Archive for The Arctic Chihuahua
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.
Jennifer and Gidget, the small (and large hearted) Arctic Chihuahua
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.
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.
Jennifer and The Arctic Chihuahua
We in The Arctic Chihuahua family offer our hearts and prayers for all of those affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike: residents of Galveston, Houston and every small and large community we do not hear about in the news, each family, each person, each animal, responders and volunteers who are giving of themselves, responder families who provide support behind the scenes…to the families who have lost loved ones.
For our readers: As your Prayers, Hearts and Well Wishing pour out, please do not forget that help comes in many forms: food, water, shelter, a safe place, medical care, a caring ear…
Here are some links to those who are there to help with those basic needs thanks to your donations:
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.
May 21, 2008
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.
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…
Cheerios and Love Life!
Jennifer and the Arctic Chihuahua
As Hurricane Gustav prepares to set foot on United States soil this week, I am painfully reminded (as are we all) of the devastation and heartbreak left behind by Hurricane Katrina only three years ago. In the early days following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (Katrita), my work on the ground was focused on helping those of the human species whose lives were spared but devastated.
Humans were not the only beings to suffer tragic and enormous loss however. Many pets were left behind in what were considered safe places, their families expecting to be able to return within a day or two. Other animals were simply left behind with the hope they could fend better for themselves if released. As time progressed however, areas behind the National Guard lines remained uninhabitable to man or beast. Not only were there floodwaters and the dangers of unstable debris, but also there were hip deep and throat burning toxic muds. With no clean water, no food, burning chemicals, and serious injuries, these beloved family pets slowly began to die. No one came home, and still, they waited faithfully and loyally to the end.
I felt so devastated by the animal tragedies all around me that I found myself avoiding calls home to my own dear pet and devoted friend Gidget. I felt it necessary to avoid thoughts and feelings about animals and pets.
I cannot begin to tell you the heartbreaking encounters, the pleading eyes from beloved animals too far behind the poisonous lake of muck, and so close to death, I dared not whisper. I cannot begin to tell you about the evidence of violent, not always immediate death by storm. I cannot begin to tell you how gentle and good your animals were during their last moments of life, how hungry they were for food, water, pain relief, love and reassurance. I can only hope that your pet was among one of the many who WERE rescued and is now home safely with you or perhaps lives with a family elsewhere, happy, healthy and well fed.
Our pets do become family; they rely upon us for their safety and well-being. We remove them from their own species and habitats where we become their entire worlds. Gidget tells me about the relationship between man and beast each time she greets me with maddening tail wagging or bows to invite me to play. Our pets deserve all of the safety we can provide them.
FACT: Over 60% of American households include a family pet.
Never again! Let’s prevent the animal tragedies of Hurricane Katrina from ever occurring again. Wherever you live with your pet, consider developing a pet disaster response and evacuation plan.
FACT: Of humans who are safely evacuated, return prematurely to a devastated area and die as a result, the majority went back in to rescue a family pet.
Let’s take them with us! Several organizations have excellent suggestions for disaster planning, pet evacuation, pet safety and ways to stay connected to your pet if you do become separated. No matter where you live, evacuation for some sort of disaster… hurricane, flood, tsunami, fire, toxic spill… may become necessary. Plan ahead. Learn pet first aid. Practice evacuation whenever you bring your pet to the veterinarian.
During times of national disaster, you can help by volunteering or donating to a reputable and effective response effort. At any time, disaster or not, consider becoming a volunteer and donating to your local animal rescue efforts.
The Arctic Chihuahua and I selected some pet safety links posted here for you. Perhaps you will find them useful:
The above links are for starters. If you find another powerful animal disaster safety website, please leave a comment. It’s urgent!
Gidget and Jennifer “>
If Sarah Can’t Wake Him, Nobody Can!
This child is my firstborn, Sarah. Sarah has always been a very optimistic yet realistic young person. She’s also paid close attention to men on horses. When Sarah was just over 2 years old for example, she wrote this little Haiku about her first experience at the rodeo:
Man ride horse
Man show off
Man lose hat
Of course I wasn’t there but I suspect it pretty much sums it up.
Sarah’s always been good at summing things up like that. At about 3 years old, when asked where children get their energy, Sarah confidently explained “They steal it from their mommies.”
Need I say more?
I could go on all evening sharing anecdotes about this lovely and perceptive person, but I won’t. It’s bedtime. She has a busy day tomorrow, as she does each day teaching economics and government to high schoolers. I have just said goodnight to her online and am ready for bed myself.
What I would like to share with you before I wrap this up is: that her students are very lucky kids even if they don’t know it yet, that she is an excellent horsewoman, that she is as sweet as she is beautiful and intelligent.
What I would like for HER to know is that I am fortunate too. I am fortunate this cowboy did not wake up… he’d never measure up to the fellow she deserves…and she doesn’t know it yet.
I love you forever kiddo.