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Leading By Example, in the 21st Century...

“You have to pull the grass tighter around the fish’s neck…”

“Like this?” I grip the dried grass and yank, like I am garroting the tomcod.

“Yes, now start braiding again…”

I am in our bicultural room and the oily reek of fresh tomcod bathes the school. Our bicultural teacher Becky and ninth grade Brendan are teaching me to braid tomcod. As I loop the strands of grass one over the other I glance guiltily at the fish’s bulging eye —it seems so petite and
defenseless after the hulking salmon I am used to disentangling from our net.
The unseeing eye stares off towards the corner of the room, as if politely
refusing to acknowledge my clumsy efforts.

Becky offers soothing encouragement while I sense Brendan dancing restlessly behind me, in fear I will mess up his strand of fish. I grasp another fish from the pile, tilt its head back and
loop the grass under the raw red gills and cinch it. Then one and two and one
and three then two and three…I braid more grass. The rhythm of the braiding
soothes me. Brendan is simultaneously delighted and disappointed that I have
caught on so fast.

“Girls grow up knowing how to braid…” I tell him.

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Comment by Cindee Karns on October 1, 2010 at 12:26pm
Wow! Great piece of rural Alaska here. I love how you talked about the Tomcod's eye looking around, politely refusing to acknowledge your clumsiness! I've never braided fish---is it to hang up and dry???

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