When will Spring be?

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Still waiting for the sound of birds. One flock of geese spotted in Bethel last weekend. The glory of those flying spirits of the air. Five of them flying in a V formation. They have yet to make it to Kasigluk. We are patiently waiting for their voices to waken us from this long winter slumber.

The ice is rotting on the river. One family member posts on Facebook, “If you see my brother tell him the river is not safe to walk on and keep him on the other side.” We wake to new snow every morning that fades into mud and sloppy puddles by evening. And we still wait for the river to break and life to really begin.

still winter

Travel from the Akiuk side to the Akula side has become treacherous and time consuming. Each family has it’s own way of coping. Some folks move in with family on this side to avoid the commute, some families have a systematic and complex method of crossing involving walking across the ice pulling a boat and testing each step and some families choose to stay put until the river breaks up and boat travel is once again safe.

Last weekend, while flying over the tundra, it was with great hope I noticed the down-stream rivers flowing over and around flows and chunks of ice and that, by the time we made it back to Kasigluk, how frozen and immobile our own river appeared. The season is reluctantly turning, reluctantly moving forward, and reluctantly releasing it’s tight-fisted grasp on the village and its people.

This morning the sound of Ptarmigan — their chicken-y laugh — greeted me as I stood on the porch waiting for the dog to do her morning walk-about. Running in to get Greg, “BIRDS!!” Then back out on the porch to silence. Darn it. Was it just a dream or did they know somehow to keep their song just for me.

Last night, the whistling sound of snipes (yes – they are a REAL thing). Greg saying, “Hear that?” Um, honey, I think it’s just the windmills. Then the inevitable, “No, I really heard them.”

We have a legit case of “Bird Fever.” Not Bird Flu, way more serious. Bird Fever is only cured by that moment when then birds return to Kasigluk and begin once again their ancient life cycle. Building nests, laying eggs, flying from pond to pond, raising their young and ushering in the next wave of subsistence. A pattern of life that has existed for over 4000 years here, waiting for and dependent on, break-up!

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A Village Feast

Greg Spring

There are many types of feasts here in Kasigluk. They are an amazing part of village life and cannot be described, they must be experienced! Some are to celebrate new life —  a baby’s one year birthday is cause for a feast. Some are to mourn the passing of loved ones — the days before the burial, the day of the burial, the 20 day, the 40 day, the 1 year, the anniversary. And, there are other reasons to feast: a visiting dignitary or long lost family member, first catch, Slavic, and more.

Common foods served at feasts are as follows. For children, the plate is colorfully filled with goulash (usually moose), jello, and cake. For adults there is usually a choice of moose or fish soup and akutaq. After the meal has been eaten the children run outside to play and the adults gather at the table to enjoy tea or coffee, meats or sweets, and bread and jam. As one chair empties another adult takes that place until everyone has been served. A feast can take days to prepare for, and hours to experience.

While people are waiting for their plates, younger family members pass out presents to the guests. Candy, soda pop, little bars of soap, tiny shampoos, t-shirts, socks, washcloths, and other small items are common gifts. People come to feasts with plastic grocery sacks in order to juggle all the things passed out. Waiting to see what is coming next is as much fun as visiting with the people we are siting with.

Sometimes 200 people (or more) will come to a house for a feast. Plates are first passed out to elders and clergy sitting at the table, then the children and people in the house and then to people on the arctic porch and then outside to the folks standing in line.

WAIT! 200 people? The houses there must be huge! Not really, it’s just that people sit where ever they can. On beds, on the floor, squished in and cozy. Yup’ik houses have a magic quality that defies description. There is always room for one more person.

WAIT! 200 people? HOW does one cook that much food? Once again, it is a magical experience where there is always enough food! AND, I have come to appreciate when there is macaroni salad. It is inconceivable to the Kass’aq mind how feasts really work. And yet, Feasts are one of the most important community events in the village.

Someday, maybe next year, Greg and I will attempt to have a feast. I know it will be likely that we will need much help and assistance from our friends and new family here. This year, we will have a Throw Party for my birthday and that’s where we will start. What’s a Throw Party? I’ll tell you more on another occasion.

So, what might a Saturday night Feast look like for Greg and I? Hmmm…. Please understand that we cook every meal here — with the exception of the occasional school lunch made by the fantastic chefs at Akula Elitnaurvik!

Occasionally, Greg and I will have a different type of “feast.”

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Seal Soup, Seal Oil (in Snapple bottle), Sailor Boy Pilot Bread, Blueberry-Banana Bread, Greg’s home-made Bread

It goes like this…

Appetizer: Popcorn

Bread Course: Sailorboy Pilot Bread or Ritz Crackers sometimes with butter

Salad Course: Some radishes or carrots (with or without little white root hairs)  usually served from a plastic container

Fish  Course: 1 OLD can of smoked oysters with the dust wiped off, or dried fish from the fridge

Cheese Course: Processed cheese wedges in a foil wrapper or single serve processed cheese in plastic. Market price

Dessert Course: 10 peanut M&Ms

Drink Course: Tea served with powdered coffee creamer and sweetener

It’s not an everyday feast, it’s a “sometimes we’re too tired to cook” feast and that’s what’s in the pantry. We are blessed with abundant choices and are grateful for the food we have available, especially as freezers are getting bare and we are waiting STILL for Spring.

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