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.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Day 2010

We decided not to fight the traffic headed to the shopping malls and movie theaters in Arctic Village, and go for a cross country ski instead.

Its been a mild winter so far with temperatures in the teens and twenties the past week. Each day has brought a couple of inches of fresh snow.
We skied the mile long road to the airport, then cut over to Loon Lake. Once on the lake we traversed a series of lakes and ponds that connect to the back of our house.
Jack pulled Gretchen.
This was a great way to burn a couple calories in preparation for the Thanksgiving gorge.

We had dinner with about 65 other people in the Village Community Hall.
The spread consisted of Turkey, Ham, Moose, Caribou, Goose, Potato Salad, Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry pudding, Yams, Fry Bread, Rice, Stuffing, and plenty of Cake & Pie.
This is Silver, the Principal/Teacher at Arctic Village School.
Gretchen and a student waiting for dinner.
The coolest Mink hat ever.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cultural Revitalization

Working with several grants for funding, the Yukon Flats is part of a statewide project for cultural revitalization. Among the attributes of this program is language preservation. My students have almost an hour of Gwich'in native language instruction each day.

A recent college graduate from the village is working with a mini-grant to bring more traditional knowledge into the class room. He's been using my classroom 1-2 hours a week to bring in Elders from the village to teach classes.
Allen talks to the students about survival skills, trapping, hunting, and general Arctic Village type trivia. Students take notes and look on, afterwards I have them write a reflection in their journals on what they learned, or how they want to apply this knowledge.
Gideon begins his series of classes on trapping. Note the topographical map taped to the dry erase board. He was very specific about what animals are best trapped within different locations.
Todays lesson talked about foot prints or the difference in tracks animals leave.
He had students label a wonderful homemade worksheet showing animal tracks.

I feel so lucky to have these intelligent people living close at hand. The students are usually respectful and quite receptive when Elders teach.

Turkey Legs: Pre Thanksgiving Meal At School

Its my favorite holiday of the year again, Thanksgiving!

There was plenty of delicious food to go around at Arctic Village School. Our wonderful cooks spent all day cooking two turkeys, 10+ pounds of mashed potatoes, gallons of gravy, tons of stuffing, and all the other wonderful side dishes you usually see at Thanksgiving.

Gretchen and one of my middle school students decorate pumpkin pie.
While waiting for dinner, Trimble, an elder from the village teaches students about hunting Caribou in the old days.
The "big kids" encircled the "little kids" to depict creating a human ring around Caribou. They then moved slowly inward, trapping the Caribou. Hunters would use bow and arrow, or other weapons to kill the Caribou.

Trimble carries off a "Caribou".Finally, dinner is served!
As the turkey carver and server, I was the last to eat- but there was still plenty of mashed poatoes and green bean cassorole!
They liked dessert best.
For the first time on the blog most of the photos were taken by my students. Give a kid a digital camera, you never know what you're going to get.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Preparing for Thanksgiving

Due to inclement weather in Fairbanks all flights were canceled for 48 hours. Apparently the town has become an ice skating rink as temperatures drew near the freezing point in town. This caused the yearly Yukon Flats Volleyball Tournament to be postponed until further notice (we're crossing our fingers for next week). You wouldn't know it as Arctic Village was sprinkled with snow flurries all morning. The good news, we have another week to practice our sets, bumps, and spikes before going to whump up on Fort Yukon, Beaver, and Chalkyitsik.

This past weekend I made a quick stop by the village store to pick up a couple items. Its clear Thanksgiving is almost here. As I reached into the large chest freezer looking for our Sunday night pizza, I had to dig through stacks and stacks of Sara Lee pies. YUMMY!!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Back Home in Arctic

After a busy two weeks of travel for work, I am back home in Arctic. I haven't left the time zone, but somehow I still feel a little jet lagged after flying so many places in such a short span of time! It is good to be home with Sam and Jack again. This afternoon Sam took me out for a snow machine ride and we watched the alpenglow over the Brooks Range as we rode toward the mountains. Sorry, no pictures! It was too cold to pull out the camera from the back of the snow machine! And I was too busy holding on. Maybe I'll be able to get some next time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Meanwhile, back in Arctic Village

Flying back out of Anaktuvuk Pass

Anaktuvuk Pass is in the heart of the Brooks Range, so flying in and out is quite amazing. Here are a few pictures of my flight out today.

The Wright Air plane, the same company that flies us into Arctic Village.

The moon coming up over the mountains and the North Slope Borough Police waiting to inspect things coming off the plane.

Sun setting over the mountains

The colors were amazing, with alpenglow everywhere!

Flying at sunset I felt like we were above the sun
My supervisor, who came on this trip with me, enjoying the view.

I am definitely biased, but I think Alaska is truly God's Masterpiece! The landscape of Alaska is so amazing! The people here have problems like anywhere and many people live very bleak and tough lives, but there is such beauty in the surroundings.

Anaktuvuk Pass

Flying in to Anaktuvuk Pass...

I wonder if you can packraft this river?
A view of the village from above
Look out the plane's windows...the mountains are right there!
Our pilot guiding us in
The Post Office, flying the POW flag for Veteran's Day.

Mountains surround the village!

View from Health Clinic window.

All over the school and clinic there are signs like this in English and Inupiaq.