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Cyrus Harris, Part 2

This is the continuation of an interview with Cyrus Harris on March 31, 2016 by Karen Brewster, Andy Mahoney, and Rebecca Rolph in an apartment of the Fish and Wildlife Service bunkhouse in Kotzebue, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Cyrus talks about ice conditions in Kotzebue Sound, including effect of the current and the wind, changes in the storms, effects of overflow and tides, and determining safe ice. He also talks about seal hunting in a boat amongst broken ice floes and getting trapped in the ice, staking the trail between Kotzebue and Sisualik to provide a safe route, and the future of their subsistence lifestyle.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-35_PT.2

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: Mar 31, 2016
Narrator(s): Cyrus Harris
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Andrew "Andy" Mahoney, Rebecca Rolph
Transcriber: Denali Whiting
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
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There is no slideshow for this person.

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Seal hunting in boats, and getting trapped in the ice

Understanding the environment, and effect of the wind on the ice

Changes in the wind

Effect of the current on the ice

Effect of wind in the summer on the broken up ice

Passing on traditional knowledge

Preferable conditions for being out on the ice

Changes in wind direction

Changes in storm activity, and movement of beach gravel

Build up of slush ice as protective ice berm along the coast

Staking trail from Kotzebue to Sisualik

Other staked trails


Effect of tides, and lifting up of the ice

Future of subsistence lifestyle

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ANDY MAHONEY: So it’s a real easy question. I was wondering how big your boats are that you’re going out in. It -- it -- these are skiffs? Or something -- something bigger?

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. These -- these are open skiffs. They range from 18 to 24 foot. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: The one I got -- The ideal one that I’d go out with is a 22 footer. So -- They -- they range roughly around that area.

I wouldn’t feel too comfortable with 18-footer, you know. If I -- ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: ‘Cause when we're going out there with a load or coming back with a load. I mean when I say we’re going out there with a load, we got our camping gear, we got our, you know -- We got survival gear and we got that extra gas, so --

I’d -- I’d feel more comfortable between a 22 and 24-foot boat. ANDY MAHONEY: Right.

CYRUS HARRIS: And we -- hunting from Sisualik, you know, I -- I grew up hunting. My father having his skiff and my uncle having his skiff.

And we kinda like do a -- like a team work, like a buddy system. In case one gets in trouble, the other helps the other, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Right, right.

CYRUS HARRIS: So we’re finding our way in, we’re finding our way back out.

ANDY MAHONEY: Sounds important.

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, I went as far as -- And then gas being so expensive when I was growing up, and it takes a long period of time just to get from Sisualik to Kotzebue for -- to fuel up again.

We just so happened to be out on the ice pack and we still didn’t quite get our -- our -- our -- our -- we didn’t quite fill our -- both of our boats up. So there was one time that we did pitch camp on the ice pack.

That was with my uncle and my dad. And then kinda waited until the next day and then started off our hunt again.

We woke up at our hunting spot and started that way. But see, these guys they -- they -- they knew the system. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that -- when you were camped on that ice, was that ice moving?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, it was such a big chunk of ice. A safe -- safest part of the ice. There was lot of ice moving around us.

So it -- it -- you couldn’t really tell if this one was moving or not. I’m sure it was. But it wasn’t moving as much of the -- lot of the other smaller chunks were.

We -- we were just sheltered off on a good spot within that particular part of that berg ice. Or that ice floe.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was going to ask if you ever got trapped in the moving ice with your boat when you’re ugruk hunting and -- CYRUS HARRIS: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what happened? CYRUS HARRIS: And it happened so fast. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Just so happened to be outside of Sealing Point. And we have a lot of ice pack. We had a lot of trails to go to and from.

And I just so happened to be in our 20-foot homemade wooden skiff with my dad and, of course, my younger nephews.

And so as we were checking on the ice, good, calm day to be out there, you know. So we’re out there and -- and then we had -- we spot -- we saw another boat that came in from Noatak or one of the -- I couldn’t remember who they were but it was a boat out of Noatak.

And so we parked together so the old folks are talking, you know. They’re seeing, you know, what -- getting -- getting ice conditions from each other and sharing information and so forth.

And just right out of the blue that ice just started moving at a rapid pace, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm.

CYRUS HARRIS: It just started moving like we were sitting right there in the middle of a big washing machine.

REBECCA ROLPH: Did the wind pick up? CYRUS HARRIS: No. It was just the ice movement. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: Just so -- it just so happened so quick. So this boat that was aimed this direction toward the shore took off. And I -- my boat just so happened to be facing toward out in the ocean and the ice is just coming in really quick, you know.

