Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in Perryville

Relentless winter storms brought howling winds, blizzards, downpours, and at times -20 degree weather, thus grounding planes and my plans of going home for Christmas. We had one plane land in the village all week. I could’ve taken this plane, but making connections in Anchorage and the rest of the country to make it home by Christmas would've been nearly impossible. Two different planes are required just to get out of the village to Anchorage and then another 2-3 to get to PA. I decided to stay put and enjoy a non-commercialized, peaceful and very different Christmas. Unfortunately my camera quick working, so I don’t have many pictures to post, but I can assure you it was unique. It was hard to be away from family, but not having to go into a Walmart, Giant Eagle or deal with the hustle and bustle of Christmas came close to making up for it. Linda, the head teacher, and I were the only school staff left in the village. We spent most of the week beading glass balls and sewing mittens and hats out of beaver and otter fur, hiking, checking traps, and riding the 4 wheeler.

Besides fish, badarkies and sea urchins are a staple food in southwest Alaska. Both are in abundance and easily harvested. Eating them does require some getting use to, but both are pretty tasty.
Badarkies are found clinging to the rocks. After scraping them off the rock with a knife, they are usually boiled and then eaten by scooping the meat out of the shell.

Sea urchins are gathered among the seaweeds whenever there is a low tide. They are opened with a thin stone or a knife. The eggs from the sea urchin are scooped out with the thumb and eaten raw. You can also throw them in the campfire until the spines crack and then eat them. The sea urchins with light color are the ones which are good eating. Those which have a dark color are not very good to eat. They are said to be skinny.

During breaks in the weather, I took advantage of the bears being in hibernation to go for a few long runs. Below is picture of Duke and Midnight, my running partners. They usually greet me in the morning when the sun comes out and after enjoying a milk bone they lead the way and stick with me for the full 6 miles. During our run they chase away ravens, magpies and sometimes foxes. They're great company to have and I feel safer running on the trails. At the end of our run I reward them with another milk bone.

In Pilot Point, on the Bering sea side of the peninsula, the sea freezes forming sea ice. I spent a week there before coming back to Perryville for Christmas break. It's amazing how much colder it is. The big chunks of sea ice are fun to climb on and even walk out to sea, but only when it's really frozen. I would not want to be stuck on one and end up drifting out to the Bering Sea in the middle of winter. There are many stories of people who have died on the sea ice when crossing by dogsled and snow machine. The frozen waters open up an ice highway in the winters, but with global warming and the changing climate the melting of the ice is less predictable.

About half of the Natives in the village identify with the Russian Orthodox faith and therefore participate in Christmas festivities In Jan. around the 7th. We did however meet for a Christmas potluck and Santa Claus stopped by to hand out gifts. The potluck was delicious and included smoked salmon, candle fish, grilled halibut, halibut balls, fresh grilled shrimp topped with seal oil, crab legs, and an assortment of pies. The kids put on a Christmas play and had a great time.


Anonymous said...

What a gift you have received this year, Candice! The gift of adaptability as shown by your ability to handle all the daily challenges with such spirit. I am so proud to say, "Candice is my niece!"
As for the barklies?? I don't think I could handle eating them. My taste for new eats ends with some of the gourmet fish delicacies you describe. I prefer to read about sea urchins vs. eat them!
Just imagine putting all your adventures in a teachers' education booklet. How many would decide on becoming an actuary instead!!!! Love you, Aunt Karen

Anonymous said...

Hope you had a good Chrismas (sounds as though you did) and hope you have a great New Year. I enjoy following your adventure in Alaska very much. Would like to try the Badarkies & Sea Urchins, they must taste better than they look. The grilled Shrimp topped with Seal oil sounds good too. Take care... Terry

Miss Loose said...

I am increasingly more and more jealous of your Alaskan experience. Although breathtakingly beautiful, my village is completely devoid of any Native culture. I want someone to teach me cool shit; I want to make my own beaver mittens!