Drifting and Dancing Wood


There are beautiful pieces of driftwood on our beaches here in Point Hope. The piece above looked like ocean animals doing a dance among the summer flowers. I never really thought about where driftwood might travel from until yesterday. I realized that this wood traveled in from the ocean, maybe hundreds or thousands of miles from my village. There are no trees here. The closest trees are small willows that grow up river some ways away. Each piece of driftwood, some as small as sticks and some as large as entire tree trunks, has a story. Maybe they came from Japan or Russia? Where have they come from? How did they come to be on this beach? What caused them to drift? What did they experience along the way?

The Bones of a Village

New enough to reveal steel and aluminum nails, old enough to be well-weathered by the Arctic climate, the bones of this seal-skin whaling boat were left behind when Point Hope (Tikigaq) relocated two-and-a-half miles inland in the 1970s. Point Hope is one of the longest continuously inhabited places in North America.

The Inupiaq name for Point Hope Village, Tikigaq (tick-ee-yahk) means index finger and described the way the gravel point once hooked into the Chukchi Sea. Time and tide long ago washed away the crook of the finger, leaving behind a triangular point near enough to deep water that the whales that first drew the Inupiat people here thousands of years ago still swim close to shore. The 2.3 mile hike from the current town out to the point gets a little tough once the road ends and the pea-to-chunk-size gravel begins, but it is well worth the effort. In addition to bowhead and other whales, which are frequently sighted, the collision of currents at the point holds large schools of finger-sized baitfish, which in turn draw flocks of Arctic terns, gulls, murres, puffins, jaegers, guillemots and ducks while various sandpipers patrol the shore. At times, the sea and sky are filled with hundreds–if not thousands–of birds. The small fish also attract roving schools of pink, silver and Chinook salmon and sea-run Dolly Varden which in turn are followed by spotted, common and bearded seals. Walruses show up from time to time as well.

The walk to the point passes through the Old Village, a ghost town of semi-subetranean homes made from sod, whale bone and driftwood as well as more modern, wood and metal houses. It’s fascinating to walk through the Old Village and contemplate what life would have been like up here before electricity, running water, guns and gasoline engines–when the only “grocery stores” were the great herds of caribou 25 or more miles to the east, bowhead whales swimming in the freezing Arctic Ocean, and the various fish, seals, berries and plants gathered in their seasons.

To Anchorage, or Not To Anchorage

(Our Shishmaref kids)

That was the question.

Jack and I spent the weekend in Anchorage attending the Alaska Teacher Placement job fair. A fascinating experience better left to its own blog post…


We left Shishmaref Thursday morning and had a layover in Nome on the way to Anchorage. The weather was bright and sunny. It was around zero when we left Shish. We arrived in Nome and walked into town for lunch. It was chilly, but we were comfortable in our parkas. We spent the next few days in balmy 50 degree weather. It was amazingly warm.

So Anchorage is warmer than the Arctic Circle. Duh.

We started really selling ourselves…or trying to… on Anchorage. Its central location. Its activities.

After driving from the airport to the hotel, we were convinced that we are not ready to leave the bush. We love the friendly waves hello from everyone we pass in our village. We love the pace of village life. We love learning about the people we live amongst.

We really like experiencing a life that is extraordinary.

This summer, we will go hang out on the Kenai. There we can get our fill of roads, big crowds, and restaurants. Knowing us, I’m sure we’ll find many off the beaten track things to do, as well.

For now, the answer is Not To Anchorage.

We have just signed on with another bush school about 200 miles north of here (yes, you read correctly) in another Inupiat village. We are eager to get to know another community and their history and practices. We hope to put down roots for a little while and accomplish some personal and professional goals.

We are excited to start the next Alaska chapter in Point Hope.

To be continued…