Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Disappearing Acts


It's fall in Alaska. It has been for almost a month.

In Ohio Autumn meant sweaters and cider and pumpkin patches. It also didn't start until October. Here the fall has meant cool breezes and late sunrises, working toward a dreaded winter solstice with far too little daylight to counter the frigid temperatures. The trees started to change colors in late August, and wet morning often brings the sweet aroma of decaying leaves.

Despite the shifts in the seasonal changes, the biggest difference that has come with autumn is the absences I see in my classroom: everyone is out hunting.

This past summer when I was meeting Curtis's co-workers at the annual resident camp out, I had a discussion with a fellow spouse who is a local teacher as well. He was lamenting the early start to the school year, which was nearly three weeks before my comrads back in the Midwest. I commented that the early start meant for early dismissal in May--a definite plus when May tends to be far more sunny than August. He countered that the early start was good in theory, and terrible in practice...thanks to hunting season.

Oh, that's right, I forgot about that.

There are a small handful of people in Ohio that skip town in search of deer or other edible animals every autumn, but the number of people that disappear for a few days or a couple weeks is much higher up here. I have several students that have disappeared for a week and a half only to reappear back in the classroom, face flushed with days out in the sun, and stories abounding from adventures out in the wilderness.

One student was back in 48 hours after a moose was ready for the taking shortly after they arrived. Another student came back days after his expected return after poor weather left them stuck waiting for their plane. A third student is still gone, but has been texting his friends updates on the "6 by 6" beast that was landed over the weekend.

The hunting and gathering culture that is so prevalent up here also makes regular appearances in meals with caribou and reindeer sausage and moose meat added to spaghetti. Street corner venders downtown sell such goods all summer, but the quantities seem to only increase as the temperature drops.

While I don't personally go out to capture animals to fill the freezer, I appreciate these subtle differences in the way people appreciate the food in their every day lives. In most parts of this wealthy, civilized country we live in people are very disconnected from the food that they eat. It comes from a grocery store, or the refrigerator, not from a living breathing animal that wanders in the wilderness.

The city that I live in is pretty close to "normal" when you look at any other city across the country, you know, other than the extreme changes in daylight and the studded tires to combat five months of driving on ice. The difference is that it takes twenty minutes (or less) to find areas without cell phone service, areas you'd be foolish to trek through without the protection of bear spray or a weapon, areas that are still pretty rugged despite the thriving metropolis nearby.

Hunting season, just like a hike in the mountains or a day when the sun doesn't come up until 10:30, reminds me of this once again.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up in a community where the schools shut down for only one thing other than a national holiday: hunting season. Several of my classmates also took off legally for "farm days" to help get the crops in.

    I never hunted but my father (who is a former PA Deputy Game Protector) and brother are both avid hunters and somehow, they've convinced my gorgeous, girly girl niece to join them in their pursuits. It's not for me but there's nothing better than venison burger cured with thick slabs of country ham... yum!