Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Ross Schaeffer, Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview with Ross Schaeffer on March 29, 2016 by Karen Brewster, Andy Mahoney, and Rebecca Rolph at his home in Kotzebue, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Ross talks about seal hunting and changing ice conditions around Kotzebue, including thinning ice, changes in freeze-up and break-up, being safe on the ice, and understanding weather and wind. He also talks about the effect of climate change on subsistence and the local lifestyle, and the continued relevance of traditional knowledge.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-32_PT.2

Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Mar 29, 2016
Narrator(s): Ross Schaeffer
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Andrew "Andy" Mahoney, Rebecca Rolph
Transcriber: Denali Whiting
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Connections between Kotzebue and Nome, and gold in Deering

Father walking from Kotzebue to Candle

Father hunting and walking on the Aggie River (Agashashok River)

Affect of thinning ice on seal hunting

Changes in freeze-up

Changes in break-up

Spring hunting and opening up of channels

Changes in fish and bird populations

Learning about ice and watching the wind, temperature and weather

Passing on of traditional knowledge

Importance of seal meat and seal oil

Determining when it is safe to travel on the ice

Changes in timing of ice being safe

Effect of amount of snow on hunting and traveling

Continued relevance of traditional knowledge

Using a kayak for seal hunting

How science can help understand ice conditions, and impact of lack of ice piles

Changes in the moon and location of the sun

Understanding weather and wind

Variety of food sources, and fishing for sheefish

Effect of climate change on the local lifestyle

Changes in the ice and the subsistence lifestyle

Defining freeze-up and determining shift from boating to snowmachine use

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ROSS SCHAEFFER: It is right here.

ANDY MAHONEY: Oh, okay. Oh, down south? ROSS SCHAEFFER: My -- my trap line was right up here. ANDY MAHONEY: Gosh, okay.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Way up here and it went this way. ANDY MAHONEY: And it --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Kiwalik River and Quartz Creek. And in fact, I was closer to Elim than I was to Kotzebue. ANDY MAHONEY: Oh, really. Okay. Wow. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, I’d run into Elim people. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: Was there ever much traveling between Kotzebue and Nome?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Some. My -- my son has done it, you know. He just did it again this year. ANDY MAHONEY: Okay, yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Some. Yeah, yup. ANDY MAHONEY: Hmm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: In the old days, they had to have shelters, you know. They called them -- what did they call them? It’s not like a hotel but it was more like a -- KAREN BREWSTER: Like a roadhouse?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Roadhouse, yeah. That’s what it was. Yeah. Like the highway, yeah. REBECCA ROLPH: On the way to Nome? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, same way. Yeah. On the way. In fact, where we spent a lot of our -- in the Quartz Creek, there was a roadhouse right here that come -- people from Nome area come down. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And Deering was a main hub of northwest Alaska when we were young. Kotzebue wasn’t.

Because of all the gold in Deering and Bu -- and Candle. There were 12,000 horses and 12,000 people in that area.

ANDY MAHONEY: Wow, I didn’t know that.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. In the summer time. Looking for gold. ANDY MAHONEY: Huh.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Yup. My dad worked -- he’d walk from Kotzebue to Candle in the spring.


ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah, yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Soon as it started melting, start walking. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm. ROSS SCHAEFFER: He and a friend of his. ANDY MAHONEY: Wow.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Make it in one -- day and a half.


ROSS SCHAEFFER: These guys walked in front of their dog teams all winter long. And -- just an example of how --

When I came home from college, I started trapping and I started getting foxes like you wouldn’t believe.

One day, my dad said to me, “Gee, Ross. What you getting, all the rabid foxes?” And I just laughed at him.

I said, “No dad, I figured them out.” He says, “What do you mean?” I said, “I figured out how they behave and I set my traps accordingly.”

He says, “We didn’t trap foxes.” I says, “What did you do?” He says, “Well, you walked after them.”

So he tells me the story. He walks from Kotzebue, ran into a track back here by Sadie Creek, chases it to Riley Wreck, and it went in a den.

Riley Wreck is 20 miles from here. So he walks back with his snowshoes.

Next day, he takes his coffee and swallows a chunk of -- we call uqsrugaq, which is part of blubber. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And it di -- takes a long time to digest. So he walks from here to Riley Wreck where the den was, chases up the fox, and kills it at Arctic Circle.

Arctic Circle is 40 miles from here. Then he walks back. I said dad -- ANDY MAHONEY: That’s a long way for a fox.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I said, “Dad, when we go down with a four-wheeler to Arctic Circle, we come back, we’re pooped out.” That’s how darned it was. We don’t walk like they did.


ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. So, it’s such a different world, you know. Our people are lazy now. They’re --

These old folks, they walked in front of their dog team day and night.

Dad was telling me one time in the Aggie River (Agashashok), he left his camp. He and three guy -- two other guys. Walter Kenworthy and Jerry Coppock. Loaded with caribou. They worked all day long. Finally, it was starting to get dark. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: They set up camp and they looked back, and he could see his tent a mile away.

