Monday, October 27, 2014

ON THE TREK & SURROUNDINGS - PART 1 (B)

[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. Continued from PART 1 (A) in September, 2014.]

This is in a huge contrast to really big population centers and cities like Las Vegas. These arctic locales would not make a close comparison to even a smaller city like Eugene, Oregon for instance. We are referring to very small places, tiny compared to cities with only twenty five thousand inhabitants. These are modest in size while still currently flooded with all the reindeer herders on trek search to replenish themselves. The old standard normal consideration for a town was one with a population of five thousand of more within its limits.

Regardless, Mekkar calls them towns because they might have special features about them as opposed to vast scarcely populated open spaces. Many of those small communities in this area also know about efficient use of available resources and not use them all up too quickly. Similar to regional natives and nomads who live off the land in a very contrasting manner to modern society. Mekkar has been taught that much of civilized life in many cases just takes over and destroys everything in its path in the name of progress. Other elders have given the boy an image that reveals modern society has its underlying basis built on greed and exploitation of almost everything. This includes all resources, such as people, with very little long term consideration of the surrounding impact.

The curiosity regarding the natives and their past history was the issue of fairly complete homogeneous complexity of the people before the liberal mass immigration of later times. In some of the areas, so far north, a number of communities get to employ a portion of their own local customs as legislation. Some native customs have been in place for a long time, much longer than the national cultures all around them. Those customs are fairly effective in most places and reduce crime on a grand scale. The high crime rates are almost nil and mostly minor offenses such as theft are perpetrated by outsiders. Among the natives most disputes are handled in a quick judicious manner. Very unlike rates in today’s large cities where the per capita high crime rates are beyond measure; that is in comparison to these remote areas. In Mekkar’s tribe the view is some of the community laws are very harsh, but an effective deterrent factor.

A person cannot function without others in this Arctic environment because sometimes, by working together, is the only thing that keeps you all alive. The harsh environment is the overall main factor that can determine your fate. One individual’s selfish ambition and desires, plus rash decision making can bring difficulties for all residing there. One has to be able to trust your neighbor and even more so when you are together on the trek with your fellow tribesmen.

For example, witness the last attack of the wolf pack. If Mekkar neglected to do his job as a watchman or if Juhani did not drive his knife through the mouth and throat of the wolf, a member of the trek might have been lost. Everyone is a key member in this team and dysfunction would have resulted in a lot more lost reindeer too. It was determined the cost of the animals was already too high as it was.

Those reindeer are beings that sustain and provide for needs of the herders also. Some are set out and used for eating, while others to strengthen the herd through organization. This is planned for and set aside by the committee leaders of the trek before it begins. Those particular overseers of the group are chosen by vast past experience and their skill from many odysseys.

As the collection of men and beasts approach the hamlet they load up on supplies. There is a long winded discussion between Mekkar and Aslak. “Aslak,” Mekkar asks, “Why are these city people like this? They are so different from us. Have they ever gone on a trek?” Aslak knew that some of the townspeople had not. However, was convinced that many back in their own home village area had not been ever on a long journey similar to this. It saddened Aslak, as an increasing number of natives are losing their in-touchness with nature. Those are developing in the same manner as those in this town. The opinion was that uniqueness is being lost or being forced away by contemporary forces inside and out. Less and less of the natives are herders or work directly with reindeer anymore. Some of these relied on tourism alone instead or have other different occupations as their main sources of income. This can result in ignoring the old native customs of the region and modify their behavior to fit in with progressive societies. Try to blend in and not stand out too much. Aslak reminded Mekkar frequently to not forget where he came from and who he is. The advice always warned the boy that he could lose his personal identity, if he started to forget, whether it was intentional or not. That situation creates another set of issues and problems as a result.

Unbeknownst to Mekkar, his tribesmen have carried out a variety of tasks and functions to provide an income for their families. He thought they only participated in reindeer herding. The different seasons provided different opportunities. In the past, it was due to meeting heavy tax obligations to more than one source. At times obligations were imposed by multiple rulers, governments, and magistrates all at the same time. An emerging boy such as Mekkar still only had a small grasp of the matter. He was not totally informed and thought this could be harmful to his people. Trouble was Mekkar didn’t understand why, so he flat out rejected the concept of the whole society for the time being. In time, a few answers would be forthcoming as he listened to the adults discuss matters during stops along the journey. 

Aslak mentioned during a conversation that maybe the influxes of modernists into the region were forcing the adaptation of all inhabitants there. The loss of individual indigenous thinking, traditions, and overall cultural identity was too rapid. The danger is that there is no rewind button to take one back to the past like on a video recorder. Once you lose it, those aspects are almost impossible to get back. Antti agreed with Aslak on these points that individual want was a major internal driving force. It normally trended toward thinking on a more selfish and greedily level. The negative end result with that type of attitude would be to use up all of the resources in that spot without time for restoration. That would be disastrous.

