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6/10/00

Not All Spirits

By J. V. Lofgren

ELMER'S JOURNEY


Finger Point, Alaska

Forty-three years later, perched forlornly on its pillar and post foundation, the Whaler's Inn had waited through the summer for white tourists who didn't come. Its melancholy brown siding harmonized with the depressing gray of the barren gravel landscape, not a tree nor hill broke the horizon that was sucked up into the mists of the Arctic ice pack.

Another summer had passed. The winter winds were beginning to blow off the ice. The sun, on its daily sweep, was dropping lower in the southern sky and soon would disappear, plunging Finger Point into another winter of darkness.

Despair hung over the Inupiat village like the shroud of fog that slipped in off the ice pack and isolated the village for weeks at a time, intensifying the detachment from the outside world that marked life at the northwest corner of north America.

Two years earlier, Ed Black, the white contractor from Seattle, had stood before the villagers gathered in the high school gym.

"Tourists will flock to Finger Point, like they do to Kotzebue, if you have a nice hotel," he told them. He helped them visualize airplanes arriving at a new airstrip loaded with hundreds of rich white tourists eager to buy their arts and crafts.

Persuaded, the Village Corporation had the hotel prefabricated by Ed's company in Seattle and barged north to Finger Point the previous summer. New enthusiasm had gripped the village craftsmen as they worked through the long, dark, winter months hand carving beautiful ivory swans and polar bears, weaving baleen baskets and sewing mukluks. Finger Point people took great pride in their arts and crafts as being the finest in Alaska. They knew none could challenge the preeminence of their dancers, singers, and drummers.

But the tourists didn't come.

Forgotten was the warning of the wiry old man who rose before the assembly. "The Elders have spoken," said Joe Amok. "They say visitors will not come until a cleansing takes place, until we return to the old ways of hospitality and sharing, until we seek the friendship of our visitors more than their money. They will not come until we are willing to share our great spiritual heritage with the rest of the world."

Having ignored the Elders, the people were confused and angry, convinced another white man's trick had been played on them.

Now another disaster had struck and the people had asked the Elders, "What does it mean?" But the Elders remained silent, silent like the land itself.

In the late evening twilight, Elmer Omnik leisurely drove his three wheeler past the Whaler's Inn, west toward the ocean.

His bright red Honda bounced and twisted its way over a sea of small, smooth stones that formed the finger of land thrusting into the Chukchi Sea. He drove past the episcopal cemetery with its picket fence of bleached whalebones. He drove around the new airport runway and past the sod house ruins of old town, out to the point where the ancient ones were buried.

The village had been in shock since hunters brought word of the disaster. Elmer, as corporation president, decided to see for himself if last week's terrible storm had really washed away the bones of the ancient ones.

He came for that and much more. He stopped, watched and waited. His dark brown eyes gazed longingly over the strip of open water between shore and ice pack. Soon sub-zero cold would grip their village and the open water would be gone, locking the Inupiat people in a world of ice.

An hour passed, then two, and still he waited. Elmer waited until convinced no one had followed. He snapped the motor back to life with a pull of the starter cord. Shifting into low gear, he drove slowly down to the pebble beach and circled past the sleeping village.

When clear of the village, he rolled the hand throttle into full speed and raced east toward the Brooks Range that was barely visible on the horizon a hundred miles away. Leaning over the handlebars, he drove at breakneck speed through the dim light of the Arctic evening.

The ATV bounced and twisted over the undulating tundra, not yet stiffened by the winter freeze. When it bogged down in loose gravel or mushy tundra, he jumped off and, while churning wheels spit muck and mire, gave a hefty shove and as it popped out, remounted the surging vehicle like a cowboy mounting a bucking bronco.

Every so often he stopped on a knoll, shut off the motor and listened. His dark eyes anxiously searched the western horizon. He waited and watched for long minutes before continuing up the Kukpuk river trail as it meandered southeast out of Finger Point and on up to the foothills of the De Long Mountains that lay on the western tip of the Brooks Range.

