Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Future

After four months back in terrific, non-dry Washington, I am still searching for a true conclusion for my experience in Alaska. Something in me says that it isn't a conclusion at all....more like, a beginning.

(Well I have to go back for six more years to get into the retirement system anyways).

Oh my is a Western Washington autumn beautiful. My brother's plowing in the field is stunning.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


My flight leaves in a mere 2 hours. I've never announced this fact on the blog...but I do not intend to return here next year. This truth is leaving me with a somewhat ominous feeling, mixed with the elation of returning home, but there's one thing that I'll be glad about...


This picture was taken at 3:30 am, before the sun started to come up. Everyone else is used to the light, but it drove me bonkers. Rain fell all last night, and the raindrops reverberating from the roof echo'ed in my mind, reminding me of home (I fell asleep instantly).

Leonard tooke me on a final walk down to Old Site, and as you can see, the snow still prevails. It was actually snowing on Saturday, real flakes falling from the sky. Here's where the beach ends and picks back up into melting snow:

Down at old site, Palmer's new puppies were making quite a ruckus. I wanted to take one of these sled doggies home, but they cost over $600 each.

Leonard and I picked some of the good ol' eskimo curative "stink weed," then we headed back. I'm going to miss happenings like this one:

Yes, that's a 12 year-old boy riding his bicycle with a loaded 12 gauge. He was looking for ducks! When we got back, I started a bonfire down by the beach and it attracted all of the village kids like moths. After keeping all the kids from starting the driftwood caches on fire, I reminded them that I was leaving the next day.

They seem pretty nonplussed and unaffectionate, which was only a reminder of how I am helping perpetuate the cycle of revolving teachers. Maybe it's hard for them not to take it personally that I am not returning next year...but I will miss them dearly. A few students did stop by quite often in the last few days, so maybe I'll have a lasting affect on a few students. There's too much to sort in my head right now, I'll shuffle through my thoughts and make a final post after I reaclimate in Washington next week.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Magooning and Michael Jackson

Well, the last day of school is tomorrow. I have mixed feelings about this day...I am very glad to return home to my family, but there is something I will always miss about Shaktoolik. Like a piece of myself is now stored here...does that make sense? I think so. In any case, the ocean is finally starting to break up and and kids are going "magooning," or jumping from ice block to ice block. Here's two students rocking a loose chunk of frozen sea:

I even took a turn at it! And those of you thinking, "Why is he out on the ice in shorts and sandals?" all I have to say is:

50 degrees is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The unending day is really irking me though. I've never looked at a clock that said 8:30 and wondered to myself, "IS THAT AM OR PM!? Am I late for school? What day is it?" The bathroom is my only respite. Oh, sweet darkness of the bathroom.

As far as the Michael Jackson part of this post is concerned, I just won 25 dollars in a lip sync contest held in the community! Yeah! I was voted "Best Choreography" for my interpretation of "Billie Jean." I'm very hesitant to post this video on the site though. If I saw some serious commenting (like 5 or more) about wanting to see me bust a move, I might consider it. you go. Too bad they didn't record the moonwalking part near the end.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Graduation Shaktoolik High Schoolers!

We had our graduation this Friday for our 3 graduating seniors this year. Unfortunately, 33% percent of the graduating class couldn't attend because they had gotten in snowmachine accidents and had to have surgery in Anchorage (he's okay, but a cardboard cut-out had to take his place at the ceremony). In a graduation this small, the slideshow is about each person and every graduate has to do a speech.

Kelly, Jake, and I were dressed to the nines. I had to suppress the urge to ride a bicycle and discuss the bible.

After the graduation ceremony we headed over to the "annex," the building for all celebrations in the village. I was totally in my element-phooseball, air hockey, and ping pong. Oh how sweet it was.

In other news, 9 days left until I go home! The count-down has officially begun (well we are in the top 10 days now).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

My Own Deadliest Catch

The goal of this weekend was to bring home a mega-load of crab for my family, so I enlisted Calvin for help. The first thing we needed to do was go get some fresh crab bait, which is either trout or whitefish up the Shaktoolik river. It was nice and "hot" today, about 35 degrees, so Calvin had to check the river to make sure we didn't fall in. I kept imaginiing Calvin breaking through and getting swept away, but he was okay.

And then, err, we broke through about a mile more upstream. We managed to pull the sled out and make it past the thin part, but riding in a sled right next to the open water of a questionably deep river still makes me nervous.

After a quick hour of ice-fishing, the bait was caught and we headed off to Cape Denbigh. Crabbing was so much more pleasurable this time around! When Silas took me crabbing it was dark, 0 degrees and we caught 1 crab all night. That and the sled ride was so bumpy that my jacket has sled marks in the back of it. This time the ride was smooth, and it was sunny and windless at the cape. I even got a little nose sunburn! The open water was right there at the edge of the ice:

But wait, doesn't that ice break off and float away? Haha, yes it does, that's why you have to be careful. People have stories of the time they lost their crab lines because the ice broke off and floated away, or whole crab pots even. There wasn't a "North Wind" blowing though, so the chances of a chunk breaking away were relatively low. After all of our hard work handlining (see previous crabbing post), we raked in 13 crabs! I had to hold two on the sled ride home because the cooler was overflowing. Calvin is standing proud with our catch:

I thought it was pretty interesting how the locals load/unload their boats from the water too. I took another video for you, which is almost like a 360 degree picture. I should have done more of these throughout the year...

