Wednesday, April 28, 2010


A community member donated an otter that he caught to the school.  I'm not an expert in any way, and though an expert could probably take care of it in seconds flat, people seem to like the fact that my style is up-to-my-elbows-in-it, willing-to-try-it-and-learn-from-my-mistakes, and I think folks like it that I always find a group of students to watch and participate, so they brought it to me and I took it to a nearby classroom:
If there are any other educators out there reading this, I'm sure it warms your heart as much as it does mine to see students so completely rapt.  We looked at the organs, looked at the mouth, tounge, teeth, feet, toepads, claws, tail, etc. We noted how much fat it has on its tail compared to the rest of the body. We had a great teaching moment when one of the students wanted to play with the carcass, and his classroom teacher and peers scolded him, saying, "You have to respect something that gave its life so that you can learn from it and eat it. Would you want someone to do that to you if you were in the otter's place?" The student shook his head quietly and took in the rebuke. Regardless how you feel about animal rights and all that, I don't think anyone would deny that this 30 second interaction will stick with this group of kids, and hopefully influence their future behavior.

We worked on the otter until school was out(we started it at the end of the day), and still students wanted to hang around and watch.  Two of them in particular asked out loud, "I wonder how the otter tastes?"  So we called home for those two students and asked if their families would like to eat the meat -- and we found that yes, definitely they would like to cook it.  So I divided the meat for them to bring home. Perhaps only in Alaska would you find schoolkids walking home with a plastic bag of meat.

The teacher and I stayed to slice more of the membranes and meat off the skin.  It is amazing to me that regardless of the other activities I do, such as skiing and carrying babies, children, and all their stuff, that my muscles can never get used to sitting on the floor cutting up creatures.  I guess because I'm using tiny little muscles, or nuances of motion, that I never use otherwise, and there's nothing aside from cutting up creatures that can get those muscles in shape.  But man was it tiring! And just one little otter.

We ended up cutting an embarassing amount of holes in the skin.  It seemed really thick, and it felt like you had to really use a lot of pressure to get through the membranes, but once you got through, you had to let up really quick.  That, also, takes some muscle memory to develop, I think.  But it is going to work out fine anyway, I think, because if the finished product works out well, I think the most equitable use of it -- the most students who can beneifit from it -- would be to cut strips of the fur for trim and added warmth on other projects, such as the skin booties that students make during our cultural festival.  So the holes won't matter too much, as we can incorporate them into the strips we make. Yesterday we got it ready to put into the (environmentally-friendly) skin-tanning solution.

I've been getting a post ready on the process we've been figuring out for skin tanning for ages -- almost since the beginning of the school year!  So I'm not going to go into it now (but now that I'm inspired, look for it soon).  But something else happened that took me on a whole new train of thought.

After I posted about this experience on facebook,  my friend Amy protested, "But they're so cute! I'm a cutetarian -- I don't eat cute food."  Well, she's right on at least one point. Otters are cute.

No matter how adjusted I become to this Alaskan subsistence life, I can't seem to weed out (and do I really want to uproot something that's been a part of me since inception?) that little heart-melting moment when I see an animal is, well, cute

Then there's the other feeling -- something that could be labeled as "cute" if you look at the feeling from the surface but it goes way beyond.  There's a moment when, looking at something wild and really alive, that I feel awe that this creature is in the world, and doing its thing.  A teacher friend asked, when she saw the otter, if I had ever seen them slide down snowy hills on their bellies.  I haven't, but I can imagine being out on the tundra and witnessing such a thing, as I have with other animals -- I almost can't put it into words, witnessing its life force.

I feel like most hunters I know would laugh at my above assertions. There is a scene in the movie Australia when the white socialite is coming to the bush for the first time, riding in a jeep through the outback.  They come upon kangaroos, and she is gushing, "Ooooh, BeaUtiful KangaROOs" and then pow,  all of a sudden one of the hunters sitting on top of the jeep has shot it, and the next scene is them roasting it on the campfire.  It's Ok, I laughed at that scene too.  But when I really think about this, it feels like there is this rough, tough, rambo attitude in Alaska that animals are FOOD and that is IT.   That if you feel any sentimentality towards animals, that you are some greenhorn who deserves to be poked fun of like that socialite in the movie. I don't like feeling like I have to reach some level of cold-heartedness to be a legitimate animal user.

But at the same time, uber-sentimentality sugarcoats things to the point that it's impossible to coexist with them on any true level.  I've been an animal rights activist and vegan, but putting things on a pedestal and refusing any interaction with other creatures in a primal way is artificial and pretentious and styryfoam, and I don't think it's a true or fulfilling path for either party, humans or animals.

Besides, plenty of people who feel that hunting is cruel or that trapping is inhumane will eat hamburgers at McDonald's -- ever watch Food, Inc.?  If you missed it, check out this Grist article, it sums up the problems pretty nicely. The mass-farming system is ridiculously cruel, not just to the animals but to the workers and to the environment. Animals raised in CAFO's (concentrated animal feedlot operations) have a horrible existence.  They are victims funneled to the gluttony of consumerism -- they have no quality of life.  There is no respect, no communion, in that kind of food. And yet it's more acceptable than subsistence hunting to many people.

