Friday, February 25, 2011

Closed for Business

What, you may wonder, does it take to shut down an Alaskan town, particularly one that is used to inclement (understatement) weather? This morning, the local radio station had a laundry list of closures to report: school district (all schools and district office personnel (usually they make admins come in, but it is that serious), North Slope Borough offices, courthouse, ASRC, UIC, hospital (only open for emergencies)...basically all services are closed. I do know some of my friends in the lower 48 are also experiencing school closures as I'm still on the notification lists for closures. BUT their towns are probably still open for business! Or not...

We did have an experience with canceled flights as we were in Anchorage last week and couldn't get home on our first try on Wed. night. That left us booked on the early morning flight from Anchorage...the classic milk run that leaves at 6:00 a.m. (OMG!...we got up at 3:30 a.m.).

Fortunately, this is Alaska and our airports do have their priorities straight...Starbucks was OPEN (have you ever been to SEATAC at that hour? Last time I had that pleasure EVERYTHING was closed). Anyway, the flight stops in Fairbanks, and Prudhoe Bay before arriving in Barrow (weather permitting). It's a 5 hour plane ride. That was the second to last flight into Barrow for awhile, so we're glad we made it.
It's so nasty, I am reluctant to go outside, but I did take this video from our window just so you could experience the "Blizzard of 2011" with me. The house doesn't disappear forever, but we are having some challenges seeing across the street today.The wind is HOWLING, the snow is BLOWING, the snow is SNOWING! No planes are coming in, so I'd be surprised if the post office is open. Really, why bother, no mail.

Undaunted, the doggies still think we should go outside and play. As they are the apples of my eye, I relented. Actually, I was curious. I wanted to see just how nasty it was. Apart from the occasional dog being blown sideways during ball retrieval it wasn't too bad. It really isn't too cold out, just blowing hard. Also, this gives you a good view of the 25+ Pepsi and Coke machines that live in the backyard. A few more blizzards and they will be totally covered (this could only make me pray for more blizzards)!
Raven finishes with her usual "mask" of snow. It still cracks me up so I have to include it whenever I can. I did experience a little difficulty getting back to the house. Seriously...I had trouble making my way through the wind. I would have taken a picture, but wasn't inclined to lose the camera in the gusts.

The only thing that is open today is the Anderegg Latte stand. So, enjoy the tales of "the great Barrow Blizzard" while I go sip my freshly steamed latte and sit by the fire.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

They Could Have Danced All Night!

I can't even begin to describe the energy in the gym during Kivgiq. You feel it the moment you walk in the doors of the school. There are people everywhere in the halls. Some are at tables selling crafts, others are eating (snacks that are not particularly good for you, but do smell delicious!), others are sliding on the stair railing (though there is great effort to curtail that).

Once you near the door to the gym, you hear the drums. The drum is foundational to the song and the dance. The beat draws you in. Once you listen for awhile, you begin to anticipate that the cadence change signals the climatic ending of the dance. All of these dances have significant meaning. I don't understand most of the time, but there are teachers all around me. If I ask, I hear that one whole dance sequence signifies the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year. Note to self, ask more often, because once my teacher told me what was going on, it really began to take shape for me. 

My favorite dance was the Raven dance. Raven in Inupiaq is: tuluġaq (too-loo-ruck). We've been trying to get our little Raven to answer to "Tuluġaq", but haven't quite been successful in getting her to be bi-lingual. There is a distinct resemblance, don't you think?

The celebration is not limited to watching dancers on the stage. There is a large area for participants to get up and join in.

The dance groups all have at least one "invitational" dance in which anyone who wants to is invited to "boogie". Elders and youngsters alike are taking part in the festivities and clearly bring their own particular perspectives to the event.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kivgiq Sivulliq

Kivgiq (the messenger feast) has begun! This is a major event this week. There are about 18 dance groups in town and about a thousand visitors. I was able to witness the opening ceremonies during which all of the dance groups entered the gym, singing and drumming. It was simply spine tingling. I've never been to the Olympics, but I can imagine one gets a similar feeling there.

