Monthly Archives: July 2013

Going upriver to Akiak


loading the boat to go upriver on the Kuskokwim to Akiak

I got to go to Akiak on Wednesday! My first river trip, my first village, and the first time I drove in Bethel! And a quick fyi-I’ll be doing some updating tomorrow, to link the photos to my Flickr account. Done!

The big occasion was to take two musicians to entertain and visit with the villagers in Akiak. Mike Stevens, a world class harmonica player (best in the world. really.), and Raymond McLain were in Fairbanks for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, and Terese Kaptur, the director, had the great idea to share some of the artists with outlying communities. That’s how they got to Bethel. Mike requested a trip to a village, and that’s how I got to go to Akiak.


Sally Russell

My supervisor, Sally Russell, was the head honcho for all the festival activities in Bethel, and when I heard she was taking the musicians to Akiak, I asked if she needed any help. She was happy to have me come along, mostly so I could visit a village and see first-hand some of the difficulties of living there.


Ron Kaiser

Ron Kaiser, the KuC maintenance man, was our guide and boat captain on the way to Akiak. He’s a very experienced boatman and fisherman, and I learned a lot about the river from him. He packed the boat for us and did a great job of guiding. It was a little damp on the way up; the weather was cool and cloudy, and there was occasional mist, but still a good trip. The river is quite a bit different than the Tanana and Chatanika Rivers that I’m familiar with. Sandy muddy beaches with lots of alder and willow. We didn’t see any spruce til we got close to Akiak, and then it was only the occasional tree sticking out above the alders and willows.


Mike Williams

Mike Williams, one of the village leaders, was our contact in Akiak. He picked us up from the boat and hauled all the gear to the community center. He was happy to let me and Todd Paris, the official UAF photographer, take photos of the performance, the audience, and Akiak.


Broken Record, the band that Steve and Raymond played with

I didn’t get the band members’ names, but the group is called Broken Record, a misnomer. They’re excellent musicians, and worked well with Mike and Raymond. I couldn’t tell that they’d never practiced with Mike and Raymond! It was a wonderful concert; I love bluegrass music and it was fantastic to be in the front row listening to these guys!


Simon Goldstein

We were also graced with an accordian player, Simon Goldstein. You can listen to him at Soundcloud. Simon is working at Meyers Farm this summer, and I’m not quite sure how he hooked up with us, but he came along to help with the sound system. He’s a young man with a lot of energy; he’s going to be starting a farm of his own to supply Alaska with fresh vegies.


Dancing in Akiak

I spent most of my time in Akiak listening, and enjoying watching the dancers. Boy, there are some dancers in Akiak! I have never seen a group of people that could dance so well. Even the youngsters could dance. I really wanted to dance, but was a little shy about getting out there on the floor. I don’t step near as nicely as these folks do!


Julie and Friend

The kids in Akiak were a hoot! They were so friendly and polite and loved the cameras. Todd and I both had fun playing with them, taking pictures, and just interacting with them. I was brave enough to let them play with my camera for a little bit, and they took some really good pictures! I’d love to see them get to do some photojournalism, and document village activities and their own lives.


community center parking lot

I also spent a little time walking around Akiak, just to see what it was like. I was very impressed; it’s much cleaner and neater than Bethel. Someone works hard to keep this community in good shape. Seemed like most everyone has a four wheeler instead of a car or pickup, judging by the number of them parked outside the community center. Not too many dogs either; a couple of small village dogs running around, but I didn’t see any sled teams and only a couple of tethered dogs. Pretty late in the season for drying salmon, but there was a rack hanging down by the river.

The afternoon was concluded with a snack of dried salmon and dried hooligan (or smelt), crackers and cookies, and some spaghetti. Mike Williams spoke a little bit about the difficulties of suicide, and then asked several of the elders to give some advice to the young people. Mike Stevens then talked briefly about an experience he had in a village in Labrador, Canada, when he saw some kids sniffing gas. It changed his life, and he started a program to bring musical instruments to the villages. Earlier in the afternoon, Mike Stevens shared harmonicas with the kids in the village. Lastly, we handed out some door prizes.

The door prizes were really fun! I got to be the announcer, because I had my glasses with me and could read the tickets. We had berry buckets, tee shirts, vegies, I donated one of my small quilts, and there was an iPad mini to give out. I really got into it, and was making little silly comments about the prizes. Like the vegies-I expressed the hope that some single guy would get them and he could fix a dinner for his sweetheart.

We all had a great time! Mike and Ray are very personable, very down to earth. They are both world class musicians and we were very lucky that they were willing to essentially donate their talent to the people of Bethel and Akiak. They hove to when we were loading and unloading the boat, and were incredibly friendly and easy to talk to. And oh yes, my first time to drive in Bethel was to take them to lunch a couple of days after our Akiak trip.

Mike Williams took us all back to Bethel, and in contrast to our dampish trip upriver, going home was sunny and warm. We unloaded the boat and headed to the River Cafe for dinner, and then home to bed. Mike and Ray must have an incredible amount of energy; they were so busy in Bethel and Akiak, and never had an afternoon to just hang and rest up. After leaving Bethel, they were both off to more traveling. I don’t know how they do it!


