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McKenzie River Diary, Summer 1946, part 9 - nhpeacenik
McKenzie River Diary, Summer 1946, part 9
[ a continuation of Bets Giddings's McKenzie River journal from 1946]
June 23, 1946

At 1:30 in the morning, Louie saw some real old-looking trees on top of a cut bank, where a tiny stream oozed into the slough. We left   the sea-duck escort (some 10) who had been flying and floating along with us, and turned in. Threw down a board on the beach and were able to get out. Louie threw a dead tree down in the mud to walk on, then quickly built a smudge to discourage the stinging hordes. We carried tuff to the top of the steep sloughing mud slope and set up out three-box kitchen. Duck and rice and lima beans we wanted to wolf. Nothing is more frustrating than to start a bite to your mouth, and have one mosquito fly into your teeth and 3 or 4 land on your food before you can get it in. Bugs in the tea... in the butter. We cursed a good deal. Louie set up a mosquito bar over the bedroll and then whisked into the bush to take some borings. The trees were twisted and almost as old as those he'd got earlier in the evening. They were too beautiful to wait on. He climbed under the bar and examined the day's collection - at 2:00 in the morning - One tree he hadn't hit center and it went back to 1345!

Woke to mosquitoes about 9:00 am  Were off to the rugged above-timberline Richardson Mountains by 11:00. The wind was so stiff that little Elto [the kicker, or outboard motor, I assume - ed] just held his own - he put on a good show for us: without him we'd have been blown on a mud bar for sure, for the banks are all mud, lots of bars. There is practically no current in the small sloughs of the delta. Two channels joined ours and it became much wider and a little faster. The country all about is bogs, willows, lakes... mostly water. One could go by canoe for many miles without hardly any portaging. 

Elto got tired on us, so we took advantage of a south wind and whipped long. It was all I could do to hold onto the sail ropes. Working the kicker spasmodically with the sails, we cruised along at 8 miles or so an hour. Louie navigated us into a short cut channel when the wind changed into a head one. We were safe in a narrow little creek with willow banks and mud bars on each side for a mile. Then we came to the the mouth of a stwo-mile stretch of white-capped water on the other side of which lay Aklavik. Large buildings in the city center, two missions and one big hotel and restaurant and two little ones. Lots of log houses along the shores [all on one street? -ed]. All mud flats. Across from town on two islands were many tents and a few houses and millions of dogs!

Elto pushed us, slapping against big waves, across.I had a sinking wonder if, after 1200 miles, we should swamp right here in sight of our first goal. We mad it through. Found lots of canoes and boats of all descriptions beached along shores. We stopped at the first big buildings at the waterfront, and I threw a board down in the mud, in order not to sink deep in the mud when I jumped out to tie her up. We met the Swede who'd offered us a tow the day before and got directions to Stan Puffer's Hotel. We were ready for a hot bath... caked with mud and mosquito dope as we were. I hadn't been in a tub since the States. The streets weren't empty as in other river towns. Indians in white man's clothes and moccassins walked along and Eskimos wearing fur-lined parkas of white or colored cloth and moccassins with bright-colored high tops were sitting in front of buildings and standing about. There was a festive air; it reminded me of fair time in Gallup, New Mexico or at Sells [Arizona] because of the many splashes of color. The stolid shy Indians didn't stand out like the Eskimos, who smiled at you and said hello when you passed. Aklavik is full to the brim. Coastal traders are all dead, and 200 more people are all coming in here with furs. Across the river on one island is the Husky camp of tents, with masted schooners and canoes tied up. Many dogs.

The hotels had no rooms. Puffer's haphazard bunch were at work in a log house baling $27,000 worth of muskrat hides. He had already shipped out that many more by plane to New York; these were going by boat. We washed up in a basin above the store, where Stan and his help live. [Found it sum?]. Had a turkey dinner, $1.50 apiece, in the dining room of the restaurant next door. Family-style in a huge way! Chairs lined six rows deep on one side of the dining room, hels a conglomerate bunch of INdinas, Eskimos, 'breeds', workers, white-collar men and women and babies in arms. They wait for a bell, then all helter-skelter to a table, mixed-up completely, and sit down for dinner. You pay a waitress as you amble out the back way past a lunch counter. Stan's manager tried to find us a room, to no avail, so we took Ken Connibear's boat as a sleeping place. It's greasy and hot (midnight sun) and full of mosquitoes, pulled up on the beach in the center of activity. Seagulls screamed and dogs howled and kickers tore by, making big waves behind to splash on the beach. We were hot under the [mosquito] bar, but we didn't dare undress entirely, so didn't sleep much. A plane took off from the water, practically in our laps in the morning, so we got up.

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2 comments or Leave a comment
sand_inmyshoes From: sand_inmyshoes Date: May 12th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Who are the "Indians"? How are they different from the Eskimos? Are they American Indians or from India? or Canada? I guess I'm just confused by her descriptions of them as so different (friendly and outgoing vs. shy and stolid) from the Eskimos.
nhpeacenik From: nhpeacenik Date: May 12th, 2008 01:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Indians and Eskimos

Of course they're all Canadians by birth; even the Swede I suspect :)

The "Indians" in that area are/were mostly Athabaskans who speak a language related to Navaho and Apache and have a culture that represses outward expressions of emotions to strangers (non-family). I've seen these qualities in villages in interior Alaska too, and it's not just Bets's imagination or some kind of false racial stereotype. The Eskimos speak a variety of the Inuit language and have/had a more outgoing culture that values the ability to tell stories and jokes and have lots of friends outside the family.

Some northern Athabaskan groups used to use rigid cradleboards to carry babies around, imposed rigid feeding schedules, etc. so as to teach reticence and silence to children.

Nowadays, in Canada, the correct way to refer to all these different cultures (except the Swedes, of course) is as "First Nations". First Nations isn't as confusing a term as "Native Americans", because it allows Canadians to consider the differences between cultures without seeming to be using colonialist language.
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