Friday, December 15, 2006

Tasting the night life

Well, I'm sitting here in the school waiting to hear from our plane to see if they will fly in the current weather. I kind of feel like I'm in an airport. Most people leave from the school when they fly. My first flight was already canceled, so we are waiting for the next one. Might have to wait until tomorrow morning.

Last night I went out to look at the night sky and met up with my friend Brett (guy with the dog team). The Aurora Borealis was showing itself in the late night sky and Brett actually got some descent pictures of it. It was about 15 degrees outside, so I didn't stay outside too long in order to not freeze my keister.
The Aurora isn't usually very visible this far west, but we had a pretty good show last night. A few shooting stars as well, but we didn't get any pictures of those.

In case I don't get another posting up before christmas, I hope everyone has a fantastic holiday season and a wonderful new year. I'll be back in Toksook by Dec. 30th hopefully. Thanks to everyone for all the support you have given me through this first part of my 1st year. I think of you often.
Happy Holidays,

Sunday, December 10, 2006

sled dog pics

Here are the pictures of my friend's dog sled team that I meant to attach to a previous posting. He has nine dogs total, but has only been running six of them for now. Brett has taken them out about three times now. The dogs love to run and it helps keep him sane.

It is a pretty expensive hobby, but it looks worth it. Brett usually draws a small crowd when he is hooking up the team. He usually is just trying to keep people from reving their snow machines around the dogs.

Here is a picture of my house. It might not look like much on the outside, but it is warm and spacious inside. The plumbing system however, has been a little bit of a nightmare. I recently had my water turned off again because we discovered a leak. Turning your water off in Alaska is a risky deal, because if your pipes freeze, you are looking at being without water until summer. You just can't thaw pipes in 0 degree weather.

Overall, it has been a great living space for me though. I have my mountain bike set up on the wind trainer in my bed room with my TV, so that I can watch classic cycling races while I ride. It's a little too snowy for biking outside right now. I'm told that the snow is going to be in six to seven foot drifts in front of my door. Nothing like a little manual labor to relieve some stress.

It's about time I get to experience a real winter though. I'm psyched! Willamette Valley, eat your heart out.


Finding my ski legs

Well, I have almost made it through the first part of year number 1 here in the village. I tell it hasn't been easy and sometimes I feel like it's my first week of work. This week should be a little lighter with Christmas celebrations going on in the school and all. Friday will include some movies and we have Santa's workshop on Thursday. I also get a break from the after school program this week, which is a huge relief.

I''ve been really enjoying my new x-country skis lately. I've been out three times in two weeks and look forward to many more adventures to come in the new year. Yesterday was absolutely beautiful in the morning with perfect snow, but I decided to get some work done before I played. By the time I got outside the weather had turned my beautiful day into a windy, frozen, low visibility, ominous day to be out of view from the village. People get lost in bad weather and literally disappear up here every year.

I didn't get lost though. I am still trying to master my downhill turns on x-country skis. The snow gets so inconsistent when the wind starts cranking at 20 - 30 mph and drifting snow in some places and uncovering ice in other places. Any secrets you may know, please email me your advice.

Hope everyone is doing well.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

snow machines and dog sleds

Well, winter is officially here. Most of the four wheelers have been replaced with snow machines (mobiles). The snow machines are considerably louder and people drive them a lot faster. I'm not sure if there is a legal age for driving a snow machine, but it seems like it is around 7 or 8 years old here in the village. People go tearing up the hill with snow boards and sleds all day and most of the night, especially on the weekends.

I helped my friend Bret get his dogs hooked up for their first venture out in Toksook Bay this year. It was pretty awesome to watch his team of six take off across the tundra towards the frozen bay. Pictures coming soon!

After Bret took off with his dogs, I headed out for my first x-country ski venture in about six years. I was pretty psyched to be breaking trail across the Alaskan tundra to get back into my form, which is pretty sloppy. I only went about 1/3 of the way up the hill (please refer to previous blog postings and imagine snow everywhere), and I had a pretty good wipe out as I tried to negotiate the terrain coming back down.

Teaching is a constant struggle but going well in general. I'm looking forward to getting down in the lower 48 for a couple of weeks. It doesn't seem like I've been up here for 4 months already. The year is about 1/2 over. I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their winter.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Home visit PTC

I thought I might as well make up for slacking on the blog, by making two entries in one night. So this was a big first for me too. We recently had parent teacher conferences (PTC) this past week and I had some students that weren't able to make it, so I had to reschedule. One parent had another obligation, butchering a seal, so I decided to stop by the house for a visit and possibly take care of the conference at the same time.