And that little open spot was just gonna shut right on us, and I noticed that, and I just kinda gunned that throttle a little bit and just “pshew” just went right beyond that open spot and that crack.

And just behind me, just seconds later, it was a pile of ice that was about ten feet high. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

CYRUS HARRIS: And I just escaped to one little open spot. Get the bow on that ice floe, and then we -- we had to really act fast. And we -- we got the boat up on that particular part of the ice, because there was really nowhere to go.

And so we just stayed silent and just stayed silent and watched for the next move that ice is gonna make and just watch it crumble all around us. All around us.

And it felt like it happened for a long period of time, which it really didn’t, you know.

And so we -- we just patiently, calmly waited while it’s just crumbling up all around us.

From what was a lot of trails on the ice to be boating around on -- ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm. CYRUS HARRIS: After it all happened, there was no open water in sight.

ANDY MAHONEY: But your boat and you guys were safely up on top of the ice?

CYRUS HARRIS: The only open water was right where the particular boat was on a little -- on a little pond on a good chunk of ice. Everywhere else was just ice piles right from where we just came out.

Like I say, it was ten feet high of piled up ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

CYRUS HARRIS: So we escaped that one by, you know -- You know, it wasn’t just necessarily luck, but by quick response.

If I attempted to turn the boat around and try to head towards shore, I’d be crushed. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: I just had to -- it -- Like I say, it was just seconds that I had to get out of that situation.

And when I did I -- I found a -- a little spot to where, you know, there -- it -- there was a little open -- little, like a U-shaped area on a good chunk of ice.

So I went there, and then I used the motor to help the boat get up a little bit off -- away from, you know, whatever ice might be coming through.

And then so we’re -- we were prepared to grab our survival gear. And then, you know, get on foot and stay on the safest area if we had to. And so, but --

A moment -- as soon as we hit that spot we just -- nobody said a word, you know. We were just looking, looking, and watching the whole thing all around us.

Until finally it settled down. By the time it settle down, like I say, you know, there was no open water. There was just all -- it had all packed in.

ANDY MAHONEY: And so then you had to wait for it to relax and open?

CYRUS HARRIS: So, yeah, we waited for it to relax and then we -- it -- it -- it couldn’t quite --

From where we were it was still closed in from the area that we came in, so we had to chop an area out to get away from that.

To get -- to get -- to get out of there. And once we get out of there, we’re back to our normal hunting day again.

KAREN BREWSTER: How long did you wait there?

CYRUS HARRIS: You know, it must’ve been an hour by the time we got out. I never really kept track of the time, but like I say it -- it -- it felt like it just took forever.

Like it was a long period of time, you know. And it’s just -- happens so fast. I mean, stuff like this happens.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, it sounds like that story and your dad’s drifting, all of this being calm and patient.

CYRUS HARRIS: You know my dad have always, not have always, but information that he shares is, you know, going out there on the ugruk hunt, it’s really not much -- it’s -- it’s really no problem getting the ugruk.

It’s the environment you’re in that you got a challenge.

You know, that -- hunt -- ugruk hunting is -- really there’s, you know -- you know, there’s a technique to it.

And it -- and, but -- it’s the environment that you’re in to hunt that ugruk that you gotta deal with.

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m wondering about the wind, too. You talk about the wind a lot.

CYRUS HARRIS: When we’re on the ice pack? Ice floe?

KAREN BREWSTER: Whether -- when you’re out in the ice in the winter or when you’re in the ice pack. Whichever. The role of the wind?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, you know, I see that -- you know, what -- what happens, and the reason we -- we -- we still have some fresh ice where we were outside of Sisualik.

And it was just open last week. We got more cont -- prevailing east, southeast winds that took place all winter.

And each time we get these east, southeast winds it -- it opens it up right there in front of Sisualik where we were standing.

And -- and that’s before that landfast ice formed. It would freeze, of course, it would be gone just as soon as we get an east wind.

And couple weeks ago, it was still open around that area, but we finally got this west wind.

It was a light west wind, but it was enough to kinda like close things in for -- for this period of time.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, you said now it -- this -- the wind is more southeast?

CYRUS HARRIS: East, southeast winds we’re getting more of that trend than we did before when I was growing up.

‘Cause the coldest time of the year when I was growing up was the later part of December, January, and February. That was the coldest time of the year.

And we would really notice when it warms up in February we’d have -- we’d -- it wouldn’t just warm up, we’d get this storm.

And, of course, a snow storm and right after the snow storm’s over we got big fresh snow banks all over the place and the wa -- the weather just kinda like warms up with this east wind. Light east wind.

And when it calms down, we’re looking out toward the ocean, we see a big blue sky, and wow, open water. Time to go out seal hunting, you know.