This otter had an amazing life. It was born wild, traversed the tundra, experienced extreme weather and probably slid down a bunch of snowy hills on its belly. It was a male, so it probably fathered a few litters. It ate fresh fish, drank clear water, and died a quick death. Then it gave students a chance to learn from its innards, gave a few of them a good dinner, and will probably allow some of them to practice their sewing. Then it will keep a few babies' feet warm.

 I posted about this years ago, in the beginning of the blog, but I feel like this is one step forward in the evolution of my thinking even since then, because at the time I wrote that post, I was still of the mindset that I would have to disconnect from my emotions to be able to hunt or cut up animals for food, that I would have to swallow any grief at the loss of life, awe-inspiring life. Now it feels like I've come full circle, because I have realized that having those emotions, sometimes belly-shaking emotions, about the dead creatures on my kitchen floor adds to the whole thing.  I don't shake myself of the emotions, now; I invest them into the process.  Recognizing their cute-ness, their beauty, being affected and touched by the life they once lived means that I will do my best to treat the animal with utmost reverence, as I do my job of taking care of its remains in the best and most productive way I can. 

Recently an elder who is also a kindergarten teacher, named Dorothy, spoke to students about why it is important from a traditional perspective to take care of the environment, and she said that one time when she and her grandmother were out on the tundra, they had taken seal ribs with them to snack on.  When Dorothy was done with the meat on the bone, she tossed it behind her to decompose into the tundra.  Dorothy's grandmother scolded her, saying, "That seal's spirit will talk to all the other seals in the ocean and tell them that you did not treat its remains with respect. When your father goes out hunting next time, he may come home empty handed."  The better thing to do was to bury the bone once you were finished eating it.

Dorothy also said that she was taught that everything has awareness, not just the living things.  A log gets tired of being on one side on the ground -- as you walk by, turn it over.  Another teacher told me that her grandmother taught her that even dust is grateful when you sweep it up.  Just writing about this makes me feel like I've touched a chord in the universe that resonantes close to true spirituality -- the kind that imbues ever moment with meaning and mindfulness.  Maybe the word mindfulness is overused these days, but I think it sums up everything I'm trying to say.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Spring at the beach includes Icebergs!  I'm sure they are not Titanic-sinking icebergs (though there may be that kind further out, I don't know), but they are user-friendly, kid-manageable (and manhandle-able), and quite picturesque:
Each year I've been here is different, as far as what order things happen, and when things happen.  But basically the beach is covered with snow and ice, and the ice pack extends far out over the ocean. How far, I don't know, as it's not part of my experience. I think that varies year to year as well.  But at some point, the ice pack that covers the ocean breaks off and floats farther out to sea, to eventually break up and melt, while the snow and ice that covers the beach is slowly eaten away by each tide coming up.
The weekend before last, I made it down to the beach on my skis, which is farther than I've gone yet this year. I liked thinking of it in this way: I skied to the edge of the North American Continent!  (Don't tell Colin and Julie Angus that, I'm sure they would feel one-upped.... ha ha, right, they are only the first people to circumnavigate the world using only human power (rowing, skiing, bicycling).
 Anyway, the dogs had a good time playing King of the Iceberg:
 And Fancy had to jump on and off, on and off each one:

I think Fancy calved that one with her nose! And then they got so hot they partially destroyed one rolling around on it to cool themselves down:
So this past weekend, I decided I had to bring the girls down, as I knew they would have so much fun with  some iceberg play:


You thought you saw everything in this picture, didn't you?  Well, look again.....
Eeek!  But that isn't even as creepy as this one, that kind of seems like Iris has found a child trapped in ice:
Then Esther decided to use it as her "unicorn":
 Yeah, good times. :) 

Some of the ice formations are really interesting:

Above is ice that seems to have just slid off it down onto the beach. Interesting. There was kind of a lot of that ice around -- on the tops of tide pools and such, where it was just-congealed slush, not hard enough to be ice, yet still holding together. I wonder if there is a name for that kind of ice?

And there's a chance to see cool critters in tidepools:
I haven't ever seen this kind of jellyfish before, and it was way cooler than the camera could capture.  The stripes were kind of iridescent, and I could see little cilia moving like dominoes down those stripes.  Then Draco came and put his paw in the middle of it and I think it got traumatized, because the cilia stopped moving. *sigh*

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


We've been enjoying the warm-ish and calm weather to the max and getting out doing an activity we all can participate in:  Sledding!
Even though she was a little trepidatious, I made mom ride in the sled with the girls.  She's such an awesome YaYa!
Our friend Katelynn, who is a first year teacher from Arkansas, came over on St. Patrick's Day to "play out" with us.  She got excited after she saw the girls go down the hill, and just had to try it herself.  I know that snow is a new world to her -- I wonder if she's ever been sledding?

