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To start reading from the beginning, go to May 11, 2008.

Jimmy was back and Captain K (Kiyukuk), the reindeer herder, was
scheduled to leave. For days the Captain sat on the living room
varnished plywood floor scraping reindeer leggings. Leggings are,
naturally, fur skinned from the legs of reindeer. Kiyukuk placed the
14″-ish X 8″-ish piece of hide fur side down on the floor. With the hide
between his outstretched legs he thumped and stroked his handmade
scraper — rounded steel blade and bone handle — against the raw side
of the leggings removing dried membrane and tissue. Maggie was happy to
finally have her stash of leggings clean, white , soft and supple for
making mukluks. I was the happy recipient of a pair reindeer mukluks
with seal hide sole and land otter trim.

Kiyukuk was an expert at scraping reindeer hide. He worked for hours
happy to have work to do in a warm living area keeping an eye on the
comings and goings. He didn’t say much but would occasionally converse
with Maggie in Eskimo. He spoke English but when I said a word or two,
he pretended not to hear me.

Maggie and Martin brought him to the house nearly starved to death
with pneumonia. Maggie had taken good care of him and after a few weeks
of recuperation in Golovin, he was to be taken to live with his sister
in the midst of civilization (Anchorage?). Most of his adult life he had
lived alone surviving in the arctic wilderness. I wondered how he would
survive his last years in the city. It didn’t seem right or fair to me.
But it was inevitable. My suburban mind believed if we worked hard
through to retirement and old age, we would be and should be awarded
approaching death with dignity and peace. It didn’t appear to be a
dignified end for Captain K. I imagined him feeling displaced and caged.
I can’t know, but I am now aware, having watched my elderly parents and
others, that if I live to be an old woman, those last years may offer
the biggest of life’s challenges.

(to be continued) copyright Tamara Ann Burgh, all rights
reserved

Dancing Eskimo Boys

Learning to dance, Nome Elementary School

The Iditarod recently finished in Nome. My first experience with Iditarod, I took this picture of the last sled to
arrive in Nome some seven days after the winner. A ptarmigan is attached
to the stick.

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To start reading from the beginning, go to May 11, 2008.

I sat one morning behind the store counter working on an intricate
rose pattern needlepoint I’d ordered through a catalog. A gaze out the
window across the frozen bay broke my concentration In the white
distance I saw a cloud of snow rolling over the ice. I first associated
it with something like a sandstorm — sudden boiling wind pushing a wall
of sand across the desert. I thought I was viewing a rare natural
phenomenon until Maggie explained it was reindeer. My imagination then
switched to scenes from a western movie where wild cattle stampeded
campsites, fallen cowboys . . . everything in their path. I imagined a
thundering heard of reindeer storming through Golovin right past the
window I stared through. I hadn’t yet seen a reindeer and I was going to
see them now in all their glory.

It wasn’t an uncontrolled stampede, however; the cloud of snow rising
above the horizon was due in part to a couple of men on snow machines
herding the cluster of deer toward Golovin to be slaughtered. As I write
this many years later and some 3,000+ miles away in a cozy tree lined
bucolic neighborhood, I feel a ping of grief for the deer. At the time,
however, sustenance indigenous to my relatives and ancestors was racing
to the village — it was exhilarating.

I don’t remember, and probably didn’t ask, how they were killed. If
the 30 some deer were shot, I don’t remember hearing the gunshots. Late
afternoon Maggie sent Sister and I to the slaughter area. The ice was
red and pink with a pile of reindeer heads and guts the only remaining
evidence of that wild herd hours earlier. I assumed the meat and furs
were distributed among the villagers. Sister and I were on an errand to
get some “books”. “Books”, if I remember correctly were a grisly part of
the esophagus that did look something like a floppy bundle of pages.
Maggie boiled them for dinner and we had a rather noisy meal of slurping
and sucking. She fixed another meal of tongue and reindeer brains —
the tongue was fine for me to eat but the brains were one of the few
meals I just couldn’t eat.

At dinner Mating mentioned that the reindeer heads made good seat
covers. It took awhile before I understood he was talking about the fur
skinned from the skull that made just the right size for a warm seat
cover. I wasn’t in need of a warm reindeer head seat cover but there was
a pile of heads out there on the ice and the challenge was
irresistible. The following evening I had a reindeer head on the kitchen
table while Maggie, relaxing on the black vinyl living room couch and
Martin in the lounger, talked me through the skinning process. I was
happy to have another opportunity to use the ulu she gave me months
earlier to skin squirrels. Later that winter, while living and working
in Nome, I purchased a Honda Odyssey ATV. My reindeer head served as a
warm seat cover. Tragically, one night, I forgot to bring the seat cover
into the house and dogs must have carried it away.

However, I still have and display the rose pattern needlepoint pillow
I made behind the store counter in Golovin.

(to be continued) copyright Tamara Ann Burgh, all rights reserved

reindeer heads

I wish I'd picked up some antlers.


Honda Odyssey

The Honda Odyssey I had in Nome.


needlepointpillow

The needlepoint pillow I made in Golovin.


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