Aliyah found her mammoth bone up the Porcupine. Mammoth fossils are common on the Yukon Flats. Most are found along the rivers that erode so much of the land every spring. People are always showing me mammoth tusks, teeth and bones. Aliyah is very proud of hers.
I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am to get to work with the same students for five unbroken years. We have become a family, of sorts. But the truth is, that family includes every student in the school, even the youngsters in the elementary grades. They all know my name, and they grow up wanting to be in my science class someday. I know, because they tell me so. One or another always greets me in the morning with a “Hi, Dave!” or a “Happy birthday” on the day we older ones would as soon forget. They bring me their rocks and bugs and bones and moldy bread to see. Just like Aliyah, because we are family.
Alfred cuts a hole
When my neighbors get serious about ice fishing, they do it with a net, not with a line. We have a community service class at my school and they recently set a net at the mouth of the Sucker, right where it flows into the Porcupine. Salmon traveling upriver to their spawning grounds tire and turn in to the smaller side channels like the Sucker for a rest. They find a net instead. The students are catching eight to ten large fish a day, mostly salmon, but some whitefish, too. They give their catch to the elders and needy of the village.
Imagine depending entirely on the land for all your needs, a land given to short summers and severe winters. How does one solve the problems of making tools without tools, or sewing without thread and needle, or making nets without twine? The Athabascans are remarkable problem solvers – they did all this and more because their survival depended on it. I glimpsed a bit of that problem solving acumen as I watched Alfred teach the students how to ice fish with a net.
And how on earth would you figure out how to run a net under the ice for some serious fishing? If you are interested in how Athabascans do it, here is Alfred to teach you. Click on a picture to start a slideshow and read about it.
We try to cut three holes about 10 feet apart, but the ice is very thick and nearly impossible to cut through, so we stop at two.
A long willow pole is run under the ice from the first hole to the second, trailing a rope behind.
At hole two, Ethan, Troy and Dillon are having trouble snagging the pole, so Alfred helps them out.
Finally, Troy has snagged the pole and is pulling it out of hole two.
Back at hole one, Alfred attaches the net to the rope that is attached to the pole that Troy is pulling out of hole two.
Success! The net is set under the ice. Dillon is understandably satisfied.
Albert is glad the job is done.
If you are going to ice fish, you need a fire. Albert and Alfred warm themselves.
Debbie, our principal, tries her hand at ice fishing with a line.
Line-caught pike and whitefish.
So what about those other problems that the Athabascans overcame? They made tanning tools and needles out of caribou bone, thread out of sinew, rope out of rawhide, and nets out of willow bark!
The days are short now. At 4 pm in the afternoon, the light fades fast and this is what it looks like. I was fascinated by the old cottonwood tree hanging on for its life. Hidden in the trees just beyond it is a cabin in the woods.
Six years ago, Lindsay and I visited this very spot, only back then the bank was a good 50 yards further to the right where today only the river flows. Old Simon, an elder of the village, once told me stories about how the rivers have re-sculpted this land over and over and how people once lived in warm cabins where now only fish swim.
I thought Simon must have exaggerated his stories. I confess, I wasn’t wholly convinced of the power of a river to so dramatically alter the face of the earth in the lifetime of just one man. But Simon was right, and this place is the proof. I am awestruck by the magnitude of the river’s irrepressible impact upon the land. So much change, in only six years!
Next May the Porcupine will break as it always does, impatient to chart a new course to its end, and its currents will pulse with a beat which the earth cannot meet.
I expect the old tree will not survive the coming spring, nor the cabin. Perhaps when they are gone their memories will remain swirling in the eddies of time.
Bittersweet: sweet with a bitter aftertaste; arousing pleasure tinged with sadness.
Never in my six years here have I seen so many beautiful nights. I’ve put some other new aurora photographs in Galleries/Arctic Sky II.
Geomagnetic storms have been blasting the Earth for the past week, so I stayed up late to see if I could get some pictures.
The older I get, the more relative the term “late” becomes. I took this at 10:30 pm. Shot it from my porch, again. The temperature was 0˚F and I stood there hoping my 30 second exposures were worth the cold slicing through my thin cotton pajamas. I was too tired to get dressed for serious Arctic photography. Shot the pics and hopped into my warm bed.
Below is the same photograph in black and white. I was looking for a spookier rendition.
Frost and backlight photographed in 2014. That was a great year for frost and our snow came early.
Yesterday afternoon the first snow of 2016 fell, and it didn’t exactly impress anybody – about a quarter inch. I didn’t even photograph it. The temperature remained below 15˚F today so it’s still on the ground.
We all want winter to get on with it. Halloween is a week away, and Arctic goblins seriously like the snow.
My Fry Meat Dinner
There is nothing complicated about making fry meat. Sometimes, simplest is best. I bought the moose from my student Albert and my Athabascan friend Maggie told me how to cook it. If you don’t have moose, then try it with anything you have. It’s really, really good.
- Moose meat, sliced thin
- Sliced onions
- salt and pepper to taste
- cooked rice
Heat a little oil over medium-low heat in pan. Place meat in the oil and season, then add the onions. Cover and cook slowly until the meat is no longer red and the onions are tender. Uncover, increase heat and fry until brown on both sides. Remove from heat, add the cooked rice and stir together. Serve.
We only have 17 miles of roads in Fort Yukon and they are all dirt. This is a trail made by 4-wheelers and used by snow-goes in the winter. There are many times more trails than roads and you are free to start your own. Of course, the distinction between roads and trails is rather blurred. The nearer trees are poplar, or cottonwood. You can see the white bark of an aspen stand farther down the trail.