Happy Halloween, everybody! Here is a true Alaska story from April 2000, printed in our local newspapers. My theory is that the man died but his soul didn't know that he was dead yet, and wasn't at rest until they found his body later on that year. It's a fascinating read though, especially when the Alaska State Troopers confirmed it!
Man 'Made Cold By
The Universe' Seen By
Scores Who Knew Him
By Liz Ruskin - Anchorage Daily News
From Fred Colvin <firstname.lastname@example.org
BETHEL - In villages along the Kuskokwim River and in this hub city, scores of people have reported catching sight of Richard Pavilla, a 38-year-old man who disappeared in December while on a snowmachine trip from his home village of Atmautluak.
Pavilla, they say, is still alive but he is in a rare condition in which he is feather-light and as wary as a wild bird.
"It has happened in the past, but it's kind of long and in between," said 77-year-old Peter Jacobs, through a Yup'ik translator. "That person is not dead. The spirit is still with the body, but he's in a different state."
The Alaska State Troopers ended their search for Pavilla more than three months ago, 12 days after they found the body of Pavilla's companion and the snowmachine the two were riding. The troopers presume Pavilla is dead, too. But day after day, Bethel's search and rescue coordinator keeps taking the reports of people who say they've seen the lost man.
Pavilla and Richard Tikiun, 27, left Christmas Eve on a snowmachine for Bethel, about 30 miles away across the frozen tundra. People in the village told troopers the men had been drinking and may have been planning to pick up Tikiun's stash of alcohol on the way. Searchers found Tikiun's body Dec. 28, four miles from Atmautluak and just north of the main trail to Bethel. He lay face down on the ground next to his snowmachine and an empty vodka bottle, troopers said.
Pavilla, troopers said, obviously stayed alive for a while, despite fierce winds and temperatures that dropped to minus 30 degrees.
Searchers found a series of windbreaks made of snow blocks and tree branches, snow caves dug into drifts and even a hastily made igloo, as well as several sets of tracks thought to be Pavilla's.
It was shortly after New Year's when the first sighting of the lost man was reported, said Peter Atchak, Bethel's volunteer search and rescue coordinator. Five of the searchers, Pavilla's cousins, reported seeing a solitary figure on foot about eight miles southwest of Bethel.
"They thought it was a searcher, but when they were approaching close he took off running," Atchak said. The person crossed the frozen river and was gone, the cousins reported.
The next report came a couple of days later. A group of youngsters were driving a truck from Napakiak upriver to Bethel when someone came out of the brush toward them. They got frightened and drove off, Atchak said.
The troopers ended their search Jan. 9, figuring no one could survive so long in such severe weather.
The volunteer search and rescue group kept looking, and Atchak kept track of the reported sightings. They came from up and down the Kuskokwim and from villages on the coast. In all, there were more than 50 reports from 10 villages. People also reported seeing Pavilla in Bethel - near the high school, at the hospital and crouched under a woman's house.
Atchak said he has repeatedly investigated reports of boot prints and found they were made by size 7 Sorels, just like Pavilla's.
"I wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't seen his tracks, his footprints and the way they disappeared," he said.
To learn more, Atchak convened meetings of elders in Bethel. More than 100 came.
Pavilla is stuck between two worlds, some of the old people told him. It happens sometimes: People get lost, become very frightened and fall into these states. Their senses sharpen so that they can hear rabbits and foxes running in the woods. They don't feel the cold. They are not ghosts, but their bodies become so light they can walk on top of trees and cross wide rivers like the Kuskokwim in a hop or two.
The Yup'ik term for it, Atchak said, is cillem quellra. Roughly translated: "made cold by the universe."
"I've been hearing (about) that since I was a little girl," said Neva Rivers, a Hooper Bay elder.
Martha Larson, of Napakiak, said her family had a brief brush with this phenomenon. In the late 1950s, her teenage sister got lost at their summer fish camp. She was missing only about half a day. When the sister came back she told them that she could hear her family calling her but she was too afraid to show herself.
"Something happens to you when you get lost like that. Your mind - you start to panic," Larson said.
Some in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, such as Rivers and Peter Jacobs, remember the case of Gabriel Fox. Thirty years ago, Gabriel walked away from a children's home upriver to avoid punishment for some trouble he was in. Searchers chased the boy on their snowmachines but he was too fast for them. As he ran, his feet didn't touch the ground, Jacobs said, holding one hand about 10 inches above the other as he recounted the story.
Gabriel's body was never found, Atchak said.
To bring back a person who is in limbo like that, you have to touch him, some of the old people told Atchak, or spit on him. He will be skittish and afraid of people, but he will also be terribly thirsty. You might be able to lure him closer by pulling out a water bottle and drinking from it, Atchak learned.
Whoever rescues him should try to keep him isolated for about two weeks, Peter Jacobs told him. Give him only a sip of water at first, and a trace of dried fish. As he recovers he will gradually be able to tolerate more.
Atchak said he talked to a Napakiak man who said he had such an experience after he was left for dead in minus 30 degree weather.
"He got touched by somebody," Atchak said. "He said he felt so heavy when he fell down. Then he woke up in the hospital."
Apanguluk Kairaiuak, who is documenting the stories of Southwestern Alaska elders, said these experiences are consistent with his understanding of Yup'ik creation mythology. According to this ancient belief, he said, people were created by animal, bird and fish spirits. Before they become people, the pre-humans pass through three other phases, gradually growing more connected to the earth and less connected to their creators, he said. When a crisis strikes, a person sometimes reverts to an earlier phase, he said.
"Without that kind of spiritual memory, our people would not be able to do this," he said.
Atchak said he now understands the stories he would hear old people tell.
"They used to talk about some time in the future when our world would get thin," he said. "Like between our world and the next world, they become closer together."
He isn't dispatching searchers to look for Pavilla these days, but he held a meeting Thursday in Atmautluak to ask locals to be alert for Pavilla as they go out bird hunting, ice fishing and gathering wood. About 50 people came, he said.
"In the event anybody should have an encounter with him, we should approach him carefully and try not to frighten him," said Atchak.
After talking to the Napakiak man again, Atchak is also advising people to look for a body.
"From his experience, it sounded like he was able to leave his body and go into a different body," Atchak said.
Jacobs' son, Peter Jacobs Jr., said he thinks he saw Pavilla just last week, as he was riding from Atmautluak to Napakiak.
"I saw someone up on a tree, standing up in a tree," Jacobs said. "I got kind of spooked."
He stayed a long distance away but he figures it was Pavilla because it was miles from any village and the person standing on the branch had no snowmachine.
In other recent reports, people have said Pavilla's face is dark and his hair is long, Atchak said.
"He's been outside for a heck of a long time," Atchak said.
In Atmautluak, Pavilla's father looks for his missing son every day.
Moses Pavilla said he has believed from the start that his son is alive. Soon after he went missing, the elder Pavilla went to the trail he disappeared from. He believes he heard his son in the bushes.
"He was close by me but I couldn't see him," the father said in a recent telephone interview.
A few weeks later, in Atmautluak, Moses Pavilla says he saw Richard heading into his sister's house. She was inside but said she hadn't seen anyone.
So Moses Pavilla keeps looking, riding his snowmachine back and forth between the village, his fish camp and a neighboring village.
"I never stay home much this winter, because I really need him," Moses Pavilla said by telephone last week. http://rense.com/general/mancold.htm