I walked into the house and sure enough there was a dead harbor seal lying on the kitchen floor. Someone in the family had killed it a couple of days earlier and after letting age for a couple of days, they butcher it. The women generally do this work after the men hunt the animals and bring them home. Women use a special knife called an Uluk that was designed has been used for centuries by the Yup'ik people. It is basically a large curved blade with an ivory or wooden handle directly on top of the blade and you hold it in your palm. A well sharpened Uluk can cut through fish, seal, elk, or musk ox in no time.

She was going to work on this seal beside us on the kitchen floor while we were talking about my students school work and attitude in class. It was a little distracting and amazing at the same time.

People generally cut the seal blubber away from the animal first and remove any pieces of meat from the blubber. The blubber is then cut into smaller pieces and allowed to drain of the seal oil, which is used for everything. I had a chance to try some a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting one of the elders in the village. I was offered some moose soup, which I eagerly agreed to and told that I should try a little (very little) seal oil in the soup. It is very very strong, but kind of tasty. Word of advice, a little bit goes a long way. The seal meat is sometimes used in soups, but most often cut into strips and hung to dry like beef jerky. I haven't tried any yet, but I look forward to it.

Hope everyone is hungry after this, cause you're all getting seal jerky for christmas.

Thanks for reading.

Native Youth Olympics

Hello! Yes, I'm still here and kicking. Sorry it's been a little while. I've been sort of tied up with this whole teaching gig.

Two weekends I got to be a part of history as Nelson Island High School hosted yet another Native Youth Olympics meet on Oct. 27th and 28th. Personally I have a good bit of experience with what most lower 48ers would call track and field, but this event/meet gave me a whole new appreciation for middle school and high school athletes. Let me just name a few of the events and then I'll go into greater detail about a couple of them.

The meet started off with the Kneel jump, then to one hand reach, two foot high kick, Eskimo stick pull, one foot high kick, Alaskan high kick, wrist carry, Indian stick pull, toe kick, and finally the seal hop, which was held on the second day. The kneel jump is pretty self explanatory. Athletes kneel on a line and see how far they can jump forward onto their feet without falling over, very similar to the standing broad jump. The one hand reach was pretty amazing to watch. Athletes arrange themselves pretty low to the ground and balance on two hands at first, but then they have to reach up with one of their hands to touch a ball suspended from a string above their head. If an athlete can touch the ball and come back down on two hands and stay balanced, they move on to the next height. The ball gets higher and higher with each successful round until no one can reach it. Some girls were reaching 50 inches up in the air on one hand. Pretty awesome.

Two foot high kick involves athletes trying to kick a suspended ball with both feet, toes even, and land back onto their feet again with out seperating feet or falling over. Some of the guys were kicking 92 inches high, which to me is totally mind boggling. One foot high kick is kicking the suspended ball with one foot and landing on that same foot. I think 96 inches won that event for highschool men.

The attached photo is of the Eskimo stick pull. Athletes are trying to pull the stick out of the other persons hands. And yes, that is yours truly acting as the judge. Indian stick pull is kind of similar, only the stick they use is tapered at both ends and completely covered with Crisco. That's right, don't let your mind wander too much on that thought. This event took the high school girls 3 hours to complete. It was rather mind numbing. The toe kick is probably one of the more challenging events. Athletes have to do a standing broad jump and while in the air, use only the tips of their toes to kick a 1 inch dowel rod backwards and then land on their feet. It will take me many moons to perfect this event or even do it successfully without breaking my legs.

Well, there you go. I don't write for months and then you get the mega blog entry. I hope you enjoyed. Wait until the next one. Coming soon!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dropping the hammer

So I am starting my 6th week of teaching tomorrow. I can't believe it myself. Next week is October. Time is really flying up here now. I am busier than ever with my teaching and keeping track of all the information for our math, reading, and writing students.

The 7th grade class has really been pushing their limits with me and I have had to drop the hammer of justice on them a couple of times. I am going to wear the hammer on a holster by my side for the rest of the year. I'm still learning tons of new information about this field of teaching, although it is making me gray.

Last week was probably my toughest week so far with everything from disciplining students to coming up with meaningful assignments for my six subjects that the students enjoy and learn from. By the end of the week, I was totally fried. So this morning I went hiking up the Tundra and did some fishing.

My first Silver on the fly rod. Yeee - haa!
And now it's back to the grind stone.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pictures of the Berry fest.

Here is our number one varsity runner on the ridge during the X-C meet. Maybe?

All right, maybe not.

Today was another unique experience for me in the village. A native woman in village passed away earlier this week after battling cancer for a couple of years. The whole village was at the funeral. We let students out of school at 1:45 today so they could attend. The woman was the mother of one of my students. It was pretty difficult walking past the family and offering strength, hope, and prayers to them while looking at their deceased mother, aunt, wife, etc. She was only about 36 years old.