So it would be a long period of time before we were able to see open water. For the month of July -- June -- December, January.

And there would be a period in February that we’d -- it would -- it would start. Of course, it would freeze back up again, and there’d be times in April that we’d be able to go out again.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when you’re out on the ice in the winter, I mean, is the wind more important for moving the ice or the current?

CYRUS HARRIS: I think it’s got to do with both. It’s got to do with both.

‘Cause east wind is, you know, is -- is -- is gonna knock it loose of the sh -- the shore area. And the west is mostly gonna like help -- it could help keep it in.

But, of course, you know, that outgoing tide, you couldn’t count that out either, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. Do you check the current when you’re out there? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: How do you do that? Like, just, you drop something into the water? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, drop something into the water. Yeah. And you could see it either going out or -- ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. CYRUS HARRIS: Coming in.

Or sometimes you could just see the movement right there on the surface. ANDY MAHONEY: Oh, really? CYRUS HARRIS: Which -- which takes place right there at -- outside of Sealing Point. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what about in the summertime with the pack ice? Is the summer wind chan -- different than it used to be?

CYRUS HARRIS: The -- well, we do get a normal sea breeze. Mainly near shores. And then --

But once you’re out in the pack ice, it could be a good calm day but once you’re -- once you’re getting out from the pack ice, you know, to the shore we have this natural sea breeze.

To where this warm air is heading out and this cool ice temperatures are meeting each other.

And it’s roughly about two miles from the shore. The ice that’s kinda like a choppy weather. It’s not a major storm or anything else like that, it’s just the sea breeze. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: And so that -- it’s a natural occurrence there unless the ice was closer to shore and, you know, we wouldn’t have much of that -- those -- that choppy weather that we had to deal with.

But with the lack of ice out there and the distance we have to travel it could become a challenge. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Especially for many of our younger generations that not -- that’s not aware of it, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So one of the -- Speaking of the younger generation, what kind of things are you passing on to your sons and grandsons about this stuff?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, the same thing that was passed on to me. Ice conditions, be careful where and where not to go, what types of ice to look for, and so forth. And when to go, and when not to go.

Often times we go when we -- if it -- if it was not right we do have some camp sites that we’re gonna be holding off the weather and -- and then --

Oh, we got our camping gear that we’re off to the shore somewhere along the line we’re waiting for weather or something of that nature.

One thing we try not -- we don’t wanna be out there in the rain, you know. Of course, your gear is getting all wet and the ugruk is more alert at those times. So.

ANDY MAHONEY: Hm. The ugruk are more alert during the -- the rain?

CYRUS HARRIS: During the -- during the rain, yeah. They’re not -- they’re -- they’re not sound like on a good, nice, calm day. Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Oh, I see. They’re sleeping. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Well, you said you talked about when it’s good -- when it’s good to go out and when it’s not good to go out.

So, when is it not good to go out?

CYRUS HARRIS: Anytime, you have some winds. I -- I -- I -- You know, ideally I’d like to go out there when we have a g -- nice, good, calm day to be heading out. Those are ideal conditions to be out there.

But, of course, there’s a lot of times we gotta get past that sea breeze to get to the good ice.

So severe winds, raining weather, cloud, you know, cloudy, rainy area, these are times I really don’t care to be out.

If I was prepared to go out and I’m, you know, would rather be waiting near toward Anigaaq or Sealing Point and I’d go over that way and set camp and wait the weather there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And same in wintertime?

CYRUS HARRIS: Not so much during the wintertime. During the wintertime, as far as hunting off the lead is what you’re talking about? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Hunting off the lead, you know, that took place that normally it usually takes place right after a storm after a east wind storm when the lead opens up.

You know, that -- that -- that would take place there and so by then you have a nice, calm day. And there’s really no sense in being out there when it’s windy and when it’s -- it’s just that weather that you’re going to be challenging trying to do your hunt. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: And, of course, it’s gotta be calm enough for your kayak to be retrieving.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. I’m looking at Andy and Becca to see if they have things they want to talk about.

REBECCA ROLPH: What kind of things do you think we could help with that maybe you want to know about the ice or the changing wind conditions or --

Is there anything that you can think of that -- sort of science questions can answer?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, yeah. What really gets -- I -- you know -- what -- what I’m -- Each time I’m doing interviews like this about our weather conditions or ice conditions, climate change, global cha -- you know, warming, and all that other stuff, along with it really came our wind directions.

So what took place within that area and why? You know. REBECCA ROLPH: Was this --

CYRUS HARRIS: Compared to where -- when we get north or west winds, you know -- to keep our weathers -- REBECCA ROLPH: Yeah. CYRUS HARRIS: -- the temperatures normal for this area. REBECCA ROLPH: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: And compare to the east wind. The east wind, the southeast wind is a warm weather wind. And it affects our landfast ice or our sea ice out here.

