Thursday, January 31, 2008

Disappointment



It was with the greatest of good hopes that Claire and I arrived at the airport yesterday morning. I just knew that after four days of delay, we were going to get the weather break we needed to get to Pilot Station. We were even 15 minutes early for check in.

The terminal was full of many of the same faces now familiar to us from our days of sitting there waiting. We nodded to a few folks and they raised their eyebrows back at us, a universal Yupik acknowledgement. The same kids were running around in their stocking feet, or playing cards, or sleeping on the floor on top of parkas and hats. The same air of resignation from the day before permeated the place.

People were pretty much even sitting in the same locations, though they had gone somewhere for the night, as the air charter company locks up the building at 10 pm. Claire and I found our same seats as well on a long wooden bench. We only had one bag each to check in, as most of our stuff had just stayed there since Monday morning. No point in schlepping it back and forth for nothing. We had just over an hour to wait if all went well.

As you can probably guess, it didn’t. At 11:00 the plane for St. Mary’s and Mountain Village left, and I was thrilled. Pilot Station is only about ten miles from St. Mary’s, so we should be the next ones out the door. But no. At 11:30 we went up and spoke to our pilot, who told us we were still on weather hold because the landing strip at Pilot Station was enshrouded in fog. It is on a high bluff overlooking the Yukon River, and is more easily affected by a low ceiling than St. Mary’s, whose landing strip is right next to the river.

So we sat down again with our books to continue waiting. I was beginning to have that sense that this trip was just not meant to be. This was certainly the longest delay I had ever experienced in bush travel.

At 12:30 we checked again, and the pilot said the visibility was improving at Pilot Station, but things were starting to get worse here in Bethel. Sure enough, through the windows we could see the fog thickening over the runway.

“When that last plane that left returns,” he told us, “we’ll see how badly iced up it is. That will determine whether we go or not.”

With that, my last hope for this trip crashed. I looked at Claire with a sigh and said “you know, I think it is time to give it up.” She agreed.

We told the agent of our decision and were escorted out to the luggage sorting area to claim our ten duffles, boxes and coolers. I called Dutch in the hope that he could break away from the city’s business for an hour to come out and get us and deliver us back to the hospital. Fortunately he could, and did. When we got there, I called the health aides to let them know we had finally bagged it and would not be coming; they were every bit as disappointed as we were. The trip will be rescheduled for March.

Weather Permitting is a very real force around here. Just because you want to go somewhere doesn’t mean you’ll get to.



Photo by Claire of framed poem on the wall at the air charter company.

Labels:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Weather Permitting

It has been over 18 months since my last hospital-sponsored village visit to Pilot Station, the Yupik village on the Yukon River for which I have been the primary care provider for nearly ten years. My last trip was in June of 2006 (check the archives for posts about that trip). In the interim I have made a few short social visits on my own, which usually involved seeing a few patients just because I was there, but an official visit has long been needed. The ideal is for each village to receive a week-long visit from its designated provider two to three times per year. When we are understaffed at the hospital though, village visits are a much lower priority.

So when the January schedule came out last month, I was delighted to see that I had at last been cleared for a trip to Pilot Station, and that my PA colleague Claire, who joined me for the trip to Napaskiak, would be going with me. This is still considered a training run for her, as the Napaskiak trip was a somewhat abbreviated experience. This time she is getting the full deal. We began the preliminary preparations about two weeks ago.

Lots of information and supplies need to be gathered, ordered, and shipped prior to a well-coordinated village visit. We notified various departments of our planned trip; from the Women’s Health Program we received a list of all pregnant patients in the village, and all the women with Pap smears and/or mammograms due. From Pediatrics we received a list of all children under one year of age. From the Diabetes program we received a list of all patients with diabetes and a summary of their needs—foot exam, eye exam, hemoglobin A1c. From Health Information Services we received copies of the health summaries of all patients on chronic medications—about two reams of paper there! We sent our list of supplies to be taken with us to Materials Management and they shipped stuff out ahead of time for us. One of our goals for this trip it to get as many Pap smears done as possible.

With all this arranged, along with the personal gear which includes sleeping bags, pillow, towels and every bite of food we will eat while we are there, Claire and I were ready to leave Bethel on Sunday afternoon, and planned to return on Thursday afternoon.

However, as often happens in winter here, the law of “weather permitting” came into play. On Saturday night we got hit with a blizzard which raged for more than a day. All day Sunday and into Monday, it snowed heavily and there was just about zero visibility. By the time it stopped we had about three feet of new snow—which we definitely needed, but I wasn’t thrilled about the timing. Of course our flight was on weather hold, and we weren’t going anywhere Sunday evening.

Monday morning we showed up at the small commuter airline company and checked in all our gear. Even with some of the supplies being mailed out ahead of time, there is still a ton of stuff that we take with us. Our departure was scheduled for 11 am. The snow had stopped falling by then, but the planes were on hold because the villages were having a hard time clearing their runways. This much snow all at once is pretty unusual for us.

So we sat at the terminal in Bethel for a couple of hours, waiting and hoping, but by noon our flight was canceled. We went back to the hospital for the afternoon and found ways to help out there, though neither of us were on the schedule. We had to be back at the air charter company by 4 pm, hoping to leave on the 5:00 flight. We were, but it, too, was canceled.

Tuesday morning the sky was clear and black with bright stars, so I figured all was good and we would make it out with no more problems. By 9:30 when it was getting light, a thick heavy fog had rolled in. Claire and I went back to the airport, as fog often lifts after a few hours. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. Every hour we got an update: this may lift, planes will fly if it does, don’t go anywhere. We sat for six hours. Finally, at 4 pm, the company said no, no flights today. Try again tomorrow.

But they weren’t all that hopeful for Wednesday either, as the fog was predicted to hang around for several more days. It was beginning to look like the trip would have to be rescheduled for sometime later, probably March or April.

This morning at 7 am the sky was clear and black with many stars, and the temperature has dropped considerably, from +30F to +5F, which is a very good sign for it to remain clear. Fog is a problem when it is warmer. Dutch got a call from his foreman who is the best weather predictor we know, and he said we’ll be good to go today, it should be clear and gorgeous and cold for the next four or five days.

