Adventures of an Arctic Chihuahua

Living Small at the Far Edge

Archive for June, 2008

Learning to Knit

 Nut and Berry Colored Wool… 

The Chihuahua  and I are learning to knit.  Real wool, real needles!

Earlier this year I purchased  four skeins of a  roughly spun, richly dyed wool, a pair of wooden needles, and the book “Stitch and Bitch”  (I kid you not!). Perfect for the Arctic Chihuahua!

What was I thinking you might wonder…I’d been thinking that in work meetings, I’d wasted a lot of indelible black ink on doodling, tattooing my arms as they leaned into the doodles, and upon my shirts. It was time to switch to another media. 

It took me a while, as new ventures often do.  Sometime about two weeks ago, I finally plucked the knitting lot up and took it to work. You know, like ‘Take Your Daughter To Work Day?”  I was looking forward to this new turn of events. Come to find out knitting is more like bringing a chaotic teenager to high tea. 

More than one of my esteemed colleagues watched incredulously as I manipulated my new and unlikely appendages for the first time.  Fingers, wool, needles, all entangled like so much kudzu on a chain link fence.

“That doesn’t look like any knitting I’ve ever seen!,”  my boss told me.  My colleagues agreed and also laughed.

Stubbornly, I struggled trying my best to recall the instructions which, naturally, I’d left at home.  Undaunted, I kept at it, working up to a decent clip, so I thought. Chortles continued to fill every lull in an otherwise dull meeting.  Laugh away! My knitting clicked.   Yarn the color of nuts and berries spilled out along my arms, in a spongy carpet.  Needles waved like Elm twigs from the ulna and the radius…you remember Edward Scissorhands?  Same concept, lighter souls.

That was about two weeks ago.  Today, I carried the project into a five day training.  Confidently I pulled out my wool, possibly a new dog blanket for Gidget, and resumed the soft clicking of wooden needles. My Inupiaq colleagues however were born with knitting needles in hand (which come to think of it must have been traumatic for their mothers)! Before you know it, whispers began drifting from each corner of the room.  Everything seemed to be quite in order, no class clowns here.  I looked around again. 

“Don’t tell her, she’ll probably cry,” came a tease meant for me to hear.


“OK” I said with a feeble smile and clear voice, feeling dismayed inside all the while.  “Teach me!.”  Now there is a win-win dare if ever there was one!  They’d been laughing at me.

From a corner formerly filled with giggling,  a colleague emboldened, approached to take the project into her own capable hands. She made a couple of swift twists, needles, wool and all.  Patiently once more for me to see, then she simply returned to her seat.

Tonight, it is raining out.  As vehicles pass the open window, I hear a familiar splash of wheels moving along down the road.  The sound vanishes.  My work for the day is done. In this moment of contemplation just before bedtime, I review the day and all that filled it.  It is a miracle indeed. Today, in embarrassment’s earliest moments, with nothing more than a pair of wooden sticks, bare and clumsy fingers, a bit of colorful wool, we stepped forward to dare, to weave and to teach. In some small way, with these seemingly inconsequential twists of fate and wool, the gift of the ewe and the gift of each other, we put one more stitch into the most luscious blanket ever gifted to dog or to dreams…

Here’s to knitters everywhere, alert or sleeping soundly.

With Love,

Jennifer and Gidget, The Arctic Chihuahua


Let’s Get Real! Dating Online

ET Call Home! Can you hear me now?

I get emails on a regular basis from friends and family  who have partners, who are in the dating scene, or who  attend events with friends.  Living “outside” of the Arctic  gives a certain convenient proximity to any number of  potential mates.  Somedays (usually before I’ve had my  first cup of coffee) this chatter about proximity gets me  to longing for my own someone special. You know the  one.  The one who loves you when you wake up in the  morning, hair all akimbo, teeth unbrushed.  The one who  loves you even in your srubbiest but most comfortable  jammies, loves you even as you fumble to let the dog  out. For me today, that special someone is Gidget, The Arctic Chihuahua herself.  She doesn’t care what my hair looks like on any particular day, and she certainly doesn’t brush her OWN teeth before coffee.  She doesn’t want to date me either.  

One of the advantages of online dating, is that you can be far away from the person you are getting to know.  In my case, this would be VERY far away.  This is an advantage over proximity.  Online I can give the very false impression I am at all moments a hot and desirable woman.  

