Thursday, October 23

Fairy tale snow

Some day the snow falls from above,
others, it flies from side to side.
Some days it snows from the inside out,
and others it's hard to know where it's even coming from.

Some day we get big snow flakes,
other days they are small.
And some days like today,
snow flakes are just perfect.

These is what I call
fairy tale snow.

Thursday, October 9

It's over!

Yes, fall is definitely over. This year, it lasted exactly seventeen days. In Alaska, spring and fall last whatever winter chooses to allow them, which usually is about a month. Week up or week down. When you suddenly wake up one day at 15 F and a foot of snow, that just means that winter has suddenly arrived. Like that, without a warning. The calendar can say whatever it wants, it's now winter.

Luckily, last week, we could still spend a few days doing one of the last subsistence activities of the season: berry picking. Of ocurse we missed a big part of it during the month of September, though since this is also moose season, not very many people go berry picking all that much anymore. However, we had our share furing the month of August and the first week of October.

Like all subsistence activities, this one also has a specific gender. Hunting and the initial butchering are male activities. Women finish it and pack it up for winter. Fishing is also mainly a male activity, though the cleaning of the fish is a women thing. Berry picking instead, is mostly a female activity. Men usually come along as gunners, just in case a bear shows up and want to put up a fight for the berries.

At least that's what everyone does. Everyone except my friend E, apparently. Of course, I learned that when it was already too late to turn around. "No one wants to come berry picking with me, because I don't bring a rifle." she says nonchalantly, when it was obvious that our gentleman boater had left and would not be back until 4 hours later to pick us up. Nope, she did not think about letting me know beforehand. So, I had no other option than to gather up all my courage, put myself in the hands of every other god up there in the skies, and focus on picking low bush blueberries and tundra tea while looking over my shoulder every now and then to make sure we were safe. We were lucky, no bear in sight that day.

I went back to the tundra with her once again. Though this time I brought my bear spray. Not that I even knew how to use it, but it was something. I'm glad I never had to use it because I'm sure I would have ended up spraying myself or something. So, my berry picking experience went by with no super exciting adventires to tell my grandkids in due time.

One of the most common uses of berries, and at the same time favorite Native dessert is "akutaq", also called "Eskimo ice cream." Mind you, it's not really ice cream. It's ingredients and white fish, berries, sugar, and fat. Traditionally, animal fat was used, but nowadays modern life has substituted it for Crisco. Some people love akutaq. And even though I have tried a few times, I just can't get over the Crisco.

Another interesting desert is "mouse akutaq." In this case, what is collected are not berries, but certain roots that have a very characteristic sweet flavor. The interesting part is that these roots are not harvested directly from the plant, but trespassing mice nests, who spend the summer accumulating them in their underground homes after they have chewed them up. Traditionally, people take only a part of what the mouse has gathered and the more generous substitute what they have taken for a portion of something else that can help feed the mouse during the winter. David loved it when he tried it last year, and so did Naím. I wasn't able to get past the fact that a mouse had chewed it, so I passed. I'm sure that if I have the chance again, I will try it now. I'm not as much of a city girl as I used to be anymore.

At home, we don't make akutaq, nor steel food from mice. What we do are jars and jars of low bush blueberry, blackberry, red berry, raspberry and rose hip jam. Hopefully, they will last all winter.

And with this, we close up the summer and fall chapters in Alaska. We leave behind the long days and the non-stop activity. No time for good-byes or slow transitions. From one day to the next, fall is definitely over.

This winter will be much different than the previous in many ways. However, I hope it's at least as beautiful and inspiring as last winter was.

Saturday, October 4


It's not easy to express in a coherent way the 3.000 miles that we have just traveled as a family. To say that it has been the best vacation of my life, only comparable in intensity and beauty to another trip I took with my best friend a few years ago, doesn't really say much. Or it says it all, but only we can understand it.

It hasn't just been a trip through a land of many colors, full of history, magic and incredible beauty. It has been such an intense and intimate trip in so many levels that I can barely express it, I can't find the words. It has been a trip lived in a present that is no longer. What made sense was to live it and not as much remember it to talk about it. Words would never make it justice.

Every day lived and every place visited always were better than the previous one... even though the previous one always felt unbeatable. Each one of them always different. Each one had its magic, its personal color, its particular surprises, its warmth... They all trapped me in the moment, and all of them I enjoyed greatly. Even those roads that at first sight seemed almost boring, hid surprises of amazing beauty. It was just a matter of opening our eyes to them.

I don't want to talk too much about it, but I will mention the specific places we visited, just in case anyone is planning a trip in the area. The links will take you to more pictures of every place, if you want to explore further.

Arches in Utah was the first National Park that welcomed us. With its amazing rock formations, its burning colors, and those incredible arches...

, very close, gave us the first clue as to what the canyons in this area can look like. And this one was the "small" one... well, I swear I didn't think it was small when I sat there battling vertigo while I pretended to be brave.

From there to Monument Valley in Arizona there is exactly the distance of one of my son's long naps. Who hasn't see these places a thousand times in cowboy flicks? To camp and wake up here was indescribable.

Antelope Canyon is one of the most amazing places I have even visited. The walls of this small canyon in the middle of the Arizona desert are so full of magic and softness that it's truly otherworldly. If I had to choose a favorite place, this would be it.

The Grand Canyon, in Arizona, it's simply stunning. A difference in altitude of 5,000 feet makes the view unreal. It was so exaggerated and overpowering that we took a lot less time there than elsewhere and I shot less pictures than anywhere. It's hard to make it justice in an image, so I won't even try.

Bryce Canyon
, back in Utah, is perhaps one of the most surreal places of our trip. The Paiute indians that lived in this area always made sure to stay away from this canyon, fearing that Coyote would transform them in "hoodoos", as it had done with their ancestors. The first pioneer that settled in this place though, described the canyon much more pragmatically, as "a helluva place to lose a cow." I guess he must have lost a cow and had an awful time trying to find it, if he ever did at all.

And to finish off, Zion, also in Utah. When it seemed we had seen it all, it offered us new completely unexpected and surprising landscapes.

And now, I return to my present again, to my warm cabin and my still shy and wintery snow flakes that have already started to fall here in Alaska.

Thursday, October 2

The best start

Just as we started our long waited for vacations,

the first thing I do is disappear from the face of the earth

to take refuge in silence.

Three days of solitude in one of my favorite spots on the planet

were the best birthday present ever.

Thank you, my boys.