The water wa -- the snow was so deep, you know, those days in those creeks. ANDY MAHONEY: Wow. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: It took them that long?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Took them that long to hit -- go a mile. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And so, when they -- we're looking at that Aggie River, so they had to come out probably 15 miles before they hit the main river. Which is --

The wind usually blows the snow and so they -- they had good going after that. But that’s the way they were. They walked in front of their team. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.


KAREN BREWSTER: So, I was -- I sorta had a question about, you know, now that this ice is changing and it’s thinning, it’s harder for you to get out to go seal hunting --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: That’s true. Yup.

KAREN BREWSTER: How's that affect your activities and being able to get seals?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Well, I -- this year I decided to go along the coast because the lead was right up against -- against the coast. Which is towards Kivalina side.

Because the current would be too strong and the ice is too thin where I normally go. And the experience last year almost sinking my snow machine I figured I better play it safe and go along the coast.

So after we passed Anigaaq, which is 25 miles from here, I went along the coast and I was waiting for my partner to come. And I looked out and I said, "The ice looks really good. And there’s a place -- ice piles, and there's another ice pile. Right in between would be a good place to hunt seal."

So when my partner come up, he looked at it and said, “Boy, that looks like a good place to go out.” It was about a mile out.

I said, “Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Let’s -- let's go out there.” And that’s where we got most of our seals.

So, you know, I had to adjust for safety. To just hunt along the edge.

We got two seals right on the beach and then went further down and went out in the ice and then -- we --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was wondering if it could happen that this -- you -- the --

Let’s see, how do I say it? That you can’t get out on the ice during the time that the animals are here, could that happen?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: It could. But what we would do is we’d go to Sealing Point and you could just hunt 'em right off the beach.

That’s -- Sealing Point has -- must have a lot of fish beca --and shrimp because they’re -- seals are always there, you know.

I’ve hunted there in the winter. But I prefer to hunt seals toward Sadie Creek and Cape Blossom because usually there’s a lot of ice piles. And the females know it. And so you get more females over there. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Whereas Sealing Point you -- half the males you get are -- are in rut. And you could smell it, like a kerosene smell to them. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, they’re good for dogs, but they’re not good for human consumption.

ANDY MAHONEY: Mm. So -- so you’re saying at Sealing Point that -- as long as you can get there -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm hm.

ANDY MAHONEY: It -- it’s not -- it doesn’t matter so much how much ice there is ‘cause -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: The seals will be -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Because you know -- ANDY MAHONEY: -- at the ice edge?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: -- our bay, like I told you, it freezes at 32 degrees. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: So it’s -- it;s solid ANDY MAHONEY: Right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: You know. It’s just the ocean that can’t freeze up anymore because it’s too warm.

February and March this year -- or January and February’s temperatures -- average temperature was between 15 and 20 degrees above zero. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: So the sea ice doesn’t freeze. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: But the op -- the fresh water freezes at 32. So -- ANDY MAHONEY: Right.

KAREN BREWSTER: So where that line of freshwater and salt water -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: That -- that’s changing. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Right? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm, yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: It used to be farther out? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. And now it’s right on the sand bars. Because the sand bars provide the -- the ice a stationary growth, you know.

ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. ROSS SCHAEFFER: 'Cause it’s solid there. And then it goes from there and extends out in the channels.

And it’s still very thin, though. Compared to other years that we’ve been hunting out there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I’m wondering if it’s going to get so thin that you can’t go out seal hunting anymore.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Um, you know, I -- I -- I hope not. But generally this bay freezes really good. Unless it’s warmer than 32 above.


ROSS SCHAEFFER: Then it won’t freeze and you -- you might be right. But if it’s that temperature, then we can get a boat and go hunt. We can take a boat right to Sadie Creek and go out with a boat. If we have to. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So peop -- Can you explain how break up works around here?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Okay. In the old days, we had -- like I said before, May 27th, 25th, 27th, strong east wind would come and everything would melt. Just like that we’d have water everywhere.

Nowadays, May -- or April 1st, like last year we had a really warm first of April. And it melted.

And last year was the first time that I’ve ever seen it where when it melted, it -- it never froze again.

Generally, we’d -- we’d have a west wind come up and it would cool off. And it would quit freezing. I mean, it quit melting and would re-freeze.

ANDY MAHONEY: So the melt ponds would get a little skim of ice on top them?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. And we had so little snow last year but we had the highest water on the Kobuk that they ever saw. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And that was because we had two weeks of rain at night. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, that was the only reason why we got so much water. Very strange, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Generally, we don’t have much rain in the spring. It’s usually clear skies. That’s one difference.

KAREN BREWSTER: But, so break-up -- it starts with the upriver and -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- and then Kobuk Lake and --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No, it starts from -- Kobuk Lake is stationary. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: So it starts from the Noatak. Noatak mouth is only nine miles from here.

So it breaks a hole right through the channel, it comes right out this way. And it doesn’t take much to break it all the way to the ocean.

The only problem is is the ocean is so wide open that -- that the belugas, what we we hunt, don’t come in.

Ugruk are different. They bask in the ice, you know. And -- and when my grandson and I went out May 25th last year we -- we were not intending to hunt ugruk. 'Cause I -- I had cracked my tail bone and I was not in good shape.

