Since the beginning of summer was only a month away, the sun did not set until 10:00 pm. This gave the family more time to do the chores around their house, repairing a broken strut on the sled, getting more firewood from the forest on the slope of the mountain behind the house, and for the children, time to go sledding, using a piece of baleen to sit on. Baleen is a flat, hard, black substance found in the mouths of some whales where it is used to filter out the krill they live on.
After skinning and butchering the seals, Ayit’s mother, Nisana, checked the walrus hide that was curing in the house in preparation for splitting it for a boat covering.
Curing meant letting the hair rot off the skin while it was folded up in the living room tent. When it was ready, she would split it, as it was too heavy to use in its natural thickness.
Okfagit worked some on the boat frame he’d begun in the fall. It was slow work, cutting the ribs one at a time out of a log with a hand saw, but he had had plenty of time in the dark winter nights when the weather was too bad for hunting. Now he was nearly done with it.
He hoped the new boat would be ready before the breakup of the shore ice. To predict this event was impossible, as each year it came at a different time.
As the weather warmed, the ice “rotted,” that is it because weak and mushy. Then when strong Spring winds blew towards the shore, the waves would go under the shore ice and break it up. Once the ice began to disintegrate, the process took only a few minutes. The Eskimos had to be careful not to be caught out on the ice when the breakup came.
After the ice broke up, the walrus would come by on their migration and Okfagit would take his sons out to harvest as many as they could.
As darkness came, the family gathered in the tent where Nisana and the girls prepared supper of fresh seal liver. They went to bed early, for the night was short.
The next day Ayit and his brothers helped Nisana erect the frame for splitting the walrus hide. It was ten feet tall and twenty feet long. They dragged the hide out into the open and unfolded it. Nisana cut slits all around the edge, and then called Okfagit to come and help.
They tied some sealskin ropes in the slits on one side and hauled it up to the top of the frame. Then they put a rope through each slit and tied it tightly to the frame. It was 10 feet by 10 feet; once the skin was cut to half the thickness, it would be unfolded to cover the whole 20 feet of the frame.
One of Nisana’s sons brought a crude ladder which they leaned against the frame. She climbed up and with a wooden handled, semi-circular knife began the delicate work of slicing the skin to half the thickness. If she made a mistake and cut too deeply, making a hole, it could ruin the skin as a boat covering.
But Nisana was a skilled, strong woman and taking one careful cut at a time, within six hours she split the whole hide. Then the second part of the hide was folded over and tied to the empty part of the frame and left to dry for several days.