May 22nd, 2006
The swallows have returned. They arrived last week on a warm southeast wind. Ed noticed a small group, perhaps four or six flying around the front deck. The two who nest in the box above our doorway set to work immediately. The others swooped and swayed through the air getting acquainted with the surroundings. We hoped a pair would choose one of our other boxes but they didn’t.

Later in the day as I stood on the porch enjoying our pair’s company I noticed a group of birds circling above the creek. At first the birds looked like hawks the way they rode the wind but there were too many. It was a group of swallows, we were in the path of the swallow migration.

On May 15 last year in my gardening journal I noted that the swallows had arrived. How did they do it on the exact same day this year?

Their return means the beginning of break up. We can not travel any more. This time of year has become a cherished family time. The four of us are stuck here alone, together. Each year we watch the water fill our pond and the ducks return. On Mother’s Day we eat our annual picnic atop the ridge about a half mile up Saqaugiin Creek. This year our roasting sticks were still standing beside the little earth fire pit we dug. A cold wind blew on Mother’s Day cutting our picnic short. For the first time we had to snowshoe to get to the spot. I guess no one told the swallows how late spring has come this year.

We’re on an isolated island, about four square miles large during break up. We’re surrounded by creeks on all sides except one spot to the west where you can access the mountains. Saquagiin winds to the North and East, overflowing its banks from tundra runoff which is pouring over the still frozen earth creating streams where there aren’t any other times of year.

Saqaugiin joins Fish Creek at our southern border. We walked to the confluence yesterday. Standing on a high bank we watched the wild dark waters join then pour down as one Fish Creek. To the West and Southwest is Red Willow Creek. Any other time of year you’d hardly notice it. In the summer it is only a four foot wide channel. The shore is flanked by red willows. Ed built a bridge across Red Willow our second fall here so we can easily cross when we run dogs to the beach. At breakup the water rushes waist deep over the bridge and through the willows, too wide and swift to cross.

Break up and early summer is the only time of year we don’t feel guilty if the dogs aren’t run. After working hard all season they are just as content as we are to stay home, watch the birds and soak up the sun. There are no mosquitoes yet and the temperatures are cool. The smart ones relax, the younger ones still get excited about anything, churning up mud in their spots as the snow melts and the dirt tries to dry. We only have to survive a couple weeks of mud season then the sun and breezes do their work, as we do ours cleaning the remaining winter mess. Soon the dog lot is dry and comfortable. Because of the dirt the dog lot is mosquito free in the summer. When the mosquitoes get too bad on the tundra and in the woods the horses like to hang out in the dog lot – you’ll often find them there for days in late June and early July laying flat on the ground.

I’ve begun to put the goats out to graze during the days. It does them good to get out of the muddy corral and as browsers they are finding some tasty tidbits. Nugget, the fawn born in forty below January cold has grown so. I gave her a collar so I could walk her on the leash to the woods. It’s a nice light blue dog collar and she looks fine in it.

I walk them both with long ropes to the woods but I only have to tie Dilpa up or she would come back to the yard. Nugget stays out next to her mom. At night I separate them. We’re up to a quart and a half of milk for the morning milking. It’s just barely enough to keep everyone in yogurt.

Ed and Katie trimmed the horses hoofs and let them out. Ed’s getting to be a better and better farrier each year. The first year it took him all day. This year he taught Katie to trim Sneka’s hoofs and together they finished the job in a few hours. The horses have only been back to see us once . We know where to find them, tho. They are out on the tundra eating the sedges that have been popping out by the millions.

Ed’s first chore this breakup was to build a box for the chicks we got from Fairbanks. We’re keeping them next to the wood stove until it gets warm enough to put them out. The plan is to have laying hens this winter.

My biggest project this spring is my vegetable garden. Every window is full of seedlings waiting to get put out. I’ve been preparing my beds, spreading the composted manure and working on new piles. As always there won’t be enough good dirt or enough room but each year I’m able to make more garden space. Bright yellow, orange and red nasturtium flowers grace our table, pink geraniums are taking over the window sills and the first purple-pink violet blossomed yesterday. I’ve come to the conclusion that flowers are every bit as important as vegetables in our arctic world.

Perhaps the best part of break up is the light. I don’t think it gets to be dark at night anymore, just twilight. There are plenty of hours in the day to walk, explore and enjoy our home the Good Lord gave us on this earth.


Salmon fishing - Ed on right (Kotzebue Sound, 1992)
Picking up supplies at the Ambler airport (1993)
Tollef Picking Shee Fish
Katie and Quinn with friends (Fish Camp, 1993)
Nugget (2006)
Iten Family Photos

© 2005 The Iten Kennel, Kotzebue, AK. All rights reserved.
Banner photo by Jeff Schultz