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

Jimmy was back at the store pacing around with his over-sized parky and toothless grin. He was in his early twenties andwhether to decay or a fight he was missing his two front teeth. The missing teeth or the last several weeks of incarceration had no affect
on his positive personality. He was telling me about a movie playing in White Mountain that night at the community center.

Last summer someone had ordered in a movie for the village of Golovin. Several villagers crammed into school chairs and benches in the school house to watch THE WAY WE WERE with Robert Redford (one of my favorites) and Barbara Streisand. I had kids sitting on my lap, hugging me, placing their cheek to mine. The following day Donny and I were leaving on our trip “outside” (Minnesota and Chicago). That movie night I contracted impetigo on my face from one of the kids. I spent the trip outside treating the highly contagious unsightly virus.

Jimmy invited me to join him and others to travel that night by snow machine 18 miles across the lagoon to White Mountain. The majority of my days in Golovin consisted of work, cleaning up after dinner and spending time alone in my room. A trip with a group of people, including Unsky and Gooksy, was appealing — not logical — but a way to break the monotony.

The trip would be in the dark: the sun half heartedly rose around 9:00 am and hovered above the horizon before leaving again late afternoon. The temperature would be around 0 degrees that night. I trusted the so-called group I’d be with as I figured a trip to White Mountain on
snow machine in the dark was like my high school friends and I driving from Ottawa, IL to Streator for a movie. No big deal if it’s familiar territory. If you’d been there all your life.

Three snow machines pulled up outside the house shortly after dinner. Maggie and Martin watched me leave without a word but, in hindsight, the must have
been concerned — more than concerned. I couldn’t tell who the figures were under helmet and bundled in snowsuits. They were mounted on black new sleek machines. Jimmy’s machine had to be twenty years old. Perhaps the prototype for the first machine to run on snow. One could see its dull yellow squared off body in the moonlight. The single headlight had a dull glow that Jimmy said wouldn’t stay on, but “That’s okay, we’ll follow the others.”

We were no sooner out of Golovin and on the ice when the others took off like a rocket. We puttered along convincing myself we would never get to White Mountain before the movie ended. I should have asked what movie we were perilously traveling so far to see. I doubt that Jimmy knew. Whenever we hit a bump the light went out. Another bump the light came back on until we either ran out of bumps or the light just stopped working. I finally told Jimmy we need to go back. I was surprised when persistent Jimmy complied.

Fortunately we had a full moon and clear skies. Unfortunately Jimmy had no idea which way was “back”. On the ice and snow a degree to the left or right of one’s destination could easily leave one still in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, in the far distance, the other two machines were racing on a joy ride. They seemed to have no intention of going to the movie — nor making sure we were okay.

Jimmy pointed right indicating the direction we should go. Some time ago, M.O. had taken me on a machine out on the ice North of Golovin for the sole purpose of showing me, if I were ever lost, how to get home by the stars. Donny and Koke were more my friends than M.O. so it was unusual for him to show concern. Maybe he was under Martin’s orders. It was even more unusual to me to think I’d ever be out so far from Golovin by myself on the ice at night. And there
I was, north of Golovin with a lifetime villager and Eskimo who, to me should know how to get home. I should have known better than to trust Jimmy for anything.

As per M.O.’s instructions I found the twinkling star on Orion’s belt and told Jimmy we need to go that way. He again complied like a little boy and we were home within the hour. I quietly entered the house and up to my room where I removed my reindeer mukluks (mukluks courtesy of Maggie), down mittens, down parky with wolf ruff (ruff courtesy of Maggie), down cap, snow pants, long underwear and crawled into bed where I stared at the moon just outside my bedroom
window.

After I left Golovin and was living in Nome, I saw Jimmy a time or two. I later learned he was traveling one night on a snow machine, ran out of gas and froze to death.

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

Jimmy in Nome

Jimmy in Nome

winter buildings

The Old House and Shed in winter

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

With the winter snow machines came out making land travel less
constricting. A trip to White Mountain across the frozen bay or over the hilly snow covered tundra to Koyuk was now possible. A couple of brothers, grown men, who I had only heard about and hadn’t seen all summer and fall, holed up in their homes, were now out and about. These two Golovin residents, born and raised, whom I had never seen in my up to then 5-6 month residency, came into the store to buy gas for their snow machines. Their names were, strangely enough, Unsky and Gooksy and were the elusive brothers of outgoing flamboyant Jimmy. As small framed Jimmy’s personality could be pesky, his brother’s larger stature and shy and indifferent personalities could be somewhat frightening. Like Jimmy, they drank a lot. So I heard.

When they came into the store for the first time, I figured these two
had to be the brothers I’d only heard about. Their non-conversational
demeanor made me nervous and when they did finally speak I could barely
hear what they were wanting. They asked for their jerry jugs to be
filled with gas and a can of oil mixed in. I had to ask the one talking
to please repeat a couple of times. He would barely look at me and I
didn’t want to upset him by asking him to repeat several times. I
eventually understood what he needed but succomed to my nervousness and
blurted out, “You’re Jimmy’s brothers? Unsky and Gunksky? Oonsky and
Gooksy?” Fortunately they laughed at my slaughtering of their names and
the tension between us broke. I would see the brothers only one other
time during my stay in Golovin.

Snow cover and more freedom of movement also meant a realigning of
one’s bearings. The snow cover and frozen bay gave the landscape an
all-over evenness. Rising and falling hills, sharp dark rock formations,
coastlines and water were now blended into a white softening of the
landscape and the occasional disappearance of a horizon. One winter
visit from M.O., home from school, he suddenly told me to follow him. It
was night. He straddled the driver’s seat of a snow machine and told me
to get on. From home he drove far out onto the frozen bay then stopped.
We got off the machine and looking back from where we had come I was
surprised to see that the few small lights I expected to see from
Golovin had disappeared. We had only the full moon illuminating the blue
night snow and a sky with more stars than I’d ever seen before.

He explained that the ice/sea sat above the village which is why we
could not see it’s lights. He showed me the stars and pointed out the Orion constellation and the three stars that make up
his belt. In the belt was a star that appeared to twinkle red and
green. In the arctic night it was easy to see.  He explained that
if ever I was lost “out here” that I need to head in the direction of
that star. I couldn’t imagine my ever being “out there” by myself but I
was grateful for his taking the time to teach me an important survival
skill. He seemed quite serious and this trip was not a joy ride. We went
back home.

As it turned out, I would, weeks later, find myself in a situation
where I needed to know how to get back to Golovin from the middle of the
frozen bay one night in zero degree temps.

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

The sea beginning its freeze

Frozen Bering Sea

Frozen Bering Sea


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