The Hunter and Owl

Give me knowledge, so I may have kindness for all.’ – Plains Indian

During a time, before snow machines, boats and planes, traveling by dog sled, kayak and foot was the norm in remote Alaska. During winter, days are short and cold, making trips out to the vast tundra dangerous, but necessary. The white vistas provide little to no shelter if caught in a perilous situation. This is an account of a young man and his return from a winter hunt.

Ayagina’ar was travelling back to his winter home from a hunt. He was chasing the elusive caribou herds. His dog sled floated on top of the deep snow as his dog team swiftly moved across the tundra. Packed tightly away was a fresh kill, his bow and arrows, seal oil and dried fish. A heavy load, but nothing a strong team of dogs can handle.

Snow blanketed the vast landscape of tundra kissed by the sun’s bright light. The wind was whispering of a storm approaching. Ayagina’ar had little time, as the skyline was dark and brooding. Reading nature’s subtle signs was a skill. He knew how to read the creator, Ellam’s signs from both experience and knowledge passed down from generation to generation.

He was out of time. The snow storm came down upon him. Pushing his dogs harder, he had to find shelter quickly. In the blinding snow and wind, he fell off and watched his dogs run off. He was alone.

Ayagina’ar knew not to panic as his life hung in the balance between life and death. He quickly got up and chased after his dogs. Praying to Ellam for help as he followed the dog’s tracks until he can no longer see them. He stood in the swirling snow looking for signs. Just as he was giving up hope in the howling wind he heard a screech. He searched for the noise’s origin. Again, he heard it calling out. Holding his chest to keep the cold out, he walked towards the call.

In the distance he saw a blurry figure, beckoning him to come. ‘Help me! I lost my dogs!’ Ayagina’ar screamed. The blurry figure waved to him. As he got closer he saw the figure dancing in the blizzard. Swaying back and forth moving with the winds chill. ‘Come to me. I will help you.’ the figure sang.

Happy to have found people, Ayagina’ar sprinted to the man. When he got close, the man jumped in the air and transformed into a snowy owl. Frightened, Ayagina’ar dropped to the ground and started praying. ‘Follow me. I will help you.’ A voice called out. Looking up he saw the owl circling, beckoning him to get up. At the sight he became at peace and no longer scared. He followed the owl in the storm.

It felt like hours, but only moments had passed as he followed the spirit. The bitter wind was draining his energy. He wanted to lie down and sleep. ‘You are needed my friend. Family. Friends. Loved ones. They depend on you. Just a little further my friend.’, the owl whispered. Ayagina’ar was filled with renewed energy as images of his family flashed in his mind.

The owl landed and started dancing again. Swaying back and forth with the wind and sang, ‘Come to me. I will help you.’ As he got closer, the owl disappeared with the swirling snow. In its place he saw his dogs huddled together in a patch of willows. Thanking Ellam, Ayagina’ar told the creator he will always take care of those he loved just as Ellam and Anipam Yua took care of him in his time of need.

This excerpt is an account of Nicholas Charles Sr., Ayagina’ar, return from a hunting trip. Born in 1912, on Nelson Island and passed away peacefully in 1995. Ayagina’ar left a legacy of infinite kindness to all and appreciation of the little things in life.

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