So finally, we’ll be off to Pilot Station in a few hours! My plan now is to stay until Saturday, to make up some of the time we lost. More posts to follow…



Photos by The Tundra PA:

1. Our snowmachines, almost buried in snow.

2. Fog-bound plane, waiting to go.

3. Waiting mom and babe at the air terminal.

Labels:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Love of Dog Mushing

There never was a time that I didn’t love dogs. They are just the most amazing creatures. In the animal-based pantheon of the Native American spiritual traditions, the dog symbolizes loyalty, and deservedly so. Dogs love us almost despite anything we do to them, and one of the highest goals we can strive for is to be the person our dogs think we are.

My experience with dogs before coming to Alaska was limited to having them as pets. My very earliest memories include a small standard Schnauzer named Hambone; he was followed by a succession of family dogs. It seems to me now that we always had one, as well as several cats.

My first dog training experience did not come until much later. After I graduated from PA training and settled into my first “real” job, I got the first dog who was truly all mine. Her name is Pepper, and she is now 14 years old and quite lively for an elder. We went to Dog School together, both in obedience—she is a Canine Good Citizen—and in agility. She is a smart, medium-sized (40 pounds) mixed breed with one ear that flops, and training her in agility was pure fun. She learned most of the obstacles quickly (OK, weave poles were hard) and she was almost as fast as the border collies.

Coming to Alaska provided my first experience with dogs as working animals and not pets. I fell completely in love with Alaskan huskies and the sport of dog mushing.

My first sight of a musher’s dog yard was shocking. Thirty dogs, each one staked on a five-foot chain with its own house next to the stake, and the stakes 12 feet apart in a small forest of four-foot-tall stakes. A newcomer to the yard (me) brought all thirty dogs to a frenzy of barking and running around their stakes, jumping on and off their houses. They calmed down after a bit, and the musher took me around to meet a few of them. They were exuberant, friendly, boisterous animals, and I just loved them.

They looked like just about everything, which is typical of Alaskan huskies: all different colors; some with long shaggy fur, some short-coated; some with brown eyes, some with blue eyes, some with one brown eye and one blue. This is why the Alaskan husky is not recognized by the American Kennel Club; there is no appearance-based breed standard. Most of the dogs were smaller than I expected they would be, in the 40-50 pound range. My knowledge of sled dogs was limited to the TV show “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon and his dog King” from my childhood. Those 150 pound Malamutes were a far cry from today’s recreational or racing sled dog.

And then the musher put me on a sled behind my own team of five dogs and I was instantly hooked. My team followed his out of the yard and down the trail, over small hills, across frozen lakes, around bends, to the large body of water known as Hangar Lake; and on through stands of willow, across frozen sloughs, until we came to the Kuskokwim River. It was sheer exhilaration. No sounds or smells of snow machines, only the quiet wilderness, the hiss of sled runners on snow, or a grinding sound when the sled crosses ice, and the steady panting of the dogs’ breath as they work together, a unified team. The dogs know their job, and they do it joyfully. As I have said in previous posts, you can’t make dogs pull. They do it because they want to, or they simply don’t do it.

Over the years since that first mushing experience, I have tried to explain to people who have never seen a dog team what mushing is like. Nothing can truly convey it like doing it. To give you a somewhat better idea, I am including here two brief video clips taken from the sled, but even these fall short of reality. They can’t convey to you the feeling a musher has that comes from knowing the dogs, raising and training them from puppyhood, and feeling the interdependent relationship between musher and team. When you are out in the wilderness many miles from home, it is the dogs who will get you back to safety; and it is you who must provide food and care for them so that they can. They are your best furry friends.

Four very frustrating hours later, I have been unable to upload either of the two short video clips I wanted to put with this post. Both are less than 50 MB, so within the limit Blogger states for videos, and are AVI files, a type that Blogger accepts. I will keep trying, but if any readers have suggestions on this, I’d love to hear them.

Labels:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Final K-300 Detail

OK, now it is truly over. The last musher reached Bethel late this afternoon.

At the time of the last post, there were still two mushers on the trail, Dave Tresino and Kyle Belleque. They were laying over in Tuluksak--for two days--waiting to see if the weather would change. As so commonly happens here, change it did, and quickly. This morning we were back down to a few degrees below zero. The snow is all gone, of course, and the wet crusty slop simply froze hard, making for rough and ugly trail.

Kyle apparently decided not to even try it; he declared a scratch in Tuluksak. But Dave headed his dogs to Bethel just past noon today, and made the run in a little over 5 hours and 52 minutes. Of course with hard icy trail and very rested dogs, he had the fastest split time from Tuluksak to Bethel; but, interestingly enough, not by much. Martin Buser made it from Tuluksak in just over 5 hours and 53 minutes, running through deep water. That says a lot for Martin and his team.

So Dave Tresino is officially the K-300 Red Lantern, and for his effort and perseverance he earns the 16th place payout of $2,300. I have to wonder why Kyle didn't hang in there with him and drive the dogs that last 70 miles home to Bethel; it would have earned him $2,100. Worth one last push, I would think. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps he did not have five dogs able to make the run; he only started with 10 dogs, instead of the usual 14, and had 8 dogs in harness when he got to Tuluksak on Monday. K-300 mushers are required to have a minimum of five dogs in harness and on the gangline when they finish. Or maybe it was such a punishing experience that it just didn't matter to him any more.

Labels:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

K-300 Wrap Up

The Musher’s Banquet last night at the Cultural Center was lots of fun and lasted until nearly 10 pm. At the start of the banquet there were six mushers still on the trail, and while it was going on, Mike Williams Sr. and Jr. completed the race. Gerald Riley officially scratched in Akiachak, leaving Dave Tresino and Kyle Belleque as the only two mushers still in the race.

The format of the evening is dinner first, and then presentations to each musher who completed each race. Starting with the Red Lantern (last place) in the Akiak Dash, and then the Bogus Creek 150, and then the K-300, each musher is called to the podium to receive an envelope containing a patch for that race, a lovely belt buckle if it is the first time they have run that race, a check for their winnings, and sometimes additional gifts given by the sponsors. Each musher is invited to “say a few words”—usually thanking their sponsors, family, and people who helped them, with dog food, dog handling, training or inspiration. Many of our local mushers are painfully shy; some don’t say a word, just take their envelope, shake hands with the three or four people on stage, and leave. Some simply step to the mike and say “quyana cak nak” (thank you very much).

The more verbal mushers told stories of the trail, some long, some short, but most about the incredible difficulty caused by this year’s weather. The race started out in beautiful conditions. A little warm in the high 20s but with lots of snow, no wind, and a nice clear night. Twenty-four hours later it was ten degrees warmer, no snow at all, tremendous wind and water everywhere. Musher after musher spoke of trail markers standing in the middle of lakes, or actually floating in current.