What -- if -- if it -- it would be favorable, you know, to at least -- wind would be favorable to create our -- our leads when we’re going out seal hunting and stuff like that.

REBECCA ROLPH: The south, southeast winds? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. REBECCA ROLPH: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: And then, but now, today, it’s just happening more frequently to where all our ice is continue blowing out before it -- the landfast ice even formed.

REBECCA ROLPH: So you liked the south, southeast wind in the past because the westerly wind was more dominant and then it just -- the south, southeast wind would open up and --

CYRUS HARRIS: No, what I’m saying is that there’s a change in wind direction. REBECCA ROLPH: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: For a long period of time. For -- constant -- these past several we -- years we had more and more east, southeast wind. REBECCA ROLPH: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: And we’re seeing this trend of this global -- global warming.

You know, we’re -- we’re feeling the effects. We start hearing about it, didn’t really see the effects. But now, we’re seeing the effects of it, you know, these past several years.

It's a mild winter, open waters nearby, and then the reasoning behind it is more of these east winds that’s occuring today. REBECCA ROLPH: Okay. CYRUS HARRIS: Now, what’s -- is the --

REBECCA ROLPH: Why is that happening? CYRUS HARRIS: Why is that happening.

REBECCA ROLPH: Okay. Yeah, yeah. I don’t know right now.

CYRUS HARRIS: You’ll find out. In your jobs find out.

REBECCA ROLPH: Yeah. But it’s good to be aware of the questions. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. REBECCA ROLPH: So, yeah. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: When you’re talking about wind I think about, you know, fall storms. Like during freeze-up when the ice is starting to form, is there change in the storm activity? CYRUS HARRIS: You know, there --

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s been happening?

CYRUS HARRIS: There is. It’s funny that in Oc -- late in October when the ice first start forming, it look like the nat -- it would be a natural time of the year for freeze-up, and, of course, that takes place for about a week and then after a week later we get these again east, southeast winds. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: Incoming tide. Southwest storm. Without any real protection, you know, as far as what the ice would give us.

And so we’re seeing that later, after that natural freeze-up trend would be. So.

And over here, or in Sisualik, speaking on Sisualik it’s the southwest winds that really creates the big swells.

The big -- the big storm in front of Sisualik there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. Were you the one talking about how the change in the wind is affecting the gravel being put on the beach and being taken away?

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. I’ve noticed a lot of that along like the coast of Sisualik, further down toward Anigaaq.

Anigaaq, you know, did at one time had a long beach to where it opened and closed, but today it’s -- it -- it changed quite a bit within that area.

Who knows if it’s gonna correct itself back to normal here pretty soon or not, you know. But that -- I -- that gravel is always moving into that area. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: And it tend -- it seems to be building up more at Sisualiguraq and taking away from -- taking away from further west of Sisualik where the hillside starts. Right, roughly around that area.

But who knows what more is coming from, the Sealing Point side. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: But that -- that gravel was always moving around there. But it’s building up more on our -- that Sisualiguraq side.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And, yeah, the fall storms, are there more of them? Or are they happening more often? Or it’s -- CYRUS HARRIS: There’s, well -- KAREN BREWSTER: It’s stronger? Or?

CYRUS HARRIS: There -- th -- there’s -- there -- there’s some that’s stronger. I see some pretty strong storms over there. I mean, we've dealt with, you know, gathering people together and, you know, holding out the weather on a safe area, you know.

When I was growing up and these are these coastal flood warnings and -- and southwest winds and big storms, so we’re getting together with the folks over in Sisualik, from both sides of us, getting -- remaining on higher ground until the weather get s better. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm

CYRUS HARRIS: You know, subsides. And tide water start going out. Going back -- tides start going -- going back out. But I’ve -- I -- I’ve seen it.

But it seems to be more frequent. But then you know when I was growing up the freezing pattern would be the same, and once we get that freeze-up it -- it would shelter us, you know, from these storms. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

CYRUS HARRIS: But today with it -- with it being open for a longer period of time and a storm happens, you know, we just don’t have that protection like we did before.

It’s amazing how nature can help, because nature, you know, on -- on a spring st -- when there’s no ice and we have a fall storm and it’s really snowing out at the same time and we have these big swells coming up hitting the beach, it makes a great big wall of the snow. You know, a great big wall.

It’s amazing how well it could be hold together. And the storm is right behind it.

And you could see the waves just really high right behind it. But yet that big wall is keeping it from washing -- keeping it from flooding -- REBECCA ROLPH: That’s interesting.

