Predacious Diving Beetle

Looking like a lab specimen on glass under a microscope, this 3/4 inch long predacious diving beetle was photographed where it was found in a vernal pond swimming in a few inches of very clear water over a bed of ice. These beetles suddenly seem to be everywhere, scooting through the myriad clear, shallow, temporary ponds with their oar-like back legs.

Slush & Sunshine

These days, temperatures are in the mid to high 30s with no change in sight. Roads that were only recently hard-packed snow have turned to long, slushy puddles. The latest fashion trend is muck boots…the higher the better.

Today the sun rose at 5:31 AM and will set at 12:28 AM–19 hours of sunshine. Between sunset and sunrise, the skies remain lit with twilight. There is no dark now.

Murder Weapons?

I think it was Agatha Christie who stumped me with a story of a body which had been found lying by a puddle of water with no murder weapon to be found. Though I puzzled over this, I couldn’t figure it out.

Today as we walked around our village, we heard a loud crash, almost like thick glass shattering. We turned to see fragments of a large icicle smashed on the ground next to the school.  Looking up, we saw clear, sharply pointed, pendant masses hanging menacingly. These icicles were substantial–their girth the size of pop cans. Hung next to each other, they resembled monstrous fangs ready to devastate.

Walk for Life

Yesterday, we participated in a walk for life, which was a community event to remember those who have passed and to celebrate life. We walked from a community building out to the cemetery and back. When we returned, we had an opportunity to share with others the people we were remembering. This annual event happens in many communities all around Alaska. One of the themes is the celebration of life in order to help prevent suicide.

It made me think not only about those people who have passed in my life, but also the people who are gone from my life. I also reflected on the many people who have died in recent tragedies and the many lives which have been touched by the loss of those people.

The thoughts turned from melancholy to appreciative as one person in particular came to mind. Olga died several years ago. Since my childhood, I remember her as an older but vibrant lady. She had adventures her whole life. She told me stories of been stationed on Hawaii before it was a state, and other stories of adventures with her friends. Although well along in years, she always took care of her home herself and was fiercely independent. She is my image of what growing older will be about.

These days, the world has become smaller; there aren’t many places people haven’t been or things that people haven’t done. I won’t be the first to do anything. But I am having many adventures that are firsts for me, and Jack and I have many more planned for the future. When I measure my life up to Olga’s, I feel like I am living a life she would be proud of.

It was a good experience to walk around a cemetery and watch the children place flowers made of brightly colored tissue paper on the graves of the ones they have loved and lost. It felt good to have a connection from sadness of loss to happiness of life and living.

Students and Life

(Ready for summer!)

As the end of the school year nears, I think about my first graders and what they have accomplished this year. When I first accepted the job in Shishmaref, I was told I would have a special group of first graders. That’s about the extent of what I was told. For a variety of reasons, my students had to master many kindergarten standards in addition to their scheduled first grade standards. It was a tall order for six-year-olds. I feel like a very proud mama. I’ve seen amazing growth in my ten young charges. They have blossomed into readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists and artists. I can’t help but wonder about their futures. At the beginning of the year, they couldn’t contemplate their future (or articulate it). Now they talk about becoming teachers, pilots, operators of large machinery, hunters…

The end of a school year encourages me to wonder about former students as well. This year in particular. The very first class I bonded with was my first 6th grade class at Sutterville. They were a special class for a few reasons. One of the strongest reasons was that they were so tightly bonded. Did they stay in touch more than any other class? I wonder. They were already very level-headed young people. Many had a maturity about them that is unusual for that age. I’ve heard through the grapevine that a couple of them are going to UC schools next year. That makes me so proud. I’m sure that I represent a fleeting time in their young lives and have little importance any longer…which is healthy. But I wanted to send the message out to the world that I am thinking about all of them and hope that they all are on a path toward whatever they define as success. With much love…

Donachys on Ice

We did it!

Last year, I told my students in Sacramento that I would post a picture of myself standing on the frozen sea. When the ice first covered the Chukchi, I was tempted. It looked safe enough, but there was no evidence that anyone else had ventured out. Shortly thereafter, the ice broke open, providing evidence of how unreliable early ice is. But that was months ago. Now there are snowmachine tracks on the ice parallelling the coast, and seal hunters talk about going all the way out to the edge in search of their quarry.

For the past few months, each time I’ve looked at the frozen sheet ice stretching beyond the horizon, I’ve been tempted. It’s starting to warm up and I know my chances are diminishing. I half kiddingly asked Jack to walk out with me today and take my picture. One of our students was hanging around with us. We saw fresh snow machine tracks and decided today was the day. Part way out, we came upon a crack, which we stepped over! Ok, that was far enough. Our young friend took our photo to prove our kept promise. We did it!

Spring Thaw

Above is a picture of a thin crack in the sea ice near shore here in Shishmaref.

The earth is leaning into the sun, more so each day, and at last winter is letting go. For a few consecutive days now, the temperature has soared to just above freezing. What was once a deep pack of snow so cold it squeaked under boot fall has turned to slush, and today, for the first time in many months, there are a few small pools of open water. Although snowdrifts up to several feet high remain in places and most of the island is still covered in snow, here and there a few brown tufts of last year’s grass have emerged amidst bare patches of sand. Light breezes coming out of the south feel luxurious on our faces. We leave our hats and mittens behind.

Yesterday, two Canada geese passed overhead, coming home.


One of the privileges of living in Shishmaref this past year has been the opportunity to sample various Eskimo foods. Last night a friend came by and asked if we would like to try muktuk. Shishmaref is not a whaling community; her family had come into the whale skin and blubber delicacy by trading caribou meat with another village. We eagerly accepted her offer, which she advised us to slice thin and eat with seasoned salt.

Jack sliced the raw muktuk sashimi-style and served it with soy sauce and wasabi. The contrast of the almost translucent, light pink fat with the dark, marbled skin was beautiful.  With his razor sharp sashimi knife,  Jack first removed the outer layer of skin and then cut out the tough, dark strip next to the blubber. Dipped in the soy sauce and wasabi combination, the blubber melted away as we chewed it. Jack relishes anything that is fresh from the sea and loved it. My favorite part was the skin. Like the blubber, it was  slightly sweet, delicately flavored and pleasantly chewy.

Incidentally, raw muktuk is high in vitamin C, which, along with other raw meat and fish that traditionally make up the Inupiat diet, explains how people in this extreme environment historically were able to avoid scurvy.

Land of the midnight sun

The sun is up before us (morning twilight was 5:33 a.m. today) and sets way after we’ve gone to bed (evening twilight ended at 12:32 a.m.). Some, we’ve heard, can’t stand it. Us? We love it!

We’ve heard the term “Eskimo time.” It seems to be an age-old term that has to do with the sun. When the days become long and light-filled, there are many more hours in which to do things. So, one might get up and go hunting or gather eggs, then take a nap, and later go back out and do something else.

The sunshine allows for many hours in which to get things done and allows for many different paces.

During the school year, when the school dictates what time teachers and students arrive and depart, there is definitely an energy disconnect. The students play out until they are ready to go home, with no concern for the clock. I think some teachers do the same. As for us, we’ve barricaded the light from our bedroom and try to go to bed with a book, a crossword, or an old TV show in order to trick ourselves into winding down into the night. So far, it’s working.

This trickery only need continue for a few more weeks till the end of school. After that, we, too, can join others around us and live in Eskimo time.