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

By fall, everything was changing. Cranes high
overhead were flying south — flying so high they would not have been
noticed were it not for their chorus of guttural calls. “Eee-shi-gi”,
declared one of the girls looking up at the seemingly thousands of
cranes. My Golovin family was also moving south and East–Donny back to
Fairbanks, MO back to Duluth, alone, to finish school and Sister to
Anchorage to try her hand at nursing school. I was alone in the store
big house with my aunt and uncle where there would be, finally, no
shortage of work for me. It was a lonely feeling but my curiosity and
determination to live the winter months in Arctic Alaska tempered my
sense of solitary displacement.

Blueberries, seal oil, salmon, reindeer and moose were some of the foods my relatives stocked
for winter sustenance. Another food and material was ground squirrel.
Every September Maggie, a friend, Kathy, from Koyuk and a long-time
friend named Belinda packed into an interior camp at Omalik to hunt
squirrel for the food and fur. Cloth parkys (parkas) were lined with
tanned squirrel hides while fancy parkys were made of a large number of
squirrel hides both inside and out. Each year Maggie made this trip with
Koke who flew the women in and helped set traps for unsuspecting ground
squirrels. Koke was a good, contented happy fellow who, I’m sure, made a
pleasant companion for his mother and the ladies each year. Belinda was
especially fond of him.

Belinda was the most Eskimo Eskimo I would ever meet. She was the real-deal-100%-raised, my
ancestor-in-the-flesh Eskimo. She looked National Geographic Eskimo,
spoke almost exclusively Eskimo (Inupiaq), had long gray braids tied to
the back of her head, dressed in kuspaq and calf skin mukluks and
carried a traditional Eskimo made box housing a small collection of
Eskimo handicrafts. She carried traditional ivory carved “sun glasses”
and other bits and pieces she treasured as talismans. Maggie was not so
appreciative as she had been raised Covenant Christian and taught not to
believe in traditional Eskimo “folk” tales. I, on the other hand, was
fascinated.

The day before leaving for Omalik Belinda was delivered to Maggie’s front door. She and Maggie greeted each other like
the old friends they were with laughter and Eskimo kisses (a gentle hug
with sniffs on the cheek). Maggie introduced her to me saying something
in Inupiaq. Belinda snorted a hello obviously not entirely pleased with
what she was told about me.

One of the first orders of business was tea and dried fish in seal oil. I had become very fond of this dish.
Paper plates where laid out in front of us with a shaker of salt
nearby. Chunks of fish (salmon) were spooned out of the jar of seal oil
and placed on the plates then salted liberally. Anyone who has eaten or
smelled, for that matter, seal oil, knew that any surface doused with
seal oil would remain doused with seal oil — and thereby forever smell
like seal oil. The rule to eating dried fish in seal oil is to eat
exclusively with one hand and keep the other clean for grabbing salt,
tea cups and such. Belinda watched me like a prison guard ready to voice
her disgust if I were to contaminate both hands, this after I
apparently disgruntled her sensibilities when I actually ate the fish in
seal oil with obvious pleasure. While she chattered on with Maggie,
catching up on all the news, in Inupiaq, I pretended not to mind being
excluded. Actually I didn’t mind as it was as if I were seeing and
observing in real time and space the people most people only see and
read about in books. Belinda, to me, was a national treasure. I would be
spending the week with her in the arctic interior. I looked forward to
the experience but she would not make it easy for me. What I thought
would be a short warming up period would quickly turn into a moment of
unwelcome hostility on her part.

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

belinda

Belinda telling one of her many authentic Eskimo stories to a classroom of children.

Great Aunt Maggie and Dad

My father with his mother, also named Maggie, wearing a fancy parky made with squirrel skins, wolf ruff, weasel tails and calf skin for decorative inserts.

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