Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Recital - End of my First Semester Teaching

Friday was a big celebration day at Arctic Village School. We were celebrating the end of Music Week with a special Christmas recital for the community; we celebrated the Christmas holiday with a big feast; and it was the end of our first semester of school. Only one more to go.

Mike and I served the community.

Everyone chowing down.
A student practices her "G" chord before the recital.

The middle school/high school Arctic Village band.
An elementary student sits in for a couple songs on her fiddle.
Trimble in the fiddle "First Chair", leading the fiddle and Gwich'in parts.
The next generation of guitar pickers tuning up.

After a week of group and individual music lessons the kids sounded great. I'm still awed by how engaged my students are with music. My challenge for the new year is to continue the music program and have instruments in my students hands at least 1-2 days a week, hopefully more. Belle, is very excited about coming back to Arctic Village and recording an album with the students.

More Arctic Dayz

Yup, its cold.
Here are a couple photographs taken during my quick walk home during lunch yesterday.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Music Camp

Arctic Village School Music Camp 2010
For the past five years our school has celebrated the last week of the quarter, before Christmas, with Music Camp. Belle Mickelson and her son Mike, traveled from Cordova t0 run the camp. Belle is an Episcopalian Minister, and Mike a fisherman formally of the band "BearFoot". The music camps are Belle's ministry bringing folk and bluegrass music, along with dance to rural Alaska. The camp is called "Dancing With The Spirit". She has several teams of equally infamous Alaskan musicians and Ministers that travel to schools throughout bush Alaska.

Its quite beautiful. Music has become as much a part of the culture in Arctic Village as Caribou and subsistence living. The village claims several skilled fiddlers and guitar players that often travel and play throughout the interior of Alaska.
Local Elder, Second Chief for TCC, and our own Minister, the Rev Trimble Gilbert on the left. One of my students in the middle, and Mike on the right. (a couple of my students got ACU pants from someplace, its funny to see them wearing them to school, especially with the traditional canvas snow booties this student is wearing- and no bush kids wardrobe is complete without a black hoodie)
During music camp we have Reading, Writing, and Math in the morning- then spend the entire afternoon, roughly 3-4 hours playing music, dancing, and learning songs in the traditional Gwich'in language.
Belle takes the group of fiddlers for a group lesson.


Mike takes the guitar pickers for a group lesson.
We always conclude the day with a collaborative "jam" in my classroom.
Two of my students- sisters, on the fiddle.

In the morning Belle and Mike do sing-alongs with the Elementary kids. Some of the Elders fluent in music love coming to the school and participating. Here village elder Gideon helps Mike teach the kids some Christmas songs for Fridays program.
On the left- I let one of my students borrow my personal acoustic guitar for the week. He does it a lot more justice playing than I do.
I think one of the greatest gifts I've seen so far this Christmas is the joy on Trimble's face playing music with these kids. He was supposed to be traveling for work this week. After spending all day Monday at school playing with the kids he changes plans. He called me first thing Tuesday morning and said he would be here for the rest of the week, there was no way he was going to miss this experience with the kids. You really can see this man light up when he's in sessions with students playing classic folk songs.
It is amazing how music engages these students. I have students I can't get to focus for more than two minutes in class- yet they sit still playing music all afternoon. I love it!

Tonight (wednesday) we're going to have an evening worship service at church and play carols. Then Friday is our grand finale music program for the community with Christmas dinner to kick off the holiday break. I'll try and post photographs from both events.

Its Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Christmas is fast approaching and that is obvious from the sights & sounds around Arctic Village. We're on day three of music week, kids are practicing carols for the program Friday. The church is holding daily practices for the annual Christmas Pageant.

Here are a collection of shots from around the school and around town.

Our Christmas tree decorating the front entryway of the school.
My middle school students made these wreaths in Art class.
There are two things Arctic Village students love more than anything- making chains and coloring. During the holidays we keep them well stocked with designs to color and pieces of construction paper to link together. Traditionally they have a competition who can staple the longest chain. They usually wrap around the hall ways and gymnasium showing off the holiday colors.


These are some of my middle school students Christmas lists. The bulletin board is in a bit of disarray after gym night.

I'm going to capture a photo of the church today on my way home from work- it looks stunning.

