The Reindeer Herder
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"Taata" Wesley Woods Sr.

Wesley Woods Sr. is an Eskimo from Shungnak. At the age of 79, he spends rather quiet days now. This old man's life story touches everybody's heart as today's world has become somehow too comfortable and unattached.

When he was 17 or 18, his father and he were hired by the Lomen Brothers to deliver 3,000 reindeer from Buckland to Mackenzie Delta, northwest of Canada. This journey with reindeer is so called " the greatest trek in the north." As a young boy, Wesley follwed his father accompanied by the Lapp reindeer herders from Finland. The Trek started in 1929. The 5 year drive was over "unexplored tundras and narrow mountain passes, against handicaps so vast and dangerous that no trip like this will ever be made again."("The Great Trek" by Max Miller, Garden City, N.Y, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935.)

When asked about the trek, without changing the tone of his voice, Wesley said, " it was tough. Sometimes we had to hike 15 miles a day in storm without eating. It was so stormy that I couldn't even see my hands. Sometimes, we had to watch reindeer 24 hours straight because of wolves." Wesley also mentioned that during the drive with the Lapps, he learned how to speak the Lapp language. This way, the Eskimos could talk to the Lapps about reindeer in the Lapp language. He now has forgotten the language since there has been nobody to talk in Lapp after the trek. Yet, he still remembered some words and told me what they meant. He also sang a Lapp song for me one day at his camp. I will never forget the smile he had on his face after singing the song.

I was in my sleeping-bag in a canvas tent, tired from all days work. Sunny walked in and told me that his dad was making itguq, quick-starter. I got up and walked into the blue Spruce frame tent, where Wesley and Josephene sleep. A coleman lantern was hanging. Wesley was sitting by his hand-made stove. He grabbed some kindlings and took his knife out. With his left hand, he started to scrape a kindlling with the knife. Once, twice, three times. He doesn't cut it all the way, but leaves those small pieces on the kindlling. The lantern was behind him, leaving half of his body in the darkness. His Eskimo story tape was on as usual in the background. I could understand only one or two words in each story. His hands are rough and huge. I had never seen such huge hands in my life. He grabbed some more kindlling and did the same. Josephene said something really fast in Inupiaq. Wesley did't respond. The tape ended and the room fell silent shortlly. I thought about taking a picture of him making itguq. But at the same time I didn't want to ruin the peace. It was somehow quieter than usual tonight. The only noise is the river. I will never forget the picture I snapped in my mind tonight. Never will it fade away.

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