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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Back to Village Life

The day we were supposed to return to Kasigluk, we got weathered in to Bethel, and had to shelter at the Longhouse. This was THE BEST night sleep we had in the 2 months. The soft rain, with the quiet air, and the stillness. Ah……peace! The next morning we continued on to Kasigluk — armed with a good night sleep and a fine breakfast from the Red Basket. It was just so good to know we were back to the Lower Kuskokwim Delta after the hustle and bustle of the lower 48.

Tunra Cotton Grass

Tundra Cotton Grass growing outside our back door

If you have ever traveled for an extended period, then you have probably experienced the feeling of relief when you finally arrive back home. We  always experienced that upon  our return home to Renton, Washington and thought that this would be what home would always be like. How quickly that concept of home has shifted for us in the past year! How beautiful it was to see that first sunset from our living room window!

Kasigluk Sunset

Kasigluk-Akula Sunset at 12:30 pm

Since this is Kim’s first year as a Principal, we decided to return to the village a little earlier to give ourselves some time to figure things out like: what hours the store and post office were open, determining what that loud boat coming down the river was about,  finding what VHF channel Kasigluk uses, discovering how we get our satellite system working,  deciding who we use for internet service, and starting up our Full Circle Farm delivery. OK, most of those were Greg’s priorities while most of Kim’s centered around figuring out school schedules, where new teachers were going to stay, and how to get the newly leveled teacher building hooked back up to water and power. On top of that we wanted to learn more about village life in Kasigluk.

As the days passed we were finally able to get all of those important issues ironed out. We found out the store was mostly opened to Monday through Saturday until 6 pm, but occasionally they would stay open later. They always have sales on the 1st and 2nd, and 15th and 16th of each month, and occasionally add sales for special events. With things in Alaska being so expensive a 15-20% discount on everything adds up quickly.

Windmills

Kasigluk Windmills

We also found out the post office has limited hours. Since there is only one postal agent working at a time they have to close for lunch. That means always checking the time before heading to pick up the post. Anna, and her backup Bertha, have been very helpful getting our mail sorted out.

Post Office Hours

Post Office Hours

As far as the loud boat we kept hearing is concerned, since we are so close to Bethel a hovercraft barge brings supplies up the Johnson river on a regular basis during spring, summer and fall — as long as the river is flowing. It isn’t uncommon to see the barge a couple of times during the week.

Barge Coming In

Barge Coming In – and the Newly Leveled House

Then there are the technical challenges. Between VHF, Satelite TV, and Internet, let’s just keep this part short and positive: All technical difficulties can be solved with persistence and patience. In the meantime, Greg learned a lot about satellite dishes.

Checking our Satellite Signal

Checking our Satellite Signal

Recording Dish Alignment

Recording Dish Alignment

The easiest thing to do was restarting our produce delivery. We used Full Circle Farms when we lived in Kipnuk so we went ahead and got that going again. The deliveries are a little more consistent being closer to Bethel, but we still get delays and damaged produce. Luckily they are always willing to credit items that are missing or damaged. One benefit of moving to Kasigluk is that Corp generally has a few more fruits and vegetables in the store so when a shipment gets lost we still have some options.

Our Produce Delivery from Full Circle Farms

Our Produce Delivery from Full Circle Farms

While we were sorting everything out, Kim was working diligently to get things setup at school before the students arrived. One of the teacher houses had to be raised and leveled over the summer. Due to a variety of delays it was ready the night before the teachers arrived. Prior to that moment, there was no heat, sewer, or water connected to the house. That could have been awkward.

One thing we had become spoiled with in Kipnuk was that we had several shelving units available. When we moved to Kasigluk we only brought the small one that Greg had built. In the process of unpacking we decided we needed to go ahead and try to make some additional shelving. As it turns out Kasigluk’s hardware store had a great supply of pine 1” x 4”, 1” x 6”, and 1” x 8” boards, so this was one of Greg’s first projects here.

Shelving in Progress

Shelving in Progress

One of the amazing things about village life is how much people in the village support each other. When someone has a large salmon catch, or catches a moose, it is not uncommon for people to offer other families bags of food. We have received several moose roasts since we have been here and several silver salmon. When one of Kim’s co-workers called to offer us fish one night we went to pick up a salmon. It was already late and we found out she had over thirty fish to process that night and was supposed to go to work the next day. Having never cut strips for fish before Kim offered her assistance as long as her coworker would show her how to do it. They then spent the next few hours cutting, cleaning, filleting and stripping fish for drying. Kim had a great time and learned a new skill!

Cutting Fish Into Strips

Cutting Fish Into Strips

One other learning experience we had shortly after arriving in Kasigluk is how to identify the various berries on the tundra and when the best time is to pick them. When we arrived, the blue berries were already ripening. Shortly after the bog berries (or pink berries) were starting to change. Many people prefer these in their pinker stage than when they start turning darker red as they have a tarter flavor. Finally, the crow berries and cranberries come ready. All of this happens over about a 2-month period so there are ample opportunities to pick berries. There are so many berries on the tundra around Kasigluk that it is near impossible to walk without stepping on berries. If you are used to picking berries in the lower 48 you might look out at the tundra and say “Where are the berries?” because these berry bushes aren’t big shrubs like found down south. They actually crawl along the tundra and the berries are mixed in among the short foliage. It is not uncommon for lots of cranberries to be left behind over the winter, buried under the snow. These berries don’t go to waste, however, as many people prefer collecting them after spring thaw as they say they are much sweeter then.

The first week of August Kim had to head into Bethel for some additional training. There she got to meet the two new teachers. By the time she returned to Kasigluk that weekend some of the returning teachers had arrived. The teachers had a week to prepare before students started on August 17th. All of the preparation paid off as the school year started off pretty smoothly.

Plane Back to Bethel

Plane Back to Bethel

Bethel Sunset

Bethel Sunset

Next:

The school year in full swing and heading into the darkness…