Elmer loved the land. It was a powerful land. A land of spirits. Those spirits he understood but not the spirits he encountered in Seattle.

He recalled the time, three years ago, when Ed Black invited him to the big waterfront house on Mercer Island with its view of downtown Seattle. They had met in the Montana Bar on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage. Ed bought Elmer several beers.

"Elmer, Why don't you come down to Seattle and visit for a few days?" Invited Ed. "We'll pay all your expenses. Just come."

"I've never been to Seattle," said Elmer.

"Then we'll have to show you around. Bring your wife and kids. They'll have a ball."

Elmer and his family were treated to a fantastic time, dining at fancy restaurants, viewing nighttime Seattle from the top of the space needle, water skiing on Lake Washington, even sailing the San Juans aboard Ed's sail boat. Elmer especially enjoyed the warm summer evenings sitting on Ed's sun deck watching the sun slip behind the Olympic Mountains and the lights being turned on in tall skyscrapers.

"You like yours on the dry side, right?" Asked Ed mixing martinis at the portable bar.

Having been introduced to the dry martini on his first evening in Seattle, Elmer quickly nodded his assent, adding a smile that pleased Ed.

Ed walked across the deck with firm powerful steps, carrying martinis in each hand. His tall athletic body, kept firm by twice weekly workouts at the Washington Athletic club, radiated power, raw masculine power. Holding his head high, with steel-gray eyes focused on Elmer, Ed studied him like a gemologist studies the stone he's about to cut. While his eyes analyzed, his wide, full smile disarmed and relaxed Elmer.

Ed Black was a successful businessman with a powerful charismatic personality and a huge ego. He was accustomed to being obeyed. He embodied the white man's power and craftiness that both attracted and repelled Elmer.

Elmer was in awe of Ed. He yielded to Ed's aggressive self-confidence like a submissive child before his dominant father. Elmer was impressed by the way Ed had taken special interest in the Inupiat people.

"Tomorrow, I'd like to take you over to a new factory. It manufactures houses especially designed for the Arctic.

"They are using the latest energy efficient technology and materials. The idea is to precut all the materials and number each piece, bundle them, then ship them north on the yearly barge. They'd be assembled in the village, creating jobs for the men."

"But, village men don't have the skills to do that," protested Elmer.

"That's the beautiful part of this concept. We'll set up an apprentice program. The men will be trained to become electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, and all the other building trades. When the work is finished they can go outside the village and find good jobs."

"I'd like to see this factory."

"Believe me. You've never seen anything like these houses."

Ed went on to describe the construction; two by twelves in the walls, floors and ceilings, stuffed full of insulation, triple glass on all windows, self contained water system to provide hot and cold running water for showers and baths, electric lights, cable TV, electric stoves, appliances, central hot air heating systems, and fully carpeted.

"The only modern convenience we haven't provided is flush toilets."

"You mean we can't get rid of the honey buckets?"

"Not yet, but we're working on that problem in Barrow. We've proposed the idea of a heated tunnel down the center of town to contain all the utility services."

"It'd be nice to get rid of the honey buckets."

"All in due time. What we're talking about is a whole new village with paved streets, central electrical generators, water system, garbage collection service, and a new airstrip, everything to make Finger Point into a modern village, while providing jobs and training for the men of the village."

"It's a wonderful idea," said Elmer. "But it'll cost a lot of money."

"Not as much as you think. Besides there's oil money available from the borough and the state, not to mention federal programs."

As the sun faded behind the western mountains a servant silently moved around the deck lighting gas torches like the kind Elmer had seen in Hawaii. The flames moderated the slight chill of the night air and bathed the deck in a soft comfortable glow.

"The women won't be back from the concert until very late. Would you like some female company?

Elmer smiled his pleasure.

