Adventures of an Arctic Chihuahua

Living Small at the Far Edge

Archive for World Views From a Small Perspective

Cows and Big Puppies on the Kodiak

fog-lifting

I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, there it was.  A bison?  We were flying at about 500 ft, on a windy and rainy day, our young pilot skirted the water’s edge along the low lying edges of gold. One could count twigs.  My immediate reaction was that this was a bison below, broad, thick, deep brown, furry around the shoulders.  That thought was rejected before reaching a state one could call real cognition.  Next my mind went to Musk Ox.  Can you see a pattern here?  Large and broad along the shoulders, big head. Brown, furry…Kodiak.  Moose?  Nah.  By this time thoughts were actually coming to some vague waking shape.  ‘Moose‘ was rejected before it had really even been considered. Even so, I tried to make it fit. Reality was a bit disconcerting. The creature was, I told myself, after all a dark brown that stood out from winter grasses much like a moose stands out in a snowy wood.  Hmm.  Problem was that this creature was not spindly enough and I am told there are no moose on Kodiak Island. Cow!  That’s it!  The most plausible explanation.  It’s a cow all by it’s lonesome in the middle of no where. There are no humans, no other cattle and large predatorial monsters wandering around. Right! By now we were flying beyond the beast.  I turned craning my neck for one last glimpse.  It was as brown and as placid in the field as would be a good sized and meaty bull.  That was my first glimpse of a real Brown Bear or Ursus arctos middendorffi, Kodiak style.

 Back at the ranch so to speak, or the place I was staying while working in one of the Kodiak Island villages, it was mentioned I might not want to walk around much outside “because of the bears.”  I was informed that a local resident had seen large bear tracks within the past few days.  Nearby.  Yes?.  I’d heard this before and had yet to see any sign of the elusive Kodiak bear.  They are supposed to be hibernating now anyway.  Never-the-less, I was cautious as I walked about in this area set away from housing and the few businesses, the boats.  There had actually been a bear near the school yard perhaps 8 weeks ago.  I knew this to be true based upon photographs taken, stories told, and by the fact that a large dumpster sits near that particular site.  I was beginning to wonder if this cautionary note had been nothing more than general concern about the POTENTIAL of bear appearances.  Because the reports of bear were not current, and there was no sign of or expectation of them in the near area, I set out around the building and the snow plow’s path to see for myself.

Uh yeah. There they were. Dog tracks. Large dogs tracks.  I’d seen the dogs running alongside their family cars on the way to the airstrip to pick up passengers, mail and cargo.  These were large Labradors, black and yellow, friendly tail wagging family dogs.  I kept walking, an eye now to birds in the woods not far out back and behind the building. 

 I cannot begin to describe my initial reaction.  Not a bear, thank goodness, but what had been clearly dog tracks led to an area where a much larger track appeared.  Much larger.  Big puppy. There were the toe imprints, smooth, rounded, the size of worry stones, something that would fit nicely into one’s palm.  Someone has been walking around barefooted. I wished.  I wanted a very large person to have been walking around in the snow without benefit of shoes or socks.  Surely that is what it was.  Yup.  I took a few more steps to follow and there was the mother footprint of all time.  I gasped and my heart began to pound.  I took a very large breathe as though preparing to slip underwater for a VERY long swim.  Then my voice returned and out came, something that can only be described as referring to sacred feces. 

Have you ever seen the footprint in snow of a Kodiak bear?  Huge.  Several prints were blurry and smeared into the snow, melted and refrozen now which was a good thing temporally. Gidget’s fingertip sized feet give the impression of a real sized dog once the snow around her delicate prints begins to melt around the edges.  There is no way this new line of prints can have been from a large dog then melted around the edges to give such a larger-than-life appearance. These prints were not examples of this phenomenon. This print showed toe pads so distinct and separate, just about a full inch of untouched snow between each pad.  There were other shapes planted in the ice; some holes had long and deep scratches into the snow towards the end of each pad mark:  claws!.  Yow!  I stepped into the shape of this Big Foot sized hole.  I placed my second foot in and snuggled it up next to the first.  Despite wearing a pair of those padded suede slip-ons in a wide men’s size, despite the thick red raglan wool socks to insulate them further, there was still room around the edges and in the length of the print for more foot. Oooooo!  Sacred feces!

