Cottonwood Sap

For the first time this year, my fingers are smeared with cottonwood sap. It’s got a great smell, like ginger and fresh-mowed-grass. I found a few buds on my walk this evening and rolled them between my fingertips to release the aroma and squish their green insides out. What a pretty color, green!

The Koyukuk in front of Huslia was mostly iced in on Saturday (I went for a long bird-hike; among other things, I saw my first robin of the year, identified a white-crowned-sparrow by its song, and watched a northern pintail land in a pool of open water by the far bank. Yeah!) but by Sunday it was wide open. There’s a bit of a jam at the bend downriver from the village, but it doesn’t seem to be damming the flow the way the one on the Tanana did this weekend.

I was on the phone with my friend in Manley Hot Springs on Friday night when he heard water running somewhere. He lives in a dry cabin, so that’s a pretty notable oddity. “I’ll call you back in a sec, I’ve gotta go see what this is.” He called back a little while later, and by the time we hung up, water was rising almost half-an-inch every ten minutes in his driveway. That community is still mostly flooded–water is up over roads and in people’s homes–everyone is fine, but Manley hasn’t seen flooding like that for almost fifty years.

Spring. It’s a mess.

Almost every day now, during our walks, Silna drags moose scapulae out of the woods where folks dumped them last fall and gnaws on them. Normally, I can trust her to stay close while we’re walking, but all bets are off when she comes across something stinky and gross to chew. There was some confusion on Sunday when I couldn’t find her for a while. I got smart after hiking around looking blindly for half an hour and followed a raven cawing from the top of a spruce tree on the riverbank. Sure enough, Silna was sprawled on the moss below, savoring her disgusting treasure. Today, she tried to take one along on our walk. Pretty adorable–a moose scapula is so big that even with her head held high, one end bangs against her front legs and almost drags on the ground.

Equinox and Fox Walks

A fairly typical scene from last week, before the snow fell.

A fairly typical scene from last week, before the snow fell.

Cosmically speaking, there are a lot of neat things going on these days. The aurora is supposed to be good on Thursday, which is exciting as it hasn’t been spectacular for a while. The equinox was a few days ago, launching fall in other places and winter here. Last, but not least, there is supposed to be an eclipse tonight. I am going to have to go out this evening to watch the eclipse. If last night’s moon is anything to judge by, it’s going to be pretty spectacular. The moon is supposed to be rising mid-eclipse, which could be really strange and special, but might be hard to see. Some thoughtful planning is in order. I wish I had access to some high ground.

Last night's moon over the slough.

Last night’s moon over the slough.

Yesterday, Terri, Ben and I went for a hike out beyond the gravel bar on a quest for a view of the mountains. We never really got there, but we had a nice walk and a campfire dinner of baked potatoes and apples. DSC03867On the way out, a local guy on a four-wheeler stopped to talk and warned us about leaving the village without a gun. We were carrying bear spray and making plenty of noise, but folks here are very cautious about wildlife, and he hated to think of our needing a gun and not having one. We did see grizzly tracks and scat, and the bears are known to hang out by the gravel bar where the dog salmon are spawning now. DSC03856After our friend took off, we stopped by the gravel bar for tea and to watch the fish, which are huge and numerous. Apparently, a large portion of the world’s population of these salmon come back to our slough. They’re called dog salmon because folks around here use them for dog food. I let two kids out of school early the other day to take in nets and feed dogs. The fish are clearly tired out, sometimes rolling a little sideways in the current. They’re two feet long, and all muscle. They have to thrash a bit to get through the skinny water, and they sound like a herd of caribou splashing through the shallows. Sometimes you can see their dorsal fins sticking up out of the water, even when they’re completely still and silent. It’s totally strange. Our friend found us there, watching the salmon drift in the shallow water, and pressed a rifle on Ben, just in case.

The three of us walked a while beyond the gravel bar before we lit our fire. I wanted to hike to someplace new, and the weather was perfect: forty at least, with day-old snow on the ground and blue skies and sun.


We found a hole in a tree


and fairy sparkles


and the sky looked like a bomb pop all the way around, the east more pink and violet, the west more peach.

We wound up walking home in the dark, which I haven’t done before. I walk within the village after sunset often, but I haven’t ever been out beyond the firebreak after sundown before. It was new, and new was just what I wanted from my day yesterday.

Friday’s snow has stuck, the first to last more than a few hours. We’re due for more on Tuesday, so this may be it, folks. My kids begged me for a hike on Friday, and I gave in with pleasure. There’s something magical about walking in falling snow, and it’s not something to miss out on when the opportunity comes knocking. When we got back, I opened the classroom windows and we watched snowflakes blow in and dissolve on the carpet.

After school, I went out alone and followed fresh fox sign around a pond beside the old airport runway. DSC03831It’s the kind of thing that has to be done alone, a very personal pleasure. I walked out to the pond on purpose, knowing that there’s a fox that hangs around near there, thinking I might pick up his trail. After some bumbling around, I did, with deep satisfaction. The snow was only a few hours old, so I knew with certainty that the prints were fresh. I followed the fox’s tracks until they doubled back on themselves and I lost them under my own garbledy old boot prints. By that time, I was ready to move on to other things anyway, so I walked on up the runway.

DSC03842I love the way ravens’ wings make that whipping sound, a weighted rope swinging beside your ear. I like the way they leave wingprints in the snow.

DSC03846The snow is still so new. It’s a change in the landscape, for now, and I’m seeing it fresh. It’ll be with me a while, though, and after a while, I’m sure, it won’t seem so sparkling. Still.

I’ve been eating well, and walking out often. School is great and I’m mostly happy. I miss having friends around, but some of my favorite people have called me up lately to say hi, and that’s been awesome. If you tried me yesterday and I missed you, try again! I still can’t make outgoing calls, but I’m in touch with the phone company about it, and when their technician gets back from moose hunting, I think the issue will be resolved.

Gideon sent me a box of honeycrisps, which arrived just after school dismissed on Friday. I can’t wait to share them with the kids on Monday. The two who were still around when the box came in said (and I quote) “wow! How juicy!” and “I think… that is the best apple I have ever eaten.” They go crazy for fresh fruit, and really fresh really good fruit is unheard of. It’s freaking awesome.  Here’s a picture of apples in the snow:

mmmm! Picnic!

mmmm! Picnic!



Today, Jake and Shannon are taking me out shooting, and I’m excited about it. If I’m going to be an Alaskan, I guess I should learn to be comfortable with firearms. Later, when there’s more snow, I’m going to learn about snowmachines. Terri and I are talking about going in on one together, and now that my boat’s sold I think I can commit to that. Why not? I’ll for sure be able to get out to the mountains if I’ve got ski power, and that could make all the difference.

Arctic love,