Adventures of an Arctic Chihuahua

Living Small at the Far Edge

Archive for Kotzebue

Heaven

 

Kotzebue Sound, September 2008

Kotzebue Sound, September 2008

“And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And God called the firmament Heaven.”  Genesis I:6-7

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Letters Home…

 

MCL at Canon Beach, Oregon - May 2008

MCL at Canon Beach, Oregon - May 2008

 

This evening, while cleaning out computer files, I encountered a particularly charming collection of letters. Some of these little snippets are more intimate than the average blog, so may seem more tender and sentimental.  Others are simply descriptions of living small in the Arctic.  Some are pages of journals, letters never mailed. I will post these notes one by one as the spirit moves and as circumstances seem appropriate.

Because the heart has no limit in space or time, use of the word “Letters” refers to those moments of ‘here and now’  observed and sent like birds on the wing.  “Home” refers to  that circle we draw around my feet here in Kotzebue, and around that place where you rest and read.

In this selection, use of the signature “Railways” is in reference to Oleta Adam’s R&B “Get Here” and ‘being there’ for a friend.  

Enjoy!

May 21, 2008

Kotzebue, Alaska

Dear M;

 Regarding the Anne Lamott shipment, thank you again! I told you I’d never read any of her work, but it eventually dawned on me that I’d been reading one of her books immediately prior to moving back to OTZ. “Bird By Bird” was thoughtfully packed and stored by one of the North Hall gang, didn’t make the journey, so was never finished.  Have you read it?

At any rate, you may or may not recall, Ms. Lamott was writing about a small flock of birds sitting on a telephone wire.  She was overwhelmed with a writer’s block, not knowing where to begin.  She sought the advice of her father, also apparently a writer, who suggested she describe them bird by bird, hence the title.  An enchanting story.

 The birds ‘who’ sit outside of my bedroom window each morning reminded me of that anecdote, and ushered in a completely new sense of Spring renewal.  

Let’s shed some of those old winter feathers too and sing on the wire as long as we can!

 Since returning from Portland, I’ve been collecting animal sightings to share with you.  Of course, there are the birds returning.  Seagulls return first, as soon as there is open water at the edge of the sea ice, between OTZ and Siberia (as a region, Siberia covers approximately 77% of all Russian territory, including the smaller political Russian Federal District).

As soon as the paired Ravens disperse to their respective and hidden nesting sites, the Robins begin to appear.  Yes, Robins!  I sighted my first Robin of the year just last week.  Small sparrows comprise the flock that sings outside my windows each morning.  The stripes on their heads are larger than sparrows more familiar to me.  Their song is slightly different, an Arctic Sparrow dialect of some sort (more about subtle variations and Darwin’s finches another time).  Since spotting the Robin, I’ve also encountered a Loon, Tundra Swans, and ducks of all sorts.

 Last week, while walking, I heard the rustle of leaves at the base of a tree and spotted a small vole.  Leaves do not dampen and disintegrate beneath the snow here; the snow is so “dry” and like powder blows about.  The leaves were still a soft cocoa beige (the color of caribou), dry and dusty.  The vole stood out a bit, having a slightly warmer colored coat.  In size, shape, texture and color, it reminded me of Gidget as a young pup and of course, I felt the wave of affection for this particular little vole.

 Birds are special creatures.  They fly; have feathers and scales, ancient coverings.  They are vertebrates just like us, yet we cannot fly.  How fascinating is THAT to the human psyche? Have you been able to sit and enjoy more of the birds in your yard?  How do you think of birds, in the sense of understanding them, observing them, taking them in bird by bird? How is your comical little Roadrunner? 

 This evening there is a Park Service bird walking tour of Kotzebue.  It will begin about 7ish, so as I birdwatch, you may already be sleeping. Love you lots.

Railways,

Jennifer

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

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


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