On the spur of the moment

My friend Zoya, who is a crazed walker and runner, called just as I was getting ready to take my husband some lunch at work.  The wind was muffling her voice so I knew she was outside.  She says “I am out at Priest Rock (I know she means Little Priest Rock) and there are so many seals sitting on the rocks, about 12 of them.  I’ve never seen so many together and they are so big.”  I verify that they are seals and not sea lions.  “Oh no, they are seals and they are so fat.  You should come take some pictures.”  (And you have to read this with an Armenian accent, by the way.)

By the time I got out there after going all the way over to airport to drop off lunch, they had decreased in numbers to about 9.  But they were so roly poly fat.  And all different colors.  Just basking away the afternoon in the winter sun;  sharing space with Emperor geese who were grazing in the near shore waters.

There are actually 8 harbor seals, but one is kind of on the other side of the rock.

There is nothing better than being able to drive out Summer Bay road in January.  Typically we are unable to drive it past November due to snow and avalanches.

This fatty had a rock all to himself.

And there is nothing better than living in a place where a spur of the moment phone call from a friend equals basking harbor seals…

I love how they relax!

…and feasting fowl.

I'm assuming these guys were grazing on mussels.

Thanks, Zoya!


The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska hosts a traditional culture camp in Unalaska.    Camp Qungaayux^ is designed to bring Unangan Elders, Mentors, and Western science biologists together with the younger generation in order to teach both Traditional Knowledge practices and Western Science principles which encourages cultural and environmental awareness.  

So in 2003, I talked Caleb into helping his brother teach the kids how to construct model kayaks. 


In 2004, I talked Caleb into working with his brother Mike, in teaching the kids how to construct a full-size iqyax^, or skinboat.  His brother couldn’t make it so Caleb ended up teaching by himself. 


In 2005, Caleb taught the kids how to cover a full size iqyax^ by actually covering the one built the year before. 


In 2006, Caleb, with HIS mentor Lee Post, taught the kids how to articulate a Baird’s beaked whale. 


In 2007, 2008, and 2009 Caleb taught the kids how to construct traditional drums. 


2007 was actually the last year I coordinated camp, so I don’t think that the Tribe knows what a jewel they have with Caleb.  The secret to Caleb is that he had never taught a class before 2003.  He had never made a model kayak.  He had never constructed a full size kayak.  He had never covered a skinboat.  He had never thought of articulating, let alone articulated, a whale.  He had never constructed a drum.  The secret to Caleb is presenting him with a problem and giving him the time to explore it and solve it.

So when the Tribe asked Caleb to teach at Camp again this year, and they asked him to do drums again, I said, “Drums?  Again?”  And Caleb’s other cohort who first suggested the whale articulation, Reid Brewer, reminded Caleb that they had the sealion bones from two years ago…… 


….and the deal was sealed.  So, I am going to try to follow Caleb along in this project.  Not by being intrusive and all in his face with the camera and questions, but by using the photos he takes himself, and listening to him when he comes home lamenting his woes.  Hmmmmmm, I see he forgot the camera today.

How to set the perfect table for a lustax^ party.

Mom called me up about 9:30 one morning not long ago.  She said, “Guess what?”  What, I said, expecting some juicy gossip.  “Irene is having lustax^ and we’re invited!”  Woo hoo.  How many people are coming, what can I bring…. Mom says Julia says they have everything.  Just come at noon.  I am drooling already.  I volunteer to cut up some dried salmon just to take in case they don’t have any. 

Why so excited you ask?  What the heck  is lustax^?   Lustax^ is one of those true trade item subsistence foods.  Traditionally, lustax^ is made from the flippers of the Northern fur seal.  We get them from St. Paul, even though, yes, we see fur seal coming through the pass in the spring and around November, but hunters are few and far between.  So, no salmon in St. Paul?  No fur seal in Unalaska?  Perfect trade. 

Lustax^ is technically salted, aged flipper.  To those of us who grew up with it – it stinks good.  My father, on the other hand for example, used to leave the  house when we had lustax^, or he would smoke a big, ole cigar. 

Setting the table:

Use card board or thick brown paper bags as plates and placemats.
Use card board or thick brown paper bags as plates and placemats.

You may use a plate for the potatoes and everything else, but you must, must, must cut your lustax^ on the placemat.  That is just the way it is done!!

Sharp knives...an absolute necessity!
Sharp knives...an absolute necessity!
Boiled potatoes.
Boiled potatoes.

We were extra lucky.  There was fur seal meat and fat in the pot, too!!!

Seal oil.
Seal oil.

Ready to eat!

The table set for a lustax^ party.
The table set for a lustax^ party.

Several other ingredients are needed.

Irene McGlashan- whose daughter, June, is her St. Paul connection.
Irene McGlashan- whose daughter, June, is her St. Paul connection.
Julia Dushkin, whose hosted the party at her house.
Julia Dushkin, who hosted the party at her house.
Gert Svarny - my mom, one of the lucky invitees.
Gert Svarny - my mom, one of the lucky invitees.

As we sat down to eat, Mom said, and I am quoting her here, “I was so afraid I wasn’t going to get lustax^ again before I died!” 

My plate.
My plate.

Foods indigenous to a culture are part of who we are.  Elders can absolutely feel unhealthy if they are not able to eat the foods they are used to eating.  It is an extremely important tradition to carry with us and to pass down to our younger generations.  June’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Shabolin from St. Paul,  made the lustax^. 

I have to really thank Irene for taking to heart my whining one day about missing sitting and eating native foods with other women, especially lustax^.  Within two weeks, I was full of good stuff and basking in the good company.  And she gave me seal oil to take home!  Qag^aasakung, ladies!