Hugh Neff flipped over backward in a deep hole and got completely soaked from the neck down. He was near a village and was taken into someone’s home to dry out, which prevented severe hypothermia. Paul Gebhardt and Jeff King spoke of water that was two feet deep. Ed Iten watched his team splashing ahead of him when suddenly all he could see was their heads because they were swimming. Sled dogs, on the whole, dislike water and hate to swim. He gave them a “Gee!” command to go right and his leader swam in a big circle to the right, climbed over the wheel dogs, snagged his tug on the gangline and there was one big thrashing mess as Ed’s sled sank in the water. He grabbed hold of dogs, harness, lines, anything he could grab, and hauled the whole mess out before any disaster occurred.

The consistent lesson of the K-300 over the years is that the weather can do just about anything. We’ve had every kind of weather from 40 below to 40 above, freezing rain to warm rain, lots of snow to none at all—sometimes in the same race. Most of the mushers said that yeah, they’ll be back next year; it has to be better weather than this year. It just couldn’t be any worse. Those are dangerous words.

The winners of the three races were Ryan Housler in the Akiak Dash; Pete Kaiser in the Bogus Creek 150; and Mitch Seavey in the Kuskokwim 300. The Humanitarian Award, which is chosen by the veterinary staff and presented to the musher who, in their opinion, takes the most outstanding care of their dog team based on their level of experience, was presented to Melissa Owens. The Best in the West Award, which goes to the first local area musher to finish K-300, was presented to Myron Angstmann (who also MC'd and is shown in two of the photos).

So the races are essentially done for another year. Checkpoints are closed and dismantled. Checkers and vets are back home in Bethel. The Finish Line has been taken down, hopefully before it sank in the river. Headquarters will shut down today. And yet, there are still two teams sitting in Tuluksak who have not officially scratched. They have now been there since noon yesterday. The wind has blown all night long at something like 50 mph with stronger gusts frequently. The Kuskokwim River is practically flowing again. Conditions have gone from bad to what must be considered life-threatening.

One must consider what the race’s responsibility is to these two mushers who haven’t declared themselves scratched. The machinery of volunteers and support for the race is now gone. Further efforts of these two mushers to drive their dogs in to Bethel is highly likely to end up in a Search and Rescue call out, putting people’s lives at stake to save them. In my opinion, there should be a limit to how long a competitor can maintain that he or she is still in the race, and a time when the Race Committee can say “Sorry; you’ve scratched.” These last two mushers have reached that point. It has been 36 hours since the winner crossed the Finish Line. That seems long enough.



Photos by Dutch and The Tundra PA.

1. Jeff King, Martin Buser, Rohn Buser, and Ed Iten swap stories over lasagna.

2. Ryan Housler, winner of the Akiak Dash.

3. Pete Kaiser, winner of the Bogus Creek 150.

4. Mitch Seavey, winner of the Kuskokwim 300.

5. Rohn Buser, just because he is such a cutie and I love his dimples.

Labels:

Monday, January 21, 2008

K-300 Race Headquarters


For about a week, the Race Headquarters for the K-300 is the central nervous system for race volunteers and all race-related activities. It is staffed 24 hours a day, and the phones never seem to stop ringing. How many teams are still out on the river? Has anyone seen Hugh Neff yet? Can trucks still get onto the river at the Finish Line? Did Mike Williams Jr. really scratch at Tuluksak? Where’s Hugh Neff? Are dropped dogs available for pick up yet? What time did Mitch Seavey get in? Does anyone have a phone number for the truck support coordinator? Didn’t Hugh Neff leave Akiachak at 9 this morning? Where is he? Is the banquet still on for 6:00 tonight?

The three phone lines never stop ringing, and a cadre of helpful volunteers try to find the answers for every call. Mushers who have finished the races stop by to see what is going on, race officials make decisions about administrative issues, and volunteers come and go, from the Finish Line, from the airport where dropped dogs get flown in, from the jail where dropped dogs are kept until the mushers’ host families can come and pick them up. Volunteers who have been up all night maintaining statistics for the website look haggard and make more coffee.

Race manager Stacey Gililea is at the center of it all, coordinating thousands of details, talking to checkers, directing volunteers, checking the website, doing everything that needs doing, and managing to keep a smile on her face despite lack of sleep and too many questions. It is a huge job, and one that she has handled with grace.

This morning as I was checking the K-300 website for overnight developments in the race, I got a call from headquarters. Could I come in and staff for a while? The people who had been there all night needed a break. Of course I was happy to lend a hand anywhere it was needed.

I arrived with coffee and muffins for whoever needed a sugar boost. The biggest problem was all the dropped dogs piling up in Tuluksak. They had over thirty dogs waiting to be flown back to Bethel. Dutch and I went to the airport last night to pick up a truckload of dropped dogs and take them to the jail; it was the last flight of the day, as Tuluksak does not have lights at its airstrip, so no more planes could get there. The rest had to wait for daylight today. The winds have been so fierce that small planes were grounded until midday. The dropped-dog coordinator arranged for the hovercraft to pick up dogs at Tuluksak, but it couldn’t get there until early afternoon.

And at 4:00 pm, no one had yet seen Hugh Neff, who left Akiachak at 9 am. He should have made it to Bethel by 1:00, or 2 at the latest. Including Hugh, there are still seven teams mushing towards Bethel. There is so much water on the river that conditions in some places are perilous. Large holes of open water have opened up, snowmachines have gone in and needed rescue, trail markers have fallen over making the trail nearly impossible to follow. This has been one of the toughest years of a tough race.

Jeff King came by headquarters while I was there and echoed sentiments spoken by numerous other mushers. So much water, so much wind. He said that for quite a while, all he could do was crouch as low behind the sled as he could get. If he stood up on the sled to try to help his team by kicking or poling, the increased wind resistance caused by his erect body brought the team to a halt; all he could do was stay low and let the dogs do all the work. By the time he got back to Akiachak, the team was exhausted and just about ready to quit. He managed to get them back to Bethel, but barely. He had seven dogs in harness when he got here, and finished in 8th place.

A quick check of the Leader Board tells me that Hugh finally made it in about 45 minutes ago. That leaves six teams still on the river. Gerry Riley could be in within the hour. Mike Williams Sr and Jr are traveling together and left Akiachak just before 4:30; they should make it to Bethel by 9 pm or so. The last three, Jim Lanier, Dave Tresino, and Kyle Belleque will be a good bit later. If they can just finish the race, they will all take home a paycheck. Given the extraordinary difficulties, I hope the experience has been worth it.

