Thursday, March 20, 2014

ON THE TREK & ENVIRONMENT - PART 1 (A)

[This story is an improved version from mini cassette recordings of Mekkar’s actual voice in 1990 while hiking and walking as a University student; Then, it was converted to a Windows Media Audio File and transcribed in 2011. Mekkar’s spoken English skills are nowhere near as polished as Saavo’s are.]

For the next week or so it is very warm here for this area. No one living here was used to this, Mekkar recalled. Over the eighty degrees Fahrenheit (26.66° Celsius) was considered hot. This was not normal for this time of the year or this long of a time period. The effects are very noticeable around this area and people get ill if it gets too hot, especially if it stays that way. Mekkar was also affected by these heat issues. His symptoms included not feeling in top peak form and being constantly nauseated. This heat wave seemed to last about a whole week straight. There were no clouds to be seen nor was it overcast in any way.

There are some benefits from uninterrupted heat emanating from the sun that melts the snow and does provide some relief from battles against winter storms. However, that is usually short lived. Mekkar would rather be cold where one can dress for it versus being too warm. His thinking is that he could take off all of his clothing and still feel roasting hot like in an oven. He doesn’t think of himself as food to be cooked! Since they were stopped at this point near cover and shade to protect them from the abnormal warmer weather, Mekkar had time to think. He must combat his boredom of just waiting around for the weather to improve. Plus, provide distractions for himself to alleviate his uncomfortableness.

He began to remember the nearby bridge his group had recently passed. Usually, in the early summer those crossings and bridges are above you as you pass. This time, he could only see the girders or the top part of the foundation due to massive accumulated snow of the previous winter. The unexpected and vast differences are regular features one has to face in the Arctic, Mekkar noted.

One advantage reindeer have is in their feet because they have much better traction than people. Sometimes Mekkar wished he was like them in their environmentally adaptation. Especially, when the animals would slip and slide a lot less on the ice and snow than him.  The great benefits in speed also fascinated the boy. He fancied having those advantages and having a greater weight for better movement and mobility. But, Mekkar was resigned to the fact that it all comes down to controlling the factors you are able.

At one of the nighttime stops, they unpacked and prepared for a much needed rest period. The teepee was set up with the inner frame as the key. A set of curved ones are used inside to reinforce the teepee and improve its sturdiness against potential winds and storms. A second set of straight outer poles are placed at an angle while meeting at the top. Those outer poles, over the curved ones, that form the teepee shape never seem to exactly be perfect in size and length. Nevertheless, the idea is to use what is available and modify as needed. One would be wise to leave an opening, in the middle of the tent, at the top; otherwise you could get completely smoked out from the fire that usually kept a pot of coffee or some other warm concoction.

Mekkar believed the best materials were used to assemble the more secure sauna tent. To him it was rarely, if ever, empty. It seemed as though there was activity in the hot box all the time. Mekkar needed to go in there himself too. That is, to increase his ability to adapt to the most recent hot spell from above or anytime there were higher temperatures outside. The arctic boy thought that the sauna was also a great place to unwind, absorb, and soak it all in. Some of the head trekkers of the party would use it to plan and discuss matters regarding the trek. Inside they would drink, talk about general subjects, or share old stories in the oral tradition. Mekkar would shut up and listen to those who would reminisce regarding their past personal experiences and many encounters.

The veterans of the treks would also use this area to help them coordinate, adapt, consider various matters, and plan the rest of the journey. Mekkar would at times ponder, think, and come up with some wild ideas while overhearing the adults in the sauna. As a kid he itched to mention some of his thoughts to the trek leaders. However, Mekkar never did voice them out loud and let the leaders do their job without interference from an inexperienced boy.