Of course I looked up and around.  You know the routine: stop, look and listen, a warning from one’s earliest lessons about safety.  Nothing.  Whew.  I gingerly followed the prints to see where they went, then again, where they had come from.  Within 15 feet of the back door, the prints wended their way towards a couple of burn barrels and a telephone pole, made their ways between the two and into the shrubs separating me from a nearby cluster of village homes. Where had this bear come from?  I followed out and around behind the building where the paws came to within 10 feet of the building, meandered around the fuel tank and disappeared into the graveled scar left by the snow plow and about 25 feet from the front door.  On closer inspection I could see they had originally come onto the gravel yard from brush along the airport road. 

I was out here just two weeks ago and there had been no snow on the ground. Within 24 hours of this arrival in town, so I was told, it had snowed 6 inches.  These were not fresh tracks but they were certainly not as old as I would have liked them to be and most certainly were made within the past few days if not within the past 24 hours. So this is what “clean” fear feels like.

There are some fears that are born of worry.  These bring a chronic anxiety that eats away at one’s well being.  These are not beneficial-to-the-soul sorts of worries.  Then there are worries born strictly out of the natural world, the world where we belong, the one we are an integral part of.  These natural fears are the worries ‘born of bear’ if you will. 

I wondered what Gidget might do if she encountered a Kodiak Bear. I first imagined her barking and challenging much the same as she will try with a large and gentle dog.  Next I recalled the way she will step back to stand on my feet or hide behind my leg when she is genuinely fearful and wants to be picked up.  Yup.  I think I will take the Gidget tactic from here on out.  No longer will I suspect others from putting one up on the “new kid” and faking footprints the way the Big Foot prints were faked in northern California and Oregon.  These are big puppies!  No shame in respecting mama nature or mama bear. No shame in hiding behind someone’s leg.  Ok.  That might be going a little too far. 

Suffice it to say, one of the small take home lessons for me today is that sometimes it’s okay to accept a ride in a car rather than to walk the few blocks and the offer of a ride might be a genuinely sincere expression of concern. ‘Sides, it’s far too cold to be running around barefooted. Can you give me a lift?

Stay warm, wear thick socks. Watch out for big puppies.

 Always,

Jennifer and Gidget, the small (and large hearted) Arctic Chihuahua

A Clean Feather Bed…

Cleanliness is next to...an empty wallet?

Thirteen dollars! And how much clean water?

Sunday morning and it was drizzling outside.  This Fall weather was a lovely day to stay indoors to catch up on my happy domestic life.  I made a list of chores and a list of supplies on hand, running  the logistics in my head. Alas, as is often the case, the lists did not quite match. A walk to one of the local grocery stores (a choice between the Alaska Commercial Company or “AC Store” and Rotman’s) appeared to be in order.  I chose to walk to the AC Store because it is close, is on my walking route to and from work each day, and I tend toward the familiar.

This living small on the far edge may seem an unfamiliar adventure in many ways, yet in a few ways very routine.  Culture is not limited entirely to the expressive arts, language or spirituality.  Culture extends into the small acts and daily tasks belonging to each of us; it permeates everything we do.  Culture  for example includes expectations about laundry, it’s associated rituals and comforts. For me, there is something soothing about clean whites and in my culture (having been raised on 1950’s and 1060’s American television commercials),  a pile of still-warm terri bath towels with that slight eau d’bleach scent is next to…

“Oh!  Thirteen dollars a gallon!”