Well, Mekkar started to have thoughts on a self-conscious level by seeking further answers to his inquiries, “Why am I so different from these other children that seem to be around my age? They are doing things and seem to be having more fun by playing and having more possessions than me.” Aslak was brief, but blunt in his answer he told the young boy, “This experience will stay with you the rest of your life. You will need this because you will need to be hardened against the environment and your circumstances. You will have to work with it, within it, and not be overcome by it. This is the lesson you are learning now because you will be required to call on this experience later on in some other form and in another way.”

Mekkar was totally confused by these comments and did not comprehend the meaning of them. He could not grasp their meaning, they sounded like riddles to him. In hindsight, it was seen as a future prediction of a catastrophic calamity that would occur in Mekkar’s life. After all, Aslak was a seer. The shaman was to the point, but did not give specific details regarding Mekkar’s future even as he saw it unfold. The spiritual leader thought that it might be harmful and told Mekkar so. Aslak said, “I can see that you need this and I know of where and when. Yet, I can’t tell you anymore about it. I cannot tell you anymore about it!” he emphasized to Mekkar.

The medicine man continued on, “Trust me, I see this and you do not want to know more about the event later on. However, you need this training for later on. You will draw out the lessons you are learning from this venture a few times in your life because it will be hard.” Mekkar, when he heard the phrase that he would have a hard life, his spirits dropped a bit even as he didn’t fully digest the meaning. He thought that he already had it much harder than the children he was comparing himself to.

He thought they had more fun, but Mekkar admitted he was enjoying himself too. Actually, he was having a blast and conducting himself like a man as he called it in his time. In the boy’s mind he felt that he was doing an adult’s work. I’m helping to herd reindeer. How many people can say that! Mekkar knew that this type of job was uncommon. In reality, it is very rare, yet he was unaware of that. He didn’t always expect the responses he would receive later as an adult when he mentioned that he herded reindeer. Unfortunately, a lot of stupid quips were directed at him. Even after speaking about working on the boats out at sea. Other reindeer herders know the true article by their speech and how they are dressed. Current day poseurs and charlatans can be exposed very quickly by those who know.

Some of the persons in this area knew his fellow tribesmen and even his papa. His parents took Mekkar to other areas of the globe where it could a different situation altogether. He consistently received a different reaction to his questions from others than he expected. Sometimes it would make him upset as those individuals might be as accommodating as his tribesmen. On the other hand, he thought that none of those kids in this place could have had this much fun doing what he was doing. Despite the fact Mekkar had to work also. This was the crux of the youngster’s interaction with Aslak. Still, Mekkar went on with his queries, “Why do I have to work so much? When these other kids do not? Look, they get to play without working.” The reality was that Mekkar was part of a village that had a very different standard of the term “play”. Nonetheless, the rewards would be so much more beneficial for him in the long run.

Now that the group was restocked with necessities Ansetti and Antagar led the others in preparing the reindeer to continue the trip. All of the herders on the trek had eaten very well, much better than some past adventures. Rich reindeer meat, cheese, milk, lingonberries, and cloudberries were only a part of their diet. At this point, the tribe took a short break to eat. Aslak told Mekkar not to consume too much. Of course, the little rebel did anyway. Since Mekkar now was full, he sought rest.

The blood was rushing to his stomach from his head to aid digestion left Mekkar tired and ineffective to perform his duties. Regardless, the crew dragged him away and departed. Mekkar was put on a sled so they could travel while he slept. It was not too cold for him to drift into his dreamlike state. It was only about -10° F (-23.3° C) outside and his winter clothing warmed him up just nicely. Mekkar’s face was covered somewhat and the exposed parts got slightly flush in color. Fortunately, the native clothing he normally wore could keep a person still operational in much chillier climates. In far below zero degree weather a person definitely does not want to sweat too much. Otherwise the glands can freeze and get clogged. That would create another set of problems toward an individual’s health, especially a young boy’s. Normally back home in extreme conditions, Mekkar liked to take a cup of water and toss its contents upwards into the air. His favorite part is watching the former liquid quickly turn into powder on its path downward. However, it wasn’t cold enough to do that and he was conked out.

Natives long ago adapted themselves in many ways to survive in their unique environments, some of which also includes the clothes they wear. Mekkar’s tribesmen modified some of their wares to incorporate ventilation features to prevent great accumulations of perspiration no matter how strenuous the tasks being carried out. This layered winter clothing in theory was designed to keep most of a person’s body heat close to the body in environments far below minus 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-17.77° C). However, no one including Mekkar wanted to test those claims and maximum limits. In normal settings, an individual usually didn’t wear matching multicolored tunic, pants, and coverings everyday. Unless, it was for special occasions such as a wedding then a coordinated appearance would be important. Plus, there was the aspect of taking time to specially clean them without ruining the handmade material. Even the youngest member of the group knew that many options, not to mention fresh apparel, are limited while on the trek.