Quite a few of these trekkers had been over this terrain before, but Mekkar had not. It was all new to him at this point. They knew that they were on solid ground in some areas and avoided the potentially sketchy spots below them. These imbalances and shifts on the surface could happen during any season in many types of scenarios. Mekkar didn’t consider those factors at all. It was chalked up as a matter of his inexperience, but there is only one way to truly learn …

Mekkar though of speaking to Aslak the shaman to possibly spur him to take action. He wanted Aslak to reach into his bag of special powers and modify the weather. Mekkar was thinking that it would help the group and animals on the trek. The boy was convinced that providing the most suitable environment for this time of the year would be the most beneficial for all. The shaman was already at work with the others without Mekkar being aware of it. Aslak was making use of his drum, tools, chanting mechanisms, and related symbols that he had at his disposal for this task. Mekkar recognized that Aslak had started his specialized ritual. It went on for quite awhile. Yet, the boy did not understand right then what the outcome might be. Even though he saw it, Mekkar originally thought that he might have been dreaming about the ritual activity occurring around him. Soon enough he fell into a daze and then asleep near the warm fire for a few hours. This was in contrast to the cool night air outside. The next day after the ritual, it seemed to Mekkar that his earlier concerns were not important anymore.   

Anyway, the trek continued and weather was much better. It was sort of overcast in the sky. Not too cold or too warm. The temperature was about 7° Celsius (44.6° Fahrenheit). Mekkar reveled in it and thought it was nice, perfect weather. Maybe too good which, in turn, could make them somewhat lax executing their duties? It was now time for a small roundup to take sampling of the whole herd. The reasoning behind it was to separate some animals out that might have issues, etc. Mekkar helped check the reindeer to ward any potential dilemmas before they might arise. The boy even participated in some new functions which increased his confidence a bit.

The trekking party was now ready to send out a forward scouting patrol. They were supposed to check for any recent changes and differences in terrain, fresh tracks of unwelcome predators, and that type of thing. They might go out far ahead of the main group beyond their sight to fulfill their mission. The scouts still must travel that same distance all the way back to meet up with the others again. Antti chose a young Mekkar to be with him in that forward two-person patrol. The wise Antti specifically selected Mekkar to expose him to new activity and further his learning curve. They both would stay in close proximity to each other and be very observant, as well as alert at all times. The object was to seek out any likely hazards, promising advantages, extra sources of food supplies, and many other factors.

Antti and Mekkar headed out much earlier than the rest of the group and were a good distance ahead. They occasionally climbed small hills and reached elevated locations to get a better view. Some of the places had melted snow that saturated the ground to make it wet and a mess. Sometimes the ground had been turned to mud and even the recent heat wave didn’t completely dry out the earth. Once in awhile as Mekkar climbed around he would slip. The difference was that most of the trekkers had better footwear for this type of journey. Their hiking boots were constructed with a combination of leather, deer hide, and rubber. They were ideally suited for this environment. On the other hand, the inexperienced Mekkar wore more modern shoes. Despite his reference to his footwear as boots, they were better adapted for moseying around the village playing with his friends. In his stubbornness Mekkar failed to listen to his parents and chose his footwear for his personal comfort instead of function. He was now regretting that decision of ignorance.

In one place ahead of the others, they reached the top of hill and saw a town off into the distance. Mekkar’s spirits were raised even if he hid this outwardly. Mekkar thought to himself that it was a good thing that he had brought some personal funds as to remedy his previous mistaken footwear choice. This was his first trek without any member of his immediate family along with him. Of course, there were the elders on trek with little Mekkar and they were all watching over him. Whether he realized or not, his life was in their hands, but he still needed to learn some lessons on the trek.

Mekkar had no idea who resided in that town ahead of them. He questioned whether these were strangers or not. Would the people have an idea of who he was? He could guess, but would it do any good? He resolved this by realizing that the trek leaders knew the territory and probably knew the people they would encounter along the way. Since, it wasn’t their first journey of this kind. Determining what type of people in the far off town was not his primary job. His main tasks were to keep his eyes open and stay alert to protect the reindeer. When he was not in a role as a scout, some of his functions included bringing back any stragglers and help those animals in the rear catch up with the rest of the herd. Each trekker, even Mekkar, had to be resourceful and multifunctional with their actions in mind. The main consideration was whatever is needed at that time to make everything move more efficiently. It was time to go back and join the rest of those from the tribe on the trek. Fortunately for him, the herd and crew had been moving toward their advanced position so the distance was closed somewhat. Mekkar was glad and relieved when he and Antti made it back to join the others. Antti is a seasoned individual at this. He has been doing it for at least fifty years and considered to have more experience than any other person in the trekking party.