So we went out there and the normal place where we wait for belugas was covered by ice. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: So we went straight across the bay and it took us a half an hour to go from one side to the other side, which means it was a long ways across.

And we start heading toward town and we ran into one chunk of ice with one ugruk on it. My grandson shot that.

And we got two seals after that and went home. That was the extent of my ugruk hunting and seal hunting that spring 'cause I was -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I was too injured to -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: -- do too much.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so when that channel opens up in front here first -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: You -- people put their boats in and then go out -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- to the edge?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: We go -- we go right -- no, we -- as soon as the ice breaks up, we go upriver to get eggs. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And hunt brant. And geese and ducks.

And then we wait for it to open up good out in the ocean. Go up, check on the high hills up there by the old base and -- ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: See where it’s opening up. And usually, when it opens up to the ocean, one to two days later I’ll run into belugas out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And so I usually -- that’s my way of getting out there, and getting beluga.

And so there are times when I go right out there and I get beluga right now because they’re already there. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Other times I'd wait. And -- like last year, we waited a long time and never got anything.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. What -- can you get -- When that channel breaks up, can you get out to Sealing Point? And get ugruk out there? ROSS SCHAEFFER: No KAREN BREWSTER: No?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Because there’s still ice near the shore. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And it’s moving. It’s great, big chunks so it’s -- you have to be real careful. You probably could make it, but you have to time -- you’re not going to make it back ‘til the wind changes. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So people go out there later?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Mm-hm. And what’s happening now is that you get a west wind and the ice is very strange. When we were growing up watching it -- When the ice leaves us, it’s from the west wind. You would think that the wind would keep it from going but nope, the current is going straight out.

And that ice is just -- head out. The last few years, the ice has been going out real early.

And so we get the -- this last year, first week of June, we should’ve been getting salmon because we had rollers coming in already. That’s -- KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. ROSS SCHAEFFER: -- that’s how early it was. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: So first week of June it was open water? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: I mean, no -- no ice around at all?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. And July 1st through the 4th is when we get the rollers coming in. KAREN BREWSTER: Used to be?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: In the older days. Or later. You know. I mean, I’ve been out commercial fishing July 10th. Running into ice out there. But this year -- absolutely no ice. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So in the old days, the -- did the ice come in and out?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm, yeah. It moved. And it -- every time it moved one way, it would break up. It would come this way, it’d break up. The tides, you know. Come in the -- ANDY MAHONEY: Oh, okay.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And so we wait for the time when it started to break up so we can go on and hunt ugruk so we can go all the way in and come back safely. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: But nowadays there’s big chunks of ice. They don’t move enough to break up, you know. And then all of the sudden, poof, they’re gone.

What was so strange last spring at -- seven miles from here is right at the beginning of the ocean, where we’re at. Sadie Creek.

We had put out a net, and we got flounders. For two weeks.

After the two weeks, we finally pull our net, we got sheefish. We never got any trout, we never got any whitefish. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Real weird. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: That's the first time we’ve ever seen it that way. The trout must have migrated straight out through the channel and not even bother with the shore. 'Cause we never got a single trout. Very, very, very weird.

And that might be a change that maybe the belugas notice themselves in terms of food source. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And when you’re looking at the die off of all those crow bills, which is those murres without -- They’re starving to death, you know. It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Because we have a lot more murres and kittiwakes frequenting -- frequenting our shores for food. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: They normally stay over at Buckland bay side. They don’t come here.

When we were kids, once in a blue moon we'd see a kittiwake. Now they’re in here by the flocks, you know. And I’ve seen puffins out here. Sadie Creek. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: So it -- something’s changing with their food source. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, they have to go further to get food.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. And for learning and understanding the ice you’re going to be on in the winter, how does watching it all year, how does that help you? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Well --

KAREN BREWSTER: Like you watch it when it’s forming and --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Hm-mm. And -- and you watch the wind and what it’s doing. And the temperature, you know.

If you don’t have the cold temperatures, then the ocean ice isn’t going to freeze. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: For example, this year. So it changed my hunting to go along the coast rather than our normal area.

REBECCA ROLPH: Because you have the lead? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Hm?

REBECCA ROLPH: Because you had the lead?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No, because the ice is too thin to go to the lead. REBECCA ROLPH: Oh. ROSS SCHAEFFER: You see. After my experience last year out here -- REBECCA ROLPH: Right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Right straight out here, where I normally hunt, and hitting such thin ice that I didn’t want to risk. REBECCA ROLPH: Right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: ‘Cause I have to have somebody with me and it usually is my grandson.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so is that knowledge that you’ve learned through your lifetime, is that getting passed on and other people are knowing that? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Well, -- KAREN BREWSTER: The younger generation?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I’m passing it on to my -- my two boys and my grandson. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: The other folks, they’re losing it. If I’m gone, my grandson might be the only one that knows that ocean. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Because the other folks are not taking their kids out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I’ve gone out there and met other men out there long time ago and say, "Where’s your sons? How come you didn’t take 'em out?" "Oh, when he turns sixteen, we'll take him out." Yeah, right. ANDY MAHONEY: Hmm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I said, "Look, I’m out here with my -- my one snowmachine and I got my sons with me."

