Walrus Hunt

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My eyes suddenly blurred and watered, and I realized how tired I was. I turned to see everyone making their way up the steep hill and vanishing into respective friends’ and relatives’ houses. I abruptly swung toward the boat to grab my gear and crashed into Jeannie, who had been silently standing beside me. She crinkled her nose and smiled. “Ah-nee-kah! Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”

I barely remember being led up the hill toward the school building where I was to be the guest of Don and Erika Abbott, the two Bureau of Indian Affairs teachers.

* * *
I was in the oomiak, and the sea had gotten up, and I was being tossed back and forth while trying to keep my gear from being pitched overboard, and I suddenly smelled that familiar tea smell… and my eyes were grittily open and peering about the room. Don Abbott removed his hand from my shoulder and placed a cup just out of reach on the floor.
“Well,” he said. “I was beginning to think you’d never wake up. Here’s a little eye-opener. Come on over to the quarters when you’re dressed and we’ll treat you to a little breakfast.” Don rubbed his hand briskly over his burr haircut, straightened up, and headed for the door, then stopped. “It’s almost eight o’clock, Art,” he added. “If you hurry, I’ll let you meet the 8:30 radio schedule with Nome. That is, if you think you can handle it…”
He retreated rapidly out the door as my mukluk bounced off the wall beside it. I stiffly crawled out of my sleeping bag, gulped tea, and marveled at how the contents of a small tea bag could cut through the accumulated sludge in my mouth. I pulled on my wrinkled black jeans and wool shirt over my long johns and laced my mukluks. I felt my whiskered chin, shrugged, and wadded and tied up my sleeping bag, threw it into a corner, and headed outside. Jeannie and her mother were just rounding the corner of the schoolhouse, and we walked toward the Abbotts’ living quarters together. I looked at Jeannie and wonder again how young women could share the same experiences as men, undergo the same number of hours of inadequate sleep, and show up, disgustingly pretty and cheerful, with not a hair out of place. Jeannie, of course, was someone special.
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