The scouts gave their observations to the chief of this trip. Ansetti, the chief, took those factors in his overall account regarding this journey. Ansetti was chosen as the lead because Antti didn’t want the job. Antti hated the politics and other aspects of leadership. He preferred to take a more physically active role. Antti actually recommended Ansetti for the position and his judgment had great sway in the younger man’s selection as the head of this trek. Ansetti wasn’t bothered about any possible extremely bad situations ahead. His mighty experience told him that, at most, they might hit minimal snags in the road. He had a plan and, along with the other leaders, was sticking to it. Since it was working just fine, why change? Mekkar saw that Ansetti beamed fully confident in what he was doing. Mekkar thought there was something of substance behind that assured expression and was ready to follow along, with his fellow trekkers, in support of their leader.

One time during one of the gatherings, Mekkar was advised by an elder to consider a certain observation that was widely believed in his culture. The assertion that ninety five percent of a person’s personality was created by the time they are five years old. According to methodology, that means that only five percent is left and no real total change will ever happen to anyone after that age. Mekkar did not grasp much of that statement at the time. He felt it might make more sense to him when he got older, so he brushed aside the concept for now. As a result of hearing and learning from, what he saw as the older and wiser people in his tribe, aspects of Mekkar’s character developed rapidly during this time. It cultivated a suspicious element that revealed itself, later on, as part of his personality. Obvious to all around him the tenet became: when in doubt, be suspicious and question everything. Definitely what you think you might accept as fact. Isn’t that the underlying basis and true value of experience and education? Mekkar also learned the notion that if there are any positives in your life then, by all means, accept it. It might just be a rare bonus. Plus, life itself can be hard enough as testified by the stories he listened to in the sauna tent.

Maybe that was just a part of the cultural environment Mekkar grew up in. In reality, it can be different from the normally accepted native thought processes. Many attributed it to the boy’s exposure to various situations. It was speculated that he might have seen too much at his tender age. Much more in other environments outside his home base than some kids around him and this could have partially warped his thinking in some respects. Mekkar was of the opinion, but didn’t say it out loud out of respect for the adults, that his variety of experiences had opened his eyes a bit. He felt that even if was less experienced in reindeer herding and trekking, he was already ahead in some other areas of life, despite his youth. Mekkar got the impression that Ansetti and some of the others had never left this region and visited other places. He was unknowingly mistaken in his assumption. Some of the leaders in the trek unit had been to the capital city and to other large cities far away.

Mekkar was aware that the government seat of the nation was not the center of the world. He had already read about the Middle Ages and understood that the darkest time periods of the past were long gone. Whether they admitted it or not, the natives were well informed of the activity occurring in the big cities closest to them. Internal conflicts arise within each native person as they are torn between their tribal upbringing and the modern world around them. Their very existence also includes non-natives and the dominant cosmopolitan lifestyles which can cause problems. Bad decisions and inconsiderate laws contrary to native survival affect them too! Unfortunately, it is seen as outsiders don’t care about the consequences and possible negative outcomes pertaining to them.  

Anyway, the scouts reached the group, while the crew made up for lost time by avoiding a very muddy and hilly area. It took about an extra day to bypass those sections down in that valley. The fortunate thing was the more accessible food and berry bushes along this alternative path. Footing was better and there also was a plentiful supply of fresh water for the animals. The stream here had parts that were still running where the ice did not build up to a great amount and freeze down too deep. Powdered snow and the shallower ice would melt away fairly quickly when the weather got warmer and flow into the stream. It helped at this point that the trekkers had not encountered any irregular pattern of weather for about a week and a half straight. Usually the region as a whole had extreme climate fluctuations during this time of the year. Reliable was just fine by Mekkar as long as it is not hot. Others agreed that some consistency made the journey easier. Trouble was, this trend also made all of them just a tad complacent.