My first qaspeq


My first qaspeq/kuspuk

I made my first kuspuk last weekend! It’s a style I hadn’t seen before; I’d planned to make one with a ruffled skirt, but when I saw it the shop, I had to have this one. It’s more like a winter parka than a kuspuk, which is why I chose this pattern. It’s one that Jeanne devised herself, so I can’t use it to make kuspuks to sell-but I wouldn’t anyway. Production sewing just isn’t my thing.

Kuspuks are a lightweight overshirt that a lot of the Native women, well, everyone really, wears. They can be as fancy or as plain as you like and there are all kinds of styles. The main ingredients are a simple pullover with long sleeves, a pocket, and a hood; after that, it’s fair game. Some of them are just barely waist-length, some have a pleated skirt, some have a ruffled skirt, you can trim them with rickrack or embroidered braid or bias tape or no trim at all. Mary made hers with puffy sleeves and a fairly snug cuff, but you can use elastic in the cuff too. The skirted kuspuks can come almost to your knees or be much shorter; all the styling is up to the maker. Each village has their own basic style, but with variations. Since I’m not a villager, I don’t feel constrained-I can do whatever I want.

Well, I should start at the beginning! I saw the class advertised at Raven Quilts a couple of weeks ago, and my friend Mary said we should take the class together. Sounded like fun to me! So we paid for our class and made plans to head to the shop together. I gathered up some fabric; some horse fabric I’d intended to use for a quilt many years ago. Oh well, nothing like repurposing!

Jeanne Acton taught the class. She is an excellent seamstress and incredibly energetic. She was doing about three things at once the whole time. Teaching the class of five, helping Kate with running the long arm quilter (a quilting machine) and advising the girl running the shop. I learned a lot about cutting and sewing more efficiently. We all made our own patterns, although I didn’t make mine until after I was finished; I used Jeanne’s pattern.

Both Mary and I were thrilled to finish our kuspuks, or qaspeqs is the way its spelled in Bethel. Mary was particularly pleased, as she doesn’t think she’s a very experienced seamstress. You could have fooled me! She did a great job on her kuspuk! I love the way she trimmed it.

I have another pattern that I was going to use, but Jeanne’s pattern is so simple, I’ll probably use it again. There’s only two main pieces, the sleeves and the pocket. Really fast to put together! And I can use it to make a winter parka too. There’s a quilter’s weekend retreat next weekend… maybe I should make another kuspuk… I really like the first one I made; it’s super comfortable!

Sad News

Harpo on her haunches

Harpo sitting at the dacha doorway

Update: all the photos are linked to Harpo’s Flickr.

My darling little girl is gone. My little pumpkin-puppy, Harpo, Harpetta, Harpsichord, Bee-bug, Bugby, passed away last week. Her penchant for chasing cars is finally satisfied. She chased her last one on Thursday, June 29. I miss her warm little body snuggled up to me in the mornings. She wasn’t an early riser and loved to stay tucked under the covers while I got ready for work, until she really, really needed to go out and pee.

Harpo really didn't want to get up this morning!

Harpo really didn’t want to get up this morning!

A few days before she left, she was sound asleep. She farted in her sleep, a nice loud one. Up she jumped! She looked at her behind, “What the heck was that!?” She didn’t like me to fart either. Or sneeze. No sneezing Mom! Or maybe it was that sneezing meant there’d be a kleenex to grab. Sometimes she grabbed it before I could even blow my drippy nose!

I miss snuggling on the couch with her. My little PeeWee wasn’t much of a snuggler; she got too hot and preferred to be nearby on her dog bed in front of the Monitor (oil stove) at the cabin in Fairbanks, or curled in the opposite corner of the couch in Bethel.  But every so often she’d cuddle up in my lap or between my legs while I read a book or sewed. And the last couple of days, while we were hanging out in the dacha in Fairbanks, she curled up on my lap in spite of the heat. Not much padding on the floor, I’m guessing, but I didn’t care. I loved cuddling with my baby girlie.

My little sweet pea left this world while we were back in Fairbanks, cleaning out the cabin, getting it ready to rent and shipping out the last load to Bethel. She had a wonderful time running around the big yard, chasing birds, grabbing my feet (no boots! no! Harpo, leave my feet alone! Ouch, that was my toe!), and delighting in the freedom. I couldn’t turn her loose at the house in Bethel-too many cars, too many bikes/4-wheelers/walkers going by, too much trouble to get into! She stayed on the chain and enjoyed watching the world go by, but it was not the same as being loose. She missed that.

The first time I turned her loose in Bethel was on the boardwalk at Pinky's Park. She was SO Happy!!

The first time I turned her loose in Bethel was on the boardwalk at Pinky’s Park. She was SO Happy!!