We got back home after a long day at 1 am. It was just about dark. After taking my share of the crabs and buying a few off of Calvin, I had 7 crabs to process. I got to sleep at 4:45 am this morning, just as the light started to come back. I can see why king crab costs 20 dollars a pound. Fun times!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Break-up! Sort of...

If anyone is wondering why I haven't been posting for a while.....well that's because nothing terribly interesting has happened. Until now...

So "break-up", the fabled breaking of the river ice from winter's deathly grip, happened during the past week. The ocean is still frozen solid, but the Tagoominick River behind Shaktoolik showed some major flowing yesterday. It was actually below freezing, but the sun has finally got enough power to melt through the ice anyways. I felt inspired to take a video, and yes, it's usually this windy:

Cyrus, a student out walking with me, is taking a video too!

Flowing water is a beautiful sound. Cyrus and I were so elated that we even took a trip down to the dump! And check it out-seagulls! They only show up when spring is truly around the corner.

We both found old foam hockey sticks in the discarded waste, and after a few jousts among the filthy garbage I was quick to declare Cyrus the winner and "Lord of the Dump," a title of which he is very proud.

I had to stop and think for a second, "Wait, I am really having a foam hockey-stick duel with an eskimo student at the dump in the Alaskan tundra?" Then I realized that just a few days before, I had been sprinting down main street in 15 degree weather, a mayo jar in one hand and tortilla shells in the other (we were making crab-herb fajitas) of this same remote village. Everything seems really normal until you try and explain it to somebody else...

Oh well, I'm just glad to see the road! It turns out there was earth underneath all of that snow and ice!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Crazy UAF Permafrost guys

Kenji came to visit a few weeks ago and talk about permafrost and global warming. He is an environmental scientist from the University of Fairbanks. Apparently, this global warming thing is a big deal. Check out his youtube video:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Elim Ski Meet

The elementary cross country ski team took their trip to Elim this weekend, another site in the district. Coach Kelly asked me to come along as a male chaperone, and I was happy to oblige. I've wanted to see Elim because I've heard they have it all--trees, a beach, and a new school! In the arctic sunlight the school sure looks new and shiny:

The skiers had a lot of fun! There were relay races and races by grade. You can see everyone getting ready here, with the old Elim high school in the background. The old high school was built in 1980 as a provision of an act that required the state to provide an alternative to boarding school for high school students. 25 years in the arctic have done a lot of damage to the building:

I even had some time to myself during the meet to take an hour-long walk. The trees never looked so beautiful! We have trees in Shaktoolik too, but I have to walk about 3 miles to get to them, so it sure felt convenient to have the trees right there!

I had to crawl through the woods on my hands and knees for a while, I never did invest in any snowshoes. I started sliding on my belly through some of the downhills, but then I saw the trees mysteriously end...

WOAHAHAHOAH! That's a 200 foot cliff right there! I clutched onto the last tree above the cliff and looked down, thankful that I decided to stop sliding around. If only it was a little less sheer, I'm sure it'd be a lot of fun to slide down. I headed back to the school where there were some shallower cliffs for sliding. It was a blast! It's hard to believe that there is a massive cliff overlooking the ocean right in front of the school, but for now, it's just a fun slide:

The next day, it was time to get back on the "bus" and head home. It is insanely bright out there:

Goodbye Elim!

Best of luck to Nick and all of the staff returning next year. In fact, all of them are returning! Have a great summer and a good year! You live in a truly beautiful village.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Thai noodle night

A nicely shoveled walk:

In a stark contrast to the lower 48, students here in bush Alaska love to come visit teachers at their house. I just wanted to mention one of the most useful tools I've been using as a bush teacher: the green/red dot. It's stuck on the window of my house, available for all of my students to see. A red dot indicates to students, "I am busy, please visit later." While a green dot clearly states, "Come on in! (maximum 4)" I had to put a maximum on it or I'd have students crawling all over the place. After Christmas break I started using the green/red dot, and I think it made both me and my students appreciate visiting hours a little more. I snapped a quick photo of the dot while shoveling my walk yesterday.

And what was I shoveling the walk for? For Thai food night, of course! Another quality of bush teaching is hanging out with your fellow teachers, A LOT. Because I am often at other teachers' houses for dinner, I decided to have a nice dinner at my place for everyone. Here I am woking up the pad thai:

Heavy usage of seasoning packets for the Thai food aside, everything turned out great; Except for the Wii Bowling! I had accidentally sucked up the Wii sensor bar cord while vacuuming, snapping it in half. How was the Wii going to work without the sensor bar...? After a little research on the internet, I discovered that the Wii sensor bar is just little device that outputs two sources of infared light, so....

