Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Real Shaktoolik Storm

The first 50+ mph wind storm finally blew into town this week. The locals say it's a little late this year, but it is the first of many vicious blizzards. It doesn't really snow during the storm (or maybe it does?) but the wind picks up so much of the snow that's already on the ground, it creates a "white-out" effect:

That picture was with the flash on, here's the same exact shot with no flash:

Why was I out taking pictures in a white-out, you ask? Well, I still needed to take my garbage to the dump! I had about 30 feet of visibility, so all I had to do was follow the driftwood. Too bad I couldn't get a fire started to burn the garbage though...

I also took a long walk today out to "Jingiak," a river north of the Shaktoolik. I communed with nature as I stood and watched a red fox dance about in the tundra. My orange jacket must have thrown up a red flag though, because he took off before he got closer than 200 yards.

The only spot of the ice that concerned me was the mouth of the Shaktoolik River, and when I saw this 2 foot chunk upheaved, I stopped worrying. I set a new record for myself in -10 degree weather with the wind though, about 3 hours of walking today. I am glad to be inside blogging right now, to say the least!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ah the familiar sound of raindrops on the roof.

Wait a minute! Aren't I in Western Alaska in January!?!? It rained today. I mean, it really, seriously, Washington style rained today. Last weekend is was -30 degrees F during the day, and now it's 35 and raining. Something in me wants to scream out, "GLOBAL WARMING!! GLOBAL WARMING!!!" but who knows. The weather on Bering Sea does what it wants, apparently. One of the local guys took me fishing again, but we had to leave early. It was so warm that the ocean started to overflow at high tide into the Shaktoolik River:

Even though we left early, "we still had to 'skim' through part of the river. This involved going really fast with me in the sled, which was actually a strange combination of fun/scary:

We still had a good catch though. I've got some trout chowder on the stove right now, after a little work on the kitchen floor:

And alas, the last exciting thing to happen this week-with a direct quote from the school custodian:

"Hi Jesse. Your house flood. Okay, see you later."

The school custodians actually did a very nice job of cleaning up my house after a pipe broke. Water had gushed in from one of the walls, totally filling up the kitchen, bathroom, and half of the living room with water. The water is all gone and my pipes are fixed, so there's no sweat off of my back! The floor even has a nice "roll" to it now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bering Sea Ice Adventure

Weather: Clear
Temperature: -25 to -30 degrees F(depending on whose thermometer you use)
Gear: Check

After my foray out onto the frozen sea on Thursday, I really wanted to push the limits of the ocean. I asked several elders and other community members if it was safe to go on ice and the general response was positive. "Yeah, just don't fall in," was a popular response, but I did have someone tell me that it was safe to walk all of the way out to the open water. I decided to head out and turn back whenever I started to freak out. I left behind another teacher's house so that she could check on me with a pair of binoculars.

It was slow going at first. I wouldn't cross anywhere that seemed flat or scary. I kept my eyes open for seals and their "seal holes" they make in the ice, but the only other living creature I saw was a raven after a mile out at sea. Look for the tiny black dot near the center of the picture:

I kept making goals (I wonder what's behind that block of ice just a little farther out...) and following the "pressure lines" of the ice. Two sheets of ice meet and one sheet slides under another, creating a small ridge in the ice and making the whole sheet a little bit thicker. I had my trusty driftwood walking stick with me, and I hadn't heard a single creak on the ice when I decided that I had walked about as far as I wanted for the day:

The village houses were tiny dots on the horizon behind me. I figured that I was about 3 miles out in the Norton Sound:

I was going to turn around, but I felt brazen as I was still toasty despite the -25 degree weather. The sun was shining and the ice was thick, so I went a little bit further. I could see a small few blocks of ice right before a vast expanse of frozen ocean, so I just had to check it out:

Look at the size of those pieces of ice--they can't be much thicker than an inch or two! When I saw that I immediately stopped and waited. I could hear a very slight creak beneath my feet, and I took a few slow steps back toward land. I knew I had reached the end of my expedition when I could feel my heart beating through my 4 layers of clothes! The ice in front of me looked different. You can see the difference in this picture:

The ice in the top 2/3 of the picture is "new ice." The spiny crystals on it indicate that snow hasn't had a chance to blow on top of it, so it hasn't been there for long. This "new ice" stretched out in front of my eyes for seemingly endless miles. Here's a shot of Cape Denbigh after the field of "new ice":

I felt both a chill on my face and down my spine, so I carefully turned around and booked it back to land! The whole expedition only took 1 hour and 45 minutes, but I felt like I'd been to the moon and back.

One final thing--I've been told that throwing boiling water into really cold air will cause it to instantly evaporate. At -30 F, I'd predict about half of it does:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fire lights up fine at -25

I have been at the school WAYYYYY too much for the past week I've been back, so I took a little walk today out to the dump. About 1.5 miles outside of town, it's a happy jaunt to the burning landfill. Some people think I'm crazy that I walk my garbage down to the dump, but I just like to not rely on snowmachines or 4-wheelers every once and a while.

Coming back from the dump, I decided to take a side trip out on the sea ice. I've asked several of the locals how far I can walk out into the frozen Bering Sea and still be safe, and so far they've all replied "Go find out!" I think it's supposed to be a joke...but I ventured 200 yards or so out into the sea ice anyways. I know that it's only waist deep water for hundreds, possibly thousands of yards, so I felt pretty safe. I ended up turning around when I stopped to look out at the bizarre landscape in front of me and felt the chunk of ice I was on move a little bit. I looked around and I could see ALL of the sea ice moving very slowly, gently rocking back and forth by the tide. This really freaked me out and I booked it back to the shore!

One cool thing about hanging out in -25 degree weather is the frosty look you get after about a half hour. The ice crystals on my eyelashes felt sooooo heavy after a while. I can't imagine being out in this weather all day, after about an hour I felt ready to go back inside!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Madly Disorienting

I've just returned to Alaska from a two-week vacation back in Washington. I had quite the head trip trying to transition from Alaska to home. I remember staring into the distance, only to find my eyes "bumping" into trees, mountains, bushes....everything! I had a deep set stare into the Auburn River Valley for a few minutes before I snapped out of it. There was just so much stuff! The temperature was really nice for the first day, but sometimes it felt bizarrely, almost uncomfortably warm outside. Even when I got cold, it was more of a "skin" cold rather than a true bone-chilling cold. Eating food was also a difficulty for me, and at Christmas dinner I could barely put away a single plate! Grandma's succulent delicacies tasted too rich,salty, sweet, and heavy. It felt like the food was knotted up in my stomach rather than digesting. Eating plain rice and beans with fish for a few months has quite an effect on a person! I eventually normalized back to "lower 48" life and "slipped back into my old ways" according to my brother, but it did take a few days before I felt somewhat comfortable. I was finally able to eat food like I used to by the end of my two week visit.

Aside from being weirded out for a few days, it was a great feeling to be around family and friends once more. I was insanely social, almost to my detriment. As Jake said it, him and I need "vacations from our vacations." I figure that I will have plenty of time to be by myself up here in the village, so it's almost like a vacation in itself...except for the teaching and planning for 12 hours a day. Even though I miss my family and friends a HUGE amount, being in a place where I am free from "distractions" (lovable as they are) during my first year of teaching is probably beneficial.

The main crux of having left the village for two weeks--FROZEN DOOR!?!?!? It took me 15 minutes to get the beast open in -20 degree weather, and it took two cups of hot water being poured on the lock to free it! The first cup was merely warm water and it refroze to the deadbolt almost instantly. Arah!