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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Winter Too Short, Too Loud

Part 2 - See Post Below for Part 1

Anita felt the warmth of sun on her face. She saw her Yup’ik husband coming across the tundra, a pack dog walking behind him. As usual, he was smiling and laughing. He had two rabbits in his hand. Behind him a flock of ptarmigan still in their winter white plumage flew up over his head and scattered in every direction as a large black cloud came racing across the sky faster than a flight of ducks. The cloud descended and overtook her husband. He looked surprised as the cloud swallowed him like bear eating a shrew. And then she was cold. Anita opened her eyes, the moon in a clear, dark sky waited on top of the mountain in front of her. She could only see a few stars. Alag kept licking her face making it warm. The rest of the dog team waited, all still in harness, the sled behind them. It was hard to get up. She was shaking; her skin parka and pants were frozen stiff. She had stayed out too long, should have pulled her snares a week ago. Quickly, she took off her parka, knocked the ice from the fur inside it and put it back on. Doing the same with the pants and the mukluks, in frenzy she found the caribou robe. The robe around her, she began running in circles. The dogs were barking. One tried to break from the harness. Another picked a fight with another. Anita ran to the sled, shoved the sled brake into the snow, broke up the fight with blows, and calmed the other dog. She was still shaking. She had to move. She needed fire. The dogs settled, she pulled the brake and gave the command. Running behind the sled, she drove them toward the mountains where she knew there was a stand of cottonwoods. It was hard to keep up the pace, her heart was beating, she was still shaking, her vision was blurring. Her husband, riding in the sled, talked to her and joked.
“Did someone have a nice swim?” he said.
“Why did you leave me?” she answered.
“ Someone smells better now with the cool waters taking away the sweat. You were starting to smell like an old bear existing on salmon carcasses.
“I need you. Why did you die?”
“I’m here. I brought your dogs back. Keep running. Someone would run with you but his feet are sore. Someone has been walking for moons looking for you. Why do you stay out so long? Besides the view is better here lying on the sled watching the moon set over the mountain and the stars twinkling.”
“I saw something today.”
“The airplane? Oh yes, I saw it too. There will be many more of those in the coming years.”
“Airplane. What is an airplane?”
“It is something people ride in.”
“In the sky?
“Yes,’ in the sky, he said. “It carries people places very quickly. Someone is not shaking anymore. Someone must be getting warmer. That is good. I loved a strong woman. Keep running.”
“But how does it get in the sky? And how does it get down? Its wings don’t move. It doesn’t have feet, and it is very noisy. It hurts someone’s ears.”  
“They all have feet. Some are hidden like a bird when it flies. The cottonwoods are ahead. A fire will be nice. Someone is getting cold.”
“Why didn’t you fight back?”
“It was useless. There were too many of them. We didn’t know of the gun then. It shoots a very small dart that doesn’t even have a point on it. It goes right through your skin like spear or an arrow; it can even crush bones; it is very powerful. I thought if I walked away they would let me go.”
“He shot you in the back. He was not a good man,” she said.
“But you got away. It was you they wanted. They wanted to use you. They thought you were very beautiful. That is why the one came looking for you.”
“He found me.”
“I know. But he will bother you no more. And we are here. Here is the wood to build a fire. Get wood. I will watch the dogs if you set the brake.”
Luckily, Anita found some dry limbs low on a tree, quickly snapped them into smaller pieces, and with some tender she had in the sled and her tools that made sparks, a fire quickly came to life. The fire going, her parka and pants drying close to the heat, she turned to talk to her husband, but he was gone. She put on larger pieces of wood and looked up at the stars. The moon had set over the mountain. The sun would be up shortly. As tired as she was, she knew she must go on. She couldn’t wait another day to cross the mountain range over the pass.

The crossing of the pass went well and the dogs took her down the southern slope as the sun came up. On a ridge far to east, she saw a bear coming out of hibernation. It came out of the snow, put its head in the air, sniffed, rolled its head and then laid down in the sun and went back to sleep. In the distance to the south she could see the dwellings of a group of the people who had gathered for the winter at a wide spot on the river not far from her dugout. For over three moons she had been gone, living at her secret cave far in the interior where she and her husband had against tradition lived together most winters. He did not stay in the men’s house like the rest of the people and the couple did not have children. Most people thought they were an odd pair. Anita stopped the dogs halfway down the mountain looking at the dwellings; fear set into her heart. What if the strange ones, the gusiks, were waiting for her? A mere few hours by dogs on the other side of the river, one could be at the settlement on the coast of the sea where the strange ones had built dwellings of wood a few years ago and people in large, wooden boats began catching salmon. Anita had only been told about it, but the strange ones had named it Dillingham. It was south of Igusik, their summer fish camp on the coast. Anita looked at the dwellings on the wide spot by the river for a long time trying to see if anything looked strange before she started the dogs again.

“I tell you it went straight. It did not swoop or glide silently like an eagle: it went straight. It went straight like an arrow. If it was a bird, the wings did not move. Not once did it flap its wings.” Anita told the people. “And it made a loud noise. It is called an airplane.”
“We know. We have all seen one. Wassile touched one in Dillingham. There is a place where they take off and land there.”
Anita waited to ask if anyone had been looking for her. She knew which person she would ask when the time is proper. Some people were afraid for Anita’s safety. But some looked at her strangely and trust was not in their eyes. Many new things have happened since she left last fall. One person went to Dillingham and did tasks for men who gave him a thing called money. It is used to get other things. Most people here will not take it because it is useless. But the gusiks like this money very much it seems. They seem to think it is sacred. If you try to take it from them they will kill you. Young Natasha took some to look at it and the person became very angry and threatened to hurt her. Another older person took some and they took him away. He is in a place they call jail. He only wanted to look at it to see if he could make something out of it. He thought maybe he could patch a kayak with it or put it on a parka as decoration, but it wasn’t very pretty; it was very nothing, just green with small pictures and designs on it. They must be sacred pictures.  
Anita did not tell anyone about seeing her husband and how he had saved her. Most people were already afraid of her because or her strange ways and her strength. But still the ones who were afraid of her and did not have trust in their eyes took a portion of the caribou that Anita shared with the people. After the sharing of the caribou, she took the dogs to her dugout. While taking care of the dogs, Elena, one of her husband’s sisters, came to her dugout.
“Someone was gone a long time and is tired,” Elena said. Anita merely nodded while she unhitched the dogs, bedded them down and fed them. She thought about telling Elena about seeing her brother, but she did not. They watched a flight of circling cranes coming from the south and then sat quietly outside the dugout looking across the tundra toward the mountains. A time passed while they watched the birds in the sky, the clouds move and felt the soft spring wind on their faces. The sun had fallen near the top of the mountain before Elena spoke again. “Some gusiks were looking for you this winter. They came twice. I don’t think they like winter. Maybe you should not have come back. Maybe you should go north to your other people.” In silence the two ate some hot food Elena cooked for them. Before Anita fell into a deep sleep in her dugout, she gave Elena some beaver hides.

To Be Continued...

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