The month of April is typically very cold in the Arctic coast village of Wainwright, Alaska. Two years ago in April, Cora Akpik made a visit to the nearest city, Barrow, 97 miles away. She learned that her grown daughter had a cat that she had been unable to care for, so she had taken it to the vet for safe keeping until it could find a new home.
Cora had never had a cat before, but she decided to make her home the cat's home.
As is the case in most of Alaska, no roads link the Arctic communities to each other and so Cora had to fly home, along with her grandchildren, Nellie and Clyde, who you see here.
The cat, who did not yet have a name, flew along in a cat carrier.
Somehow, the cat escaped from the carrier and jumped onto the back of a woman who sat in front of her. The woman did not know what kind of animal had landed on her back. All she knew is that it had fur and claws.
Cats are not common animals on the Arctic Slope. Wolverines are. For all she knew, a wolverine had just jumped on her. Polar bears are also common in the Arctic. Maybe it was a polar bear. A real tiny one - tiny, but mean. The woman screamed and screamed.
Then she discovered that it was a cat. Everything was alright after that.
After they arrived home, where Cora lives with her husband, Max, Nellie and Clyde and other children and grandchildren, she did not know what to name the gray cat.
She looked out the window. The sky was blue, cold and clear above the snow-blown tundra and the ice-covered ocean. The sun shone brightly.
"Siqñiq!" she said in Iñupiaq.
Thus, Siqñiq was named.
Everybody in the house loves Siqñiq. "She likes to play hide and seek," Nellie says. The baby, by the way, is Cara Ann. Siqñiq is also a guard cat. She sits in the window sill and studies everyone who approaches the house. When they enter the door, she scrutinizes them closely. If she detects that any of them pose a threat to Cara Ann, she attacks, leaps and rips them to shreds.
Fortunately, no one who has ever entered the house has posed any threat at all to Cara Ann. Everybody who enters loves Cara Ann.
Siqñiq has never actually had to attack anyone.
But she scrutinizes everybody - including me.
Glad I passed!
It is expensive to feed Siqñiq. To save money over Barrow prices, the family buys her food and litter at Wal-Mart in Anchorage. From there, they fly it by jet 850 miles to Barrow and then by commuter airline to Wainwright.
Lemmings like to run around the Arctic Slope and all about the village of Wainwright. Siqñiq keeps them out of the house.
Nobody who I talked to could think of a single other cat living in Wainwright today. Siqniq may be the only one.
I did not meet any cat in Point Lay, the village that I visited just before Wainwright.
I expect to be back in the Arctic for most all of July. Anyone who wishes to follow my travels can click right here: