Grasshopper Soup: Humans released back into the wild
Special to the Sun
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; While working one summer in Alaska, I was invited to have dinner with a young Eskimo couple in their home. It was a special honor for a and#8220;Nulakmiand#8221; like myself. Nulakmi is the word Eskimos use when referring to white people. I never found out if it was a racial slur or not, and I didnand#8217;t care. Considering the fact that, after the United States bought Alaska from Russia, and the government, with the cooperation of local missionaries, forced Eskimo children to attend schools out of state far from their families, and physically beat them for speaking their own language, I doubt the word was coined as a term of endearment. But, like I said, I didnand#8217;t give a whaleand#8217;s fluke. I liked being called a Nulakmi. It was just another harmless word to me.
In a village of 2,500, we whites numbered about twenty. And we had our own and#8216;nand#8217; word. It was pretty special. Those were wild times. Being in the minority was a valuable lesson.
I had tasted some Eskimo delicacies already, like muktuk, which is a layer of whale blubber still attached to the whale skin. Seal oil was the other Eskimo staple I tasted. I have forgotten the Eskimo name for it, but they use it like some of us use butter. Eskimos dip everything in seal oil. Add blueberries and you have Eskimo ice cream.
Whale blubber has the texture of leather, and chews the same. It tastes like leather too. Everybody knows what leather tastes like, unless they had a deprived childhood.
This young Eskimo couple lived in what you would call a shack, exposed to Arctic winds on the shore of Kotzebue Sound, 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. As I sat there at the table I noticed a big chunk of meat on the stove. It was charred black, as if the cook forgot to take it out of the oven, and accidentally burned it to a crisp. The meat had a very wild look to it. I could not tell if it was a bird or what. The thought of dog meat crossed my mind. It didnand#8217;t look like fish. Whales are large animals, and have big organs inside them, and the Eskimos donand#8217;t waste any part of a kill, so I figured it could have been just about anything. A whaleand#8217;s heart maybe?
and#8220;What kind of meat is that?and#8221; I asked.
and#8220;Datand#8217;s bear. I killed one dand#8217;udder day oand#8217;er by Shungnak,and#8221; said the man of the house.
Most Eskimos speak a kind of pigeon English, some say out of contempt for what the white man did to them when they were children. Who can blame them?
It was the first time I ever ate bear meat. It was better than the best prime rib and filet mignon I ever had, even when it was well done and burned. It was absolutely delicious. One of the best meals I have ever had in my life. It was so good I have often wondered if the bears around here taste even better. I have given serious thought to bear hunting, which is legal, if not politically correct, but only if I could hunt from my porch, sitting in a comfortable chair with a glass of wine beside me. Having someone to skin and prepare the kill for me would be another motivating factor. If you know any good women like that, let me know. Have her send me a picture of her gun and knife set.
Subsistence hunting, and living directly off the land, is a lost art. We humans should be released back into the wild so we can find it again. It would help build character.
Maybe civilization is the wild. World events and the daily news seem to give that idea some real credibility. City life in London is a riot.
Iand#8217;d rather haul a bear carcass along the Pacific Crest Trail for a few friends and I to eat in the wild, and enjoy a big chunk of bear meat and a bowl of grasshopper soup than get caught up in the stupidity of partisan, religious, racial or class warfare.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 28 years.