Let me repeat that:  “$13 dolllars a gallon!”

Ouch! I double checked the price, and remembering that $13 dollars was a small price to pay for Nirvana, I brought a bottle to the cashier. Only $13 for the pleasure of a hot bath with candles, a clean white towel, a clean white robe…and later, a set of crisp, clean sheets!  That is the culture passed along to me by my grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother before her… clean laundry.

Days like today are lovely and simple within in all of that complexity of daily human ritual or chore.  Tonight I will slip into bed, raise my arm up to create a small cave for Gidget, and as soon as she curls close to my belly, small and warm, we will nestle into our feather bed. Cradled into piles of lavender, sea green and white slipped pillows Gidget will smile as she sleeps, her little three pounds of snore almost inaudible, yet comforting. Life is good!   I am very fortunate to share this luxury with such a devoted, loyal and hedonistic beast. It is almost something I take for granted, clean laundry… this abundance of water, potable and plentiful.

Water

There are areas on this planet where mothers die from contaminated, untreated water, and where the hard bare ground might be all for their children’s beds.   For those of you who can effect change, please do.  And for everyone else, whatever your circumstances, where ever you may be, whatever your pleasures or hardships in cleaning or maintaining life, may your need for clean water and abundance of it always match up.  In your dreams, if not in reality, where ever and however you rest your head, may you and your children, from time to time sleep in a clean, soft feather bed.

Good night.

Jennifer and The Arctic Chihuahua

Links:

Flow the Film

Charity Organizations

Water Conservation Tips

Seals, Herring, and the Last Stones of Summer

The Last Stones of SummerThe Last Stones of Summer                                      

Gidget and I, as is sometimes the case, take a jaunt down to the shore to meander among the pebbles and driftwood. We step gingerly over the occasional jellyfish washed to shore and I collect interesting stones. 

This morning as we approached the water, I could see the surface was already smooth and mirror like.  The Kotzebue Sound becomes very still just before a freeze.  This morning it is not at all about to freeze. Though just a few short days ago the biting air told us it was trying or wanting to snow, today it is almost barefoot weather, with slight breeze to the skin. These are indeed the last days of summer.

Soaking it in, my sleeves rolled up on this no-jacket-kinda-morning, Gidget and I listened as the water lapped quietly. Herring jumped and flowed with the current, slapping and flashing a fin or two. At times, a cluster of herring hit the surface frenetically and as a group splashed and shimmered like a silvery puddle in heavy rain.

Further off, a seal or two, or five or six could be spotted, their dark conical heads riding smoothly just above the waters surface. The seals are beginning to migrate south for the winter. Some signal up north, the chill or the movement of the fish, whispers to the seals…”it’s time to be heading off.”

And so it is…

Later gators,
Cheerios and Love Life!
Jennifer and the Arctic Chihuahua

Elephant Fountain

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend I met while in my early 20’s.  He and I used to go around a bit about the pros and cons of staying in the Los Angeles area versus leaving the metropolis to live and travel.  You may be familiar with that theme…should I go or should I stay…my hometown…and so on.  In our case, Los Angeles County was not small but it was familiar and full of late nights with friends and intriguing films.  

He stayed, I left.  After having met Peter, I took one false start to San Francisco Bay’s north penninsula, then a leap to the home of my heart…Idaho.  Up north, there was always something to work on, another wall to paint or tear out, another vegetable or flower bed to care for, children to bring to the river.

Down south Peter was always working on something too: rebuilding a sports car, making a movie, always learning to do something new.  A very creative fellow is Peter. He’s been sending photos of one of his latest projects, snapshots of his designs through to the actualization, and most recently a link to a video clip of his work:  Elephant Fountain. 

Now you and I don’t have to leave the Arctic or New Mexico to travel to Burma, Peter brings his travels to us. Enjoy!

Cheerios,

Jennifer and The Arctic Chihuahua

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.

Oh…

“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

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