ANDY MAHONEY: Washing away. CYRUS HARRIS: The Sisualik area. I mean, if I had a camera those days, man. That would really be something else.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it was like a wall of ice? CYRUS HARRIS: Wall of slush.

KAREN BREWSTER: Slush, yeah. Do you have an Iñupiaq word for that?

CYRUS HARRIS: You know, I’m not exactly too sure what that term of that name is.

And it happens every so often, you’ll probably hear it from Kivalina. I mean, that -- when there’s open water practically you need to pray for snow along with that storm. You know. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because it makes that slush and then it builds the wall?

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, and it kinda holds down those -- it helps hold down those big waves. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: But then at the time when it hits shore, it’s all collecting along the whole shores. Like about a -- about at least ten feet high of wall along the whole shore, and on the other side of it is the big swells and storm.

ANDY MAHONEY: So you mentioned that happens when it’s snowing. CYRUS HARRIS: In the fall.

ANDY MAHONEY: Have you noticed -- have you noticed like specifically is there any pattern to when you have that berm -- that -- that ice wall form versus sometimes you have a storm and the ice wall doesn’t form, right?

Or does the ice wall basically always form when you have waves and slush hitting the beach?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, it’s not so much ice that’s formed. It’s that slush that’s forming. That’s -- that -- that -- the snow and the water mixture. ANDY MAHONEY: Okay. Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: The slush there. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: It -- it’s really snowing out and the storm is going on, you know. And it’s a big snowstorm -- snowstorm along with the southwest winds, so those put together -- and it’s gotta pile somewhere.

So it’s piling up along the coast.

ANDY MAHONEY: Right, okay. So -- so the slush in the water, that comes from the snow -- ? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: -- that's falling? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. Okay.

KAREN BREWSTER: I was thinking if the air temperature makes a difference.

CYRUS HARRIS: It’s a good possibility. Whatever it is -- ANDY MAHONEY: Okay.

CYRUS HARRIS: -- it is. It’s just nature’s way of looking after us, let’s put it that way. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And does that still happen?

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. It still happened. I haven’t been over there -- I didn’t really spend so much falls over there as I did before when I was growing up. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: But that’s an ideal place to spend fall and springtime’s. You know, it’s so -- I mean it -- the resources are just right there, you know.

And on a any stormy day I’d rather be over there than here in town.

ANDY MAHONEY: This is over in Sisualik? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so I’ve heard about these -- these ice walls that can form -- CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: -- and protect the beach before -- CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: And I have some colleagues in Fairbanks and also from down in Canada who are trying to understand -- sometimes they form, sometimes they don’t. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: And if there’s anything you could do to encourage them to form that would be the -- Like you say, nature’s best defense, right. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, yeah.

ANDY MAHONEY: So -- so I’ve heard of it and it’s very interesting and I’ve --

There is a -- a -- an Iñupiaq word that I’ve heard, but I can’t remember it. But also when I traveled to Greenland and Canada, as well, they have names for it, too.

So it -- it occurs all around the Arctic. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: I think, yeah. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that trail to Sisualik that we were on, you said you put that trail in? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. I staked it out. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: And it just -- just kinda like provides a safe travel maybe for search and rescue. People use that trail a lot.

During the -- well -- Well, like for instance, if there was no staked trail on pitch dark areas and you’re trying to go Sisualik, you just can’t see the other side and which direction you’re going, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ANDY MAHONEY: And I saw you put reflectors on them.

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, there’s also reflectors on there for, you know, snow machines that’s going to and from or if a storm happens -- winter storm happens and someone get traps outside, the least thing they do is at least have a winter trail, staked trail to travel on or to be near. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: Or if you had a search and rescue crew going from point A to point B they get to follow these -- ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm. CYRUS HARRIS: Staked winter trails. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Those willows that you put in. And when did you get that -- put those markers out there?

CYRUS HARRIS: That was late November, early December. It’s, you know it -- we used to do it well before Thanksgiving, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: Late October or mid, first week of November.

But this year, it was just not possible because it was just still unsafe to travel. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: In a lot of areas. So this -- I can’t remember exactly, but in either late -- early December probably this winter.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. And you auger holes to put those willows in, right? CYRUS HARRIS: We chop holes with our regular -- KAREN BREWSTER: Chop holes. CYRUS HARRIS: East wind axe and plant that willow there. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. CYRUS HARRIS: And then kinda crack, but --

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember how thick the ice was when you did that?

CYRUS HARRIS: I never really chopped all the way through to do it. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. CYRUS HARRIS: I just chop about three inches. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

CYRUS HARRIS: Just enough to -- three or four inches. Just enough to lay that -- that thing on there.

