Spring

I am still in the arctic. Most of the teachers fly out within a week of the end of school, some in that same hour. I get asked why I stay. People think I am crazy. My answer is that during the school year I don’t get out much. I am working, or have to get up in the morning or need to catch up on something or another. I joke that while school is going I don’t really live in Shungnak, I live in the school. But now that school is out I have time to go out and play, and to catch up on all the half started projects.

One of the big projects I took on was repairing the sled I bought las winter. It was in ok
shape but it is a fixer-upper. The front and back horizontal braces need to be replaced as they are cracked (the back one all the way through). All the track ties are coming off and need to be replaced and retied, along with all the other ties as long as
I am at it. The plastic running strips need to be replaced as they got destroyed this winter (they may have been missing a bolt or two when I got it leading to extra wear). And the back of one of the runners has a good size crack running up it that needs to be bolted back together.

Most of the repairs are fairly straight forward but they take just a little know how and tools. The tools I can borrow but it sometimes takes a while to get them and often they don’t quite work the way I want them too. Some of the pieces need to be replaced like the runner strips and tie downs and I will probably wait until fall to get those.

Recently I have taken up fur sewing. I wrote some about it in my post fur. I have made a second pair of baby booties and have recently gotten some caribou legging pieces which I may be able to make an adult size pair of mukluks. It is more fun than I ever would have thought and more pricy too. Fur is not cheap.

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My first pair
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My second pair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The price of fur leads me to my other spring hobbies, hunting and tanning. As a cheaper alternative to store bought furs, there are a large number of muskrats around. Somewhere too there are lots of beavers and almost everyone has at least a few beaver furs hanging up to dry, although I have only ever seen one and did not get a shot off. I would like to get one eventually but I will probably need to get a boat ride with someone for that to happen. Muskrats are everywhere though and if I hike up the creek it is rare that I do not come back with at least one.

I am trying to work out how to do bark tanning. So far I think what I have done is pickle the hides but not truly tanned them. This means that I could soften them and get usable material but if it ever got wet it would very quickly go back to the fleshy phase and when dry would be stiff again.

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Muskrats on my porch in various stages of the tanning process.

What I have done so far is; fleshing, stretching, salting/drying, pickling (salt and vinegar mix) which I am still experimenting with how long it should be in there, neutralizing (baking soda and water) which again I am experimenting on time, then I am pretty sure there is supposed to be another round of scraping, a tanning solution (ie bark or mineral tan), more stretching, and finally working the hide until it is soft. Somewhere in there I think I am supposed to oil the hide also, but I don’t have any tanning oil so hopefully that is not too important. Most of the hides will stop at either the salt or pickling phases and I will try to finish them at home. My parents will be thrilled. My roommate probably is thrilled that I waited until summer to do this.

Along with tanning, I am also trying to clean skulls. Last fall when I got the fox I boiled (simmered) it for way too long and it pretty much fell apart when I went to work on it. I have gotten a beaver head from a local who was got a beaver and I am going to try to clean it up. We will see if it works. The internet would have me believe that a presser washer and some Walmart chemicals make it easier. I don’t have either so I may be in for a smelly challenge.

The head will be boiled outside which my principal who acts as my landlord and my roommate will appreciate. Fortunately we have a new fire pit. Ok so building it wasn’t technically a summer activity since school was still in session at the time but I am still pretty proud of it and have definitely been getting summer use out of it.

I have also done a fair amount of hiking and poking around the area immediately around the village and have found some cool stuff. Enough I think for its own post. And of course I have been hunting! Not just muskrats, but also ducks. In Alaska there is a spring season for residents and there are so many moving all over right now. I have found it is best in the evening (about 10pm) as they are coming in to sleep. They are tired and don’t seem to pay as close attention to what is around them, and if have they already found a spot they are less likely to fly until you get pretty close.

One of the high school boys showed me a canoe which is for “for anybody to use”. It seems to stay parked near the bottom of the creek most of the time. I have taken it up the creek a few times and it makes retrieving ducks and muskrats soooo much easier. It also allows me access to good spots I just can’t get to on foot.

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11:00 PM hunting ducks a mile from home.

I would like some help identifying the species. I think the orange billed one is a type of spoon bill. It has an orange bill and feet. This one is female but the male has a black head and beak and a brown section and white section on its belly. We also have pintails, mallards and many more. The little ones are what the locals call ‘cup of soup’ and for good reason. They fit pretty well in one hand and make up about one cup of soup. If they are 1 cup then the others aren’t much more than two though. There aren’t very many large ducks and even the geese are small, for geese. I have not gotten any gees yet but I am still watching for them when I am out.

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Cup of Soup and breast meat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an update. It no longer gets ‘dark’. The sun does go down about 12:30am and comes up about 4:00am, the middle of the night being 2am. Even then it is not dark but more of a twilight. There is still enough usable light for most projects and hobbies. The light has messed with my sleep schedule more than anything and I tend to sleep for 4ish hours at night and then 4ish again in the afternoon.

Several people have suggested putting tinfoil over the window in my room. Unfortunately that is the only window in the house which has not been boarded up for summer. When the teachers leave the houses are boarded up to prevent break ins and broken windows while we are gone. Since I am still here they were kind enough to not board up my door and to leave a window for ventilation. But if I put foil on it I have to close it to keep the wind from ruining the foil and making noise, and if I close it then it gets kind of warm and stuffy in the evenings. I have tried sleeping on the couch in the other room, but it is not quite long enough. I may end up moving my bed out to the living room which was boarded up.

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2am, midnight, as dark as it gets

I am also one of the only people left with keys to the gym since the principal is out of town until the end of the month. This leaves it to me to open it in the evenings which is important since many of the students have gotten tired, over the years, of the things which entertain me, and idle hands will always find something to do. Wearing them out and giving them a good activity to fill a couple hours at the same time is a win win.

 

 

As always don’t forget to comment, ask questions, and check out my other posts. All posts is a good place to start.

 

 

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