Today we cross another threshold in the daylight department – the sun will set today at 4:01 pm. Finally! Every day it’s brighter for a tiny bit longer and everyone is pretty pumped up about it. We’re still happily hibernating, but now we’re starting to feel something stirring. Winter isn’t over yet, but we’re starting to think about spring with great anticipation.
In the meantime, we continue to live in a picture postcard (until the rain came and washed all the pretty snow away.)
Dinner parties are frequent ways to pass the winter evenings, gathering with friends and sharing comfort foods. The best part of these events is listening to people’s stories. We’re still shedding our “cheechakos” (Alaska newbie) label, having lived here for just five years now. But many of our friends have lived here their whole lives, or all of their adult lives. One friend was telling us stories about when he lived way up in Kivalina – a very small island village about 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and about 1000 miles northwest of Anchorage. He and his wife taught at the native school there, and they had a five dog sled team to get around in winter. It’s not the kind of place with easy access to groceries, so subsistence hunting is a necessity. In winter people kept their caribou carcass up on the roof of their houses – because it keeps perfectly well in the frigid temps. When you wanted some meat for dinner you opened a window and whacked off a chunk of caribou. Our friend said that he used a bone saw to cut the piece; a lot of the locals used an axe, and that left bone chips in the meat. The things you learn over dinner!
Another friend asked if they were concerned about polar bears taking their caribou, but he said it wasn’t usually a problem. In fact, he said that sometimes a polar bear would come and socialize with their sled dogs – he knew this because he would find their massive paw prints in the snow by the dogs, but the number of dogs remained constant. Yikes! Polar bears are absolutely apex predators – they look at us and see “food.” But they must have had good seal hunting nearby, and were sated.
Sadly this little native community must relocate, as global warming has caused the sea ice to form much later, and for a shorter period of time. The sea ice protects the island from winter storms, and it provides a safe “land bridge” to get to the mainland in the cold months. Without the ice, the community is inundated by big storms more often, and the island will be uninhabitable in the next few years.