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Dabbling in Subsistence

Saturday afternoon – having left the boys at home in Circle with Gretchen – we arrived in Fairbanks a little after five, in time to pick Jamiee up at her cousin’s and take her to dinner. It was really good to see her after just over a week of her being gone. It’s amazing how quickly she has become one of us. We’ve missed her. We ate at Pike’s Landing and watched the boats parade by. The Indigo Girls concert was good. Crowded, hot, packed, but fun. I think we saw the entirety of the greater Fairbanks lesbian community gathered together. When it was over we drove about a third of the way home and camped in the rain, woke up early, and drove the rest of the way home through rainy clouds.

When we walked in the door, both boys were playing happily. What was I expecting? Jacob standing inconsolable in the middle of the room with his mouth agape, eyes scrunched shut, wailing wails of infinite grief and suffering, snot and tears running down his face and onto his shirt. As it turns out, Jacob and Toby both were just fine. Gretchen kept them busy and I don’t guess they missed us at all.

Now summer is clearly over. About a week ago Stephanie and I were walking along Twelve Mile Summit checking on the blueberries, when we noticed that some of the low leaves were already turning yellow while others were clearly lightening. The tundra is turning. Now we see the signs everywhere. The cranes around here in Circle are gathering for their big trip south. This morning I saw (and heard) a flock of over a hundred cranes gathering before flying overhead. It's quite a sight.

Summer is over and yet we are still living on arctic time - that compulsion to stay up later and later as the summer sun delays its setting, pushing normal activities like eating and sleeping back for hours and hours. We’ve stayed up so many nights this summer into the lambent light of the wee hours to see the sun dip down, skip right across the horizon, and glide right back up again. But then again I think Stephanie and I have been on arctic time since long before we lived anywhere near the arctic.

We were up late again last night with the almost final batch of our jarred salmon, and I’m so freakin’ proud of those little jars. They are beautiful, and I see in them all of the work I’ve put into them over the past week. We didn’t get our salmon quite the way I would have liked to this year. I asked around for anyone who wanted to partner up or let me do some work in exchange for some fish, but all I got was offers to buy. So I paid cash for twenty fish. Still, it’s better and cheaper than buying from Safeway, and once again it sent Stephanie and I into discussions about investing in a net of our own for next year. Then we could be more self sufficient and able to get as much or as little fish as we need. IMG_7211001.jpg
The first ten fish we filleted, vacuum packed and put away in the freezer. For the rest of the fish, we wanted to jar the half smoked strips like we had last year. And so I built a little smoke house out behind our place.
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It isn’t the Marriot, but I’m pretty proud of it.
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I used spruce poles from an area that burned in the fires of three summer ago, and covered it with the tarps from moving on the river last summer.

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As soon it was done, Jacob had to come out for a final inspection. He approved.
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 Strips of meat have been cut and hung in this way for thousands of years, and it feels good to participate in such an age-old practice.
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For smoke, I used cottonwood from a tree that fell over in a recent storm, 
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and let it smoke for two and a half days to get it a little more than half dried.IMG_7331001.jpg
Then we jarred it last night with jalapeños and brown sugar in half pint jars.
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We had the pressure cooker rolling throughout the night. Each batch had to cook for an hour and a half. Of course, we stayed busy while it cooked. The kitchen wasn’t the only room to get steamy, let me tell you.  
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They turned out so unbelievably good. They are hotter, sweeter, and smokier than what we made last year. Stephanie thinks it is the best jarred salmon we’ve had since we came to Alaska.

A couple of weeks ago now, our little family was driving back in to Circle from Fairbanks again. We found ourselves going more slowly on this trip, relishing the drive. We talked more and found side roads to explore. We found parts of the old Steese highway that wound around twisty (more twisty) switchbacks and through valleys before the newer, straighter Steese Highway was established. We explored dirt roads, and looked for possible future campsites. This is my life: at ten o’clock in the evening, we’re driving along an old four wheeler trail leading further and further off of an already remote road. We stopped for blueberries and found a place where they were ripe and plentiful, so we picked until we had filled all the containers we had, and the boys were so mosquito bitten they were looking a little pale and lethargic from blood loss. We turned a three hour drive into a six hour one, and enjoyed every bit of it. For days afterward, we had blueberry pancakes, blueberry snacks, blueberries on cereal, blueberry cobbler, and Stephanie made this blueberry pie from scratch.
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I’m so impressed. And this is no mix. No store-bought crust here. She started with flour and fresh blueberries. What a woman.

I so enjoy participating in what some would call “subsistence activities.” It makes me feel good to get foods from such local, completely organic sources. I feel blessed to be in place where we can do this. Salmon, ducks, blueberries, rabbits. We’ve been given moose, and I know that at some point I will be able to go out for moose or caribou for ourselves. I’m looking forward to that.  Getting food in this way is such a nexus of natural, healthy, organic, environmentally conscious, culturally traditional, fiscally responsible sensibilities.

Posted on Tuesday, August 7, 2007 at 10:51AM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Hi, Doll. What a lovely posting. You've taken some fabulous photographs, and shared some fascinating stories. You've got the very best life of anyone else I know. Thank you for sharing the pictures and stories. Love, Mom
August 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMom
Those jars look so yummy, I am practically drooling on my keyboard!
August 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBryan N.

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