Arctic Dawn & Dusk

Winter solstice is just a week away. We're at that time of the year where essentially we never see the sun, but that doesnt mean I live in pitch black darkness. Quite the opposite- the 3-4 hours of dawn and dusk are beautiful. The frozen landscape is illuminated with all shades of blue and purple. At periods of greatest illumination the sky is aflame with pinks and reds, its glorious. Each day I sneak away from school during my lunch break to capture what daylight I can on film.
According to the online weather station sunrise is 1:52pm, and sunset is 1:52pm.
Along with the lack of light, we've experienced some real cold snaps. The lowest temperature I've recorded so far at the house was around -38. For some reason the airport weather station (also feeds online data) is always about 8-10 degrees colder then my house. I don't know if thats from location, or just quality of instrumentation.
Sunday, the moon rises over Old John Mountain, looking almost due East from Arctic Village School around 1:30pm.

Sunset over the village. Brings light, but not warmth.
This is how I have to dress when its over -30, walking back and forth to school.


Sunset, Tuesday.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Saturday

I was pleased to get an invitation this morning to accompany my friend and coworker Mitch to gather the load of wood I purchased from him. I've been buying a "load" from several different people in the village over the past two months, but never really understood where it comes from, or what effort it takes to get. A load propably equates to about 1/4 - 1/3 a cord of wood; and costs $60.

A quick check of the thermometer before heading out showed the temperature at -5. So I donned my arctic carhartt bibs with some capilene long undies on top and bottom, then my mountain hardware compressor "puffy" coat with an old army green ECWCS goretex on top. I needed something warm, but also tough for cutting and hauling wood. I still love my NF Bartoro 400 boots. And whenever riding a snow-go a neck gaiter and good long hat are a must, if not a balaclava to block out Mr. Frostbite.
We rode for about 40 minutes up the mountain to Mitch's special spot. In an unorganized fashion, people spread out in all directions from the village to gather wood. This helps thin the forest from summer forest fires, while also helping not take to much firewood from one spot causing mass deforestation.
Mitch shows me how to pick the perfect piece of firewood. The straightest trees are easier to tie down on the wood sled. It's also good to have a combination of dead dry trees and green trees to burn. The dry wood heats a house quickly and gets the fire going, while green wood burns all night. Its a balance.
We also cut several trees that we left along the trail. Mitch explains he always cuts a couple extras to leave, just in case his chain saw breaks in the future, he can come out and retrieve those logs and still have wood to burn.

My snow-go.
Here is a rough map of the trail we followed to our wood spot. The tab in the center of the map was sent from my SPOT device.
On the way out we spotted Caribou tracks across the trail. It looked like a group of 4 or 5. The signs were easy to spot in the snow. It looks like an animal on stilts post-holing through the snow. I saw an area where the snow was trampled down. Mitch showed me this is where they have to dig in the snow for food. This time of year the Caribou are eating the lichen off the rocks. We looked carefully, but never actually saw them.

Mitch's sled full of wood. I thought hauling this much wood would slow him down, I was wrong. I still had to speed to keep up going down the mountain back to the village.

Can you tell is was -5 from the picture? That's actually a bit warm for this time of year.
The frozen Chandalar River valley.
The Brooks Range looking stunning as usual.
There was some nice deep glades off the packed trail to play in. Who says you can't combine work with pleasure?
Looking back up the mountain we just came down.

It's only 1:45pm but the alpenglow is already sprayed across the mountains. By 2:30 dusk had set in and it was nearly dark by 3:30. Winter solstice is less than a month away.
Its hard to believe these frozen trees make my house nice and toasty.

After seeing how much work it takes to cut, gather, and haul wood- I feel better spending $60 per load. I'm also looking forward to having my own sled and chainsaw to collect my own wood. Up until this point I've been very nervous about assuming I can just take from this land. It isn't my land; the Arctic Village people have graciously shared some of it with me, but I continue to remain very humble about assuming what I can have. It would've been very easy for me to kill a Caribou last month at the airport. Just like I could easily go out and collect loads of wood, but I'm very worried how that would be perceived. I feel as if my role is not only teacher, but diplomat from another world. I believe with humility comes greater acceptance, quicker friendships, and lasting relationships with the people that have lived here for generations. Gretchen and I truly care about the children of Arctic Village, that is seen by many people of the village. I hope they also understand my deep respect for their land and their way of life, this is what will take a little more time to show.