Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kodiak Island,Part I

Last weekend, we took a trip to Kodiak Island. After a 13 hour tumultuous boat ride on the Pacific Ocean, we arrived in the "Emerald Isle of Alaska". Kodiak Island is most famous for being home to the "largest carnivore on planet Earth", the Kodiak Bear. However, after barely missing bears in parking lots and alongside the road this was the closest we actually got to a bear:

The real reason we came to Kodiak was research. While we've been in Alaska, I've been hard at work on my thesis paper - reading a bookcase full and making as many native connections as I can. Kodiak, the city, holds The Alutiiq Museum and the Alutiiq people are the basis of my work. Kodiak Island holds several native villages that are nearly completely populated by Alutiiq peoples.


The first two days in Kodiak were very exciting. I spent all day working with staff at The Alutiiq, studying their collections, and absorbing their knowledge. Here are a few beautiful things from the museum.

Griffin and I had planned on camping that night but the weather thought differently. Luckily, we found a cheap hostel and stayed dry for the night. While we were perusing the town of Kodiak on a nightly stroll we met a wonderful new friend, Jeff.

We had a flight chartered to take us to Ouzinkie, a native village, the next day where we were going to spend 48 hours. After some complaining, hilarious stories, and an hour of chain smoking Jeff offered to take us to Ouzinkie on his sailboat in the morning. He was a generous wonderful man that slightly resembled John Kerry.


Look I'm steering a boat through the Pacific Ocean!

More puffins than I have ever seen in one spot.

Ouzinkie is positioned in the valley to the right.

When we arrived to the tiny place that is Ouzinkie, we found that our connection was still out fishing for an undetermined amount of time. We met some nice young boys that were fishing off the dock and gave Griffin some cod eyeballs to hold.

This is our man, Herman Squartsoff, Alutiiq native of Ouzinkie. Herman took us home and showed us how to fillet a steelhead trout he had just caught. He had to run to church that evening because he is an official, so we were handed off to another lady that walked with us around town.

The Alutiiq people were basically invaded and enslaved by the Russians in the late 18th and early 19th century. I'm skipping over a few details here but the Alutiiq people are largely Russian Orthodox, a religion brought over from Ukraine, and practice to this day. Ouzinkie has one of the oldest Russian Orthodox churches in America.

Children in the community have been taught traditional Alutiiq dances as a way to stay connected to their heritage. Wearing traditional headdresses and costumes, they performed several of these dances just for Griffin and I. It was really special.

When we arrived back at the house, Herman led us into the enormous and beautiful spruce forest to gather some natural ingredients for our supper. We gathered patrushkie to season the fish and rubbed yarrow on our bodies as a mosquito repellent.

Kelo is the amazing dog walking behind Herman.

When we returned, we gathered salmon berries to make a traditional Alutiiq (debatable Yup'ik) dessert called akutaq.

Herman's song to teach children in Alutiiq on his refrigerator.

After dinner, we went on a walk to Marmot Bay (Herman's backyard as he referred to it) and marveled at the beauty of Kodiak Island.

Herman's dog provided entertainment as we talked about the plants and wildlife of the area with such an amazingly knowledgeable and connected man.

When we returned to the house, Herman showed us his traditional banya (Russian bathhouse) complete with rocks to steam and natural roots to exfoliate with.

Then, we visited his traditional dry smoke house where he smokes salmon for 4-5 days. It smelled unbelievable.


Part of the agreement in staying with Herman was that we attend church with him in the morning. We woke up early, put on our Sunday best, and walked toward the beautiful historic church for a traditional Russian Orthodox church service. It was really amazing. The church was beautiful, filled with different medieval style paintings dating from no one knew when. The service was sung completely through by Herman and a small choir in English, Slavonic, and Alutiiq. Men and women were seperated to different sides of the church and the women generally had something lace or cloth covering their heads.

Before we left Ouzinkie, Herman pulled out a secret stash of his smoked salmon! It was amazing.

We said goodbye to new friends at the "airport" (a stretch of paved road) and headed back to Kodiak Island on a tiny plane for two more days of adventure.

We'll be heading home on Monday morning. It's more bittersweet than I could explain in this blog. Tomorrow Griffin has planned some grand romantic day in Halibut Cove (think Middle Earth + Endor x amazing) including kayaking, horse ranch visiting, and the classiest of dining. I'm pretty excited about tomorrow. I'm just pretty excited about life, really. This has been the best summer I've ever had.

1 comment:

  1. Griffin looks more like his idol, Bob Ross, every day. Keep growing that hair, Grif!