With the walrus and whale hunting over, Okfagit and his family prepared to move to their summer camp, loading their tent and other supplies into the boat. Early in the morning they all climbed aboard and after paddling away from the shore, raised the sail. The heavily loaded boat cruised slowly through the water, thanks to the good design the Eskimos had developed.
Ayit looked around him as he sat in the bow. The sun sparkled on the water, the small waves with their whitecaps were running before the wind. He looked at the mountains rising from the land, tree covered and fresh in their new springtime greens. “What a wonderful place we live in,” he said to himself. “The good creator God certainly does love beautiful things. I think He must be very nice.”
When Okfagit’s family arrived at their summer camp site, they unloaded a pile of skins from the boat and with them set up their tent. Then Ayit and his brothers set to work cleaning the food storage cave, a hole dug down to the permafrost. This was a natural freezer for the meat they would harvest which they didn’t want to dry or smoke.
With summer came numerous sources of food: birds and eggs on the cliffs, large fish in both river and sea, wild plants on the tundra, and strange “fruit” from the sea along with seals. If the Eskimos were to survive, now was the time to gather in preparation for the coming winter.
The first birds to come were the snow buntings which were not edible but were the harbingers of others. Then came geese, ducks, cormorants and puffins, all of them tasty and desired. The men shot the birds and the women gutted, skinned and prepared them. Sometimes a hunter would bring home as many as 50 ducks in day. This kept his wife and daughters very busy.
After camp was set up, Okfagit immediately took his sons fishing. With the run of salmon and other fish going on, they had to take as many as they could while it was happening.
Okfagit led the way to the river carrying two poles while his older sons carried a net and Ayit carried several skin bags to put the fish in.
“Here,” said Okfagit, “this is where we will put in the net.” At this point the river narrowed some and ran smoothly over a bottom of sand and rock.
The two sons holding the net walked into the water, stretching it out. Their father and Ayit each carried in a pole which they lodged in the bottom and tied the net to it, stretching it to the river bottom. Ayit looked down at the clear, clean water rushing past his waterproof sealskin mukluks. He could see the strong, sleek bodies of the pacific salmon as they pushed themselves forward with powerful thrusts of their tails. More beauty, he thought. He gave thanks to the fish for coming and he thanked Apa for sending them.
One of his brothers worked with Okfagit at the net, stooping to pull the slippery bodies of the fish out of the net and tossing them onto the shore where Ayit and his brother cleaned the fish and put them into seal pokes.
When the pokes were full, the boys carried them back to camp where the women flayed them and put them up on drying racks. Then they went back to the river where there was another stack of fish awaiting cleaning. They worked well into the evening, it being light until almost midnight. After carrying the last pokes full of fish back to camp, they had a quick supper and slept. Their mother and sisters worked a bit longer, hanging the last of the fish to dry. The next few days passed in the same way. Then the run of salmon slacked off.
“Tomorrow we will go seal hunting,” said Okfagit.
“And we,” said his wife to her daughters, “will go to collect greens.” They all went to bed satisfied with the good start they had.
After breakfast, Nisana and her daughters took seal skin bags and set out on the tundra in search of the greens Eskimos love so much. First, they found willow roots and collected a whole bag full. Then Nisana show the girls another type of green, almost like spinach. These also filled a bag. Some of these they would eat fresh, the rest would be dried for use in the winter.
Okfagit took his two older sons with him in the boat for seal hunting while Ayit went with his other brother to the cliffs. First, they collected eggs, bracing themselves against the constant wind. They knew that strong gusts could come, sending the unwary egg hunter plunging as much as a hundred feet to his death.
After they had collected two pokes full of eggs, they took a net and used it to catch some of the smaller birds. These they took home for their mother who would stuff them whole—beaks, feet and feathers—into a freshly killed seal skin poke, which Okfagit would hopefully bring home today. She would then leave them to “ripen” for months while the seal oil worked through the birds. In the winter, the stuffed poke would be cut into thin slices and eaten whole. Everything would have dissolved and jelled into what they considered a delicious treat.
Okfagit and his sons came back with three seals, two ring seals and one large bearded seal. After offering the dead seals fresh water to honor their spirits, the women cut up the ring seals, while the men cut up the bearded seal. This was traditional division of labor.
The family continued their harvesting of food until the weather cooled in early August and then moved back to their home in the village
picture: summer skin tent