Adventures of an Arctic Chihuahua

Living Small at the Far Edge

Archive for May, 2008

Andromeda Strains

.One down, six more to go. The first 24 hours of this crisis on-call rotation have been emotionally challenging..

In any small community, residents are related to one another in more ways than one; for example, your mother-in-law might also be your child’s teacher.

In the Northwest Arctic, family is extraordinarily important so extended family members are considered part of the immediate family.  In conversation, there are few, if any, referrals to degree of separation (i.e. second cousin). Everyone is either a brother, sister, auntie, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, child, grandchild or cousin. Adoption is culturally embraced; frequently the first born child is adopted to a grandparent or other relative. Large families are the norm. 

 “Everyone is related to everyone else” I have heard it said.

Historic and generational traumas (epidemics, religious oppression, cultural decimation, boarding school practices, language suppression) compound the modern societal or individual hardships and traumas (unemployment, poverty, doubled-up homelessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, suicide, assault, domestic violence, sexual assault, bullying, child abuse, accidental death). In such a small and tightly woven community, the smallest ripple of these tragedies is capable of triggering great tidal waves of grief upon the region’s people. Inupiaq in the Northwest Arctic, Alaska have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world.

The Inupiaq subsistence way of life is challenged, global warming is evident in local changes, the soaring cost of fuel oil and gasoline prices ($8+/gal) impact the ability to reach elusive food sources, to provide for one’s family or to stay warm in temperatures easily to -50F. Many of the young, strong and healthy, those who have no elders to care for, leave the area for work or college and never come back.

Increasingly influenced by a global cash economy, the region’s commercial centers are growing into more densely populated and urban-like centers. Expansions of adequate housing, employment opportunities, educational or health facilities are limited by proximate land, human resources, materials, extreme weather conditions, a permafrost foundation and the fact that we are ‘off of the road system’.

“It ain’t easy living here.”

This region is full of strength and potential as well.  Consider, after all, that a people and culture surviving for over 30,000 years isolated in one of the planet’s harshest climates, must embody several extraordinary and impressive resiliencies! These strengths however, are not the qualities brought to my attention during a rotation of crisis intervention.

“It ain’t easy working here.”

After a long day, and what seems to be an even longer week ahead, it was comforting to come home tonight to find a  familiar friend online. She provided a running synopsis of a fictional world crisis, I provided the cathartic, if not essential, heckling. We ‘watched’ the new release of Michael Crichton’s “Andromeda Strain.”  I didn’t actually ‘see’ the movie, but I had seen the original version back in the 60’s or 70’s and could follow today’s storyline fairly well. Neatly settled onto her recliner in the ‘Lower 48’, my my dear friend watched the 4 part mini-series while I read her instant messaging from a laptop in the Arctic. During the commercials, we chatted.  Solar bird baths were mentioned. Gidget napped at my feet. Her dog no doubt napped in her lap or someplace nearby.

These are the moments I speak of when referring to “Living Small,” the shared or individual moments that comprise our day-to-day lives, spending time with a friend for example. These moments are easily overlooked and whether modern or traditional, near or far, in the final analysis, they are the stuff of life as we know it. 

Once again, I had better slip off to catch some sleep while I can….more blogging another day.

“Keep Coming Back” as they say in some rooms…or drop us a line. 

Be thinking of you,

Jennifer and Gidget


The Boulders of Blogging

Well, hello dear readers!  

Today has certainly been a day of pushing boulders up the blogging learning curve.  Sisyphus had nothing on me!  My toes have been crushed by rolling rocks more than once this week. Though I had hoped to master an RSS feed for daily inspirational linkages before the end of this day, it didn’t happen. I’ve enjoyed the blogging and page manipulation tremendously and really do enjoy the new-to-me technological challenge.  I have learned a lot. Any technical and/or aesthetic suggestions are most welcome!  Just thought I would put that thought ‘out there’.

Gidget also has been putting some thoughts out there.  For the past couple of days, she’s apparently been bargaining.  She will pick a kibble out of her bowl and set it deliberately at my feet.  If I ignore the kibble, she brings another and sets it deliberately next to the first, also just at my feet.  It’s apparent she is wanting something that I have and might give her, and I have no idea what that might be.  I will keep you posted.  I expect we will keep at this negotiation until some communication breakthrough.

Speaking of breakthroughs, this years ice seems to have melted over a longer period of time so its breakup is not as dramatic as in previous years.  Tundra Tantrum aka Cathy, also of Kotzebue, has some nice photographs of ‘Breakup’ on her blogging site; you might be interested in taking a look. In Fall, it was the seal migration that floated south keeping Gidget and I company on our walk to the Kotzebue Post Office. These are the phenomena that mark our seasons.

I expect tomorrow I will mosey on down Front Street to pick up the mail I let pile up over the course of a week.  It’s a Saturday morning ritual.  Tonight, I cover the regional crisis-on call mental health services  so will sign off to catch some shut-eye… while it is still possible.  Tomorrow then…

Love and later gators,

Jennifer and Gidget

Hello world!

Gidget\'s World View

Hello world!  My name is Jennifer. Please meet Gidget, a seven year old Chihuahua, my closest buddy. Together, Gidget and I have traveled from Idaho, Alaska, Florida, California and into the American Northwest to the edge of the world.

Currently, Gidget and I live in the Native Village of Kotzebue, Alaska, located off of the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea and the Kotzebue Sound.   I am employed here as a mental health therapist and travel to outlying Inupiaq Eskimo villages where I provide services to residents of this remote, sometimes heavenly, region.

Our lives here are not extraordinary.  We sleep, we wake.  I go to work each week day, nights and weekends when on-call.  Gidget pretty much sleeps all day or chases a rubber hamburger around the room to amuse herself. 

Some of our adventures here are dreamlike, others startling, still others are simply small.  The small bits are the ones I enjoy the most. I believe it is in those tiny moments our lives are enriched.  These moments live on to be told again and again among our closest of friends.  They comprise the ‘here and now’, the random acts of kindness, and the unsung moments of bravery in life.

Perhaps you will share some of your own moments with us?   Hope to hear from you soon and welcome to our blog! 

Cheerios,

Jennifer and Gidget