Candles to the rescue! It's fitting that in bush Alaska we had to use regular old candles to make the Wii work. You can see the smile on Gary's face when the Wii remotes worked fine. Two candles as sources of infared light, crazy!

The weather out here is starting to turn to Spring (finally). I heard raindrops onthe roof the other day, but now it's re-frozen and back to 15 degrees or so. It was pretty slushy for a few days:

I bought my plane tickets today though...I'll be home in a short 44 days! There's so much left to do before then, gotta go!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Shaktoolik School Blog up and Running

We've finally got the blog for the school up, but I am not a Wordpress fanatic so things are going at a slug's pace. I've become so familiar with the blogspot form of blogging, I really like it! I don't know if Wordpress is going to do it for me. Well, have a look and anybody who's got some pointers for me, please comment!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Crabbing at the Cape

Cape Denbigh is my new favorite place in Shaktoolik. It is like the city park of Shaktoolik--everyone goes there to hang out and spend some time out of the house. Plus, there is even a slide! Here I am having a blast:

Silas, one of the ECE teachers (and the closest person I have as a peer out here) took me out crabbing last night, and we finally got home at 1:30 in the morning. I had to ride in the sled because I don't have my own rig, but it wasn't too bad. No wait, IT SUCKED. I was able to get "in the zone" and hit the bumpy sea ice just right when I felt the sled vault into the air. My back still feels like hamburger right now. But it was all worth it, for this:

Cha-ching! That's a red king crab, perfect sized and delicious to eat. Unfortunately, I'm holding the entire night's catch in that was just an unlucky day for us at the crab holes. They "hand line" for crabs out here. You just tie a piece of fresh trout (the crab's favorite) around a line with a weight (usually a spark plug), and wait for the crab to pinch onto it. Then you slowly pull the line up when it feels heavy, and the crab will hang on the whole time! No love for us though, and Silas even did the smart thing and dug our holes out around a crack in the sea ice:

We spent much time chopping the ice with an axe and using the eskimo ice-pick tool, called the "duoalk." I was an expert "duoalk"-er after a few holes, because we didn't have an ice-auger. Bud, the principal's husband, came out with us too. After a few holes he was pining for some "gas." We got all of our holes dug though, through about 1.5 feet of sea ice. There were a couple of other groups out crabbing last night too, but they fared quite a bit better than us. Here's Randy pulling up another big one, I think he got over 10 crabs last night:

Oh well, I'll have to return to Cape Denbigh some other time to try out another slide run I have nick-named, "Med-Evac Mountain":

That's actually a 200 foot or so drop. If I can only avoid the boulder at the bottom, it should be pretty fun. The other cliffs at Cape Denbigh are scaled by people in the summer looking for seagull eggs. That sounds way crazier than anything I'd try, these things look pretty sheer:

All in all, it was an awesome Friday night out in the country. It felt good just to get away from the village for a while, 12 miles away that is. Maybe another night of crabbing is in order down the road...

Thursday, March 20, 2008


A friendly note from Jose, the Idita-walker:

Okay so the Idita-bikers came into town, and I said to myself, "These guys are nuts." People who ride their bicycle down the same route as the dog mushers are a whole new kind of person.

They have some serious bikes. The bike&gear weigh in at 60+ lbs, and when I asked one of the riders how often they actually get to ride their bike, he just shook his head and said, "About half the time."

Ever see a 300$ bicycle tire?

Then the Idita-walker showed up, a spaniard name Jose. WOAH. This guy has seen/done everything! At least from the eyes of an extreme outdooring enthusiast. Last night he was describing some of his various adventures and my principal jokingly said, "What are you going to do next? Climb Mt. Everest?" Then he scrolled down the page of his website that showed him at the summit of Everest. WOAH. And he climbed Everest with no guide, sherpa, porter, or anything. I didn't know that it took him 50 days because he had to set up 4 different camps. That doesn't sound very fun. But anyways, he is walking the Iditarod trail, pulling his sled behind him. The students had a lot of fun asking him questions!

Jose's website is here:

A fellow blogger! It was embarassing when I mistranslated his site into, "The Horse of Friday." It turns out cabello = horse, camino = way, and viernes = friday, viento = wind. So his project is called, "The Way of the Wind." That sounds much more romantic. "Por el Cabello del Viernes." Maybe I'll start my own Spanish website...I feel bad for Jose though, because he's going to "scratch" on his Idita-walk. He is taking a flight to Koyuk today because the sea-ice will probably be too treacherous, and his legs have been bothering him. You walk 700 miles across the bleak tundra, pulling a sled, and just now your legs are bothering you? HOW ARE YOU STILL ALIVE?!?! Awesome guy though.

Here are some more Iditarod pictures from fellow teachers. They took some excellent photos, so I might as well share em'! Here is Rick Holt coming into Shaktoolik, a fellow BSSD educator and former principal of this school: