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Weather Report

Iñupiaq people know Sila, or weather, as an entity with a spirit. Here, a meditation on heeding her warnings.

“IT WANTS TO BE WINDY,” Papa would say of Sila, the weather. “It likes to be cold,” he’d say in December when the Monitor heater in Papa and Gram’s home ran nonstop, the temperature at -40 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit for days. Sila is alive, his words told me. Sila has a spirit. She, after all, decides the actions of our days. 

Papa respected the weather. The slight, strong, sinewy man, in his scratchy, wool checkered shirts, would walk from his house to stand at the sandy beach and look out onto the ocean at the western sky. He’d accurately forecast what Sila would do for the days, the week ahead. He knew her signs. Her moods. Her desires. From the shape of the clouds. The color of the water. The direction of the ocean current, the winds and the way the island, Qikiqtaġruk, looked on the horizon. He learned the signals from his dad, from his grandpa, from the generations before who could predict Sila’s movements and plans. And then he’d plot our days. To dry fish. To hunt ugruk (big bearded seal). To pick berries. To dig for masru (potato root). Or stay home and wait for a good report. From Papa. From Sila. 

Today, when it rains in January, in February, in March, I feel her weariness. When the rain encrusts the snow and Earth in an inch of ice and the ice flies up from the snow-machine skis, pricking my face until we stop, I sense an anger. When the warming ocean does not allow for sea ice, ice we need for hunting ugruk, I wonder about her mood. When the waves, loud, high, and strong, eat at our shores—even in winter—I wonder what Papa would tell us. When it rains and rains and rains in July and the air is too muggy to dry salmon, I feel the shift. When in the fall, after the ground freezes, the mice have not yet put masru away in their caches, I wonder. About her signals. Her abrupt change. Her unpredictability. And I miss him. And I didn’t learn Papa’s knowledge, but I sense Sila’s warning. 

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Laureli Ivanoff is an Iñupiaq and Yup’ik writer who cuts fish and makes seal oil in her home community of Unala-kleet in western Alaska. She believes the land is sovereign and thanks settlers for coffee.