San Francisco Blues and Mason Jars of Salmon

Syd is flying out tomorrow. Today were given the day off to watch a Cesar Chavez movie and discuss migrant farm worker rights.

I walk past Jess in the library, she’s looking for the movie about Malcolm X. And she’s just pulled a book off the shelf, “Being and Nothingness,” by Sartre.

“Have you heard of him?”

“I was just thinking of reading this!”

“Of course you were.”

Tony walks over, “I’ve only read a few chapters in school…”

“You can check it out, I was just looking at it,” Jess says, handing the book to me.

“I’ve already reached my library checkout limit,” I admit. Tony laughs. “But I’ll take it over to my table and read a few chapters while I’m here, if that’s okay?”

Overstimulation. I just want to read for the next three weeks.

I feel like I’m diving into an intellectual oasis.

Just landed an archiving job at the Barrow library! Will be filling out a catalogue so that researchers can easily look up where documents are found. Have to wear cotton gloves and handle manuscripts about the beginning of NARL in the 1970s.

Jess, Tony and I are having an intoxicating day at the library. I tossed Jess my book on Indigenous cultural wisdom, and she’s writing notes down like it’s her full time job. And then I found her in the bookstacks later, with a biography on Marie Antoinette and another book on the History of Rome. I’m holding this handdrawn book without a title or an author, and she sees it in my hand, and exclaims that she saw that book earlier and was drawn to it, just as I was. So it’s going to sit on our kitchen counter for daily reflections.

We walk over to Tony to coordinate our walk back home, and Jess takes one look at Tony’s black pirate bandana across his forehead and announces, “Can you not?” in her absurd and straightforward manner.

He laughs, and admits his hipsterdom. And we all are getting amped up on books and ideas and community and ourselves.

I’ve initiated acquaintances with this guy who sits at the front of the library and monitors people coming and going. He’s always reading this book on Judas- I’m unsure of the context. Yesterday he came up and spoke to me a little bit, asking about what I’m doing here. Next time I want to ask about his life.

I stop mid-read and take a moment to collect myself. Snap my fingers. Kick off my boots. And dive back into words.

I’ve got a bit of writer’s block. I think I’m just really tired of all of this shit. I am ready to be free. This is such an experience, but I need to dive into books for the rest of the day.

Tony is so sweet in his own way. The last week we were in Sacramento, we were driving around in the van, and got in an argument about Kerouac’s “On the Road.” Today, while we’re sitting in the van next to each other, the first time I’ve talked to him one on one since he’s gotten here, he pulls out a Kerouac book from his backpack– San Francisco Blues. He picked it up for me at a bookstore back in Sac.

Tony was going through a book a day during the two weeks we were in Alaska and he was back in Sacramento– he told me that his favorite book that he read was Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I went straight to the Barrow library, found it and checked it out.

A little girl has run over to my corner in the library, and is currently tearing through my backpack. I’m not really sure what to do, she is absolutely fearless and adorable. She’s grabbed a postcard, and is running across the room with it. I play a little tug of war with her and get it back.

Her mom comes over in a little bit, smiling at me. “I’ve tried for 15 years to have children. This is my baby. My only one.”

I smile, introducing myself, and asking her name. She tells me that her friend is across the room selling salmon, would I be interested? I say probably not, but she is waving him over already.

He comes over, pulling out a few mason jars of salmon in juice. I remember them telling us about this one of the first days we got here, how there are only about 60 cases of botulism in the US per year, but about 58 of these cases happen in Alaska. Particularly Northern Alaska. People can things and sell them to the community, but do not always preserve it in the right way/sterilize the jars/seal the jars.

He tells me the salmon is called, “Aryakatak.”

I ask him how much it is, and he tells me it’s $30 a jar, but he is willing to barter or make a trade. And I tell him, sorry I don’t have any money with me right now.

He tells me he’ll accept $20.

I tell him again I don’t have any money, but thank you anyway. Then Bernice comes over, Alexander’s sister, and tells me that this little girl still pursuing my backpack’s contents is her great godchild.


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