And I said, "That’s the only way they’re going to learn and have a desire to learn. If you don’t take them out, they’re not going to learn." And that’s the problem with this area. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I think in a few years very few people will want to eat seal -- seal anymore. Or seal oil.

Because, as I said before, it’s changed in the villages where they don’t eat it and they don’t crave it anymore. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Whereas my family here, we eat it all the time. And you -- you could tell our bodies crave it. (stomach growls) Boy, my stomach -- ANDY MAHONEY: Sounds like it. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: Make you hungry just talking about it.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Talking about seal oil. Craving it already. Anyway, as soon as it gets cold, we eat it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Constantly. But when you start getting towards spring, we eat it less and less.

KAREN BREWSTER: You don’t need it to keep warm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No. We don’t need it to keep warm. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: But, we always need to have it. Because our -- our systems are used to it. When I go to Anchorage, within three days my body is screwed up. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: You could sure tell. Because the different spices and different foods. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: I have to have seal oil. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: I’ve heard a tradition that in the old days here elders talked about not going out on the ice until after Christmas or into January? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, well --

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you learn that?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. My dad always went out mid -- mid December. And it’s usually solid enough.

KAREN BREWSTER: So he wouldn’t go out before that?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No, hm-mm. And I tried. One time. There was no snow on the ice, went out there. It was dangerous.

What happens is the seals come up one place all the time and then it’s about this thin. And there are areas where I walk up “Pshew.” Holy cow! “Pshew.” Holy cow! “Pshew.” Holy cow! ANDY MAHONEY: Wow.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I’m right at a point. And I’m thick enough to back off and get away from there. I mean, real dangerous. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And you -- you would think, looking at clear ice, that it looks safe. I mean, if I would -- if I didn’t get out my stick, I would’ve been gone, you know.

ANDY MAHONEY: Is that when the -- excuse me -- is that when there’s snow on the ice that --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No. There was no snow. That year we didn’t have any snow.

ANDY MAHONEY: So -- so that was --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: It was -- it was November. Late November. And I thought it would be -- it was kinda cold. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And so it was really unsafe. So. I haven’t done that since and I’ll -- I’ll go out. I don’t even go out December anymore, I have to wait ‘til January. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm.

ANDY MAHONEY: So even with no snow on the ice, it was difficult to tell -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: -- the color between -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Mm-hm. It was so clear. ANDY MAHONEY: Wow.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: The ice was so clear. ANDY MAHONEY: Oh, right. 'Cause, yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: I get a -- I’m used to sea ice. I really haven’t spent much time around the coast where there’s rivers like the Ki -- the Noatak, and the Kobuk. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: So, yeah, the ice that forms from the river ice is much clearer and -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm.

ANDY MAHONEY: -- and more difficult to tell the thickness. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Sometimes it is. Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, yup.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the same with crossing over to Sisualik, that has gotten later? To when that’s safe?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. It is. You have to -- you just go around. You just go up -- See, all this is sandbar. Right here.

Just -- you cross right into town and then you can travel on the sand bar all the way over and get to Sisualik real quick.

But it -- everything is getting later, yeah. Guys have to put out stake trails so people can be safe and they have to do it a lot later. Probably in November. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And it used to be like October?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Mm-hm. Yup. Yup. Maybe later in November ‘cause this year was so warm. Yeah.

And I don’t think we got 30 below. I think we got 20 below once this year. Normally, we have 30 to 40 below for two weeks to a month, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. But this is the first time January and February was so warm. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. We had a little bit cold in December and 20 below now feels like it’s 80 below for us anymore. (laughter) REBECCA ROLPH: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But you’re still going to go out?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. I still hunt. Yeah, I still hunt. Yeah, yup.

And, you know, the lack of snow really impacts our hunting. Because this -- how many years we had no snow, no storms. And so the creeks -- the willows. They’re about ten to twelve feet high. They’re still there. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: This year is the first time that we had enough storms to bury all the willows. And people are fooled.

We don’t have much snow in town, but you go out in the country and -- like Sadie Creek where I -- I camp. There’s a slough back there, it’s about fifteen to twenty feet deep. That is level with the ground on each side.

And that’s because of this constant snow just slowly moving. So we have a lot more snow than we’ve had in years.

ANDY MAHONEY: But on the land and not so much on the -- on the ice?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. This ice here, when you look at Sisualik side, all the trees are showing. And all the willows are showing.

Because we had open lead all the time and all the snow that’s coming drops in the ocean. And that side has no -- hardly any snow at all. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. Right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, yup. So it’s very different over on that side.

ANDY MAHONEY: But if it was frozen over, the snow would make it across the ocean, and make it --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, yup. Yeah, you’d be full of snow everywhere. Yeah.

But it’s so good to have a lot of snow because we’re able to hunt wolf and a lot -- lot easier than --

REBECCA ROLPH: So you can you track them or -- ?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, track them and get right up -- past the creeks you can go right after them, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. You don’t have to worry about trying to find a path through the willows. Getting stuck. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the things you learned as a boy about understanding the ice and being safe out there -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that still useful or you’ve had to learn -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: It still applies?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: It still applies, you know. It’s just that conditions have changed so much that sometimes you -- you’re -- you’re not seeing that change, you know.