A heavy reindeer fur overcoat was only applicable for wintertime use as one would overheat, if worn during the summer. The outfit was toughly constructed with very water resistant skins as the base and the garments were all encompassing. Yet, there was some stretchableness or flexibility to fit the person. In addition to the comfortable boots or shoes without need for socks, unless the individual preferred them. There are also high boots which are used for travelling in deep snow and even whole leg/hip wading boots for fishing in lakes as well as rivers. Mekkar didn’t care; he figured he would put prepared dried grass in his regular use boots to keep his feet warm, and cushioned. He next tied them tight so no snow got into his shoes. The grass helped to soak up the foot sweat as well. There is a preparation process as the grass first must be matted, teased carefully, and dried. Not to forget replaced every so often. The process takes time not available on the journey. In previous times this was necessary to preserve footwear. Modernization has changed this somewhat. The boy felt by the time this trek was over his pair of boots would be broken in nicely like well worn hockey skates. By good fortune Mekkar’s footwear was used previously and not tattered before this journey began, otherwise he would have some aching feet and possibly blisters.

It had been quite a few miles since they left the town and Mekkar was still conked out on the sled. He slept about five hours on this occasion. For a kid such as him that is a long time. It was concluded he must have eaten way too much. Well, the weather stayed the same and Mekkar finally woke up from his slumber. He looked around and recognized some of these surroundings even though to most it was still another place that was quite unpopulated. This is the arctic, after all.

Much of what grows outside in the wild there is during the spring and fall and buried during the wintertime. Basically you have five main staples while most of the rest is imported from somewhere else outside the region. Mostly from down south and beyond. There are a few types of berries. The natives learn early when they are ripe enough to eat or not by the change of the coloring. Otherwise, there is the high potential to acquire food poisoning or to a lesser extent become really ill. In season, the various favors of budding fruits can tempt a person by their tartness, sweetness, or both.

Potatoes can be creatively grown and harvested with patches of grass or mulch to meet trekkers’ needs. Various forms of onions to provide flavor and texture too. Moss and lichen even manifest itself to feed reindeer if they dig deep enough in the winter snows. Oh, my! Reindeer meat is delicious. Fish are available in the clean water streams that are not frozen over. If you are not in hurry, there is the activity of ice fishing. Mekkar would spear fish, during lunchtime, at the river back home but not during the middle of the blizzard season. The point is there are not a lot of options for grub so protecting the delicate balance of nature is tricky at best and can be brutal at worst.

Reindeer is so important to Mekkar’s tribe and this area because they can supply milk, as well as make cheese using the ingredients. In theory, a human can use every part of the animal for some edible or functional application. However, one must know the resources that are available and how to make the best use of them. There is no haphazard waste. During the appropriate growing season there are a few farms that grow grains to help make appetizing homemade bread. Supplementary items can be gathered from the various towns and villages they pass on the path. These are the basics of the group’s diet at home and especially on the trek. Vegetarians do not thrive well in this environment. Similar to all the children in his village, Mekkar learned these aspects as it was ingrained into him since he could talk and walk.

For the next four or five days the weather stayed consistent and the group covered between thirty and fifty miles (48.28 & 80.467 Kilometers) a day depending on various factors. The texture of the snow, how deep or how hard it was, the hilliness of the terrain, and transport reliability. There were no breakdowns of any equipment, so far. Basically, the expanse of this place is void of people in some areas. Still, the scenery is majestic, if one appreciates it.

Anyway, as the crew approached northward they kept up their pace and chose a certain familiar spot to set up the teepees before the crisp night air swiftly arrived upon them. The group of course set up a sauna tent first because it requires the most work. Almost everyone in the tribe will visit the hot one. Mekkar would go in there himself, yet some adults made it so hot until he could take no more. Anyway, the boy came out refreshed and relaxed from the experience. It is very different from the regular heat generated from the sun. Mekkar has trouble with hot desert-like temperatures outdoors, but the sauna helps him adapt to a certain level. There is a difference between sun driven warmth and hot room heat. If a person went outdoors in 180° F (82.22° C) heat, they might fry like an egg. That definitely goes for the natives from this region as they are not used to a roasting hot outdoor climate. For instance, Southern California during the summer. 200° F (93.33° C) is not uncommon in a real sauna and 212° F (100° C) is the boiling point for water. Mekkar doesn’t know how to describe the hot room effect any better for those who are unacquainted with it.

The same setup plan and formalized routine is used to ready the camp in a rapid manner. Mekkar says, “Since it has been effective for hundreds of years why change it?” The little Arctic trekker dozed off as he listened to tales and stories in the tent about locations unknown to him. The adults continued to drink their favorite coffee which Mekkar didn’t like anyway. The adults always seemed to follow their normal custom of giving their favorite drink an added spice and zip to it with alcohol. Not long after Mekkar snooze began he was awoken by sounds of howling wolves and reindeer shuffling. At any rate, it was just a false alarm and he went back to sleep.