We walked daily in Bethel, for about an hour and a half. I was able to turn her loose for part of our daily walk, most of the time. We’d walk out on the tundra, Squirt would be chasing birds and investigating holes and tasty bits of dirt (or whatever), while I photographed plants and meandered. She was a great companion to take walking; almost everyone wanted to pet her and coo at her. She would alternate between wanting to play with other dogs on leashes or bark at them to prove that she was bigger and meaner and bossier. It was always a crapshoot to let her sniff noses-was she going to play nice or would she be grumpy and mean?? Loose dogs or chained dogs were less of a problem; she’d play with the loose ones and bark at the chained ones while I dragged her away.

She finally got to play with someone!

She finally got to play with someone!

Miss Bean Wiggle was a chow hound too. Walks on the Bethel tundra were often punctuated with commands to “Leave it!”, which of course she wouldn’t! Spit out a tasty bit of bone or feather? Good heavens, what are you asking? They were the very elixir of life to Miss Harpo! The first several weeks we were in Bethel, I swear Harpo ate every single feather she could find! I finally gave up trying to stop her from eating feathers; I figured it hadn’t hurt her yet and I hadn’t been able to stop her anyway. She finally got her fill of feathers one day-the day I gave up trying to stop her-after eating what looked like almost a complete ptarmigan. Lots of ptarmigan feathers around town in the spring because people shoot them, clean them on the spot, and leave the rest of the bird to decay naturally.

Walking in Fairbanks was a lot more fun for Harpie. She’d have to stay on the leash until we got to the path behind the cabin. We worked hard on not chasing cars along Chena Hot Springs Road, and she got to where she’d ignore them. Once we got to the path, Harpo was all about running. She’d run down the roadside trail (far enough from the road that cars were no fun) to the powerline trail. Deep snow was a challenge for her, and she’d usually find some kind of trail to follow; often as not one she’d made earlier in the week! She’d wear her snowsuit but somehow it would come off, or most of the way off, in deep snow. By then she’d be warm enough to walk without it, so I could hang it on a tree to grab on our way home.

Potato Bug loved to run. Sometimes she’d get bored and just run and run and run in circles. Around the cabin, around the dacha, around trees along the river path in Bethel. Around and around at top speed. The joy on her face was infectious; I could never resist laughing as she chased the wind. She’d chase her tail on occasion too, even though she didn’t have one!

As much as she loved to chase things-anything!-she wasn’t a retriever. Keep away was her favorite game; chase her to get it, whatever “it” was. We played a lot of keep away in the winter when it was too cold to walk. Or she’d get one of her stuffies and gut it. Rip it open and start taking the stuffing out. Luckily she never ate the stuffing! It usually took a month or two of playing to fully gut a stuffy; sometimes much longer, and sometimes she only needed a week or two.

Harps was such a character! So independent and stubborn, but quick to learn. Housebreaking was not fun; puppy pads were underfoot for the entire first winter. As soon as it warmed up, and she could go out without her snowsuit, she was almost instantly housebroken. The only time she had an accident after that was when I didn’t let her out or take her out soon enough after she asked to go potty. At Colette’s house though (she went there once a week to play with-aka “annoy”-Mazda), she still had accidents every once in awhile. Not sure why.

She loved going to play with Mazda and Colette’s little boy. Harpo treated him like another puppy. Sometimes Tulugaq would play with her, sometimes he would complain about her. Sometimes Mazda would get tired of her sass and just retreat to his doghouse. If they both had chewbones, Mazda would eventually get both of them because Harps would find something else to do, and I’d go rescue her bone. Five minutes later Mazda would have it again!

Harpsie wasn’t much of a chewer at home either. She never destroyed anything, well, except toilet paper and paper towels. She loved shredding those! There was usually a roll of toilet paper that she could reach, and when she got bored, she’d grab it, just waiting for me to play chase. When she got older she’d get this sly look on her face, like she knew it was wrong, but it was so much fun and Mom was being sooo boring.

I really miss all her little antics, her begging for food (I swear, the next dog I get is NOT going to get table scraps except in their food dish!), the morning cuddles, the way she’d try to avoid her harness when I wanted to go for a walk, the way she guarded the Bethel house from walkers and other dogs, watching her chase birds like she thought she could catch them… all the little things that make up a relationship with your dog. I miss the routine of taking her out to pee in the morning, coming home at lunch and letting her out of her kennel, the evening walk no matter what the weather is like. Watching her swim in the river to retrieve a stick, until she was too cold to go back in and I’d stop tossing.

She made sure all the pipes in Bethel were accessible to Bostons.

She made sure all the pipes in Bethel were accessible to Bostons.

How could I forget that she loved pipes?? I let her go through drain pipes in Fairbanks, and she hid in one after I rolled the Subaru (fall ’12), and wouldn’t come out for anyone but me. She inspected every single pipe in Bethel!

I don’t want to forget the way she jumped in her empty pool in Fairbanks, looking at me wondering where the water is. Watching her chase waves along the river bank, trying to catch them. I am not going to have another dog without taking them to the ocean to play in the breakers! I don’t want to forget the way she used to flop down after I put her snowsuit on and refuse to move, when she was a puppy. I don’t want to forget the way she’d smother me with kisses, every time I picked her up. Every single time. Even if I was mad at her. She was the light in my days. I can’t believe my silly little girl is gone. I just hope she is having a great ol’ romp up there with her big brother Gizmo!