This is the quonset hut in which the dream described below took place. I took this picture at the noon hour on December 31, 2007. I had long since moved out.
Shortly after Nabysko turned four, a dream came to me – a nightmare most troubling. It struck first during the darkness of mid-winter on a bitter night when the wind picked dry snow up from the ground outisde and hurled it in a driving swirl through the sub-zero air. There, the swirl streamed over the drifts that swept over the outer, corrugated, walls of a Quonset located in the farthest north neighborhood in the farthest north community on the North American continent.
That hut in Barrow, Alaska, was my second home. Perhaps, outside, the northern lights shimmered and flashed in the sky. I don’t know, because I was inside, all alone, fast asleep. As the nightmare began, all was pleasant. There was no darkness, no snow, no cold and I was not in the Quonset hut. Instead, I stood in the back yard of my Wasilla home, more than 800 miles to the south. Green leaves had sprouted into full splendor upon the birch trees, and now hung translucent in the sun, which radiated its light and warmth down upon them and upon me. All was pleasant. I felt content and snugly warm – as snug and warm as I actually was under the quilts that covered me, but I took the warmth to be that of the dream sun.
Then I saw it - the kitten - walking through shadows cast by the leaves upon the spongy, mossy, ground. The kitten had a base coat of white, dappled with splotches of brown, black and red. It’s big, pleading, slotted, green eyes bore into my own as it padded its way softly, silently, straight towards me, stopping occasionally to lift or drop its head in a kind of bobbing motion.
I knew I should yell and curse and scare it away, or perhaps pick up a rock or a stick and chuck it at the animal. But I did not. I just stood there as the kitten closed in on me. Despite myself, I felt an attraction towards this kitten. I wanted to hold it, to stroke it, to feel the softness of its fur. Soon, the kitten stood at my ankles. It looked up at me. “Meow,” it said, longingly. I reached down and picked it up. It’s fur was soft, pleasant to the touch. I placed a couple of fingers upon the kitten’s head, between it’s alert and friendly ears. I scratched it gently, then let my hand run down it’s neck to the top of it’s back. It purred. I liked this kitten. I felt a great desire to keep it, to have it for my own. Suddenly, the full horror of what was happening sunk in. I was a man who did not like cats. In fact, I despised them – or so I had been brainwashed to believe. My body shook with revulsion. I awoke with a start, and sat bolt upright in bed.
“Sunflower!” I shouted.
“What!?” she bolted upright beside me, then looked at me, worried.
“It’s a kitten!”
“Oh, Grahmmy!” she muttered. Then, before my eyes, her image dissolved and disappeared, as did our bedroom in Wasilla. I then realized that I had not been in the back yard with a kitten, nor even at home in bed with my wife. I was here, in the Arctic, alone in my Quonset hut, in the midst of a night of a day of a week of a month that was all night. Feeling both relieved and terribly lonely, I plunged back into my pillow and returned to the strange and welcome world of sleep. Thankfully, that sleep remained cat free for the remainder of my rest.
Yet, over the next few months, the dream, with slight variations, returned repeatedly – it did come to me in my Wasilla home, when I did sleep beside my wife; it came to me during my travels.
Come April, as the lengthening day began to utterly banish the night, those travels took me to the Northwest Alaska village of Point Hope for a three month stay. There, I ventured out onto the very edge of the shorefast ice of the Chukchi Sea with Iñupiat Eskimo whale hunters. Even there, in the tents of the hunters, the kitten returned to haunt my dreams.
I stayed three months and then, finally, it was time for me to return to Wasilla, to my wife and children. On the night of July 2, I spent my final night in Point Hope, not in a tent but a construction camp turned village hotel. Even then and there that kitten came. I was greatly disturbed, for I, Grahamn Kracker, Alaska bush pilot and photographer of whales and hunters, was not a man to be wasting valuable dream time upon a kitten. If I had to dream about a kitten, then I should at least dream that I was scolding it, shooing it away, kicking dirt at it. Certainly, in no dream should I have been charmed by it - yet I was charmed.
Disturbed, I awoke from the dream for the final time. It was a bit past midnight. I sat up in bed, pushed back the curtain and looked outside to see the sun gliding low over the horizon directly to the north, over the broken ice that still floated in the Chukchi Sea.
Come morning, I rose groggily and unrested from bed. I packed my gear, accepted a ride from the son of the whaling captain who had hosted me on the ice, and went to my airplane, which I called the Running Dog. As I did the preflight, I climbed atop the big, fat, bush-plane tires to inspect the top of the wings. I was both shocked and angered to see a series of holes poked through the aircraft fabric, each about one foot apart. The holes ran from one wingtip to the other. I wondered who would have done such a thing, and how. And then I saw, on one wing tip, a big pile of raven poop.
The vandal had left his signature.
I pulled a roll of duct tape out of the airplane, patched the holes, climbed into the cockpit, fired up the engine, rolled onto the runway, shoved the throttle forward. The little airplane roared toward the sea, then lifted into the air over it. I turned to the southeast, flew low over the beach, wagged my wings at a group of friends who had gathered to wave goodbye, then climbed to 2000 feet and pointed the nose of the Dog in the direction that would take me home.
What I did not know was that I had pointed the dog at a kitten, a kitten that had taken shelter in the woods behind my Wasilla home.
I met this cat during that trip to Point Hope, but I was not thrilled. To illustrate how dense I was at that time in regards to cats, I will tell you that this cat lived with another, a Tortoise Shell. Yet, I did not photograph the Tortise Shell, even though I saw it many times when I had my cameras in hand.
I did not then believe a cat to be a worthy photo subject in and of itself. The only reason that I photographed this cat, Jets, is because he imposed itself upon the scene as I photographed the woman who, many years earlier, had rescued the kitten Jets from the Florida tide pool in which she found him drowning.
The very next day, Connie moved to Alaska, where she fell in love with an Eskimo whale hunter named Steve. I became good friends with both. I was with Steve when he shot the seal that Connie butchers above. Had not Jets poked his head through the window, I would have flown away from Point Hope without taking a photo of a single cat.
That is how dense I was.
Jets has a big story. I will tell it one day.
Tomorrow: How the Kracker Cats came to be, Part 2: A kitten steps out of a dream