Esther has turned into a rock star.  All on her own, as we were sledding out on the tundra behind the school, she decided to stand up!

I think she's ready for a snowboard!
What a cool picture!

So last Friday night a group of us decided to go sledding at the dunes on the beach. It was quite the convoy, especially since Lindsey decided to surf on the sled behind the snowmobile, while I drove my 4 wheeler behind them.  There was one sketchy moment when Lindsey fell off the sled and I could have run over her if I wanted to, but luckily I like Lindsey pretty well! :)  Kids, don't try this at home!
Here is a picture of us coming up behind:
Our honda is pretty loaded with me and the girls and Katie and our sleds and stuff!
As soon as we got there, Greg drove away on the snowmobile to scope out the best hills.  He almost immediately drove off the edge of a snow cliff!  Here is a picture of his tracks: where he flew off the top and landed, then his shoulder-skid, then where the machine kept going and his footprints running after it. YES, this is the same machine that bucked us off last November and broke Iris's leg. I'm telling you, it won't stop for nothin'!
Below, the brave soul who was the first to go:
It was pretty steep!
And, defying our dares, Lindsey even tries it face-forward --
She makes it through alright, with tons of snow down her coat. 
After those trips down the steep hill, I felt like she was pro enough to take Iris down the less steep hill.  But, as you see, Fancy has to accompany them. :)
Melody takes the less steep hill, and still screams her way through it....
But she survives, so I give the OK for Esther to go down with her:
So then I took the reins...
And this is what I feel like we're doing every day, hurtling through the universe, me and my girls:
Yeah, the sledding is fun, but...
after every slide, you have to walk back up to the top!  Might as well just make a snow chair and stay put at the bottom:

Here's a picture of the whole gang before we left the beach --
R to L: Lindsey, Greg, Katie, Melody, Esther, Me, Iris. Draco is nicely heeling by my side. Fancy is trying to lick people on her level in the front. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Brave YaYa ventures forth to the Frontier once again!

Yes, even with the harrowing scrape with the volcano last year, my mom came up to visit us again this spring!

Finally we had some nice weather,

 ...and the inevitable illness that strikes at least one member of the family during her visit waited until the last couple days, so it was almost the best visit yet. Mom even got to visit Esther at school:
 And eat lunch with her in the commons:

The only real issue of the visit was that we discovered, on the day before her arrival,  that we were hosting some other, albiet extremely unwelcome, guests:


Ah, the joy of learning what it means to have a child in school! 

And since Esther and I are so close, well....
Yes, I had them too. I came about a centimeter away from shaving my head.

And, I guess, since she was seeing us all do this to each other, little miss mimic had to get in the act:  
My mom escaped the plague.  As did Iris. Thank goodness. 

Some folks may wonder, why on earth are you putting this on your blog? It's gross and embarassing!  Well, if some very helpful folks hadn't put a bunch of free information about lice on their blogs and websites, I think I would have lost my mind. I probably would have pulled out my hair in tufts!  SO I'm going to share some tips and the sites I got them from with you....

First of all, I used to laugh when my students told me they treated lice with mayonnaise. It sounded like a big, fat wive's tale. Hower, I found out that any oily substance really does work in that it suffocates the lice and makes it harder for them to elude the comb when you are trying to get them out. I learned this method from a funny and informative site called the 5-Step Battle PlanIt's got a really goofy video that is still really helpful and memorable. I am really grateful to the makers of the site (AND you can get a really great metal comb on the site -- the ones that come with the chemical kits are for crap, especially for those of us who have really thick hair).  

So, anyway, you have to leave the oil on for a substantial length of time, though, or it won't work, so most of the time it's reccommended that it's put on at night and covered with a shower cap -- hence Esther's cute washerwoman look:
Yes, it's messy, but man is it a relief to know that you're doing something that at the very least does not allow them to roam around your pillow at night. And it's non-toxic!  You know, even though I am more on the earthy side of things, I was totally willing to use the pesticide for lice removal once in our hair.  But then I realized when reading the instructions that the chemical does not kill the nits. The nits live on, happily, until you comb all of them out (nearly impossible, as they are SO tiny and blend in so well) or they hatch.  Therefore you would just have to keep using the chemical several times before it's totally killed -- and that's just gross to me, using a chemical over and over.  If you use the oil every 4 days, you'll catch and suffocate any lice who have hatched.

And here is a product that I'm excited to try (darn slow Postal service, it hasn't gotten here yet, but what it says on the website has me intrigued):  Happy Heads   They make a shampoo and other products that are made out of essential oils that supposedly dissolve lice exoskeletons.  And since they are natural, it's possible to use them preventively, once a week.  I like that idea since I doubt this will be our only run-in with lice during my girls' elementary school career. 

I also liked this site's take on the whole thing; it's some of the same info but a couple different suggestions: Ask Moxie  (You have to scroll down a ways to see the beginning of the article.)

Well, here's a sincere hope that you and yours never have to deal with such infestation!
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