Labels:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

K-300 Has a Winner!

The 2008 Kuskokwim 300 has been one of the slowest in many years. The warm weather and melting conditions have made it a tough slog for dogs and mushers alike. Mitch Seavey was the first K-300 musher to cross the Finish Line at 8:09 pm, about an hour later than expected. He and his team all looked exhausted. I believe that puts this year's winning time at 49 hours, 39 minutes--about six hours longer than last year's time. This year is the first time I recall the winner finishing in the dark since the Race Committee changed the start time quite a few years ago.

Dutch and I were on the river by 7 pm, when Mitch was expected in, and getting there was quite a challenge. So much melting has occurred from the warm weather that the surface of the river is pure slush. And the ice at the river's edge has receded, leaving a wide swath of water in its wake, which makes driving your truck across it an act of pure faith. I watched a half dozen trucks do it before I was ready to risk it.

A small crowd of faithful supporters was there at the Finish Line to cheer Mitch on and give him a warm Bethel welcome. He looked very glad to be done.

Almost an hour after Mitch, Ramey Smith came in second; and nearly another hour after Ramey, Ed Iten came in third. John Baker was the fourth musher back to Bethel, and all the rest are still on the trail. Rohn Buser is expected next, but I'm wondering if he got lost; he left the last checkpoint at Akiachak at 6:41 pm, ahead of Ed and John. It should be about a two hour trip; in these conditions it took Mitch three hours, but even so, Rohn should be here by now. Jeff King should be next after Rohn.

Mushers will be finishing throughout the night and into the day tomorrow. Awards will be presented, and stories told, at the Musher's Banquet tomorrow night at the Cultural Center. Hopefully, all mushers will be off the trail by then, but it is not unusual for the Red Lantern (the musher who finishes last) to miss the banquet.

Good luck to those still on the trail. It ain't over till it's over, and that is when every last musher and dog is safely home.

Photos by Dutch.

Labels:

K-300 Update

Very high resolution map (1.3 MB). Click on it for more readable version.


Good morning, K-300 fans! It has been a long and windy night, and the dogs are starting to get tired. The mushers are feeling the sleep deprivation that goes with distance racing. We are now 39 hours into this race, and the frontrunners are probably a good ten hours away from home. Even with a late energy burst, it will likely be 6 pm before the leaders hit No Man’s Land.

Some interesting developments overnight. Our young hometown girl, Jessica Klejka, scratched in Aniak on the outbound course. She had been falling further and further behind, and I wondered aloud to Dutch before we went to bed after midnight whether she might end up scratching in Aniak. I know she did a huge amount of training for this race, so I doubt it is due to poorly prepared dogs. The wind and warm weather may be a factor, or it may be the dogs’ health.

Some sled dogs tend to get stress diarrhea during longer races and can quickly become dehydrated. If they are also shy drinkers, meaning they don’t gobble up all liquids immediately, they will have to be dropped from the team. This was apparently not Jessica’s problem, either, as she was one of the few mushers to make it all the way to Aniak with all 14 dogs still on the gangline.

She had a very good pace in the early part of the race, over 10 miles per hour. As the team covered the miles, they just slowed down and down and down. By the time she reached Aniak, they were traveling just over 3 miles per hour. Again, maybe it was the wind, which has been fierce since yesterday afternoon. We will have to wait until the Musher’s Banquet tomorrow evening to get the story.

Also on the scratch list is Jackie Larson, a very experienced sprint musher from Napaskiak. He was the winner of last year’s Bogus Creek 150, as well as numerous sprint races this season. The Larsons are a well-respected mushing family who have produced many winning teams and mushers. The stats tell me nothing about why he might have scratched. He had 11 dogs in harness when he reached Aniak and was still traveling nearly 9 miles per hour. His team may have rebelled in the face of the wind.

Sled dogs will do that sometimes. Strong wind is mentally punishing to them; it takes a very tough dog, especially the leader, to keep going against the wind. Sometimes they simply lie down and refuse to get up, and no amount of yelling, screaming, pleading, or cajoling will make them. That’s the thing about dog mushing; you can’t make dogs pull. They do it because they want to, or they don’t do it.

Dee Dee Jonrowe had just such an experience on the Iditarod several years ago. The middle third of the race has a long stretch (several hundred miles) on the Yukon River, through an area widely known to be a wind tunnel. That year it was especially bad, and dogs and mushers were all taking a beating from the wind. At one point—I think the checkpoint at Eagle Island—Dee Dee’s entire team lay down and would not get up. There was a tearful moment caught on camera when Susan Butcher arrived at the checkpoint (as a news commentator, not a competitor) and Dee Dee clutched her, crying, and saying “Trotter won’t go!” Trotter was her leader. She had to scratch right there. When the dogs won’t go, you can’t make them.

Another interesting thing about this race is how tightly packed it has remained. Generally, over three hundred miles, the teams will spread out pretty much. Three or four teams will have a clear lead over the rest, with first one and then another being the actual leader. Then an hour or more behind will be the eight to ten teams that constitute the middle of the pack. And then a handful of stragglers, either inexperienced or having trouble, who are the back of the pack.

This year has been a little different: a huge front end, a small back end, and no middle. Right now, as of 9:30 am, less than 10 minutes separates the first five teams. Mitch Seavey is currently in lead, having arrived at Tuluksak, closely chased by Ramey Smith, John Baker, Jeff King, and Rohn Buser. Any of those five could cross the Finish Line first at this point. The next two, Ed Iten and Hugh Neff, are within an hour of them. All seven of these frontrunners passed through the last checkpoint with less than a half hour’s rest.

The next group of eight mushers, which at this point does constitute a middle of the pack (see? This race changes even in the time it takes me to write about it, especially the final 12 hours), has stayed at Kalskag inbound for a longer rest, which speaks of more tired dogs. They stopped for one to three hours, all except Dee Dee, who has now been there for over five hours.

Four mushers are now in the back of the pack, and are about five hours behind the middle group. The last two have yet to leave Aniak inbound, and could be considering scratching. Some years over a quarter of the field scratches; it’s that tough a race.

Meanwhile, the first two teams are in Tuluksak, where they have a mandatory four hour rest. Mitch Seavey has a 36 minute lead on Ramey Smith at this point, which doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll win, but makes it a strong possibility. If so, it would be Mitch’s second K-300 win. Mitch will be able to leave at 1:30, and it is at least five hours to Bethel from there if the dogs are traveling fast. Dutch and I will head for the river about 6:30 and hope to get some good photos.