But the further towards Sisualik we go, the thinner it got. But I never really form that staked trail unless it’s safely travel -- you could safely travel.

KAREN BREWSTER: But when you chop the holes you didn’t hit water? CYRUS HARRIS: No.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. How long have you been doing that?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, I do it on and off. There’s years I took a break, but this year I felt like it was very important that it get out there and in a correct manner.

And -- and -- mainly because I do travel a lot to and from Sisualik, and I see it very challenging just to get to and from -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: Without a staked trail. And it’s a very important part of the trail that we stake right there.

And not -- not only that, when we get snow machiners that get disoriented on the -- anywhere along the land side area -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: That -- that -- that Sisualik staked trail can catch them from heading out, you know, to sea.

KAREN BREWSTER: But, yeah, I guess -- How many years has a trail been marked there? CYRUS HARRIS: For as long as I can remember.

KAREN BREWSTER: Really? Even when you were growing up? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: It was marked? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. That’s good. Interesting.

CYRUS HARRIS: They’re very important. The staked trails -- winter staked trails very important for our people up this way.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But that’s not done everywhere in Alaska. They don’t mark trails everywhere. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it’s interesting that here it’s very important. CYRUS HARRIS: Very.

ANDY MAHONEY: And it -- are there other -- I saw other willow branches out on the ice. Are -- is -- are there other trails staked out there?

CYRUS HARRIS: There’s other trails. This one that we were on is the Sisualik trail, the one next to it is the old dog team trail that’s heading out to the Noatak, which we call the Jones Trail.

It -- from there it heads up beyond this mountain pass and to the Noatak River. It’s an old winter staked trail.

And the other one that’s heading out toward Lockhart Point is -- there’s one that’s heading toward -- there’s one that’s heading toward the Buckland or -- or Lower Kobuk area that connects to the Lock -- Buckland or Lower Kobuk.

KAREN BREWSTER: Isn’t Buckland down by Deering? CYRUS HARRIS: Well, actually Buckland’s -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it’s kinda that way. CYRUS HARRIS: Not -- Deering’s that way, Buckland’s that way. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. CYRUS HARRIS: So.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was wondering if there’s a trail up the Kobuk River that’s marked across Kobuk Lake? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, there is. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah?

CYRUS HARRIS: There’s one that’s across Kobuk Lake. So this one that connects it over toward past Lockhart Point -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. CYRUS HARRIS: Past Pike Spit connects to that one. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

CYRUS HARRIS: And then you keep going along the shore on the Kobuk Lake side to get to Buckland.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right, right. And right now there’s this ice road out to Noorvik. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Does that happen every year?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, it’s -- it -- it -- it happens, yeah. Every year.

There were some years that it didn’t due to the weather and snowstorms that just took place right after that ice trail got in.

KAREN BREWSTER: Were you about to ask something, Andy?

ANDY MAHONEY: I was wondering, you know, before I asked about all the other staked trails I was wondering if the trail you staked to Shishmaref -- I’m sorry, Shishmaref -- Sisualik, is --

You do that as part of the Hunter Support Program that you’re with or this is just something you do your -- yourself?

CYRUS HARRIS: This is -- this is just something I voluntarily did to -- I -- I kinda like help another person do it, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah, yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Mainly for -- to navigate, you know, the correct route to go.

Because on the left side of us we have shallow bars that’s gonna eventually, you know, create overflow, and there’s a good chance that portion of the trail is gonna get washed out or -- ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: Too much to the right could not be correct, so I kinda like just help.

And this took place with the Northwest Arctic Borough’s Search and Rescue Crew that, you know -- ANDY MAHONEY: Oh.

CYRUS HARRIS: -- funded these types of events.

KAREN BREWSTER: And they’re still funding it? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: And this is just one small portion of the trail that get -- that gets staked throughout the entire region. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

CYRUS HARRIS: So you got staked trails all the way up to Kobuk, all the way up to Noatak. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: All the way up to Buckland, all the way up to Deering. Most of them are winter trails that stay there on the land. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm.

CYRUS HARRIS: But these ice trails are the ones that -- that get -- the willows get -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. CYRUS HARRIS: Set every year.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Interesting. Wow. Oh, you mentioned overflow. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So overflow on sea ice. How does that work?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, overflow and -- like speaking between here and Sisualik it happens mostly on the shallow areas or edges of channels to shallow areas.

When we have the incoming tide coming in a sh -- at a sh -- rapid pace, let's put it, and it -- it kind of seems to seep out of the edges of the channel, which is right there in front of town on the beach side or on the -- or on the sandbar side.

