Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween is Coming....

It is an Arctic Village School tradition to have a Halloween Carnival and Haunted House. Sam's students have spent the last three afternoons working on getting the gym set up.

There will be the typical carnival style games such as a duck pond, bean bag toss, bowling, darts, etc. The carnival was supposed to be Friday night, but because some of the supplies did not come in on the plane in time, it was postponed until Saturday night. It will be a busy weekend because there will also be a Costume Contest at the community hall on Sunday night.

I helped the kids make a graveyard. They made their own tombstones with causes of death such as: "Died from listening to an IPOD too much", "Died from too much homework" and "Died from eating too much."
The main event of the night will be a cake walk. Apparently it is a big deal and everyone loves to participate. The school kitchen still smells like cake this morning because women from the village were baking cakes for hours last night.

There are decorations throughout the school. Even the Elder room was given a few spooky touches.
More pictures to come after tonight!

Monday, October 25, 2010

To Build a Fire

(Borrowing a great Jack London title)

It is hard to believe how many hours of my day are entirely devoted to keeping a fire going in our cabin. Without a fire, we have no heat. Yet keeping the fire going is a constant ongoing battle. The wood is green, it is hard to get it to light and hard to keep it burning. The only trees that grow this far North are spindly little pines. How can this be so difficult? When we lived in the city I barely spent any time at all worrying about the heat, except maybe when the bills came, but then all I did was pay them and move on. Now I spend hours a day purely focused on staying warm. It is going back to one of the most basic elements of survival. Thank goodness I don’t also have to hunt and gather all my food and keep a fire going!

Go Jack Go

Saturdays are laundry day, so I load up the sled and put on my skis. I pull the sled and Jack pulls me. It is actually a very efficient way to get around the village. I love that I can step out our door and ski.

The kids are very interested in how Jack pulls us around on skis (no one else ski jours in the village) and today one of the little girls asked to give it a try. She was very brave, even when Jack took off after a snowshoe hare and was running at mach 5. She held on for dear life and amazingly kept her balance for quite awhile. When she wrecked, she lay on the ground laughing, “I got him to stop!” Yes, she sure did. Not only do kids learn to ski much faster than adults, they also take falls a whole lot better too! Actually, Jack did very well following her commands to stop and go, except when the hare appeared. He just can’t resist chasing rabbits.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Aurora Borealis

The last two nights I've been witness to an amazing display of God and nature. The past 4+ years I've seen the "Northern Lights" about 5 or 6 times in Alaska. On two occasions they appeared as a blue hazy cloud over the Chugach mountains in Eagle River.

They are more frequent and visible North of the Arctic Circle. This is partially due to latitude, and partially due to lack of light pollution given off by urban area's. Earlier in October on a couple clear late evenings I noticed a green hazy cloud growing and waving across the night sky, this is not what I saw last night. The last two nights I can't even begin to describe, nor capture on film what I saw. It was one of the most entertaining natural phenomena I have ever seen.
These images were taken about 11-12pm last night (October 16th). I used my Nikon D80 set to shutter priority (S) with a Vanguard tripod and Nikon shutter remote. After some experimentation I found the best shutter speed was 20 or 30 seconds at f3.5. These were taken with the stock Nikkor 18-55 lens.

Little or no editing has been done to enhance these images. Some were slightly tweaked using either iPhoto or Aperture.
NOTE: These images may appear different on other monitors. I apologize if they don't turnout that great on your screen, maybe try another. I did some pre-editing on my iMac, which is only about a year old; then uploaded them on my 3 year old MacBook at the school- they did appear different on the older screen.
The view is looking almost due West from our House in Arctic Village. The streaks of green ran all the way across the night sky, and turned to haze in the South and South Eastern sky.

The "curtains" of green were constantly moving and changing shapes. At times almost diminishing before growing and glowing again.
Here is the National Audubon Society: Field Guide to the Night Sky definition-

"Auroras: Solar phenomena observable from Earth without any specialized equipment are the auroras, aurora borealis and aurora australis, also known as the northern and southern lights, respectively. These appear as glowing areas high in the atmosphere, caused when high-energy atomic particles from the Sun- usually from a solar flare- hit the upper atmosphere of Earth and make the atoms there glow. Because the solar particles are charged, they are deflected be Earth's geomagnetic field to the magnetic poles. Auroras therefore occur most often in high northern and far southern latitudes but have occasionally been seen near the equator. Scientists can predict auroras with some accuracy by observing storms on the Sun. Auroras appear in many forms: some are faint whitish glows in the sky, others are reddish or greenish arcs, curtains, or rays. They sometimes change rapidly, with waves of brightness seeming to wash over them. Certainly auroras are among the more awesome and eerie natural phenomena."