Black Berry Festival

Last weekend was indeed the most fun I have had since I've been here. The weather was absolutely beautiful, which allowed all planes to travel without delay. Therefore, we had lots of people coming and going in the village. Saturday was the Nelson Island Coastal Classic cross country meet. There were about 6 schools and about 40 runners that competed overall. This photo is from the top of the ridge where they turned down a steep hill and returned to the village. I walked the course twice and I've concluded that this course was the most intense cross country course I've ever seen. Runners had to slog through streams and tundra, scramble on all fours up steep climbs, and negotiate technical downhills without flying head over heels. Our top runners in junior high and high school place first for their races. Many runners were left with their tongues dragging and their egos bruised.

Speaking of bruised egos, Saturday afternoon was a 3 mile fun run that I chose to compete in. The first place high school runner did the race too, not 2 hours after he finished kicking everyone's teeth in during the x-c race. Greg Lincoln, recent Toksookian, also did the race and both of these guys left me in the tundra dust. The next day was the bike race and I was hoping to return the favor on my trusty mountain bike, which I had just received in the mail the day before the race. No one seemed to show up except for a bunch of kids on BMX bikes, so I proceeded to make them look like slugs in the desert. Truthfully, as I sat up coming across the finish line, one of my 7th graders squeeked past me for the win. I did wait for 5 or 6 times during the race and he didn't even let me have my moment of glory. He deserved the win I guess. He got a new Walmart bike for 1st place and I got 50 bones for 2nd. Not bad.

There was also lots of berry picking, Agutaq eating, and fiddle dancing at the school. The fiddle dances were more like country music stand up shows. Hank Williams would have been proud. Lot's of people dancing though, until 2 am Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. All of the runners from different schools stayed in the high school as well, so it was a very busy place. There was native Yup'ik dancing at the memorial center in town and men and women from different visiting villages got decked out in the native dress and pleased the crowd with their story telling girations. The drumming and dancing combined is actually very energizing and quite the unique experience.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Double take

I'm not sure why that last post had duplicate pictures. Here is a picture of the Alaguchik river that I was fishing. This river isn't very long and runs out into the bay not more than a half mile from the view point of this picture. There are some shallow lakes around too, but they freeze over during winter and don't hold anything.

I really enjoy waking up on mornings with a beautiful sunrise for two reasons. One is that it's easier to walk over to the school to take a shower with a nice sunset to look at. Two, you know that it's going to be a nice, but windy day outside. The water in the background is actually the harbor and bay. The Alaguchik is almost 3 miles in the distance.

Fishing the Alaguchik

This posting is for all my friends who like to fish or who like hearing me talk about fishing. I managed to put my school work down for a few hours on Sunday and go for a little hiking and fly fishing adventure. I loaded all my fishing gear up in my big pack and started hiking out towards the airport, about 1 1/2 miles from my house. Then I turned onto a fourwheeler trail over the Tundra, which are everywhere. Following this trail/road down to the river I just started hiking up the river to a place where it looked the fishing might start getting good. I changed into my waders and rigged my 7 wt. rod up and felt my heart start beating a little harder. It had been about 3 or 4 weeks since I had been fishing and I was ready.

Hiking up the river, I saw a couple of Silver Salmon hanging out next the bank or just above a rapids. I made a cast to them and they emediately darted away. They are really hard to sneak up on. I had heard that there were Dolly Varden in the river as well and that they were sucking up Salmon eggs like a hoover vacuum, but all I saw was tiny, tiny fish attacking my egg pattern. I kept hiking up and casting in holes that looked like they might hold a fish. Again, Salmon that either saw me and bolted or stubborn Salmon that would watch my egg float right by them and not budge. Really frustrating!

After about an hour and a half, I got to a bend in the river that was deep right against the bank and a nice tail out from the rapids above. I made a couple of casts and felt a little bump. I set and much to my surprise, I hooked a 17 - 18 inch Dolly. Thinking that I had stumbled onto the a rogue fish, I moved up and kept casting. Within the next 10 casts, I had hooked two more fish of the same size. Woo-hoo! This was fun. I wished I had my net, because a couple of fish shook my hook before I could get them to my hand. My 12 lb test was going to hold them no problem. All in all, 6 Dolly's and two came home with me for dinner. Pretty tasty. I even tried to cook the roe, although, I wasn't too fond of that.

I'm discovering a more comfortable life up here. Once my bike gets up here, I think I'll be set. I wouldn't mind some visitors eventually as well. Better make it quick, winter is coming. Brr!

