Monday, October 31, 2011

The Ghost in the Parka

The Ghost in the Parka

Let me share with you a Halloween haunting back when I lived in one of the little Yup’ik villages on the tundra of southwest Alaska. The sun slipped beneath the horizon, my sisters and the other little kids were back from trick-or-treating, and it was our turn, the teenagers, to race down the narrow dark boardwalks between houses to fill our own plastic grocery sacks with candy.

I don’t even remember if we had costumes, but I do remember that it was a fall like this one, with no snow, and tall grass lined the boardwalk like two moving walls that whispered in the winds. We grabbed candy inside the first house and when we came out and started to the next, someone spotted something strange emerging from the tall grass. A traditional Yupik parka, with the hood up, no hands or feet visible, the thick fur ruff obscuring the face, appeared on the boardwalk behind us. We sprinted to the next house, not sure what to make of the parka, but not quite willing to admit to the adults inside what we’d just seen.

Back outside the little parka appeared again and again between each candy stop, each time giving us a good scare. We’d all grown up hearing the traditional stories of such haunting and we had a sense that we were being played with, but none of us were brave enough to approach the little figure or to question who or what was toying with us.

The last batch of houses sat on the far north side of the village, a walk that would require us to travel down a considerable span of darkness, right past the abandoned (and haunted) teachers’ quarters that everyone in the village avoided and didn’t even like to speak about. As we made our way down the boardwalk towards the last cluster of houses the little parka appeared behind us, and when we entered the arctic entry to the house, I remember looking back and seeing it standing there mid-way beside the teachers’ quarters, blocking our passage home.

When we came out, the parka was gone.

As we passed the building, we expected the parka to jump out in front of us or behind us, but it didn’t. Someone gasped and pointed, and there in the darkness beneath the building, near one of the steel posts that held it above the permafrost, the parka sat upright, waiting. It sprang towards us with a cackle.

We screamed and ran for our lives, and behind us the parka followed, growling and roaring. We fled in terror, but the scary sounds in our wake turned to laughter --- and legs and arms popped out from the squirrel and moose skin covered coat and soon a face emerged from beneath the parka’s hood.

My good friend. Ever the prankster. A boy with a contagious giggle and a hyena-like laugh. Loved by everyone. Afraid of nothing and afraid of no one.

Not a soul in the village would have gone to those lengths for an all-night prank like that. Not only was he foregoing his sack of free candy, but he spent that spooky black night alone, hiding in the grass; even hiding beneath the haunted school buildings despite all the traditional Yup’ik monsters and spirits also lurking in the same shadows, just to hear our terrified squeals.

A few years later we lost our prankster friend. I heard he managed to climb out from the black scar his snowmachine left through the river ice, but in the cold and wind he couldn’t escape death’s icy grip.

I try to comfort myself with the notion that he feared nothing. That even in the face of death, alone and cold in the howling tundra winds, he could find a way to giggle and that he wasn’t scared. And while his death still haunts me, over twenty years later, I am comforted by the fact that his trickster spirit survives. Each Halloween I think of him and imagine if I stare hard enough into the shadows I just might catch a glimpse of the ghostly fur parka waiting to jump out and chase me.

Bio: Don Rearden lived in haunted school buildings on the tundra. He never actually saw a ghost, but heard them playing basketball, and once watched as one of those heavy grey filing cabinets clicked and rolled open in front of him. Apparently ghosts enjoy a good game of one-on-one, but still even in death must deal with paperwork.

[Originally Appeared on the 49 Writers Blog

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Today's Poem --- Alaska Headlines

I fell off the blog wagon for a while. Funny how life does that. For today, just a poem. Something I wrote a while back.

 These were all real headlines, except for the ones I crossed out...

Headline: State of Alaska*

December 1935

Women Kill Wolf Near Ketchikan

December 1936
Eskimos in Alaska still

leave cherished items

Paddles, Tools, Pots, Pans

on the graves of their dead.

June 1937

Miners Dig Up Story of the Past

conducting searches for minerals
found hundreds of skeletons and skulls
prehistoric mammoths, horses, musk-ox,
wolves, and saber-toothed tigers.

January 1938
In Nichols Bay, 25-Foot Octopus Stalls Boat
small steam launch stalled
octopus attached to the propeller.

October 1939
a discharged soldier taught them
Indians at Hootznahoo,
the science of distilling liquor.

November 1940
Record Day’s Catch
seventy-two seals in one day,
a Prince William Sound Record.

January 1940
A Hanging at Juneau . . . 7th in Alaska
thirty-seven-year-old Indian,
paid the supreme penalty
for killing his mother-in-law in a drunken rage.

May 1941
Recent Census
population at 72,524.