And for those who are wondering, No Man’s Land is the last two miles of a race. For the entire race before that point, trail etiquette is quite rigid; when a team is overtaking the one in front, the faster musher calls “Trail!” and the slower musher must “give trail”: pull his team over to the side, stop, and allow the faster team to pass by. Depending on location, this can be tricky. Trails can be narrow, with little passing room. Dog teams can be quirky and unpredictable. A team passing closely may inspire a dog on the waiting team to reach out and take a snap at a passing leg or paw, or—worst case—an all-out dog fight can ensue. Many mushers, when giving trail, will plant their snow hook and run up to stand next to the leader to try to prevent any interaction with the passing team.

No Man’s Land at the end of the race, usually marked with a large sign so all the mushers know exactly where it starts, is where all etiquette ends. If a musher behind you is moving faster, he or she has to figure out a way to pull around you and pass without you stopping. It can make the home stretch a place of great excitement, and given how close this race has been all along, could give us some photo finishes. In a tight contest the winner, as in horse racing, is determined by the nose of the lead dog crossing the Finish Line.

Last minute update before posting (11:30 am AST): the first six teams are now in Tuluksak, with the seventh due any minute. That four-hour rest has to be looking good right now.

Labels:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Kuskokwim 300 Gets Underway

The 29th running of the Kuskokwim 300 got off without a hitch last night. The weather was on the warm side of perfect at +22F with occasional big puffy flakes of snow drifting gently down. It was a beautiful night.

Start time for the race was 6:30 pm, down on the river in front of town. Dutch and I were volunteers on the truck support crew, as my truck is rigged with side rails, drop chains to carry 20 dogs, and top rails to carry two sleds. It is an official “dog truck.” We were assigned to Jeff King and his handler, Dave Decaro, who will each be driving a team for K-300. In the photo at left, Jeff is the man in the green jacket, talking to the man in the brown jacket; Dave has hold of the dog.

I met Jeff at the airport on Wednesday and helped with transporting his dogs and gear to his host home. He and Dave arrived with 30 dogs, two sleds, and a ton of gear—food, dog boxes, tie-out chains, dog-food cookers, straw, and personal stuff. We had some down time waiting for Alaska Airlines to unload all the dogs, so Jeff and I talked about mushing in general and how he wanted to organize things for the race start.

He wanted us there to start loading dogs about two hours before the start time, so Dutch and I arrived at his host home at 4:30 pm. Jeff is very organized, and is such an old pro at this, he does not have any pre-race jitters. His host family had a crew of willing but inexperienced friends to help with doing whatever might be needed, and Jeff spent time instructing them in how to help.

We got the dogs into their harnesses and loaded into two trucks, and were ready to head for the river by 5:30 pm. The Bogus 150 had started at 5:00—which means we had to miss our friend Angela’s race start—and the staging area behind the start line was pretty empty.

As some of the photos show, the start line is a tall log arch with two chutes defined by temporary fencing about a hundred feet in front of it. Teams start two-at-a-time, with the musher and the sled on the start line and the dog teams in the chutes being held by the helpers until the “Go!” Then both teams take off and the next two teams move up into position. Teams start at two-minute intervals until all teams have left. The time difference between the first two and the last two teams, about 20 minutes, is made up during the mandatory six-hour rest.

All kinds of things can go wrong at the start, from loose dogs which can’t be caught, to inexperienced mushers who are not ready to go when their time comes. This year was one of the smoothest K-300 starts I remember. I did see a harnessed dog running frantically around loose at one point but it was quickly caught and put back on its team.

Dave and Jeff chose starting numbers 7 and 8 at the drawing on Thursday night, so they were in the chutes together for the start. Once they were on their way, our duties were done, so we moved around in front of the start line to watch the rest of the teams leave. Dee Dee Jonrowe (Number 16) has forsaken her traditional powder blue outfit with matching sled bag and dog harnesses for a completely new look: a fur-lined pink kuspuk with ruffled knee-length skirt and “Taco Bell” plastered across her butt. She has made several TV commercials for this sponsor which get airtime in Alaska, but I’m not sure if they are shown in the lower 48.

So now the K-300 is 20 hours old, and will be won in something like 40 hours. There are two mandatory rests: the first for six hours, which most mushers take at Kalskag, but have some discretion in; and the second for four hours which must be taken at Tuluksak on the way back. From Tuluksak to the Finish Line is about six hours with a strong team.

Currently Paul Gebhardt is in the lead, but that is only because he did not stop at Kalskag for his six-hour rest. Paul was actually the fifteenth musher to arrive at Kalskag, but because he kept on when the others stopped for their long rest, he was first out, and therefore in first place for now. The standings after all teams have taken their long rest will be a truer indication of the relative strengths of the teams and their mushers.

As feared, the warming trend continued past where we wanted it to stop. This morning the thermometer was nearly up to +40F, with dripping water sounds coming from the eaves of the house and quickly-receding snow everywhere you look. This weather is way too warm for a sled dog team to work at maximum efficiency and speed, and it makes for dangerous traveling conditions. The ice in the center of the river is very thick and safe, but the edges near the banks have open water, making it difficult to get on and off the river.

Dutch and I went down to the Finish Line before noon to see if we could catch the winner of the Bogus 150 coming in; it is usually a 17 to 20 hour race. A huge lead of open water is visible just upriver from Bethel. It is easy to see in the daytime, but may cause disaster at night.

We were there for the first Bogus 150 musher to cross the Finish Line, and were delighted to see that it was Pete Kaiser, a fine young Bethel musher who is the son of a friend of ours. Taking third place was our friend Angela Denning-Barnes, coming in 43 minutes and 15 seconds after Pete.

Winning the Bogus 150 means that Pete will receive free entry in to next year’s K-300; he will also be gifted a promising young pup from Jeff King’s yard. Jeff began this tradition years ago, as a way that he personally supports the area’s up-and-coming mushers, and every year that I remember he has brought a six-month-old puppy to give to the Bogus 150 winner. His puppies sell for well over a thousand dollars apiece, so it is quite a significant gift.

The winner for this year’s K-300 will probably finish tomorrow morning between 10 and noon. The K-300 website keeps reasonably up-to-date and accurate statistics on the Leader Board, so that armchair mushers like Dutch and myself can keep up with the trail action. When the mushers get to Akiachak inbound, they are about two hours from the Finish Line. Plenty of time for those of us who are warm and well-rested to get down to the river to cheer them in.


