Northern Lights

Easter in the Snow

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Gathering at the yurt on a wintry spring day

Lauren Mitchell/Flickr

By Miranda Weiss

March 31, 2016


 

Another pagan-cum-Judeo-Christian holiday has passed, and I’m still at a loss for how to answer the big questions my three- and six-year-old daughters ask, like, “Who is the Easter Bunny?” or, “How did this plastic jelly bean-filled egg get onto this shelf fungus?” or, “Were you the one who put the mini sticky-notes into the Easter eggs?” I was looking for something besides candy to add to the eggs and happen to really like those mini sticky-notes, which I find useful as bookmarks. Oh goodness, I suppose I’ve been found out.

The big questions weren’t such a big deal this year because we had a gathering up at our yurt, which was a distraction enough. About a dozen friends and their 16 or so kids tromped the mile in the snow to get there. Most of them had never been to our getaway in the snowy hills behind town, so we marked the trail by stabbing alder stakes into marshmallow Peeps and sticking them in the snow along the way.

I skied ahead and left my daughters, husband, and his 19-year-old nephew (who has moved in with us until he finds a job on a fishing boat this summer) to sled in a wooden table, half a dozen plastic deck chairs, and a jug of kerosene for our camp stove. I needed to dash ahead to hide 40 eggs in a copse of spruce trees just down from the yurt. It is a magical world under there—snowless, mossy, and full of the kind of hidey-holes the Easter Bunny seems to favor.

An hour into the party, the wooden table my husband set up in the middle of the yurt held an impressive spread: octopus salad, salmon poke, roasted homegrown potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and all sorts of other goodies. I sipped a Bloody Mary, whipped up by our oyster farmer friends, as I made curried salmon soup on our camp stove. It was raw and windy outside and nice to have something warm to eat. The kids roasted hot dogs on sticks around a bonfire in the snow and didn’t seem to notice the chill.

Finding the eggs was not nearly as exciting as getting a ride on John Miles’s sled. One of our bachelor neighbors on the hill, a guy in his 60s or 70s who used to teach kids in Native villages in the Bering Strait region how to ski—before gyms and TV, he said—and now grooms the community ski trails at six in the morning on weekends, John pulled up on a snowmachine towing his impressive 10-foot-long welded aluminum sled. He climbed off his snowmachine and then spread a massive musk ox pelt onto the snow near the bonfire. A pile of kids got onto it, stroking their fingers through the foot-long hairs and the downy, woolen qiviut beneath. You cannot feel the snow at all through that thing.

Then the kids clambered onto the snowmachine and the sled—sitting in it and standing on the back of its runners—and John took all of them for a ride. They went on a long enough adventure that we lost the sound of the machine for at least 10 or 15 minutes. When they pulled back up to the yurt, the kids all shouted, “Again! Again!” and he took them around again.

At the end of the party, John ferried anyone looking for a ride back up to their cars—a huge gift for parents of sugar-weary and play-worn kids. I brought up the rear on my skis, pulling out the stakes of Peeps along the way.


Miranda Weiss is the author of Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska. She is a science and nature writer in Homer, Alaska.


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