Sometimes, just below the surface, life happens. It roils and spins with a purpose that we, simply put, cannot truly understand.
My mother and I have noticed that time seems to be whizzing by particularly fast this year. We are already into May. Mom informed us she is not fishing this summer. That is a daunting statement coming from her, as she had taught all of us that salmon is one of the most important components of our lives. Her reason? No time. She is in the final preparations for a show at the Anchorage Museum. When she announced that she would not be fishing, we were all a little stunned. Not that she actually “fishes” anymore, but she is still the catalyst that drives the process. She is an unrelenting stickler for perfection in her subsistence practices. From catch to filleted and prepped for final process is typically never more than 15 minutes or so, depending on the number of fish hitting the net. Usually we must twist her arm to let us do the filleting. She just loves the whole process. So, we shall all step up to the plate this year to see if we have learned well and have what it takes. I have the faith. It is unfortunate that one of the best fish cutters will be self-exiled for an intense language immersion opportunity this summer. This is an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Our language, Unangam Tunuu, has only fluent speakers who are over the age of 70. So, while we all have our own visions this spring and summer, we know in our heart of hearts that we will fill our freezers, our drying and smoking houses, and our salt buckets to the best of our abilities. Having had the best teacher in life, we will be successful.
This little fellow, probably recently weaned, beginning to shed his baby coat, is resting on the banks of a fresh water river. This is not near the mouth of the river. Over the past two summers we have seen this type of activity occuring; sea mammals coming into fresh water when they never have before. At least not in the memory of our oldest citizens of 80-90 years. There have been three young seals frequenting the river over the past couple of days. Several weeks ago, my husband witnessed 40 sea otters on a sand bar in the river, plus numerous ones farther upstream feeding. And last year, we witnessed score of monstrous sea lions coming up the river after salmon. Never. Ever. And it is March and the indigenous plants are breaking ground.
P.S. I forgot to mention that this is a ringed seal. There are at least two others frequenting the river. An earlier one spotted was sick and was eventually captured and sent to a care facility. One other was found dead. They are an ice associated seal normally found further north. According to biologists due to the unfortunate lack of sea ice this winter, they are finding other places to haul out and rest. Because of warming temperatures, they are far out of ther normal territory. These three seem to be healthy.