Last minute update: Ed Iten of Kotzebue is now in the lead, as of about 15 minutes ago.

Photos by The Tundra PA.

Labels:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

2008 Kuskokwim River Sled Dog Races



People who come to Bethel to visit tend to see it as a pretty doggy town any time of year. Most everybody has dogs (pleural) and loves dogs. Bethel has perhaps a dozen resident mushers who each have dog yards with 20 dogs or more, and the largest dog yard has close to 50 dogs. On any cold, clear night, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the beautifully mournful sound of a dog team howling to the moon.

In the middle of January each year, Bethel becomes Dogtown, USA, when our biggest event occurs. We hold a trio of sled dog races on the third weekend of the new year: The Kuskokwim 300 (which is 300 miles), the Bogus Creek 150 (150 miles), and the Akiak Dash (50 miles). These three races bring about 500 dogs to Bethel. The K-300 has a 14-dog limit per team; the Bogus Creek, a 10-dog limit; and the Dash, a 7-dog limit. A musher can start a few dogs short if necessary, but a smaller team has a much harder chance.

The two shorter races tend to be comprised of mushers from Bethel and the surrounding villages, as the expense of flying a dog team to Bethel is huge—over a thousand dollars—if one does not have the sponsorship of an air cargo company. The K-300 draws some of the top professional mushers from all over Alaska, and sometimes from the lower 48, and occasionally, Europe. With a 1st Prize purse of $20,000, even those with no air cargo sponsorship are willing to bear the cost of transportation. Prize money totaling $100,000 is awarded to the first 20 finishers—more than any other mid-distance race—and there are often just about 20 teams competing, so simply finishing the race can mean earning back the transportation cost to get here.

This year’s K-300 will, as usual, host some of the top names in dog mushing: Martin Buser (2007 champ), Jeff King (winner of the most K-300s), Dee Dee Jonrowe (former resident of Bethel), Mitch Seavey (2005 champ), Ed Iten (2004 champ), Paul Gebhardt, Mike Williams.

The undisputed master of the Kuskokwim 300 is Jeff King. He first ran this race twenty years ago, in 1988, and has run it almost every year since; he has only missed four K-300s since his first one. He has taken home the trophy eight times, far more than any other musher (2006, 2003, 2002, 2001, 1997, 1993, 1992, 1991). He has finished in second place four times, often by a matter of seconds, and in third place once.

In fact, no other musher has won our race more than twice, and only seven mushers have done that: Martin Buser in 2007 and 1994; Charlie Boulding in 2000 and 1996; Sonny Russell in 1990 and 1989; Rick Mackey in 1987 and 1985; Bethel musher Myron Angstmann in 1986 and 1983 (and competing again this year for the first time in a few); Rick Swenson in 1984 and the first K-300 in 1980; and Jerry Austin in 1982 and 1981. The only woman who has ever won the K-300 was—who else?—Susan Butcher, in 1988.

This year’s field also includes some second generation mushers: Martin Buser’s son Rohn, who was last year’s Rookie of the Year, finishing in 4th place; and Mike Williams Sr.’s son, Mike Jr, who was also a rookie on the K-300 last year, and was the 2006 winner of the Bogus Creek 150.

Previous years have seen offspring competing with their dads as well. Jeff King’s daughter Cali ran the race in 2003; Mitch Seavey’s son Dallas ran in 2004 and ’05, and was Rookie of the Year in ’04. Two of Myron Angstmann’s children have run the race, though not in the same years as their father; son Andy was Rookie of the Year in 2003, and ran last year; and daughter Sarah was Rookie of the Year in 2004.

The final field of mushers for 2008 numbers 22. Of those, three are women: Dee Dee Jonrowe, Melissa Owens, and Jessica Klejka. Dee Dee is a veteran of numerous K-300s. Melissa and Jessica are both rookies. Jessica is a senior at Bethel Regional High School, born and raised right here in Bethel. The whole town is cheering for her to do well.

Visiting mushers should be settled in with their host families now. The veterinary staff went to each home today to do dog team checks and assure that each dog is healthy, not palpably pregnant, and vaccinated. Tonight will be the televised meeting where mushers—in the order they signed up—will choose their starting positions for the race. Two dog teams will leave the shoot every two minutes (with the time difference made up during the mandatory rests) until all teams are on their way to Aniak in the K-300, and to Bogus Creek in the Bogus 150. The Dash is a mass-start race, with all teams lined up across the river and taking off at the sound of the starting pistol. It will begin and end on Saturday.

Tomorrow is the big day for the longer races. The Bogus 150 starts at 5 pm, and the K-300 at 6:30pm. The big fireworks extravaganza (that would be the one we can’t have in July because it doesn’t get dark enough) starts right afterward. Your blogger-on-location will be there to bring you all the excitement, in words and pictures.



Photo by The Tundra PA, of Melissa Owens and her dog team out for a practice run.

Labels:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January Warm Up


After weeks of severely cold weather, we have done a typically Bethel turn around. From 30 below on Sunday night we jumped to 30 above by Tuesday morning. The change came with dire predictions of a serious blizzard, complete with 50 mph winds and blowing snow causing white-out conditions.

The wind has picked up, blowing frost and snow from the trees, but no blizzard has arrived. (Photos of the same tree, at -30 and +30.) The sky has been blue for most of the day and the warmer weather has everyone smiling. I fully expected to see teenagers out in shorts and t-shirts today. I ran into a friend at the post office who said “Can you believe we’ve warmed up 60 degrees and it’s still below freezing?” Yeah, that’s Bethel for you. In a week—or three—we’ll be back to 20 below and this brief respite will be a fond memory. Most of us are hoping this weather change will stop short of going to 40 above and raining, which is always possible.

Our big sled dog race, the Kuskokwim 300, is scheduled for this coming weekend. There are 21 mushers and their teams lined up to compete, and Bethel will soon be full of visiting dogs. A hand full of teams are local; the rest will be flown in with all their gear. Dutch and I are not hosting a musher this year; our friend Aliy Zirkle is not coming for K-300, to our great disappointment. She and her husband Allen Moore competed well in the Copper Basin 300 last weekend. Allen won the race (for the third time!) and Aliy placed sixth. Their sights are now set on Iditarod (with a couple of mid-distance races beforehand to warm up) which will start the first weekend in March. I’d so love to see Aliy win the big one!