Yeah. But the color of the ice, normally you can tell. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: You probably have to learn new things too, maybe?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Probably, yeah. Yeah. I mean, like, adjusting my hunt, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Go -- go where it’s safe. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Because now I realize that I -- I could hunt right from the beach. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I'd take a tuuq. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: A tuuq is to cut the ice.

And cut the ice where I can just slide my kayak in and my partner pulls me right out, you know. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, yeah, you still use the kayak?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I’m the only one that uses a kayak. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. I love to kayak. And the other day, I had an experience where I went out on the kayak in moonlight. ANDY MAHONEY Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And that was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen in my life. ANDY MAHONEY: Wow. Where was this?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: The seals come right up to the edge when we're working on a sled, my partner's sled tipped over. We were just leaving. We only had four seals.

And soon as we were loading up his seals, he says, "Look behind you." And I looked back.

The seals were right on the edge looking at us like that. And so I walked over to my sno-go and I shot one.

And -- and it was already glass calm. Just like I was kayaking on a mirror with a full moon. And it was just unbelievable. Yup.

So I shot another one after that and we got six and went home after that. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: We probably could’ve stayed there all night and loaded up, you know. But we were -- it was getting late, about 9 o’clock.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you use a mannaq? A hook?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, my partner has a hook. But you know, we’re -- most of the time we’re shooting them a ways out, so I just kayak out and get 'em.

KAREN BREWSTER: They float long enough for you to get them? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Oh, they don’t sink at all. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: So that means they’re fat enough, right?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, they’re so fat. You know, if you get one that sinks, it’s not a good seal. It’s so skinny that it’s sick, you know.

And we had that for a while where you were getting real sick seals. But now the only problem I see with seals is the lung disease. They get lung disease quite often.

And most of them have that lung disease. Some scientist told me that they scrape up something from the bottom that -- that gets into their system and starts destroying their lungs.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. So you want to ask about research needs?

ANDY MAHONEY: Sure. So one of my interests in coming here is just to -- to see sea ice in a different environment. It's used in a different way by the community than I think folks in Barrow -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Hm.

ANDY MAHONEY: -- use the ice and that’s what I’m most familiar with.

But what -- what sort of questions do you have, maybe, about the ice and the ocean and the weather conditions around the Kotzebue Sound region that you think maybe the science community can -- can help provide answers? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm.

ANDY MAHONEY: Sort of what -- what -- what quest -- questions do you or other members in the Kotzebue area have about --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. Well, one of the things after looking at last fall's hunt where bearded seals were numerous and the young one -- other -- spotted and the natchiq, ringed seal, their survival rate wasn’t too good because of lack of snow and lack of wind where the ice piles didn’t occur.

You know, I think something -- somebody has to monitor that to see how much impact it’s going to have in terms of the population of the seals for the future.

ANDY MAHONEY: So -- so you think the -- the lack of ice piles and lack of snow -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: And those two kind of go together, right? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: 'Cause you have an ice pile then you need a snow drift behind it? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. Yeah. Yup. ANDY MAHONEY: That -- that’s impacting -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. Yeah, I think -- ANDY MAHONEY: Or you think it’s impacting the seals?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Mm hm. Yeah. Yup. I thought that -- I didn’t think that it would impact our seal population until last fall, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Okay.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. I thought they’d survive anyway. But you look at these last two years where the fox population has really increased and -- and it’s --

When you look out on the ocean and travel out on the ocean -- when it was thick when we traveled between here and Espenberg, there were foxes everywhere in the springtime. Looking for seals. They know where the food is.

ANDY MAHONEY: Right. Sure, they smell -- I'm sure they can smell it. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Hm-mm. And so they were way out there, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yup. And then when you look at them right now, they’re -- the females are already pregnant.

So they’re trying to have enough food for not only their young, because they bury a lot of their food, but for the female, too. Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Right.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you ever use any of the satellite imagery or anything like that?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No. I watch aviation weather all the time just to see what the next couple of days are gonna happen -- you know, what’s gonna -- weather’s gonna happen.

We just lost an elder the other day and everyone told me -- and she was a really good friend of ours. In fact, she spent a lot of time at Sadie Creek with us. And she had the knowledge of weather that upriver people, the older folks had.

I've learned some of it, but not all of it. For example, one year a friend of mine, Tommy Douglas from Ambler, talked about -- he said -- it was in June. He said, “Ross, you see that moon up there?” I says, “Yeah.” He says, “That’s not a June moon. That’s a July moon.” Something has changed.

He don’t know what it was. And -- and, you know, it could be the axis of the earth with these big earthquakes and stuff like that, we don’t know.

But he said that it’s really changed and that’s -- that's why we’re having these changes.

And then the Nome people said in their area they watched that sun go up and go down. And pretty soon they started noticing that it started to come up in a different area and going down in a different area.

So, these kind of things that -- their knowledge was so vast in terms of oral tradition. Whereas young people like myself, we didn’t grow up with oral tradition. My dad did.

And so they remember all the detail of their whole life because that -- they were trained to do that. Whereas we have books. We read the book, we throw it -- throw it away, and you go on with life.