Let’s get real! I  live in the Arctic where nothing is hot.  But I’m ready just in case. I already have on the scrubby and comfortable jammies and haven’t brushed my teeth yet. I’m just waiting for that special someone to happen along with our breakfast. 

This morning, I got to thinking, which can be a dangerous thing in and of itself (remember this is before coffee),  I conspired to send myself, sans fireworks and certainly sans the dog, into the universe to see what The Chihuahua drags in.  Hopefully it won’t be a kibble she’s been hiding all winter.


Let’s try something different…no disappointments!    I’ll tell you the worst and over time you decide what you think is the best.

I live very far away from you. I am self-absorbed, initially timid and shy, chatty, anxious and nervous. Intense, serious, somber. Cold, untender, impulsive, reckless, clingy, cloying and saccharin. Slow intellectually and verbally, passive dependent and passive aggressive, depressive.

I do not like Hawaiian slide guitar, country songs in minor keys, screaming heavy metal or “It’s heaven to be dead” religious songs. I do not like disco, aerobics or jazzercise. I do not like to run unless it’s up the stairs for fun or exercise. I am afraid of being hit in the face with a baseball and enjoy watching the game. I do not play tennis, racketball or regular golf. I’ve seen more Stanley Cup Finals on TV than I’ve seen Sex and the City episodes. I like regular pedicures.

I do not like pulp romantic novels or seek out the funny papers. I like “Pulp Fiction,” “My Life as a Dog”,“George and Gracie(also on radio)“Crusader Rabbit”  and the Weather Channel Storm Watch but have never seen “Jaws” or “The Exorcist.”  I use work to procrastinate life and I use life to procrastinate work. I am a lousy masseuse. I’d rather have a snake for a pet then ride a horse. I kill houseplants.

Please don’t laugh too often at my DVDs of 1920’s Russian film comedies. I cry every time I read Tillie Olson’s “I Stand Here Ironing.” 

I am technically obese but choose “a few extra pounds” because everyone else does and I could lose the weight ” anytime I want to.” I have bad skin, jowls and a turkey neck. I have many crows’ feet wrinkles. I squint. I hate to wear my glasses, abuse them dreadfully when I can find them. I have a straight, thin mouth and poor teeth. I highlight books. I am furry all over including my face. I can sleep hours in a bathtub full of water. I am frumpy. I still have a Christmas wreath on my wall because I like it.

I can sleep with the light on. I would rather take a walk at -50F then do the dishes every day, rather fold laundry than pay bills, rather do heavy work in the garden then cook, rather cook than fix my hair up. Maybe I have that last one backwards.

I am allergic to mangos, don’t eat peanut butter. 

My family is more functional than most. I might be in denial about that. I’ve been told I’m extremely patient though sometimes steam comes out my ears and I can’t speak. I can’t tell a joke. Sarcasm confuses me. I’d rather follow then lead…until I’d rather lead then follow. I snore. I steal blankets and pens.

I don’t listen. I get jealous easily until I remember I am wonderful but not yet queen of the universe.

My speech is slow and tangles up. My 3# Chihuahua does not “speak” at all, she begs for human food and sits on command… when she wants to. She’s ill mannered and expected to live for a very long time. 

I’m stubborn, my mother calls it persevering. My mother loves me, bless her heart. I need clothes hampers within easy tossing distance of where ever I am when I take a shower. I am too generous and stingy. I drive too slowly forwards and too fastly backwards. Same with reciting the alphabet. I cannot add more than four digits in my head.

I don’t always do what I say I will and don’t talk about my plans.  I’ve been known to fart on occasion. I get sick about once a year and my nose runs…a lot…or worse. 

I was born, small, naked with very red, dry skin. 

Any questions? Your turn…

March, 2009

March, 2009



Landing Like Cranes

I Prayed Bernoulli Was Right!

Sunday evening I flew out to Noorvik, a village located just north and west of Hotham Peak and south of the Brooks Range along the Kobuk River. The pilot was interesting and new to me (Irish perhaps?). We began our take off on a lesser-used runway. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable I can be with change until found myself flying with this new-to-me pilot on an unfamiliar runway.  I looked out the window towards the wings and struts, comforted by the familiar rivets of this particular plane. I prayed Bernoulli was right.

The flight in all honesty was fantastic!  We took off in a southerly direction and parallel to the shore which gave an excellent and expansive view of the Kotzebue Sound.  Except for about one mile of open water along the shore, the sea ice stretched out unbroken until, in the distance, there was nothing left to see but an even larger expanse of the Arctic Ocean sea ice.