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Time to Plug In

Before I moved to Alaska, I lived for many years in Washington State. Occasionally I would see a vehicle on the road there with an electrical plug sticking out of the front grill. At first I thought it was most odd, but someone enlightened me that the plug meant that that vehicle had spent time in Alaska, where all vehicles have electrical plugs.

The plugs connect to one or more heating elements which must be installed to protect the vehicle’s motor during severe cold. The very minimum is to have a block heater which warms the engine block. The ideal is also to have an oil pan heater and a battery blanket. At -20F, motor oil has the consistency of something like mayonnaise, and cannot lubricate the moving parts as they need to be. All three elements are usually routed to a common plug which sticks out the front of the vehicle’s grill, ready to plug in.

Common wisdom around here is that you know it is time to plug in when your truck’s bench seat feels like a wooden church pew. After sitting overnight in the cold (meaning below zero mostly, but certainly below -10F) a vehicle needs at least an hour of plug-in time before being cranked; two hours are better and three are great. After two hours the oil is nice and slooshy and the battery has full juice. Of course, the engine is still cold, so the heater is a long way from warming the interior. Dutch and I crank the trucks at least a half hour before we plan to leave, with the defrosters going full blast to minimize windshield scraping before take-off. Those few people with heated garages (very few in Bethel) don’t have this problem.

Leaving vehicles plugged in all night long is not a good idea, as doing so for many nights in a row can give you a power bill that will knock your socks off. My first winter here, when I didn’t know any better, I did just that. Two vehicles plugged all night for most of a month gave me a power bill of over $400! Now we keep a heavy-duty timer outside which switches on about 4 am, giving the trucks about three hours of block-warming before starting.

When doing errands around town, most people simply leave their cars running. When you pull up to the grocery store, every single vehicle in the parking lot will be idling away; fortunately, between the nearly constant wind and the lack of surrounding mountains, this does not create a smog problem like it can in Fairbanks, where even the parking meters have electrical sockets. Once it gets down to -20F, people leave their vehicles running even if they are going to be somewhere for a while—like two or three hours for dinner with friends. The cost of gasoline, nearly $5/gallon, does become a consideration.

Many people carry extension cords with them when driving in the winter, and many places of business have numerous power outlets placed throughout the parking area so that employees can plug in while they are at work. And the ultimate convenience is to have a remote starter, so your vehicle can warm up without you having to go out in the cold to crank it ahead of time. One of the mechanics in town does a thriving business in the after-market installation of this item, and I am one of a number of people on his list to get this done.

Bethel’s temperatures have been hanging out at about -20F for over three weeks now, with occasional brief forays up to -5F or so. For the last two mornings, the thermometer at the Public Works Department has read -32F. We may get back up to -20F by late afternoon, and the weather prediction for Monday calls for a wind shift that will bring us southerly breezes and temperatures well above zero. With our big sled dog race, the Kuskokwim 300, happening next weekend, a warm-up will be most welcome—as long as it stays below freezing. The best thing about twenty below is how balmy it makes zero feel when you warm up to it.

Labels:

Monday, January 07, 2008

Yupik Eskimo Crafts

Handmade items by Yupik artisans and craftspeople are much sought-after by both visitors to southwest Alaska and residents alike. Many of the things now sold as crafts, such as baskets and fur clothing, were originally useful, functional items that were part of everyday life. Before Western culture invaded this area, bringing things like Tupperware and plastic bags, baskets were what people used to store everything from clothing to food. And clothing made of fur is still warmer than anything modern technology has produced; in the severe winter temperatures we have here, it can be life saving.

Baskets are made in all sizes and shapes, from very tiny to huge. The traditional Yupik basket is very tightly woven, round in shape with a flat bottom, and has a snugly fitting lid. Open baskets are also made, either flat and tray-like or deep-sided and bucket-like. Designs are woven into the sides using dyed grasses; moose, caribou and birds are common motifs.

In addition to baskets, the long reed-like grasses that grow along rivers and streams were traditionally also woven into socks and hats and used to make toys and dolls for children. Grasses were stuffed into mukluksknee-high fur boots—to insulate the feet from the frozen ground and used to fill fur mattresses for sleeping on. The elders still teach that if you break through ice and get wet when traveling, you should immediately begin collecting the grass growing at the water’s edge and stuff it inside your clothes to hold them away from your skin; the wet clothing will freeze hard and the insulating grass will allow your body heat to warm the inside. It must feel pretty scratchy, but it can help to prevent death from hypothermia.

Fur is used to make every type of clothing needed: hats, gloves, parkas, pants, and boots. It is also used to make dolls, yo-yos, pillows, rugs, and the small trinket type items favored by collectors such as keyrings and Christmas tree ornaments.Beaver, seal, otter, wolf, wolverine, and fox are the furs most often used for clothing. The fur of small animals such as muskrats is sometimes used for decorative effect on parkas and boots. Parkas, the long hooded outer coats, are especially treasured garments. Quite a lot of work goes into making one, and may take up to a year to complete. Fur is very durable if it is well cared for, and parkas are often handed down from one generation to the next. They are decorated on both front and back, and may include beadwork, as well as piecing together tiny bits of contrasting fur to create designs. A well-made parka sells for about $2,000. The parka shown on the left (front and back views) was made by the wearer's mother, and she treasures it, and only wears it for special occasions. Today is the first day of Slaavik, the Russian Orthodox Christmas, and she wore it for the celebration she is attending tonight.

Small fur scraps left from sewing people’s clothing are used to make Eskimo doll clothes. Dolls are a very popular craft item with collectors. Each doll maker has a unique style, so much so that the appearance of the doll is a signature of the maker. My favorite dolls are made by a woman from Chevak named Dorothy Nayamin. Her dolls are beautiful. The faces are made of leather, which she chews to soften and mold. People from Chevak say that her faces are so true-to-life that they can tell who she modeled each doll after.

Dolls are made in all sizes, but most commonly are about a foot tall. They are usually dressed in traditional clothing, either cotton kuspuks (a hooded overshirt with a large front pocket) or fur. They are usually performing an activity of daily living, such as hunting, fishing, sewing, berry picking, or collecting grass. Once I even saw one the maker called the anuk-ing doll; it had a small shovel in one hand, a wad of grass in the other, its pants were down and a small black bead was sewn on its bare behind. Anuk is the Yupik word for poop. The doll maker couldn’t stop giggling as she showed it to people; she loved feeling a little bit naughty by making it.