The youngster was mindful that circumstances could change at any moment. Weather patterns in that area were very peculiar in their consistency. If it was going to be sunny that particular day it usually blessed the inhabitants with sunshine all day. It was not standard to have ten minutes of good weather and then sudden change to a completely different situation. That rapid switch was almost never the case like in many other parts of the world. An example of this would be the short, powerful, massive monsoon rain bursts from the clouds in the Southern Hemisphere. Suddenly, the rain would cease but not the flood waters overwhelming the limited infrastructure apparatus. Short ice and hail storms emerge and disappear in this manner as well.

Mekkar, like many in his tribe, preferred consistent benchmarks the group could plan for and hopefully rely upon most of the time. Looking skyward could give away indicators of the opposite situation when a lot of or a little snow would be falling earthward. Any amateur meteorologist could tell when the weather was going to be nasty and warn of a blizzard. It was obvious and easy to predict. Mekkar falsely began to believe he had an additional inherent ability to be able to read the weather. Imaging himself as similar to other special individuals, like Houdini, he had learned about. After this point when Mekkar made a determination, he was normally unwavering and decisive with little doubt in his mind. Only in a rare instance would he change his mind. Some that know him well refer to it as stubbornness.

Being able to count on something for the rest of the day always seemed to reassure Mekkar. The sky, right now, was like a good friend to him in his mind. One present factor regarded by him as unchanging in normally extreme irregular surroundings. In the Arctic inhospitable conditions are usually the rule. Even though he had trouble naming the various types of clouds, Mekkar saw patterns develop. This deciphering talent got better as he got older. He would claim to notice future trends based on past history in almost every area of his life. In some things, these theories have been proven right on the money and in other areas not so much. Of course, the boy had absorbed much of the comparable thinking from his fellow tribal members whether he realized it or not. Mekkar liked regularity, some routine, and predictability in quite a few areas of his life. He felt that it is easier to manage and count on. Chaos, all of the time, to him is stressful and wells up in anger from within him.           

Usually that was the case, but not this time. This instance would be the exception. What struck Mekkar as odd is that as they went on a different path to reach the town. You know the one that Antti and Mekkar saw earlier on their scouting venture. As the trekkers got closer and closer to that hamlet, they were at the same time moving away from the originally chosen route. Mekkar looked ahead and thought he perhaps saw a mirage. He thought that maybe his mind was exhausted at this point and it was playing tricks on him. One of the others on the journey pointed out the metal like items strewn over the ground. He accepted that he was not deceived and was blown away by what he saw. He said, “Hey, what is going on here?” This was the first time Mekkar he had been truly exposed by noticing these things. Since this was not his home area, his understanding was lacking, to say the least, regarding these damaged objects. He was unable to identify what he saw and had to ask one of the adults nearby.

Yes, Mekkar heard his mama complain back home about the fact that he would echo modern equipment sounds. All the local kids now did it. She would compare it to the audible noises she would imitate when she was a young girl. Sirga told her son that she used to copy the noises of various animals instead like the reindeer. She criticized the younger generations for not doing the same like in times past. She commented to him many times, “There is something wrong here. You are evolutionizing, but in a way, you are also losing the old (native) way.”

Anyway, Mekkar saw one of these flying machines and the items were all scattered about. Everyone in the trekking party saw it. Some tried to pretend not to and turned their gaze away while continuing on. But, Mekkar’s curiosity was amazed and his attention was grabbed. He struggled to recall the times when his papa would speak to him about different flying objects. Henrik spoke from his experience as a jet pilot and could fly many different types of equipment. The young boy examined the objects more as he got closer. He made the assumption the wreckage was not from any tool used for reindeer herding.