sick " internal organs. we had to bury the organs so the other predators would not eat them and get " sick" . I now think that all subsistence hunters should collect the livers and have them tested for trace levels of " sick" . I know that many elders from point hope had high levels of cancer. why did some of the healthiest people in the world get cancer. I know this because I was honored to be invited to the village during whaling season and visited with many elders . that was 25 years ago so I will let the point hope people speak for them . I will add more soon...
The airplane is an important tool here. I learned to fly in the country like a kid would learn to drive a tractor on a farm in the lower 48. my kids would fall asleep before the wheels left the ground. some of the most skilled pilots live in this part of the world. one pilot ...not me... who I will not name for obvious reasons learned that people were over due from a sno-go trip. there lives were in peril and search and rescue teams on the ground were having difficulty in the white out looking for them. he took off in his small plane and found them , they were rescued and he landed back in town in conditions that you could not ride a sno-go in. he never made a big deal over it... just did it. some people who are just learning about life in Alaska will say, it is not subsistence if you use modern equipment or tools. most of them have never lived or experienced bush or country living. people must adapt to the world around them. Alaskans are the original Green movement. I have listened to the elders who said we used to live below the ground in" sod houses " and be warm and funeral our dead above ground... now they build the houses above the ground and we freeze and we put the dead below the ground where it is warm... I ask you does it make sense ? of course times change and life is different now but sometimes I need to listen to people who lived just fine for the last 10,000 years . the USA is only a little more than 200 years old. I know that we need to keep up with the times but if the lights went off and the heat went off and my cell phone battery died and I lost my internet I was taught how to live until they are back on again or without them. Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. I will listen to what you have to say and let your words sink in because you have survived in this world the way you had to. My father in law would have loved to listen to your life experience and speak with and learn from the people from " over there" you would have been welcome to stay and visit and share your life over good fat soup, black meat seal oil and tom cods or shee fish. my children are now in there mid 20's . one graduated with honors from college and one decided that that was not his way. both have returned to Alaska. they know how to work hard in both worlds and I want to encourage the 20 somethings to be brave and adapt and use all the tools this world has to better the lives of your selves and your people. join together with the elders and heal the wounds of the drugs and alcohol . demand a clean and sober life for you and your children s future . have compassion for the addicted and love them but be firm and demand a plan for the recovery. one person at a time. it will take everyone working together. we need everyone.
Hello all, I hope that you are blessed and happy and enjoying life with your family and friends. We are new to this so please be patient as we learn this new way to communicate with you our Arctic family. In the1980's I lived in the country and raised my children in camp. Our Taataa taught us the traditional ways and always longed to speak with and meet the people whom he affectionately referred to as from " over there " .... that would be all of you reading this. He was born in Barrow and lived in the country all of his life. Once settled down in his early youth in and around the Kotzebue basin He raised 13 of his own children and their friends and countless children whose parents said that they always felt at home in camp. It was a beautiful place in the fall and winter as the seasons changed. You could always smell good fat caribou soup cooking on the woodstove top. the subsistence life meant hard work but it was so wolven into our lives that we all knew what to do and It all came together . there is nothing that tastes better than river ice in a pot dipped with a tin cup as it melts off the block. He always took something and made it better or adapt it to work for the benefit of his family. He built boats that after years of perfecting his designs would slice through the worst swells fully loaded. when the first outboard motors arrived he bought one and adapted his boats to use them . The commercial boat builders were quick to notice and wanted photos and bought one to take back to "copy". when asked if that bothered him he said " no... I have an idea that will be better on the next one " . He would hand cut and steam bend his wood frames on his boats and sled's. we hauled some of the biggest loads in his sled's and boats .one fall on a trip up river to Ambler for a subsistence run we hauled 5 drums of gas, dried fish and black meat and seal oil. we shared our items with the folks along the river stopping when we felt like it or when we came across someone who wanted to visit. We stayed for 2 weeks and gathered berry's, hunted caribou and fished the river.It was during that 2 weeks that I was given the gift of a life time. early one morning we set out to hunt caribou and traveled in the boat .all of a sudden he cut the motor and eased over to the bank. he said wait here for us we need to go back to camp and grab something.as the hours passed and I sat on the river bank as the caribou slipped by me on my left and right. all day long the willows were constantly moving as the caribou brushed by me.The herd was on the move and he had placed me right in the middle of them. as the evening approached I could hear the faint sound of a motor grow louder until I saw him pull the boat up to the bank and tell me to shove off and hop in. He always had a shyness and would kind of lower his head while looking up with a sparkle in his eyes and grin. "see anything ? " is all he asked . His gift was a gentle manner of teaching patience and discipline. in camp we discussed the past and the rapidly approaching future. cell phones text and wireless were an idea that was on its way but not here yet. you could send a message on KOTZ and it would be passed along by CB and word of mouth. if you really needed something a pilot would find a way to get it to you, sometimes just dropping it to us and rock his wings as he head back to town.I will add more here soon...