Upterrlainarluta: “Always Getting Ready”

By , August 22, 2015

The Yupik nation in Alaska has a great word, which I don’t know how to pronounce: “upterrlainarluta.” As I understand it, the word means “always getting ready.”

I need to find out how to pronounce it, because it’s a good word, one that describes our lifestyle.

Upterrlainarluta is the constant preparing for what comes next in the circle of seasons. It springs from, and best describes the Native American subsistence lifestyle. Perhaps I may be forgiven for applying it in a wider context as well.

Most Alaskans, to a greater or lesser extent, are always getting ready. In the midst of any seasonal activity, time and effort must be reserved to prepare for the next to come. Tools, weapons and gear for the coming fish run or the next hunting opening need overhauling, cleaning, and repair. Beds need to be built, soil sifted and amended and seeds prepared for the next growing season. Wood needs to be cut, dried, and stacked for the coming winter. We’re always getting ready.

(Photo: Mark A. Zeiger.)

(Photo: Mark A. Zeiger.)

For me, autumn represents the epitome of Upterrlainarluta. It is the season in which food gathering reaches a peak, and winter looms. Because of this, I tend to meditate on the change of seasons most at this time of year. As I’ve noted so many times before, we view the seasons the same way the old Celts did, which shifts our sense of the beginning of each season away from the current calendrical designations. As such, we consider autumn started August 1st, rather than around the autumnal equinox in mid September (September 23rd this year). I’m not quite sure why we allow astronomical calculations to dictate observance of terrestrial seasons (see The Circle of the Seasons: Autumn). Instead of preparing for and acknowledging the change of season in its early stages, most people are content to wait until the season is fully blown before admitting that it’s upon us.

The essential truth is that those who don’t have to prepare for the coming season have the luxury of allowing themselves to be surprised by its arrival.

We don’t have that luxury. We work to ensure we have the resources, and devote the time and effort to take full advantage of what each season offers in the way of food, fuel, water, and other necessities of life.

Because of this need, our Celtic calendar serves us well. If we perceive a season as starting a good month and a half before the store-bought calendar or radio news acknowledges it, we get into the season’s mind set early, focusing our attention on what has to happen next.

Now, some might read this and scoff. For all my talk of mindfulness, of living in the moment, of being present, advocating always getting ready seems hypocritical. I assert that upterrlainarluta is mindfulness, it is living in the moment, because the activities of getting ready are what we do in this moment, and the next. It’s mindfulness in the sense that we pay attention to where we are in the year, and what must be done to continue living as we do. For us, the activity of the present moment is preparing for the next. This is not worrying about the future, it’s working now to be ready for the coming now, always getting ready for the next stage in the circle of the seasons.

Upterrlainarluta. As Twain’s Adam said, “It is a large, good word, and will bear repetition”. If I could only learn how to pronounce it . . . .

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