And many areas -- also many areas along the -- along the shallow areas, along the coast.

And so a lot of that’s where a lot of the overflow is -- occurs. It happens more during the falltime than it does now.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm hm. And is there a change in how much it happens now compared to when you were a boy?

CYRUS HARRIS: Not that I could recall. But it’s a natural occurrence.

Each time that we have freeze-up, it could freeze up when we have low tide and then suddenly we get high tide, all the low spots -- low, shallow areas, are gonna get eventually full of overflow. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: So we just wait for travel. Either get -- go around those overflow areas or wait ‘til it freeze back up again.

But that trail that you see to Sisualik it’s -- it’s set right on the boat channel. It’s a deeper area, so it’s less likely get overflow on it.

But if it were, they’d be routed one way or the other on it, then there’s a better chance it’s gonna create overflow on it.

ANDY MAHONEY: So do you see cracks forming in the ice at the edges of channels or near these shallow waters?

Are there cracks that the -- the water is seeping up through that you could -- you can see?

CYRUS HARRIS: I’m not exactly sure about the water seeping up. I never really see that.

But I notice that, you know, when the -- that if it was high water, high tide and the river or whatever freezes -- ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm. CYRUS HARRIS: And the water drops. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: So, of course, it’s gonna create a -- like a crack on the edge of these areas.

ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. Like a tide crack. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah, yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: So the water -- the -- the -- yeah. The ice follows along with, you know, what -- on this -- it creates a big air bubble underneath, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: But, so yeah. That -- it happens, but I never really see very much of the water seeping up out of those cracks. ANDY MAHONEY: Okay.

CYRUS HARRIS: But I could imagine that’s the area where the overflow, you know, it happens through. ANDY MAHONEY: Okay, yeah, yeah. It makes sense.

KAREN BREWSTER: Talking about tide and the movement, I was wondering is it -- does the tide come in and lift up the ice? CYRUS HARRIS: The incoming tide? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, it does on the free floating ice. But on the ice that’s attached to the bars is where it overflows it -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. CYRUS HARRIS: That’s what get covered.

KAREN BREWSTER: But when it lifts it up, what does that do in terms of your being out on the ice and using it for hunting? Do you notice it?

CYRUS HARRIS: Not really. If it did lift up it never -- not, not to the point -- our tides here are somewhat different than Eschscholtz Bay.

Over on that Deering side, you know, the tides, they’re real noticeable to where, you know, you got an outgoing tide and the -- the -- your boat’s high -- high and dry.

You have an incoming tide, you got to wait for an incoming tide to get to and from your boat.

But over here, you see it about -- difference about like that on a regular incoming, outgoing tide.

And your boats could be halfway still in water, not walking ten feet away from it, you know. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: But the tides between there and here is different. I can imagine they be different over there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Hmm. Andy? Anything else?

ANDY MAHONEY: There was something, but I just forgot it. Somebody else ask a question and then I’ll remember what I was gonna ask. KAREN BREWSTER: Becca?

REBECCA ROLPH: Not sure if I have more questions. The water -- ANDY MAHONEY: Oh, it was about -- sorry. REBECCA ROLPH: Sorry, go ahead.

ANDY MAHONEY: So it -- it was. It was about the tide, it was about lifting up.

So I remember I was reading some of Bob Uhl’s -- some of his journals. And he would describe in springtime -- this was -- he mentioned it regularly, the ice lifting up.

That was something he was waiting for. That was something he observed.

Do you know what he meant? And -- and is this a common phrase that’s used and can you explain what “lifting up” means in springtime -- ? CYRUS HARRIS: Oh. ANDY MAHONEY: -- with regards to the ice?

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. And that’s got to do with safe travel. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah. CYRUS HARRIS: And all that other stuff. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. Right now -- or when it’s attached, it’s solidly attached. And when the cracks appear like along the coast -- ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: -- and the tide move -- and it stays -- stays, you know, attached.

And when you get like snow melt or water melts on top, it creates a lot of water on -- on your travel areas. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: But when it -- when it comes loose and lifts up and all the water drains, it kinda give you a better travel route.

ANDY MAHONEY: Oh. Oh, wow, that’s quite complicated.

CYRUS HARRIS: So the water on -- on top drains through the cracks -- ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Similar to like how it does here. And so that’s when the ice lifts up from there.

REBECCA ROLPH: So you can see -- sorry

CYRUS HARRIS: There was a -- yeah -- One -- one year living at Sisualik I -- You know, like I say earlier on we travel as much as we possibly could until it get really late. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: And one time, we couldn’t travel for a whole week, week and a half during that sudden thaw. Mainly, because there was just too much water, you know.