Don’t remember a doggone thing, you know. Whereas all those old people, they remembered everything.

My grandma at 98 remembered every detail ‘til -- since she was a little girl. ANDY MAHONEY: Wow.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Suuyuk. Lena Sours. Remembered coming out of the womb. Looking at that little ugruk skin window on the top of the igloo, the -- the sod house.

I mean, these are things that they -- they remember. And they were trained to remember. Whereas the rest of us, we have books so we don’t remember nothing. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: So that oral tradition had a really important place in terms of passing on oral knowledge, you know, and -- and retaining it.

Whereas the younger people, they don’t.

One time I taught a survival class and I entitled my -- my class, “Which Way Is The Wind Blowing?” ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I -- I talked to every high school student in Kotzebue and asked the first question, “Which way is the wind blowing?” Not one of them knew.

Then I talked about the impacts of the wind and the tides and what kind of weather you’re gonna have. ‘Cause this is the knowledge my dad gave us.

Every morning, he’d ask us, “Which way is the wind blowing?” And the reason we did that is because he wanted to let us know that it has huge impacts on what -- what the weather’s gonna do.

And there’s certain weathers you don’t want to go out in the wintertime to hunt. And so that knowledge is literally lost, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what’s the weather you don’t go out and hunt in?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: West wind in the wintertime. Southwest wind. East wind brings lot of snow, rain. I mean, sometime rain. But snow. Storms.

So you got to be careful, you know. I trapped in the night all the time and there were times when it'd get real stormy and I had to spend time at camps and monitor that all the time.

Try to watch aviation, what they -- figure out what’s going to happen, which lows are coming. And you kinda get an indication that something’s going to happen.

West wind, one time, this is -- this is what happens once in a while. You see aviation weather, there’s no west wind. All of the sudden you look out -- my brother looked out toward the ocean, “Hey, what’s -- what’s going on out there?” He sees this big, grey cloud. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: All of a sudden it hits their house and your house shakes and it’s a big, full fledged storm.

Some people were a quarter mile out of town had to stop, get under a tarp, get protection.

I mean, that’s the -- that’s the west wind that dad was talking about. It’s a real killer storm.

And we’ve lost some people in some of our areas that got caught in that kind of a storm.

So, the young people have this idea that, "Oh, I’m on -- I'm on a fast snowmachine so I could just “psst” zip right over there." Don’t always work that way. ANDY MAHONEY: No.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. So it’s -- it’s -- you know, it’s changed a lot. You just got to be aware of it.

And the best way for me is to just looking at aviation weather and figuring out what’s coming.

Then you kind of have a feel as to what’s -- what -- what you’re gonna do.

KAREN BREWSTER: With -- Go ahead, Andy.

ANDY MAHONEY: Okay, so would you say the wind then is the -- if you’re gonna pay attention to one thing --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. The wind is most important thing. All year. Yeah, yeah.

‘Cause, you know, we hunt constantly. I mean, if you -- if you ever did a diary on my hunting, you’d find out I hunt constantly. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I’ve talked to a friend of mine in Holy Cross almost daily. And he can’t believe how much I hunt.

‘Cause we have so much to hunt and we share with elders all the time so we hunt constantly.

If it’s one thing, we’re hunting something else, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. So we’re always out in the country. So you have to pay attention to that wind. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: It seems like this country around here is quite bountiful.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: You -- so far, you know, knock on wood it is. And our caribou population is dropping.

We have to watch that carefully and, you know, two years ago I would’ve said, “Man. We’re not going to have rabbits for another seven years.”

Over -- over -- overnight. Was last summer and winter. We had rabbits everywhere. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. It’s just -- it’s weird, you know.

I mean, it’s so warm I guess that their -- their survival rate is exceptional.

Up river they don’t have that. We have it here.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah, it seems like here you have a lot of variety. You have different kinds of seals. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: You have beluga and caribou. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Rabbit, ptarmigan. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yup. Yup. KAREN BREWSTER: Fish.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And most communities have lots of fish, you know.

But we’re really, really lucky that we have the sheefish here. That’s such a delicious fish that is bountiful all over, you know.

Tomcod, smelt, herring, salmon. Our salmon runs have been superb in the last ten years. Just lucky.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when do people go out onto Kobuk Lake for sheefish? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Right now. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And this year, it’s all winter.

KAREN BREWSTER: Really? That's -- Normally, it’s not all winter?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No. Because it’s usually too cold in December, January, and February. This year everybody’s been going out all the time.

KAREN BREWSTER: And they’re hooking 'em?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. Right out in front of town, yeah. Right by the Tech Center. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So in the old days even though Kobuk Lake would freeze up, people wouldn’t go ‘til springtime for sheefish?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: If it warmed up, they had nets. I mean dad and them had nets all the time. So they were up there every other day. Yeah. Checking their nets, that’s how they got them.

