Thursday, May 17, 2012

Go Fly A Kite

I remember the first kite my Dad made.  It was large, made of heavy white tyvek material, with a large red circle like the flag of Japan.  The kite was so bulky it barely lifted off the ground, but it was unique.  Among the many other store bought kites, this one was unique, and it had personality.  I remember dozens of kites flying over Woodlawn.  A train of black, white, and orange trash bags.  Held aloft by a thin dowel exoskeleton.  One time, I remember my Dad frantically reeling them in as a thunderstorm quickly approached.  
Homemade kits were his specialty.  I think he made nearly every variety possible.  For many years I saw my Dad use the sewing machine more than anyone else.  Digging through the scrap bin of nylon at the craft store, stitching together patchwork quilt designs to blow in the breeze. 

 For two years I’ve wished my parents could visit Gretchen and I in Arctic Village.  Sadly, they never made it- but they sent the next best thing.  Last week a tube full of kites arrived from Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Dad sent materials to make over 12 “eddy” kites.  Dowels strait and bowed, pre-cut trash bags shaped like a diamond, surveyor take for tails, threaded tape for tacking it all together, and of course string to fly high in the sky.

None of my students had ever constructed their own kites.  They were used to seeing generic themed kites coming from the grocery store checkout line.  Toy Story featuring Buzz Lightyear, Star Wars with Skywalker, and plenty of Lego men to fly high in the sky were the norm.  Deltas and diamonds snapped together, flown briefly, then cast by the wayside.  The students were quite excited to craft their own.  The design was simple.  The materials basic.  Within minutes we were making kites.

Today was the last day of school.  After a village scavenger hunt followed by a bar-b-q it was time to launch our kites as afternoon breezes picked up.  Kids ranging from 2nd grade all the way to high school enjoyed flying kites in the arctic air.

We found a nice open space across the school.  Clear of power lines and trees, but not quite clear of snow.  Almost flawlessly Gretchen helped cast the kites up into the air.  Children learned through trial and error how to keep their kites flying the highest and longest.


A special thanks to my parents for gathering all the materials and mailing them all the way to Arctic Village.  We were even able to train up two kites, one of the kids said “ah look, its Sam & Gretchen.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Last Week In Arctic Village

The title, sometimes vague, often alluding to something learned in time- in this case, says it all.  This past week I notified the Yukon Flats School District I will not be accepting my contract and returning to Arctic Village next year.  It is a decision filled with as much excitement as regret.

Over the past 6 months I have contemplated this decision nearly every moment of every day.  Daily routines and daily debacles drove me back and forth.  There were times I considered asking for more responsibility, and times I wanted to get as far away as possible.  If you know me, you know I don’t take decisions of this nature lightly.  You might also know that my outward stature gives no indication to what I’m thinking.  Sorry.  Thoughts prefer to remain thoughts, and not spoken words very often.  In the end charts and graphs don’t help me, but feelings and gut instinct have the final 'say'.  

The past two years I have experienced and learned things that will take decades to fully comprehend.  Much like my encounters and episodes in the Army, Arctic Village has shaped me in a lot of ways.  As days turn to months, then years, I feel these ideas will come forth in many ways.  For now, I’m forever indebted to the Gwich’in Athabascan people for letting me live, work, and grow upon their land.  My prayer and hope is that I gave them and their children back a fraction of what they gave me.

In six days I will board a Wright Air Cessna Grand Caravan with the remainder of my possessions and fly back to Fairbanks.  The road begins again there, but the journey, is still to be determined.  For the first time in my life I don’t have a job or a plan for what is next.  I have ideas and passions I hope to spend more time with.  I have benefits to call upon.  I have a wife to love me.  I have a dog to follow me.  The rest are fish stories that can only be shared over a beer or whiskey.  Cheers.  ~Sam

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dry Meat

Dry meat, in my opinion is one of the delicacies related to Gwich'in cuisine.  Some people would compare dry meat to jerky. I have never made jerky, but dry meat can taste similar.  It is essentially the process of drying out Caribou meat in order to preserve it.  Dry meat is made a couple different ways depending on the season.  In the winter, racks are constructed within homes and meat is hung.  The drying process caused from the warm dry air within the home generated by a wood stove.  In the summer shelters are made using tarps, then fires are built and left smoldering or smoking while meat hangs nearby.  

Since the subsistence meat has been altered in some way, it is legal for to sell (or so it was explained to me).  Over the past two years I have bought several bags of dry meat.  It has been great for hiking and skiing snacks out on the trail.  Until now, I had not made my own.

During culture week, students visited a station which taught them how to make dry meat.  Despite seeing elders and parents carry out this tradition of food preparation, few had ever made their own.  While snapping photographs, I was invited to sit down and slice my own meat to dry.

I marinated using a broth mixed montreal steak seasoning.  The seasoning added a peppery bite which was really good in the end.  After one day marinating, it was time to dry.  Note: this step was solely added by me, and not a traditional procedure.  Occasionally people will marinate the meat, often using a teriyaki sauce.

Next you need a good rack to hang the meat on.  Many racks are made of thin twigs lashed together, I choose to use my oven rack.
The meat should be left hung for 48-72 hours.  The first day it will drip dry, making a mess underneath.  Every 6-8 hours it should be rotated.
You ask why doesn't the meat become rotten or moldy, since you're just essentially leaving out meat on the counter?  The answer is I'm not really sure.  Maybe because it is thinly sliced.  Maybe because the climate in this part of Alaska has very dry air.
After about two days, begin inspecting the meat closely.  It should look and feel like jerky.  Snapping when folded.  Nearly all brown, without a fleshy or glossy meat look.
My dry meat needed about three days.  The process might occur quicker when a wood stove is nearby making the climate warmer and drier.  Since I live in teacher housing this year, we have a broiler with base boards heating the building.
The ultimate taste test came when I gave a bag to the school cook.  A connoisseur of many dried meats, he at first agreed my meat was peppery, but also unique and delicious.