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Ninilchik is Something Special

This background is fireweed and Poochki leaves which cover the hillside in Ninilchik during the summer.Lately I've notice the fireweed covered hillside has changed to Poochki and the top of the Ninilchik hill is covered with Fireweed where hay fields once stood.

By Zoya Oskolkoff

My family has a special place in Ninilchik on a small hillside in the heart of town. It is a beautiful location and holds many memories for us. My family and I camp here in the summer and may one day live here just as my ancestors before us.

When my small family is getting ready to go camping excitement is in the air. Childhood memories come flooding back and I understand why my own boys are elated.

There is a constant flurry of commotion as we start packing and preparing for our excursion. The boys are constantly begging to bring along more than necessities and the differences between what I feel and they feel essential are tremendous. By the time I finally start hauling out the essentials I feel shocked at how the camper looks. I see trails of toys going everywhere. They are all over on the ground and inside the camper itself. Nintendo games and video movies, things that have no meaning in a camper without electricity, get a small rise out of me. Next comes the big shocker as I see the rest of the camper. While I have been busy in the house the boys have scavenged through the cupboards looking for treats. There is marshmallows, candy bars, crackers, juice and even bowls of cereal on the small counters and make-shift table. The beds are no longer made and are completely covered with childrenís books and miscellaneous small objects. Even the new fishing poles I had hidden are completely torn out of the wrappers and small fishing hooks are all over the floor. I start feeling discouraged as our adventure hasnít yet begun.

I start cleaning the sticky sweet marshmallows, all the while wishing we were already sitting at a campfire roasting them. As Iím cleaning I remember the thrill I felt as a child when my parents were taking my sister and I to Ninilchik. This alleviates the anger I am feeling for my own children allowing me to finish cleaning. We are all excited about fishing, playing, visiting relatives and just being in Ninilchik.

Finally we are packed and started on our journey. After the numerous stops to purchase forgotten items and things we may deem necessary, our small clan is finally on the road. The boys and I ride along singing the same songs my mother sang to my sister, Cynde and I. When the songs become redundant, I teach my children the same car games Cynde, and I played, hoping to avoid the same sibling fights.

The trip is always uplifting for me; I have traveled it many times. I close my eyes and know where we are with the feel of each curve or hill as we are driving down the road. I am on my way home. Ninilchik is where my heritage and my heart lay. The familiar scenery is peaceful and calming. The views of majestic Mount Redoubt, Cook Inlet, alders and spruce trees are exquisite. Many of the small winding driveways bring back childhood memories of visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Anticipation takes over as we near Ninilchik. I yearn for the feelings of childhood innocence and freedom that I can never truly recapture as an adult.

As we wind around the curve entering Ninilchik the view is overwhelming. I see the small village, Ninilchik River, Mount Redoubt, Cook Inlet and the old Russian Orthodox Church and surrounding graveyard where my ancestors now rest; all of which hold the spirits of both my paternal and maternal ancestors. As the stories start flooding my mind I make a mental note to tell the boys some family folklore tonight while we are at the campfire.

Not far after passing the village we finally come to the most familiar driveway of all. As we turn into the overgrown driveway the boys become very loud and argue over who gets to do what first. I see the familiar woods where I camped as a child. There is an old gray rope hanging off an ancient birch tree where as a child I would swing for hours. Behind the tired birch are two small overgrown clearings from gardens of long ago.

Up the hillside a way is another clearing that causes an aching in my heart every time I look at it. This was the location of an old rugged, hand-hewn log cabin we called the Ranch House. This cabin was built by my maternal great-great-grandfather and my paternal great-grandfather. Many generations on my motherís side had lived there. A family thing happened a few years back and the Ranch House is gone forever. There is a birch tree planted by my great-grandmother and her siblings when they were children beside the site of the old Ranch House. The birch stands strong and tall, yet looking forlorn and lonely, somehow knowing it is incomplete.

Across the dirt road is a path, overgrown with alders and poochkie (wild celery), leading to a natural underground spring that has provided cold crystal clear water for generations upon generations. At the crest of the dirt road is yet another tiny clearing which was the summer camp of the Denaiína Indians. They are called Barabaras and are hollowed out openings which they covered and used for homes and storing meat and fish.

Eventually the old road comes to an abrupt end. The boys eagerly run to their swing and forgotten toys from our last trip. I feel elated, they will be busy for a while and I can set up camp.

Finally we start building our campfire. The boys and I have spent many hours constructing this exceedingly large fire pit. They rearrange the rocks and small boulders around this enormous pit. Soon their little faces are smudged with soot from the remains of past fires. Thinking about the inaccessibility of cleaning facilities I quickly send them in search of firewood. It is amusing to see the assortment of twigs and sticks the boys bring for burning. Most of them have leaves or spruce-needles and are definitely green. I yearn to relax but the boys insist on stoking the fire and waving burning marshmallows. It takes some time before I get them settled down so we can enjoy the fire

The magical view is a 180 degree vista. From our campsite I see all things I hold dear. I gaze at the setting sun behind Mount Redoubt and wonder at the beauty of it all. My family is with me; I see part of Ninilchik Village, the Russian Orthodox church and its surrounding graveyard. I turn ever so slightly and gaze down the hill to the encompassing woods with the Caribou Hills in the background. My family has lived, played, married, died, hunted and fished in every thing I see. As the emotions of a lifetime come flooding back I realize it is the perfect time to tell my children of their heritage.

They are still young and easily bored so the events of a big day catch up with them and they drift off to sleep. Carefully I put them to bed and sit back at my campfire on this precious old hill. I gaze again to the church across the way, the small orthodox crosses barely visible, and feel the presence of love. As the tears start filling my eyes I say Ď Hello, I am here, my children are here and their children will one day be hereí. I am completely at peace with myself.

Copyright 1995

My daughter earned an A on this paper in college and being a proud mother I saved it.

The song "You Are My Sunshine always reminds my daughter, Zoya, of her paternal Grandmother,Matushka Zoya Oskolkoff, who used to sing it to the children. Her Grandfather, Fr. Michael Oskolkoff played this song on his guitar using the Russian tuning and style. The entire Oskolkoff family would join in the singing. It is something we all miss today.


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