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…

Anyway…

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…

News From the North

(Orange cookies with chocolate chips)

Time is flying by and the daylight is increasing at a phenomenal rate. After the dark lull around winter solstice, we picked up noticeable amounts of daylight every day. Now, the morning twilight is at about 8:15 a.m. and the evening twilight ends about 10:00 p.m. We’ve put foil up in our bedroom window so our cave is nice and dark and welcomes sleep.

Well, a big decision has been made. We will only stay one school year in Shishmaref and are now packing up. The best advice we read was as soon as you know you are going to move, start packing! It looks like we are heading to Anchorage. There are so many interesting places to live in Alaska. For our goals, Anchorage seems like the best fit for the next several years.

We’ve loved living in the village of Shishmaref. The natives are kind and friendly. The environment up here is amazing. I am glad that this experience has been part of my story.

Honestly, the school has been difficult to work in. The values of those who we work with and for don’t synch up with ours. There are so many things that could be easily done to improve the education of the children up here. Maybe someday I will be able to tackle that problem from the chair of the state’s education commissioner.

For now, it’s time to get ready to move from 22 miles from the Artic Circle to 350 miles from the Artic Circle.

Parking Lot

One of the big events out here is basketball. There are two outdoor basketball courts that are used in the summer. During the school year, the gym fills the need. Each school, no matter how small, has a basketball team. When the schools play, the community shows up to cheer them on. In what seems to be tradition out here, the natives cheer on the teams…our side or the other school’s. It’s a terrific social event. I like to visit with people I don’t normally get to talk to.

Today’s game is the first one of the season during the day. It was a great opportunity to photograph what the turnout looks like outside the school. Notice how the outside of the school is all parked up!

Mother and Child

Have I said already that I am a big fan of Edwin’s work?

This piece is carved from reindeer antler. As I imagined, he saw the antler and immediately saw the shapes of the mother and child, and carved the antler to release their images. The small black dots are inlaid baleen. The decorative spray fan is also made from whale baleen. The faces of both mother and child are joyful and sweet which is a mark of Edwin’s work.

Parki

The Inupiat Eskimos in Shishmaref wear these beautiful coats. Up here, they call them “parkis.” At first glance, they look like brightly colored, thin, pullover-style coats, trimmed in fur. As I have gotten my hands on a few (I have literally petted several), and talked to people, a more interesting coat was revealed.

While it’s true that the outer layer is colorful and sometimes is made of very thin fabric, it is actually only an outer layer. Underneath is a very heavy layer made of animal skin. In many cases, it is spotted seal or caribou. The bottom of the skin is ruffed in a more ornate fur, like beaver. You can see my young model’s parki is ruffed in beaver. The cuffs and hood are also ruffed with fur designed to be attractive and also designed to keep the wind and cold away from the face and hands. I’ve spoken with a few people about different animal furs. It seems wolverine and polar bear are very warm and shield well from the wind and blowing snow. The creation of the parki is definitely women’s work. I understand that some women teach their daughters to pass the skill down and other women take classes that are offered in the community.

(I did get permission from my young friend’s guardian to post her picture. But because of the insanity of the world, that is as much as I will share about her.)

Global Warming?

It has only been two weeks since winter solstice and I can already tell the sun is stretching higher into the horizon. I wasn’t the only one who sensed this. On Sunday, I was amazed to see the community bustling with activity. People were out tooling around on their snowmachines (snowmobiles to you in the lower 48). Children were out playing in snow clothes, tethered to sleds. There were combinations of people pulling sleds by snowmachine. The general air in the community was buzzing with life and movement.

Besides the sunshine, the other noticeable difference was the temperature. It was 39 degrees! No hat was needed. No gloves were needed. It was downright balmy. Ok, maybe that’s a wee bit of exaggeration. But it was way warmer and sunnier than it has been.

After enjoying the beautiful day and contemplating the amount of activity, one more glance at the sky revealed a sunset beyond words. The sky was an unspeakable pink on an azure backdrop. The photograph taken is a good representation of the colors. Now, imagine being engulfed in this sky.

Shishmaref 2010

Golden tufts of grass offer a tell-tale that Shishmaref’s short summer has ended. In another two months, Main Street (shown here) will be covered in snow and snow mobiles, which are locally referred to as snow machines, will replace the few trucks as means of transportation. The ATV’s, known universally as Hondas in the Alaskan Bush, are pressed into service the year around. 

We spent this last summer traveling and moving from California to Alaska. I had promised to start a blog when we finally settled in. With this promise in mind, I contemplated… “Where do I start?”

Where did the adventure of Alaska begin for me? There was the decision to apply for jobs in the bush. No, it was before that. The beginning started during our 42 day adventure to Alaska and back in the summer of 2009. Actually, that was not really the beginning. Before our trip, Jack and I planned and dreamed about spending a summer in Alaska for three years before our trip. We poured over maps. We read everything we could get a hold of about camping and fishing and roaming around Alaska. We subscribed to magazines. We checked anything and everything on the internet that seemed relevant. I would read a book and Jack would read a different one and then we would trade.We had no boundaries. It could be a boating trip. Maybe a car camping trip. Time limits would not hold us back. We could spend a summer. A whole year was not out of the question. The rule was no rules. We had a huge map of Alaska tacked up on foam board so we could pin ideas onto the map. It was exhilarating and revitalizing to research and plan this adventure.

When we finally had outlined our timeline and itinerary of our trip, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. Was that the beginning?

I thought about my personality. An Alaskan adventure was a metaphor of something true to my core. I have always wanted to be on the road and have always wanted to be outside where most people haven’t been. So the beginning has always been there in seed form. It was just a matter of nurturing the seed and bringing it fully to life.

When we flew into Shishmaref this summer and I saw Shishmaref from the co-pilot’s window from where I was sitting…tears came to me eyes. I inhaled a deep breath and thought…this is the beginning.