KAREN BREWSTER: But people don’t use nets anymore?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No, they still do. Yeah. There’s lot of dog teams that use nets, yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yup. John Baker has to use a net for his dogs. Louie Nelson. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I would assume Cyrus (Harris) is doing the same thing. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. ROSS SCAEFFER: Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what time -- are they using nets all winter?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. Yeah. Some of 'em. But usually they get enough after a while and then they just -- You know, the fish stays frozen. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. So they just stash -- stockpile it until they use 'em all up.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know how thick the ice on Kobuk Lake gets? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Now? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: It’s probably about three feet thick.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about long time ago? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Six feet. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Yup. It’s not -- it’s not very thick anymore.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And then in springtime, you have to be careful of those rivers breaking up?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm, yeah. Absolutely. Just like any place. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Overflowing out onto the lake, yeah. Yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, my last question is about sort of this climate change. And how you think that’s going to affect life up here in the future?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Well, in the way it’s going, my grandson is going to experience Kotzebue no longer being here. It’s coming that quick.

You -- down the coast so much of the beach is gone, we have to travel on the tundra. It’s changed that -- that quickly.

And if it stays warm like you have in February and March, you know, the ocean’s going to be open wider. And storms that hit, eat away the shorelines.

One area that is real narrow is right along here somewhere on -- down this coast, here.

You could shoot geese from one side or the other now. It used to be over a quarter-mile wide. ANDY MAHONEY: Oh, really?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Once this one opens up, Lord knows what’s going to happen.

ANDY MAHONEY: It’ll change -- ‘cause the --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Well, the ocean’s going to go right in. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And the current’s going to change.

ANDY MAHONEY: It will change where the -- where the river flows out? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Mm-hm. ANDY MAHONEY: So where -- where the freshwater goes?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Something’s really gonna change. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And it’s -- it's eaten away on both sides. From each succeeding storm. ANDY MAHONEY: To Kotzebue --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And the permafrost is melting, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yup. There are areas up at my dad's camp that we can’t even -- we used to be able to drive through it.

Now the permafrost has sunk and there’s just so much you can’t hardly drive a four-wheeler in there anymore.

KAREN BREWSTER: And where is that?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: That’s about 26 miles east of here. Yeah, it’s right along the -- right along this area. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, up across Kobuk Lake, up there? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, Kobuk Lake. Yeah. Yup.

ANDY MAHONEY: So -- so, you mentioned that with -- with the changes in the ice, if freeze-up happens later then you at least still have the option to -- to get out in a boat? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm, yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: So -- so maybe changes in the ice, you might still be able to --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, we’d adjust. Yeah. Mm-hm, yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: But changes in the land, like with --with the coastal erosion, that sounds like that would be more difficult to --

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. I don’t know where Kotzebue would move because almost all our lands are federal lands. And you think the federal government will give us land to build a new village? Hell no.

They’re so stingy with that land they want to save it for white people for the future. Not for us Natives that are going to lose our lands, you know.

They’re not going to give it to us. So we’d have to move to another -- some other village. Or Anchorage. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Frightening thought. REBECCA ROLPH: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and just in what you’ve talked about in your lifetime, you know how -- the lifestyle has changed with the changing climate. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: How that lifestyle is going to change -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- as well.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: You know, when -- when our people stop eating the food, they’re going to stop hunting. And that’s the sad part.

Although, I -- there, you know, are a few people like me that train our grandsons and kids how to survive on -- on the land. And the water.

In the villages like Shishmaref, I would assume that there are a lot of young men that are trained. Point Hope, same way. Kivalina. I’m hoping that, anyway.

But once you start eating too much western foods, you’re wanting to eat Native foods changes a lot. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: You know, very, very quickly, especially for young folks. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Whereas me, I know how important it is for me. And there are times when I had very little. I mean, when I went to boarding school, my dad and them would send us some seal oil and stuff like that.

Then I went to college for four, five years. Four and a half years.

But once I got back home then I got immersed right back in to my marine mammal culture.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, is there anything else that you had in mind to tell us about sea ice and your experiences and observations that we haven’t talked about?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I don’t think so. I -- I just know if things don’t change that this change is happening so rapidly in our short lifetime that --

And I -- I guess it was changing a long, long time ago because Millie’s grandmother talked about the changes that are coming.

And -- and it was -- it’s not so bad then as it is now. I mean, we’re looking at six month winters, you know.

It’s going to change so much of what we’re going to do in the future. And we got -- with less ice to protect us, erosion’s going to happen extremely rapid.

You know, things change all the time. Like, for example, when we used to hunt back here as a kid, twelve, thirteen years old -- walk back with a .22, we never run into a bear anywhere.

Now, if you go back here with a .22, you’re asking for trouble because there’s bears everywhere. Grizzly bears everyplace. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, I mean, that’s -- that’s the change we've seen.

And like the water, I’m talking about the beaver out there moving in. Impacted every stream in this region. All the way, almost to Kivalina. REBECCA ROLPH: Wow.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: And nobody wants to kill 'em. Nobody wants to trap 'em for the fur.

When you go to Selawik, every 50 feet there’s a beaver house. REBECCA ROLPH: Wow.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: You know, and they’ve got to eat. And they cut a lot of willow and trees. So, huge impact.

There are places back here I’ve recently seen beaver houses, and I said, "Holy cow."