My friend sat next to me and helped me to understand a lot of what was going on...the behind the scenes scoop, if you will. For instance, one group's leader recently passed so they carried a picture of him during their entry. Also, she knew which groups had brand new atikluks and sometimes who made them! The group in red atikiluks is one of Barrow's four dance groups. The young woman holding the banner on the right works in our office. Of course, I knew that, my friend didn't need to tell me that one :)

Once all of the dance groups had entered the high school gym (amid much cheering and clapping) the emcee related that during traditional Kivgiq, villages reported that they could hear the sound of the drums from the far away site of the event. The groups were invited to sing and play as one so we could be heard from the villages. With my trusty iPhone, I recorded this for you. It gave me chills listening to this unified sound, and you can see it moved several folks to get up and dance!

[Kivgiq (pronounced kiv-ee-yuk) is the messenger feast. Many years ago, whaling captains held similar celebrations in gratitude for a successful whaling season. They sent messengers (runners to the villages to invite them to the celebration. They asked for gifts through the messengers and if the invitation was accepted, the invitee had to honor the request of the gift. Messengers might say, 'If you'd accept my invitation, I'd like five gallons of berries.  Dancing, singing, and storytelling were in abundance during the event. Then, Kivgiq ceased to occur during that dark time when there was an attempt to abolish all things culture-based. Lucky for us, Kivgiq is alive and well again!]

Back to today's events: After the dance groups had all entered, the messenger runners were called forward. Each group was represented. The runners had to race to one of the hotels and back to the gym. The winner got to light the seal oil light with an elder of his/her choice from his/her village. Also, that runner's dance group was honored with being the first to perform today. The winner was a young man from Pt. Lay, shown here with the traditional seal oil light.

Lighting the seal oil lamp has a trick to it. First you need to put in dry moss. Once you get that lit, it acts as a kind of wick and you get this beautiful light. My friend told me that this knowledge was being lost, so when they added it to the Kivgiq ceremonies, elders made sure representatives from their villages knew how to light the seal oil as they might be winners of the race! This has served to restore the knowledge for all!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sun Here, Sun There, Sun Everywhere

I almost forgot to send you all the picture of the official day of sunrise. It was really spectacular and what a day! Clear, windy and cold. It does look just a bit different from the pictures the day before. The sun is actually a round object and not a refracted orb on the horizon. Obviously, I've had too much time to obsess about this whole sun thing! So on to a pseudo travelogue.

Just can't help but share the pictures I took on a recent business trip to Juneau. How lucky am I? First of all, that a place as beautiful as Juneau is the destination of my conference is my good fortune. Secondly, we spent three days in a row in sunshine and fairly warm (okay, I thought 30 was blazing hot) weather. Having lived in Juneau for 18 years (or was it 14 and it just felt like 18?), I can tell you how rare three days without rain really are. My obligatory trip to the glacier netted this picture postcard. It was so crowded there, I couldn't get any place to park. Still amazed as we took off on the plane. Couldn't help shooting the tourist "air shot" out of the jet's window. It was just so fabulous to look at...and I was wishing the whole time that I had thought to bring my sunglasses. Who knew?

Signs of Winter

Wow, it's been warm! Really...double digits above zero and hardly any wind. Plus, it's getting lighter every day. In one week we gained about 90 minutes of daylight. Warm weather and light days mean spirits are up, as you may imagine.
I have to introduce you to my new BFF. This smiling man is James. I caught him the other morning completing one of his many tasks. He was brushing the street signs. This hadn't occurred to me before, but when the wind blows the snow around, the street signs just can't be read. Never mind that no one really pays attention to the street signs. Did I already tell you that addresses are just given as numbers? There are no repeating address numbers in Barrow or Browerville, so we often see Garage Sale signs that just list the address. Kind of tough for newbies, but I do know that the 2000s and 3000s are in Browerville. I also know that if someone lives in the 800s, they live somewhere near me. Directions are usually given with landmarks; also difficult for the newbie.
Now I have a mystery for you to solve. What do you suppose this is? As you try to figure this out, keep in mind that Husband came upon it. It had been very cold the week before. A hint: it does not belong in the fungi family. Also, as you scratch your head in wonder, keep in mind the placement of this item; it is on/in a snow bank. We figure the blowing winds uncovered the shape of the object. Also, pay close attention to the color and some cautionary words we have about this color and snow. Ah...I fear I've given it away, now!