Further upriver and east, tundra water is a dark tannin color, the color of deeply pigmented and dried, rusty moss.  The thawing waters stretch out in this color, with a broken patina of frozen waxy white on top.  In this betwixt state, many of the rivers and tundra lakes look like large leopard skinned agates spilling out across the flatlands. 

We landed in Noorvik the way the birds do…with a slight hesitation just before setting the legs down. The pilot came in at such an acute angle I began to wonder if we might run out of airstrip before the plane came to a complete stop. Our pilot floated in like a crane.  We had plenty of room.

At the airstrip, I was greeted by one of the Health Aides who carried the key for the place I’d be lodging in (the home of a colleague).  There was a note written on the envelope inviting me to make myself comfortable and avail myself of the homemade yogurt, mixed fruit and freshly picked cranberries (lingon berries in my own Swedish tradition).  I did as bid, and then set out to village work.

A couple of hours later, and in need of a break, I pulled out a bird book, walked down to the river with my binoculars and took another close-up look at Alaska. 

The paths down the hill are sandy, wet in the low areas, with many signs that 4 wheelers on their way to the water went ‘round (thus widening the puddle), or had been stuck in the muddy trail.  I had to walk tippy toe in the mucky parts or by clinging to the tough and pliant willow whips while keeping to the narrow and grass tufted margins. A couple of times I decided to take a more direct route, through the drier brush.  In the thicket, I found broken paths about the height and breadth of a large man.  I chose one path heading the general direction I wanted to go then began walking easily through the pre-cleared tunnel.  Within a yard or two of the entry, the willows unexpectedly gave way to a wider clearing, perhaps a 6′ x 6′ space littered with bolus moose droppings. 

A Moose‘s bedroom! I felt somehow invited, but also intrusive, as though the occupant would soon return and want to rest without company.  I checked to make sure the scat was actually dried and old, then ventured on with confidence. I hoped to catch a better glimpse of the songbird that seemed to be following, yet also eluding me. 

I must have wandered into the Moose’s living room at that point. So many animals live at the edge of water here. I happened upon a pond full of Equisetum or Horsetails (a plant species of prehistoric origins) and several wetland birds, more moose scat (fresh this time), and recent hoof marks. I hesitated and proceeded with more caution, but as any diehard birder would do, I came to my senses and stepped boldly forward into the kitchen as it were, hoping to catch “just one more bird” for the lifetime list…. even if it meant the end of that lifetime. What a way to go!

I survived however, and by the river’s edge, where the brush opened to powdery sand, I sat overlooking a small cove, a nearby bank, and low-lying flatlands across the river.  Here a flock of Sandhill Cranes called out in sounds described by some to be between those of a French horn and a squeaky barn door.  I watched as a group of about 17 of the giants took to the air, necks outstretched and leading the way over the Kobuk River.  I wondered where they were going so urgently this sunny midnight.

With that signature moment, and a suddenly cooler breeze, I headed back to lodgings and sleep.  I stopped to take one last look for the small and nondescript bird, this Virgil to my Dante.  As though to bid adieu, the bird posed in full view not more than a few yards away.  By binocular I could see the crimson spot on its forehead, the only distinct feature on this otherwise unremarkable creature.  This tiniest chakra identified my little friend as a female Common Redpoll.  I could call that a day.

There were more sightings in Noorvik, between working moments and up until my return flight.  I waited out at the airstrip, binoculars in hand, chatting to residents who came to pick up cargo or passengers.

The way home was by Cessna 207, possibly the smallest of the Bering Air fleet. Only the pilot and I were aboard for the trip back to Kotzebue. What a gorgeous view though!  Tundra swans stood out like the fuzzy white spots on dotted swiss skirts. Flowing rivers coiled and tapered to nothing. It was as if someone had mixed two batters, one dark, one light, then swirled.   We passed back over the leopard skin agates and pelts, back over the cracked and rusty tundra, the waxy and granite waters, back to the fragile gravel spit we call the Baldwin Penninsula and home.

Gidget met me at the door as she always does.  She wags so excitedly I have dubbed her the Helipup and my home, the Helipad.  She nearly takes off as I lift her up for a proper greet.

It feels good to be here.  Life is good.

 Near or far, simple or complex, bird-by-bird, in fair exchange, I’d love to hear about the details of YOUR life. How do you learn to land softly in a bumpy world? Nothing is ordinary when we look with wonder.

More tomorrow then…

Jennifer and The (small but large hearted) Arctic Chihuahua