I have been trying to grow my ears today and learn more about the people with whom I am living. Had coffee with Susan in the morning and a long visit with her father Henry at the end of the afternoon. Looking for Susan’s house, I found her dad's place by mistake, and when I went back to her dad's I walked almost the whole way to Susan’s! “What took you so long?” Dad asked when I finally knocked on his door. (He lives practically across the street from me.) “Would you believe that I’m getting lost in a town with two streets?” “Sure,” he teased. “You city folks can’t find anything without signs.”
Susan lives in a nice two-story log A frame with three little dogs. A spinning wheel sits in her living room. She and her sister spin quiviut. Quiviut, which is the soft undercoat of the musk ox, makes a yarn that is as soft as angora and a great deal warmer. She also sews furs. She asked me if I was one of those people who objected to furs. I said that I thought furs were excessive in California, but necessary in Alaska. I know from sled dog racing that nothing insulates a face from an arctic wind better than a wolf fur ruff. I actually like fur, but forego the pleasure because of where I live, just as I try to use less fuel, because I can and still live well. Life asks different things of you here. People need to be warm. They trap and skin the animals whose fur they use for slippers, hats and ruffs. This isn’t consumerism.
Susan and I had a long talk about the children. She asked me if I might be able to put together a kids’ program. I said I would certainly try. At the very least, I can slip a little learning into their summer play. And perhaps they can teach me about their village, the plants, the customs, the names of the birds.
After lunch, craving soda, I went over to the store and cornered the last six pack of Diet Coke. As it chilled, I went and cleaned out the church, bringing the lectern, Prayer Books, candles, cross and communion vessels next door to the community hall for our first service tomorrow. I returned to the store to pick up matches and brass polish at 2 p.m., but it had already closed for the weekend. One more difference in our ways of life. One I approve of, even if we may have unlit candles tomorrow.
During his 80 years here, H. has taught school and run traplines, brought in a great many fish, and before the days of ATV’s ran dog teams. We talked a lot about the Native Way and its relationship to the Church. He filled me in on a great deal of local history and tradition. “When Raven turns a circle in the sky, it means you’re going to see something.” Raven’s done nothing but hide from me today, though he had much to say during my morning walk.
I could say more, but I’m talked out and am not sure I’d get the names straight if I tried. I lifted up my eyes and saw an eagle cruising for fish on the river.