The self portrait images were again taken with the tripod and remote, but also using a slow flash setting in programable (P) mode followed by a 20 second shutter.
It is easy to see how people become addicted to following and capturing the northern lights. There are many legends, myths, and superstitions about the origins and purpose of these displays. Some Alaskan native myths believe they are souls dancing in the sky, other ancient European cultures believe it was angels clashing and battling in the heavens. In ancient Chinese lore they were described as the breath of dragons blowing fireballs across the night sky. The Vikings thought they were reflections from the shields of Valkyries, maidens escorting dead warriors to heaven. Japanese believe they are associated with the life giving mysteries of conception, and believe any child conceived under the Aurora will be fortunate in life.

They were originally named in 1621 by a French scientist after Aurora, Roman goddess of dawn.

I look forward to continue capturing them on camera. If they appear again tonight I may try and use my video camera to film the show.

Temperature Drops Off

The signs of winter are everywhere. Our fireplace has been going daily for the last three weeks. People continue to tune up their "Snow-Go's" and put way 4-wheelers. Kids are enjoying sledding after school and during recess.

The average daytime temperature has been around 10, with highs in the low teens. The last couple nights its hung around 0.

Two nights ago I recorded -5 on our house thermometer.

The above photo was taken this morning just after sunrise, about 9am.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

First Ski of the Year, Seeing Caribou!

Saturday it was a crisp, clear afternoon and the sun was shining on the freshly fallen snow, so we got out our skis and went for our first ski in Arctic Village. There is not a lot of snow yet, but there is enough of a ground cover to ski. We skied the roads through the village from our house out to the airport.
As we approached the airport, someone driving down the road on a 4-wheeler briefly slowed down and shouted, "hundreds of Caribou at the airport." When we got to the airport, this is what we saw...
Across the runway hundreds of caribou were running, walking and stopping to graze. We spent over two hours just watching the caribou. They kept coming and coming! We literally saw hundreds of them come up from the river and cross the runway.

Flying in to Arctic Village

Flying to Arctic

Flying in bush planes is nothing like flying on regular commercial flights. You don't have to go through metal detectors and you can keep your shoes on the whole time. You can take as much luggage as you want, but anything over 40lbs. you pay for by the pound. Is is 85 cents per pound when flying to Arctic Village.

When I arrive at the airport I load my luggage on a cart, which is weighed, then I walk up to the ticket counter, shown below, where I am weighed with any small carry-on items that I am taking on the plane.

Leaving Fairbanks yesterday, the city was covered in fog and I couldn't see any of the city.
Our first stop was Fort Yukon where one person and a bunch of freight was unloaded. Fort Yukon is where the district headquarters for Sam's school district, Yukon Flats, is located. It is much bigger than Arctic Village. In Fort Yukon there are roads everywhere and many people have trucks and cars, not just four wheelers.
Pictured below is the terminal at the Fort Yukon airport. It has a bathroom with flushing toilets, a telephone and vending machines.
Between Fort Yukon and Arctic Village the views are amazing. As we flew farther North there was more and more snow covering the mountains and rivers.
Stay tuned for more...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Second Snow

Friday evening we walked home from Movie Night at school under overcast snow clouds. The temperature hovered right around freezing. As we fell asleep the wind picked up and that beautiful frozen precipitation started to fall. We awoke Saturday morning to about one inch of snow. By noon there was two inches and the storm started to clear.

The pictures below are from a quick hike up the banks of the Chandalar River.
Jack was totally pumped to get more snow, especially the moist south central style snow.
Abby & River decided they would join us. Where is Arin?
The river only frozen in a few spots, actually held some snow on the surface. A local later told me were at least another month away from walking/skiing/snow machining on the river.
River blending in with her surroundings, enjoying playtime with friends.
The Arctic Village School as seen from up river about 15 minutes.
The storm cleared, and the sun was blinding reflecting off all the new white snow.
How many dogs can we get in the self timer shot?
My favorite nearby mountain.
Possible ski terrain? We'll see!