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Exam # 986170
Subsistence meant existence when I was a child growing up in the Alaskan wilderness. The closest modern grocery store was over one hundred miles away. Every day of life was a day of preparation to survive the upcoming Winter. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. With every passing month, a new season would rapidly be approaching. Every new season brought its own beauty. Beneath that natural beauty was impending danger. It is amid these realities where I spent my time working, wondering, playing, and growing.
I greeted every new day with awe and brazenness. Today, my nostrils tingled as I deeply inhaled. It was finally Spring. The fresh green grass sprigs pushing up through the moist earth helped to mask the pungency of the onion and the garlic that I was planting. My eight year old mind was conversing with Sam. His call to me echoed down from the snow laden mountain top. I looked upward through the limbs of the cherry trees to envision my place beside him. Beyond the leafing buds, I could see my own six foot wingspan stretched out and gliding effortlessly on the air currents. My white head and my powerful yellow beak and talons stood in stark opposition of my brown feathers and the blue sky.
My reverie quickly diminished with a sharp twig snap behind me. Sampson had finally awakened from his seasonal slumber. Sampson was a Grizzly Bear with a head as big as my body and claws longer than my hand. He and I locked eyes. The first time I saw Sampson was when he was a cinnamon colored shaggy haired cub. He was fishing with his sister and mother in the rolling glacier fed stream that ran near the rustic A-frame cabin where I lived with my mom and sister. I continued staring. I was determined to win the contest this time. Sampson sniffed heavily, snorted, then slowly walked away. I would not see him again until midsummer.
Summer found me gathering sun ripened raspberries, strawberries and thimble berries and placing them in my hand woven berry basket. The varied hues of juicy red kept me hungry for a sweet sample and looking forward to the delectable preserves, jellies, and deserts that were to follow. Summer also found me dipping my net into the quartz lined stream. The cool water offset the warmth of the Sun building within my olive green hip waders. Salmon, Dolly Varden, and Steelhead Trout in my net promised a long term protein rich feast.
The upcoming cooler seasons were not so bountiful and they were approaching rapidly. Sampson seemed to know this too. I could smell the stench of wooly wet bear but I could not see him. I stood completely still. The water rushed around my legs. My ears were straining for any other type of noise.
I spotted him across the stream bank. The tall green bushes that were sagging from the weight of ripe blueberries could not hide him. Sampson was standing seven feet high on his hind legs. I knew he didn’t want to partake in a staring contest right now. He had come to take my fish. I gathered my basket of fish, laid two trout on the bank, and backed away slowly. It was only right since I took his deer carcass earlier that season.
Life giving sunlight became more elusive as cooler temperatures took over. A crispness was in the air. The mountain exhibited its grandeur in variances of blue against the pale grey sky. The dainty clusters of snow white Yarrow dotted the dying grass. Leaves around me had changed from vivid greens to gold and crimson. The apple trees had let go of their blushing fruit. I could taste Autumn in every tangy cranberry.
Stately Bullwinkle had finally come down off of the mountain. This was rutting season. He had to fight for his position amongst the other moose. Their grunts drove me closer to the conflict. I could hear their antlers scraping beyond the stand of Maple Trees. I quickly climbed up into my tree stand. As I peered down through the grove, I was held captive for hours by this ritualistic display of male dominance
White quickly replaced colors that were lingering from the past seasons. The fresh fallen snow concealed the hoof prints of Bullwinkle. Sampson had retired to his den amongst the Spruce and the Hemlocks. The bounties of previous seasons were either canned or put into the food cache. Four hundred pounds of flour, sugar, salt, candles, and matches had arrived by airplane just before the first snow fall. The cords of wood that I had split throughout the past seasons were neatly stacked in the woodshed beside the back porch.
A normal twenty five degree day. Wearing my sunglasses, I walked out onto the white sheet. Brushing the snow away, I drilled down with the hand auger until I hit water. Ladling the slush out, I dropped in my line which was baited with salmon roe. Success! I pulled the flopping trout from beneath the ice. Its iridescent rainbow colors gleamed in the sunshine. Christmas dinner would be fresh fish with garlic and herbs, garden veggies, steamed apples, cranberry sauce, fresh baked bread with berry jelly, and cherry pie for dessert.
This memoir was but one year in the many wondrous seasons of my childhood. Rural Alaska was where I lived, where I subsisted, and where I played. These sights, tastes, and smells are vivid in my mind today. As a child, I watched the flora change with every new season. The animals around me grew from newborns in the Spring to adults. It is with every new season that I can also see how I grew. ad as big as my body and claws longer than my hand. He and I locked eyes. The first time I saw Sampson was when he was a cinnamon colored shaggy haired cub. He was fishing with his sister and mother in the rolling glacier fed stream that ran near the rustic A-frame cabin where I lived with my mom and sister. I continued staring. I was determined to win the contest this time. Sampson sniffed heavily, snorted, then slowly walked away. I would not see him again until midsummer.