My First Steam and Eskimo Icecream

Well, with my first week of classes under my belt, I was thoroughly drained and helpless. But my first week was under my belt. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were spent crunching more data and trying to figure out how to help our kids succeed in Math, Reading, and Writing which would ultimately help Nelson Island High meet AYP (Academic Yearly Progress). After that was over, my brain was an egg frying on a stove top. Sizzle, Sizzle! My fellow teacher, Marty invited me to join him and two others for a steam. I had heard that my first would be one to remember, because I would get initiated. I'm not really big on the whole fraternity concept of initiations, but I knew this would be a little different.

Picture a small wooden shack with a small entranceway and a front room with a low ceiling where you get undressed and keep your clothes. There is cardboard on the floor to soak up sweat and change when they get too muddy. Now imagine a door leading into a smaller room with a lower ceiling, forcing you to stay bent over. Everyone sits on the floor and the heat wave is intense. Yeah, it's kind of like a sauna, but a little smaller and really well sealed from the elements outside. Lava rocks are piled on a pretty darn big wood stove and water near by of course for dumping on the rocks. Well, the natives up here like it hot. How hot? Hot enough that you have to wear something over your ears or they will burn and blister. Hot enough that any moving air will burn you....period. That includes your breath. Therefore, you have to be careful not to breath on anyone. You still have to breath, therefore, I had a burned tongue and gums from the heat. There were a couple of times when I had to cover my eye lids and really get as close to the floor as possible or it felt like my flesh was melting off.

Anyway, we steamed two or three times, each time getting to the point where we can barely stand it. Then we go back out to the entrance way to cool off and then go back in again. The sweat is literally running off you and you have to drink water regularly to keep from hallucinating. The last time you go back in there is no more water added to the lava rocks and you get a basin to totally wash yourself with. My blood pressure was so low and I was soooooo relaxed that I went home and went right to bed. I think it is the cleanest I have ever felt. I definitely look forward to my next steam.

Also, the 4th grade class went out to pick berries last week. When they returned they made some Agulak, which is what most non-natives call Eskimo Icecream. Equal parts Crisco and sugar and then add what ever berries you have available. These were black berries, which actually look more like blue berries, but a little smaller. Anywho it was pretty tasty. Better than I thought it would be. A little Criscoey aftertaste though. It doesn't melt and run all over your clothes like regular icecream does. Bonus!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Visiting the little people

I have been in Toksook Bay for a solid week now and enjoying it very much. The weather has been dry, which means that you don’t have to wear rubber boots when you step outside your door and people are oot and aboot everywhere. Many women and children are out picking berries, the men are working or doing odd jobs and a couple of people, including myself, go hiking or running.

I’ve climbed the hill behind the village for the past two days in a row now and it was just as spectacular the second time as the first. It’s only about a 4 mile round trip, but would make a pretty strenuous run. There are several 4 wheeler trails that climb the hill, which isn’t very steep for the most part. The trails make me wish that I had my Mtn. bike right here, right now. Of course when it rains, which it does more often than not, it would be a very, very muddy trail.

Near the top of the mountain, it actually gets very characteristic of tundra, meaning the ground is very spongy and there is standing water in places. If you are careful and able to leap from one dry mound to the next, you can keep your feet dry. The structures that you see at the top are 7 – 8 foot tall mounds of rock covered with a yellow/orange lichen, sort of like giant cairns.

Native folklore has it that there are tiny people that live among the holes in the rocky ground. The little people are a mountainous tribe and are known to be tricksters, getting hikers and wanderers lost or disoriented. Sometimes they will reach out of their holes and pull down under ground with them, sort of like leprechauns.

I haven’t seen many people up there from the village, nor have I seen any little people myself. They must stay well hidden.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A quick look at Toksook Bay

Well, after wrestling my way through Blogger and creating a new blog I am back to putting material on the blog.

Here are a couple of photos from town that I took while walking around. A couple of things that I noticed include. Kids will say "Hi" and come up to ask you questions without hesitation. Sometimes they will come right into your house and stay until you tell them they have to go. Over half of the population in the village consists of people between 0 and 18 years in age. Dogs around the village are usually tied up outside to endure the cold, rain, and wind, sometimes without any shelter. Hence, they are tough dogs.

Speaking of tough, I'm having a tough time uploading pictures to my blog, so I apologize for the lack of visuals.

Back to info about Toksook Bay. All roads are dirt, so it's either dusty when it's not raining, or it's really muddy when it is. Right now it is and it will probably continue for another few weeks. Looking at all the skeletons of old snow machines and 4 wheelers and you quickly realize that people don't just throw things away, but pillage parts from things until there is nothing left.

Well, I started getting my room together today and it's been busy busy busy. More information as I get closer to the students arrival on August 21.