Doll making and basket weaving are traditionally considered women’s crafts. Skin sewing—making garments of fur or leather—is usually a woman’s craft, though some men may do it too. Ivory carving is a man’s craft.

The ivory comes from the tusk of the walrus, which is also a meat source. In the old days, whole tusks were used to form arched entrances to the semi-subterranean homes the Yupik people lived in (igloos, which were never more than temporary dwellings, were not part of this culture; this area does not have the right kind or amount of snow to build them with). Sometimes the tusks were etched with images of animals, birds and fish to bring good luck with hunting. Ivory is such a durable and workable material that one old-time dog musher used it to make runners for his dog sled.

These days ivory is carved into small figurines, which are often placed into tableaux made of wood and grass to create scenes of hunting or other daily activities. It is also used in making masks, which are sometimes worn in Eskimo dancing, and in making jewelry such as earrings and bracelets.

Another older use for ivory which is not often seen today was to make story knives. A traditional entertainment for girls and young women was to recite for each other the myths, legends, and stories that make up the oral tradition of Yupik culture. The story knife was used to scrape a smooth surface in dirt or mud or sand and then to draw lines, figures, and symbols in the surface to illustrate the story being told. A particularly fine story knife, such as one made of ivory, would be passed down from mother to daughter for many generations.

In modern times, beading has become a popular craft among Yupik women. It does not have the ancient roots of basket weaving and ivory carving, as beads did not become available to the craftswomen until the Russians came to Alaska to trade for furs in the 1700s. Barettes, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings are popular items, and some are quite intricate. The work is hand-held, not loomed.

Knitting is not a craft one would think to associate with the Yupik people, as sheep to provide the wool are not native to this area. However, musk oxen were brought here many years ago, and there are thriving herds on Nelson Island and on Nunivak Island. The downy undercoat of the musk ox is as soft as cashmere, and is called qiviut (KIV-ee-ute). It is light brown, the color of hot chocolate. As the oxen migrate through their territories, the qiviut is plucked from their fur by snagging on the brambles of tundra bushes. The women in these areas follow the herds and collect the qiviut, spinning it into yarn and weaving the yarn into the softest and most beautiful hats, mittens, scarves and mufflers. The most traditional piece is a neck gaiter known as a Smoke Ring; it is loose-fitting and can be worn only on the neck or pulled up to partially cover the head. Garments made of qiviut are never dyed, they are always that beautiful, rich chocolate brown. The one shown at the left here is modeled by the delightful and charming ward clerk of my clinic. Different patterns in the weaving are associated with specific villages, thus the garment tells where the weaver is from. There is a Guild of Qiviut Weavers which maintains a store in Anchorage where their work is sold. They have a website where you can order garments made of qiviut here.

Most of the artists and craftspeople from this area have much less opportunity to make their work available for purchase. When they travel in from the villages to Bethel, they often bring crafts with them to sell. The hospital keeps a table set up in the lobby known simply as “the craft table” where people can place items for sale, usually with a slip of paper with their name on it and how much they are asking for their creations. Sometimes the slip will also state which clinic they are being seen in, so if they get called to their appointment, you know where to go look for them if you want to purchase something. The honor system is very much in force, and people generally trust that you won’t steal from them.

The Cultural Center in Bethel is the home to a small museum of Yupik history and culture, and it has a gift shop attached where a small selection of Yupik crafts is available, but it seems rarely to be open. The museum’s long-time curator (and gift shop manager) moved away from Bethel recently, and her replacement has apparently not been found. The only stores in Bethel selling locally made crafts and maintaining regular business hours that I know of is Lucy’s Cache, out at the airport, and the clothing section of Swanson’s Grocery.

Every Saturday during the summer, and one Saturday per month during the winter, there is a craft fair known as Saturday Market held at the Cultural Center. This is generally a lively gathering of craftspeople and gardeners selling vegetables. The sellers must rent table space to sell their goods. The Saturday after Thanksgiving is the Christmas Bazaar, the biggest Market of the year, and usually has a huge showing of craftspeople. They bring all their best work to sell, and the variety is mind-boggling. I missed it this year, so I have no photo to share.

The other big craft-buying opportunity each year is the craft fair held during the Camai’i (chu-MY) Dance Festival in April. Camai’i is a Yupik word meaning “a warm and genuine welcome.” While Eskimo Dancing goes on in the high school auditorium, a huge craft fair goes on in the school lobby and adjacent classrooms. Every imaginable craft is there, from sealskin pants to an entire carved walrus tusk. It is truly a feast for the eyes, and can be a hit to the pocketbook. I set aside a few hundred dollars for this event, to do my craft shopping for the year.

A few years ago, the hospital built a separate building to house the Dental and Eye clinics and most of the administrative offices. One of the most gracious elements of this lovely building—which contains the only elevator in Bethel—is the large display cases found in the hallways on each floor. These are filled with historic photographs and beautiful examples of Yupik Eskimo crafts. The photographs here which show objects behind glass are from these display cases. Likewise, the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage has a many-times larger collection which is displayed throughout their facility. Every hallway, every staircase has lighted display cases filled with beautiful examples of Native crafts.

For most of the craftspeople, the money they make selling their work constitutes their only cash income for the year. Many contribute significantly to their families’ income through their work. I love being able to purchase crafts directly from the people who made them, and to hear the stories of how they were made. It is all part of the beautiful and vibrant Yupik culture.

All photos by The Tundra PA:

1. Large traditional Yupik basket, about 2' tall.

2. Smaller traditional baskets, about 8" and 6" tall.

3. Baskets of varied shapes.

4. Mukluks made of beaver, otter, and cowhide, with muskrat tassels .

5. Fancy parka.

6. Another fancy parka, front.

7. Beaver hat.

8. Back view of #6.

9. Dolls by Dorothy Nayamin.

10. More dolls, doll maker unknown.

11. Same doll maker as #10.

12. Ivory carvings; left is a billikin, a happy spirit that brings good luck, carved from the tooth of a sperm whale. Right is a walrus.

13. Halibut mask.

14. Ivory bracelet.

15. Ivory earrings.

16. Ivory story knife.

17. Beaded necklace.

18. Qiviut smoke ring.

19. Masks.

20. Wolf fur thigh warmers, tucked into mukluks with beaded tops.

21. Eskimo yo-yo.

22. Seal mask.

23. Beaded hair barettes.

24. Mukluks made of wolf, wolverine, cowhide and muskrat, by Lucy Beaver.

Labels: