Monday, May 23, 2011

Mount Prindle

After packing everything we might need for the Summer out of Arctic Village, we met up with fellow Yukon Flats educator, Scott Brucker, and headed to the wilderness. Why you may ask, would I go from living in a dry cabin in a village in the middle of no where, to sleeping on the ground in a tent in the middle of nowhere?
 Here's our brand new Mountain Hardware Skyledge 2.1, weighing in at just over 3lbs, super ultra crazy light weight.  Jack pokes around judgingly.
 Yup, "I like this tent", "lets go hike"- Jack says.

 Whoops, I forgot there were a couple stream crossings right at the beginning.
 Scott questioning his recent investment into the world of backpacking.
 Still lots of snow in the high-country.

 Jack, again pleased to be hiking, can you tell?
 Looking for Prindle.
 Still haven't found it, but we'll walk this direction.
Looking for Prindle again.

This spectacular wilderness area was unlike any I've experienced in Alaska.  High alpine tundra covering vast mountains of scree.  Such different geology and topography from the Brooks Range to the North, and Alaskan Range to the South.

I would say this outing had two objectives.  Get Scott out on his first trip, pack up the backpacks, lace up the brand new boots and go hiking.  Secondly our first venture into the White Mountains I wanted a feeling for what they were all about.  Success, both objectives were met.

And we even saw a Lynx.

1st Year Photo Montage

Enjoy a brief recap of my first year teaching to the tune of David Crowder Band's "Intoxicating".

Friday, May 20, 2011

Schools Out

No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers dirty- beard? hair? reading?

Well today was the last day of school. It's amazing, I haven't had a last day of school like this in over 10 years (not counting college).

After a hectic week building up to Graduation, cleaning the school, finalizing grades, and organizing for Summer- we finished with an awards ceremony and farewell Bar-B-Q. Little did I know over half the village would turn up and I would spend almost 3 hours behind a 55 gallon barrel grill flipping burgers, dogs, and breasts. Nearly all the hair on my knuckles has singed away and my clothes are polka dotted with grease. The situation could only have improved with an ice cold Coors Light, but alas, it's a "dry" village...

Tomorrow (yes, Saturday) is my final teachers work day. I need to clean my classroom one last time, finish a couple more items on my Teacher Check-Out Sheet, and i'm officially done with my first year as a teacher. Gretchen, Jack, and I have two more days to pack-up and socialize before flying back to Fairbanks and the first leg of our Summer adventure.

Thanks to everyone that sent thoughts and prayers to Arctic Village supporting us. Its been a rewarding, educational, emotional, and unforgettable experience that I look forward to sharing with you. As I begin to reflect upon this past year a lot comes to mind- and I can honestly say I'm looking forward to getting back here in August and beginning where I've left off.

Until then-

qwinzii naa goo'e'

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Modern Technology Protected by Traditional Beauty

My neighbor, who is very talented at beadwork and sewing recently made me this beaded iPod case. I had sewn my own little fleece case and she said she could make it much more durable and beautiful. Here is what she made:
This is the back of the case. It is made of tanned moose hide with beadwork as a trim around the edges and this beautiful flower on the back.
On the front of the case she even put a little pocket for headphones.
Another view of the back with the top flap opened up.
It fits my Ipod like a glove and even has a velvet lining, so it wipes off the IPod screen each time I put it away! I love it! I told her she needs to start making more of these. It is such a beautiful and durable pouch for an IPod.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Springtime is finally hitting the Arctic and everything is melting! When I left Arctic Village two weeks ago I rode the snow machine to the airport. Everything was still solidly frozen in the village and if not for the longer hours of daylight, you wouldn't be able to guess it was spring yet. When I got into Fairbanks everything was already melted. It was like flying from winter to spring in just under two hours!

Yesterday as I flew back up to Arctic Village signs of spring were beginning to really show.

Here is a shot of the Yukon River as we flew into Fort Yukon. The ice has broken up and a guy at the airport told me that every day there are fewer and fewer chunks of ice in the river.

Here is another shot of the Yukon River from the plane as we left Fort Yukon. Still some ice down the middle, but definitely open water moving.

As we got closer to Arctic, there was still quite a bit of snow but patches of bare ground were present. I was keeping a close eye out for bears and bear tracks, but didn't see any. I know they are awake and out there!

Most of the lakes are still frozen over, but a few more warm days and they'll be breaking up.

As you can see, there is still snow around the village, but the roads and well worn trails have started to melt. Everyone has switched over to four wheelers now because there is not enough snow left for snow machines. Sam parked ours yesterday for the season. So now our primary mode of transportation is walking in rubber boots! You are never too old for puddle jumping!

In this picture you can see how melted the roads are. Our house is toward the top left of this photo.

When I got home yesterday the kids were eager to see me. One even came over and cooked dinner! She had never actually cooked a meal all by herself before, but was very excited to try. She cut these purple potatoes, added seasonings and sautéed all by herself.

She was very proud of the outcome! She kept asking Sam, "Do you like it?", "How does it taste?" Sam made sure to express how good it was and even had two helpings!

Jack expressed his thanks for all the food dropped on the floor during cooking!

Jack isn't too sure how he feels about break-up. When we got back from church today he was up on the desk that we tie him up to.

He wasn't really sure how to get down once he was up there. I think he is getting tired of laying in wet snow and was looking for an escape.

Typing up this post must have jinxed us....I just looked out the window and it is snowing again!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Old John Lake

It was May 8th, Mothers Day. while most people are enjoying warm sunny weather- I was out tearing through the hill sides on my Summit 550.
Late Saturday night I recieved an invitation to go ice fishing with friends Adrien & Arin. So Sunday morning we packed up two snow machines and headed North East about 15 miles to Old John Lake.
The 15 mile ride takes about 1 hour. As snow is becoming a bit sparse within the village limits, all the trails outside of town are still well covered. We left around 10am skipping across frozen puddles from the previous days melt and overnight freeze cycle. In the mountains it was "pow-time" and lots of it.
Our route went from the low level forest along the Chandalar River, over a saddle in the mountain due East of town, then North through a small pass and into the Old John Lake valley.
Old John Lake is huge. With about a 15 mile circumference, it takes a while to get across or get around. Several people from town have cabins along the lake. Come spring, people spend a lot of time up at the lake ice fishing. In the Summer, once the snow is gone 4-wheelers starting breaking the trail out to the lake for constant fishing under the midnight sun.
The lake, surrounded on three sides by the foothills of the Brooks Range- lies along the border of the Venetie Tribal Reservation, private land.
Just North of the lake, looking at the peaks along the east side of the Chandalar Valley.
Sexy snow-go pic.
The lake had about 6-12 inches of snow on top of the ice. We brought an auger out, but after fussing with it about an hour we abandoned hope of drilling new holes in the ice. Luckily Adrien knew of a spot where people had fished a couple days before with holes already dug. We moved a couple miles South along the shore from our original position to find 6 holes with just a little ice crust along the top, nothing a couple swift hits with an axe wouldn't solve.
This was my first experience ice fishing. I was lucky to have an expert, Adrien quickly showed me the trick.
Besides the store bought hooks, everything is home made. We use 14 inch tree branches for poles. Then had about 12 feet of string tied to the stick, with a bright fishing lure on the end. Once the holes are free and clear of ice, drop you lure and wait.
As Adrien pulled out 3 trout, I quickly learned the technique isn't stand around smoking cigars and drinking coffee hoping something bites. Not only do you have to whisper sweet thoughts luring in the fish, but a little jig on the line helps, causing the hook to bop up and down.
Trying my jig technique.
No, these aren't mine, but I did take the pictures. Adrien caught all three of these lake trout.
Apparently these are minnows compared to what is usually pulled out of Old John Lake. Last week someone caught a fish "this big" (holding arms shoulder width apart).
After 5 hours basking in the sun, we packed up and headed back to town.
In between the Old John Lake area, and the Chandalar Valley- lies this spectacular alpine tundra. This wide open expanse lies just East of the ridgeline above Arctic Village. Here we saw Fox, Ptarmigan, and a lot of Caribou tracks.
I was scooping out terrain for future telemark operations. This hill looked perfect for doing laps after parking the snow machine at the lookers right base. Maybe next season I'll bring my sticks out.
I would have given anything for another full tank of gas and 8 more hours to play in the mountains. But we had to head back sometime. The trail into Arctic Village is well worn as people frequently travel out this far to cut firewood, hunt Caribou, and fish at Old John Lake. You can just barely see the schools red roof in the middle of this photo.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wrapping Up- 10 Days To Go

Am I excited to finish the school year and get out of Arctic Village? Yes & No.

I'm really looking forward to finishing my first year teaching, and have that behind me. Not that I want to leave the students, or that I need a break from the students. It has been an awesome experience working with these kids. But I'm looking forward to the achievement of having completed that first year in the classroom. Does that make sense? Obviously your first year can not go on forever, nor do I want it to. I think I'm still so used to working on a 24/7/365 schedule that its hard to imagine I'm two weeks away from being unemployed for the summer. Maybe I would be a good candidate for teaching in year round schools. Not that I want to, but anything I set my mind to, I can do. Now the second part of the question. I'm in no rush to get out of Arctic Village. I've had nothing but positive experiences integrating with the community and settling in. The past several weeks have brought gorgeous weather and very happy friendly people outdoors. Last night I grabbed a burger from the youth center, and sat at a picnic table outside in the sunshine watching some of my students play cards. I know they also need a break from me and school, so in that sense I want to make plans for the future with Students & Elders, then head out for the Summer.

I am very excited about my summer plans, seeing new places and spending time with good friends. There has been a lot of turmoil and turnover recently, I hope to share more specifics in the future.

Summer Schedule:
1 week hiking Mt Prindle, White Mountains & then Kesugi Ridge, Denali State Park
2 weeks in Homer, writing consortium, sea kayaking, & drinking beer at the brewery
2 weeks Colorado, PEAK training, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Montana, Boulder, the Russell's
7 weeks in India- Himalaya here I come!
1 week in McCarthy

Then back to Arctic Village- wow, time will fly by, but stay tuned for photos and TR's.

Finally, I have been working on a compilation video of my first year teaching in the bush. I don't want to publish it until I can snatch a couple more pictures to capture the essence of the whole year.

Dentists Make House Calls

If you can't go to the dentist, let the dentists come to you.For the third year in a row, this team of dentists and dental students have come from a school in Arizona all the way to Arctic Village to serve this remote community.
Arriving Wednesday afternoon on a private charter plane- about 14 dentists, hygienists, technicians, x-ray techs, sterilizers, and an administrative assistant set up in the school. The gym was used as the general examining area. Our P.E. equipment closet was turned into the x-ray room. The kitchen and laundry room were turned into sterilization points. At night it felt more like a hotel then a school. It was our busiest week of visitors yet- 14 dentists, 3 state representatives, and 2 traveling maintenance men.

I opted not to be seen, since I have an appointment after school gets out with a dentist in Fairbanks. But I was told these dentists can do almost anything a regular clinic could do, right here on the gym floor. Cleanings, filling cavities, even pulling teeth and root canals. With no running water to assist brushing twice a day, a high concentration of tobacco users, and an abundance of soda pop drinkers- these dentists had their work cut out for them.
At night some of the students enjoyed socializing and playing games with the young dental students.
Disassembling almost as quickly as they set up- one of the state representatives compared them to an episode of M.A.S.H.