February 1942
Wartime Blackouts
Cities practice
several hours of the night.

June 1942

May 1943

Eskimo Troops Aid War Effort

modern rifles instead of spears,
Eskimo troops act
as scouts and lookouts.

June 1944

Aleut Children Spurn Candy for War Stamps

The storekeeper at the evacuation colony
Says he stocks war stamps
Instead of than candy
to keep the young Aleut customers happy.

June 1945

Barrow’s First Talkies Flown in by Army

An Eskimo woman watched
scantily clad women dance for the first time
“Now we know why our store is always short of cloth. 
People outside must be really hard up for cloth!”

March 1946

POWs Choose Atka

Twenty-five Attu Aleuts
survive Japanese imprisonment, decide against returning home,
choose to live on Atka.


Navy Pushes Barrow Oil Search…Early Results Encouraging

There’s Lumber in Wrangell’s Future

1947-----------Pork Chops, Whisky, Cheer Stranded Flyer. Fur Rich Natives on Spending Spree. Voters of Statehood . . . 9625 to 6822. First Woman to Climb McKinley. Eskimo Hunter Surprised from Behind.

94,000 Civilians
 in Alaska

Trapped Behind Iron Curtain…Alaskan Eskimos Held for Two Months. Raging River Relents. 17 Days Adrift on Bering Strait Ice Floes.  It’s All-out War Against Wolf, Coyote. Air Force Bombs Ice-Choked Interior Rivers. Wolf Bounty Now $50.

Man Stabs, Kills Bear.

April, 1950.

Ingenius Eskimo Repairs His Own Watch.

March, 1950.

Inventive Indian Masters Balky Motor

49th STATE

Oil Biggest Well Yet.

$4 Million Oil Leases. The ‘Iron Dog’. . . A Threat to Alaska’s Historic Dog Team. Death of a Dog Musher. Grizzly Wrecks Plane. 118 Rural Schools. Fierce Gales, Mountainous Seas…Boats Lost…Three Sailors Missing.  Perils of the Hunt…Walrus Attacks Boat.  Whaling Fleet Idled.

Skookum Jim’s Legacy

She Recalls First Whites to Visit Her People

Man Eating Sharks Invade Southeast Alaska. Free Farm Land for the Asking?

Ice Box for Eskimos

Gas Find. Major Oil Find. Milestone for Oil. Big Tonnage Gain for Anchorage. Oil Well in Cook Inlet Fuels 14-month Fire.


Eskimo Chiefs Convene

First Bank Robbery

Boom in Oil Drilling.


1965. 67. 69. 70.
Alaskan Totems – Heritage in Peril. Live Network TV for Southeast Soon.  Pipeline Project Bogs Down. Alaska Grows.
Highest Pay.                        
High Bids For Land.                         
Alaskan Boating Deaths
Exceed National Average.


Law Okays the Pipeline,
Cost Spirals to $4.5 Billion

Cash for Natives


Four Year University for Barrow this Fall

TV for Eskimos Good News and Bad News

State Mistakes Cost Millions: Native Corporation Got Oil, Gas Worth $500 Million

March 25, 1989.

War Touches Banks of Remote Kobuk River.
Alaskan Falls in Battle.
Soldotna Man, a father-to-be,
Killed in Action.

ANCHORAGE, 240,258.

Group Appeals to Halt Timber Sale, Says it Threatens Birds. 
State Doctors Told to Watch
for Bird Flu.

Alaskans Prepare for 2000 Census.
                                    Pipeline Shooting Trial Set in Fairbanks, 2001.

ANWR’s Dead, Say all Sides, 2002.

2003.                                     2004.
Suicide Strikes Village.                     
Alaskans At War.
Drilling Plans Irk Native Whalers.
Alaskan Guard Heads to Kosovo. Leaving for Iraq. National Guard Troops Depart for Training and Middle East. Japanese War Planes Return to Alaskan Skies. Anti-terror Unit Comes to Anchorage.

Wounded Alaskan Recovers.

Saving Ourselves.             Urban Bear Attack.

Save Yourself.             Bears’ Attack Kills Eagles.

Oasis of Hope.
Bear Attacks Lead Officials to Ban Fishing at Night.

Wildflowers with the Natives
Plant with the Native Society
Plant Society with the Native
Celebrate the Native Plants
Natives Celebrate. Wildflower Celebrates. Wildflowers with Natives Celebrate Society.  Society Celebrates. Natives Celebrate Society. Native Society. 
Society Celebrates Wildflower Plants with Natives.

Celebrate Wildflowers with the Native Plant Society

*A catalog of actual headlines from Alaskan Newspapers, 1935-present. Taken from Bits and Pieces of Alaskan History and The Anchorage Daily News.