KAREN BREWSTER: So that map where you were so far out that year you got those polar bears out there, would you ever go that far out now?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No. I can’t even go eight miles out without being scared (laughter).

Yup. I had no thought of being in danger at that time when I went that far out. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, ‘cause I covered 112 miles or something like that in that trip.

And now, I don’t think I could do it. Unless it really gets cold again. And it could, you know. I mean, we’ve had a normal year about six years ago where we had super abundant snow.

I mean, just storm after storm and storm. Just the way it is nowadays is so strange that it could happen again. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Where we get some cold, you know. Or it could happen like the times the Vikings were here. That it went to a 500-year cold cycle. Never can tell. REBECCA ROLPH: That’s right. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yup.

KAREN BREWSTER: Andy, Becca, you have any more questions?

REBECCA ROLPH: I think we covered a lot. I took -- I think the -- how you defined freeze-up was interesting. So when you can take the snowmachine out. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm.

REBECCA ROLPH: Is there any other ways that you know -- or that you said, " Okay, the ice is frozen up."?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Well, you know, we -- a friend of mine bought a small plastic boat with a little five horse (power engine) on it.

I mean, if we have to hunt seal, eventually we’ll use that, you know, and -- and they run pretty good in this kind of weather.

So you just gotta adjust a little bit. We used it once and we haven’t used it since, ‘cause I still love to kayak and -- and we’re going further down the coast so the kayak is easier to pack than a boat.

ANDY MAHONEY: Right, right. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. So --

KAREN BREWSTER: But, so, Becca, your question about freeze-up is, yeah, how you identify freeze-up? REBECCA ROLPH: Mm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that what you mean? REBECCA ROLPH: Just how you talk about freeze-up, yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm.

REBECCA ROLPH: I think you answered my question. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: So one thing we’ve heard from folks here in Kotzebue and -- and elsewhere is that that period when you -- when you stopped using your boat and then you started using your snowmachine it was -- you packed away your boat for the winter and then you fired up your snowmachine.

But, what we’ve heard is that there’s this period now where you kinda want to keep both handy -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm. ANDY MAHONEY: For -- for a month, or something.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. We were hunting first of November this year. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: You know.

KAREN BREWSTER: By boat? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, yeah. Still hunting seal first of November.

ANDY MAHONEY: So had you -- had you been on the ice by snowmachine at that point? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-mm. No. ANDY MAHONEY: No, okay.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: I had to wait another week or two.

ANDY MAHONEY: So -- so that was before what you'd call freeze-up. But are there times when -- REBECCA ROLPH: Like freeze - thaw.

ANDY MAHONEY: It sort of freeze has happened. Like you’ve been out, the ice has been safe for your snowmachine, but then like a couple weeks later or something it opens up and you get out in your boat again?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, yeah, it’s happened. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. Okay.


There was one year where about fifteen years ago it froze September 11th. Kobuk Lake froze. September 11th.

And it was one of the earliest freeze up’s we’d had in years, you know. And that’s normal time for long time ago. Somewhere abouts.

ANDY MAHONEY: And that would be, though, still, quite a bit before the ocean froze up?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, that’s just the Kobuk Lake. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, there -- someone was telling us, I think it was -- was it last November where there was a channel out front that opened out and then there was ice on the other side with tuttu on it?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, that’s -- it was -- what happens is that when Kobuk Lake freezes, it freezes from the dock out here by Crowley, straight out. That’s what you have, the rest of it is open.

That’s why you have the seals and the caribou. The caribou are thinking they’re going to cross over here, they find out, well, they got to run back this way. And they go right around.

And the seals were -- it was open all the way in the ocean.

KAREN BREWSTER: Was that an unusual situation?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. And -- unusual in that the caribou were there. Not unusual for the way it froze up, because it’s normal.

KAREN BREWSTER: To have that channel of -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- with ice. ROSS SCHAEFFER: For a certain period of time, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: About how long does that last to have that channel?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Well, you know, usually that happens in October but this year it happened in November. So it’s a lot later.

Like I said, our springs are extended, our falls are extended. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: So our winter’s getting shorter.

KAREN BREWSTER: But does it take a couple weeks between the Kobuk Lake freezing and that channel freezing?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: No, you know, Kobuk Lake, once it freezes it gets firm real quick. And so it could take just a week before you can cross -- you drive this way and then you cross further over.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it’s about a week for -- ROSS SCHAEFFER: Mm-hm, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Kobuk Lake to be good to travel on? ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But what about that channel? ROSS SCHAEFFER: It stays open for a while. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: ‘Til it gets colder. ROSS SCHAEFFER: ‘Til it gets colder, yup. Yeah. And it stayed open a lot longer than normal.

KAREN BREWSTER: And then -- but the ice is forming on the other side of the channel ‘cause it’s more shallow?

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah, that’s all a big sand bar across there. Yeah, right to Sisualik. On this side of Sisualik, we call Nuvuruq and there’s a sandbar. It comes right to Kotzebue. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Cool. Anything else?

ANDY MAHONEY: No, I -- I’m -- I’m -- my mind is full.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you very much, Ross.

ROSS SCHAEFFER: Yeah. You’re welcome. KAREN BREWSTER: I really appreciate it.