Too much snow melt. Too much water. And then, finally, about two weeks later it cooled off and we had this west wind, like light northwest wind, to where all that water that was there it just -- in the morning, it just drained and the ice lifted up. ANDY MAHONEY: Mm. That's what it means.

CYRUS HARRIS: So that -- that gave us an idea where all those rotten holes are and -- ANDY MAHONEY: Mm-hm. CYRUS HARRIS: -- bad spots in the ice is and so forth.

So we quick -- we took a quick run to town that morning, mainly because we can, but we immediately had to get back over there, otherwise we’re stuck.

We came in on the -- on the inside. But to get back we had to go back out to the outside.

So we challenge some -- a lot of bad areas, but we got out of it. And by the time we run into seals -- to similar to where we were at, we felt safe. ‘Cause we were on the floating ice. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm-mm. CYRUS HARRIS: You know? ANDY MAHONEY: Right, right.

CYRUS HARRIS: We were able to identify where the bad spots and good spots were. We felt safe by the time we went further out toward sea then -- and then back into shore again, you know.

And then it was about a day or two later that it broke up in front of town. That took place June second. ANDY MAHONEY: Oh.

KAREN BREWSTER: So does that -- You know, you said it’s snow melt on the ice, but is it also the Noatak and Kobuk breaking up and adding water out by Sisualik?

CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah, it’s got a lot -- a lot -- most of it -- a lot of it has got to do with the tributaries draining out. Snow melts. A lot of it is snow melt.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And Bob wrote the word “Supi.” Have you ever heard that word? CYRUS HARRIS: I heard the word. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that what that’s relating to?

CYRUS HARRIS: I could imagine. I heard the word, I never really got definit -- what it actually defines, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Cool. That’s an interesting phenomena. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is there anything else that you want to share with us about your observations about the ice through your lifetime?

CYRUS HARRIS: I think we covered quite a bit of it. I’m not too sure how much more we can add. But yeah, the differences between then and now.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. That thinning and changing. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you -- so there’s -- In terms of the Kotzebue Sound freezing all the way across to Espenberg and down to Deering, is that changing?

CYRUS HARRIS: It’s changing. Yeah, it’s changed quite a bit. It’s just like -- it’s -- it’s the same ice conditions that we were talking about right there where we were at in front of Sisualik. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: So it -- it shares the same -- it shares the same weather pattern.

I mean, you get these constant east winds up -- these -- the ice whatever formed there blowing out and drifting off.

So it’s the same -- it’s pretty much the same pattern as where we were standing right there in front of Sisualik the other day.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. Oh, I know what I was gonna ask.

You think about the future with all this change, if there were a future where the winter ice wasn’t there, what would that mean in -- ?

CYRUS HARRIS: Well, it would mean keeping your snowmachines parked. Continue with your outboard motors. Boats and stuff like that as far as travel goes.

KAREN BREWSTER: So this -- You think the seals would still be here?

CYRUS HARRIS: I think they would -- I -- I -- you know, I -- I -- think they would. For the most part, they would.

I mean, they tend to adapt. I mean, without the ice it would be a challenge for many, you know, as far as pupping goes, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

CYRUS HARRIS: You know, that’s a -- that’s a hard one to answer. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: But I could imagine that they would adapt.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. 'Cause that’s what I wonder. If there were a time when you couldn’t get out to get the animals at the time of year the animals are here. Then what happens?

CYRUS HARRIS: You know, I think we would just find a different method, way of doing it. Com -- from hunting on the pack ice -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. CYRUS HARRIS: -- to hunting on open waters.


CYRUS HARRIS: But yeah. There’s -- there’s -- it’s a big question mark behind all that.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Who knows what’s gonna happen? CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah. But, you know, we said there’s been a lot of change in your lifetime and you’re still able to go out onto the ice in the winter for -- and spring for seal hunting and in the summer and -- CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah. ANDY MAHONEY: Hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Anything else, anybody? REBECCA ROLPH: No.

ANDY MAHONEY: I don’t think so. I’ve -- I -- I’ve learned so much that I -- I’ve got to stop asking questions ‘cause my brain’s full.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, we’ll have more questions the next time maybe. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Time for seal oil! Hey, that’s the way we usually do our discussions. ANDY MAHONEY: Oh.

CYRUS HARRIS: Time to put the seal oil on the table. ANDY MAHONEY: Yeah.

CYRUS HARRIS: Darn, I just had a jar last night. I probably should’ve took it up.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, thank you very much, Cyrus, for all your time. REBECCA ROLPH: Yeah, thanks. KAREN BREWSTER: We really appreciate it. CYRUS HARRIS: Yeah.