Alaskan Terms Defined
booties -- footwear
for sled dogs made out of a durable fabric such as Gore-tex or leather to
protect their paws from ice build-up or injury
breakup -- The end of an Alaskan
winter, when the ice that has frozen the major rivers thaws.
curved piece on the front on the front of the sled to push brush out of
bush -- The parts of Alaska
accessible only by boat or aircraft.
bush pilots -- Pilots of the small
planes who provide transportation to bush communities and isolated destinations.
cheechako -- A newcomer to Alaska,
what in the west would have been call a "greenhorn."
dog box -- a
container for transporting dogs, usually made out of wood and carried on
a truck. It usually has windows for the dogs.
Eskimo ice cream -- Traditionally
made of whipped berries, seal oil, and snow.
gangline -- the
line that runs between the dogs and connects to the object being towed.
part of the dogsled that the driver hangs on to, also called the driving
ice fog -- A thick winter fog made
of suspended ice particles that leaves the trees coated with ice crystals.
mukluks -- Eskimo moccasins.
muskeg -- Grassy swamp land.
musher -- a
person who travels with dogs over a trail. Sometime he rides on the
dogsled, and other times he helps by running alongside the dogsled.
neckline -- the
line between the collar and the gangline, about 10-12 inches long, that
keeps the dogs going in forward direction
outside -- Anywhere but Alaska.
parka --Traditionally a hooded fur
coat made and used by northern natives, but now it can also be insulated with modern
manmade materials like "thinsulate", and may have no fur at all, although
usually winter parkas will have a fur ruff. Summer parkas of the more traditional styles
have a skirt attached and are pulled on over the head.
pushing a dogsled with one foot while keeping the other foot on the sled
Permafrost is ground that remains frozen all summer. Follow
the link for more in depth information on Permafrost.
qiviut or qiviuq-- An Eskimo word meaning the warm underwool of
the muskox. Over 150 knitters work at home in isolated villages. Some designs were created by them, and some taken from traditional art. Each village has
a "signature" pattern. Among the items made and sold in various outlets are scarves, hats, stoles, smoke-rings and tunics. Yarn for home
knitters can be purchased from the INUA Wool Shoppe in the Goldhill area of Fairbanks - between Fairbanks and Ester ( 202 Henderson Road, zipcode 99709).
Call (907) 479-5830, or if in Alaska, toll free at 1-800-478-9840. Raw qiviut is available for purchase at the University of Alaska's Large
Animal Research Station.
rigging -- all
the lines on the dogs and sled
snow hook -- a
large metal hook used to secure a team without tying them, often
anchored in the snow
-- This refers to the point when the sun is at its greatest
distance from the equator. In the summer, solstice occurs June
20 or 21, and marks the longest length of daylight
sourdough -- An Alaskan old timer.
stakeout chain --
a heavy duty chain to secure dogs at races and other places. It can be
tied between two trees, two vehicles, etc. The chain has leads for each
dog and is better than rope because dogs can chew their way through rope
totem pole --
While many think of the Totem Pole as a symbol of native people & their
culture, its production was limited to six tribes in British
Columbia and southeastern Alaska.
Tribes which carved Totem Poles:
Pole carving flourished in the 19th century, to tell stories or
commemorate historical events. Each tribe had its own distinctive style.
The figures carved weren't gods or demons, but symbolic, like the
figures in European Heraldry. Totem Poles were not worshipped, but the
stories they told often inspired respect or veneration.
dogsled harness to a gangline. It is about a yard long.
tundra -- There
are two types of tundra in the world, Arctic and Alpine. The arctic tundra
is at the top of the world around the North Pole. The tops of tall cold
mountains are alpine tundra. The most distinctive characteristic of the
tundra soil is its permafrost, a permanently frozen layer of ground which
can be 2000 feet thick (see Permafrost).
Shallow rooted tundra plants and microorganisms grow in the permafrost.
The number of plant species is few, and growth is slow, with most of the
biomass concentrated in the roots. The growing season is short, and plants
are more likely to reproduce vegetation by division and building than
sexually by flower pollination.
Typical arctic vegetation includes cotton grass, sedge, and dwarf
heath, together with associated mosses and lichens. Plant communities are
adapted to sweeping winds and to soil disturbance from frost heaves. They
are adapted to carry on photosynthesis at low temperatures, low light
intensities, and long periods of daylight. Alpine plant communities, on
the other hand, consist of mat-making and cushion-forming plants, which
are rare in the Arctic.
Black bear: Usually black, with narrow pointed muzzle.
Brown/grizzly bear: Black to blond, large head, dished face, shoulder hump.
Beaver: Broad, flat tail, small ears.
White head and tail, dark-brown body.
Caribou: Both sexes have antlers; brown with white neck and rump. See photo.
Coyote: Small, slender wolf.
Deer: Sitka blacktail; Southeast, Kodiak, Prince William Sound.
Red fox: Several color phases; bushy tail, sharp nose.
Snowshoe hare: Gray to brown, with black, white and red; white in winter.
Hoary marmot: Large, silver-gray, burrowing mammal; whistles an alarm.
Moose: Largest member of deer family; bull has antlers.
A common garden pest, even in the state's largest cities, Anchorage and
Mountain goat: Slender black horns, shaggy white coat and beard.
Muskrat: Large rodent with flattened scaly tail, water dweller.
Pika: Guinea-pig size, round ears; rocky slope dweller.
Porcupine: Black, yellow-tipped hairs and quills, small head, large body.
Chicken-like birds, ground dwellers, white in winter, brown in
summer. The willow ptarmigan is the Alaska state bird.
Raccoon: Distinctive black mask, introduced species.
Larger than a crow.
Bighorn sheep: Light coat, large curled horns; Canadian Rockies.
White coat, golden curled horns; Alaska, Yukon.
Darker than Dall; northern British Columbia. See photo.
Arctic Ground Squirrel: Rounded head and ears, burrower.
Rusty red, tree-dweller.
Wolf: Averages 100 lbs., varying colors.
Dolphin: Pacific White-Sided, distinctive high jump.
Webbed hind feet, floats on back while eating. Carries young on
Dall Porpoise: Black and white, to 7 feet, cavorts around moving ships.
Steller sea lion: Hauls out on rocks.
Harbor seal: Earless, hair seal. See photo.
Northern seal: Eared, active on land.
All white, to 16 feet, no dorsal fin.
Gray whale: Mottled gray, to 50 feet, no dorsal fin, large flippers.
Humpback whale: Small dorsal fin on hump
Killer whale (orca):
Black and white. Males have tall, erect dorsal fin. Females
have curved dorsal fin.
Minke whale: White band on flipper, small with narrow, pointed head.