"I understand you prefer big chested blondes. I've taken the liberty to invite a couple young ladies who are anxious to meet you and show you a good time."

Elmer remembered that exciting evening. He also remembered that he'd felt good about Ed. He sensed that Ed's spirit was good. But now, he knew how deceptive the spirits can be. Now, he knew that not all spirits are of God.

Just beyond Siglualik Creek, Elmer followed the cut off that ran along the shore of the Chukchi Sea near Cape Thompson. After swinging south for about 10 miles, he reached the place where the Alolukrok Creek flowed into the Siglualik Creek. There he stopped, momentarily uncertain the direction he should turn.

It was rolling unbroken country, consisting of undulating round hills, which looked like frozen ocean swells. No tree grew that far above the Arctic Circle, only low brush that cringed in sheltered gullies. There were few landmarks for guidance.

Elmer knew the land and its forces. He appreciated the wisdom of his people, who never confronted nature's power but bent in harmony with it.

Moving slowly up the trail, his eyes swept the horizon like searching radar. About noon of the second day, Elmer saw a small dark shape on a knoll far away. From the distance, it looked like a man. But as he drew near the shape took on definition. It stood like a sentinel on the barrens.

The Inupiat call them Inukshuk, "people rock" or "spirit rock." In ancient times, they were made to appear more human, sometimes with arm-like appendages. They were created to make the desolate land appear inhabited; a reminder to both man and animal of the spirits. But few Inukshuks remained. For most visitors, they were only directional markers, relics from the ancient past.

During the twilight of the third evening, Elmer approached his destination. He stopped, half a mile short; to gaze overhead at the brilliant, star filled heavens. The wind against his face made him feel alive, connected, and hopeful. The Arctic silence felt good. As he watched, the Aurora Borealis made its dancing entrance on the overhead stage.

Elmer remembered the first time Father Wilson saw the Northern lights. He had just arrived in Finger Point from New York State, twenty years ago. Father Wilson was so excited. He ran out of the rectory pointing to the heavens and shouting.

"Look up my people! It's God's finger writing in our sky. God is confirming his promise to be with the faithful remnant of his Inupiat people. Like the ancient Hebrews who had their rainbow we have the Northern Lights."

Elmer's attention was drawn to a high knoll beyond the distant campfire and to the man standing silently beside an Inukshuk. Elmer saw the man slowly raise his arms over his head; his palms turned to the sky above, in the manner of the ancient ones. In the soft evening breeze Elmer heard the sound of whistling in rhythm with the undulating lights.

Wheeee Wheeee Wheeeeeeee Wheeeeeee.

The whistling continued for several minutes and then it happened!

The Aurora Borealis began to dip, sweeping in folds and swirling eddies, like streams of water flowing in opposite directions, sheets of red and yellow glowing brightly before turning to shades of green that faded into purple, and then glowing soft pink. As it dropped it became a shimmering, undulating wall of light, descending from red to white to blue. The whistling continued as the Aurora Borealis dipped down, down, down, until it rested upon the upraised palms of the man and he glowed with a bluish radiance.

Issue Date 05/31/2000
Lofgren's e-Book NOT ALL SPIRITS and his first e-Book THE SEARCH FOR JACK LONDON are available as published by bookmice.com from Amazon.com, which can be clicked on the sidebar here. Once in Amazon, click the Books tab, then enter the name Jerome Lofgren in the search box, which will bring up all of his published books now available.

About the Author
    J. V. Lofgren, aka Jerome Lofgren, spent five years in the arctic of Northwest Alaska working as a computer consultant and programmer (1982-1987). During his time in the arctic he was befriended by an Inupiat healer-medicineman-shaman. Lofgren asked his new friend if he was an Eskimo. To which his friend replied. "I've lived in the arctic all my life and traveled it from Canada to Siberia but I've never met an Eskimo nor have I ever seen an Igloo. These are white man's names and myths. I am Inupiat."

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