Saturday, December 15, 2007

Frozen Tundra Rides

So the temps have been in the teens and single digits bringing everything to a very solid state. We haven't seen much precipitation however, which means that is perfect riding weather. I have tried to take advantage of this situation as much as possible by charging up my head light and getting out everyday for the past 5 days in a row. Katja hasn't had any objections.

Here are some pics of our latest ride. Might I add that even though the studded ice tires are an improvement for riding in these conditions, it is still pretty terrifying to go screaming across sheets of ice at 15 - 20 mph. This picture is the piled up ice chunks at the mouth of the Alaqucak River. It was the first time I had been out to the mouth all fall. It's amazing how much easier it is to travel over frozen tundra than soggy, marshy, boggy tundra.

The terrain out here is pretty ...... uneven to say the least. Occasionally I have to break trail over fresh tundra to get where I need to go. This is what typical frozen tundra looks like.

The bay is almost frozen, but it is at it's most dangerous time. One of my main concerns is keeping Katja off the ice, so that she doesn't fall through. This trail followed the coast gave us a nice view of the frozen coastline.

Here are some pics of the trail going up the hill. I usually always pass some snow machines going up or down the hill, which are usually accompanied by strange looks. This is Katja's favorite ride, because she gets to race me back down the hill after we climb it. She really becomes quite a handfull when she decides I'm going too slow. She begins barking, growling, running in circles, and occasionally nipping or clawing my legs to get me moving faster. Even on the downhills, I can't go fast enough. On conditions like these, I don't want to go fast enough.

I'm sure that when I return from Christmas, there will be too much snow for riding outside on the hill. Katja will hopefully be ready to don her skijoring harness again.

Until next time, I thank you for reading and wish you a very happy holiday season.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Staying true to the blog

I realize that the title of my blog is “Teaching in Toksook”, however I don’t really talk about my teaching that much. It’s not that I am embarrassed about my pursuit of becoming an effective teacher, it’s just that I find more creative energy after a hard days work, thinking about recreational pursuits instead.

Anyway, I thought I would tell a quick story about an experience that my class shared. We were playing a game, similar to Taboo, to reinforce vocabulary. One student stands at the front of class with a small stack of index cards, each one with a vocab word on it that only the student can see. The student can say anything they want, except the word on the card, in order to get another student in the class to guess the word on the index card. I kind of stand off to the side in case students need a little hint of a clue to give the class. Some of the words can be difficult for students to understand well enough to give decent clues. On this day, the student turned to the first index card. The word was “plural.” A giant smile grew on her face and I could tell that she knew what the word meant and was about to give an excellent clue. She opened her mouth and very confidently, yelled “Kittens!” There was a brief silence and then I immediately started to convulse with laughter. This was soon followed by the rest of class, as well as the student herself. I think that everyone realized that there were many words she could have chosen, but she picked something very cute, girly, and completely random. I still smile when I think of that moment and occasionally I remind her of that humble moment. She still laughs about it as well. I guess you had to be there.

More pictures of winter fun

Here are some more pictures of Katja and I skijoring. Our friends Kevin and Foster were out with us and snapped a couple of photos while taking a short break.

Here are some more random photos of Katja playing with her toys. Personally I do not like staging photos and prefer more of a candid style of photography, so I’m thankful that my camera was close by and that Katja didn’t jump up to see what I was looking at.

Dec. 1st in Alaska and no snow???

Yes, it’s true. The ground wasn’t even frozen on Dec. 1st due to a strange warm spell that hit the SouthWest region of Alaska. Strong winds from the south, gusting sometimes up to 70 knots hit Toksook Bay and other parts of the region for a period of 3 – 4 days and melted almost everything, minus a few patches of really deep snow in the valleys. This also meant that the mud returned for a short time as well. Everything was pretty soggy and muddy for a couple of days. I was tired of mud back in September, so this was particularly hard for me to take. Katja needed her paws wiped before entering the house again. That is a drag for both of us.

But it is Alaska and Old Man Winter couldn’t bear to see one of his favorite parts of the winter world bare of snow. On Dec. 1st, Old Man Winter took a deep breath, the winds switched to the North, and the temperature dropped form 37 degrees to 15 degrees in about 5 hours. You could almost see the thermometer moving.

On Sunday, the 2nd, I did manage to get out on the Mtn. Bike again and ride a circuit trail that I had been meaning to all fall. The ground was frozen pretty good, but large puddles were still unpredictable and often I broke through. A couple of times, I got into really soft and watery tundra and had to dismount in 12 inches or more of water. Once I even buried my front wheel up to the axle. Should have gotten a picture of that, but I forgot in the amazement that I didn’t go for a mud swim. Katja and I had a blast though. We didn’t see any fox, which was probably disappointing for her, but good for me, because I didn’t want Katja going after wild animals that could bite back. I didn’t break my bike. I didn’t break my person, although I came close a couple of times. We didn’t freeze or get lost. All in all, it was a good trip.

The temps haven’t been above 30 degrees since then and hopefully it will stay that way until late March. Okay, I’ll take a couple of days at 35 degrees. I was hoping that the bay would freeze and I would be able to start ice fishing before Christmas, but alas, I will have to wait until I return.

Two and a half weeks until I return to Maryland. I hear that it’s been snowing in that part of the world as well. It’s funny, I really like living in the snowy parts of the world. I hope to see you in the snow.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Fun with skis and dogs

So I’ve decided to hold off on buying the fat tired bike for the time being. Maybe next year, if there is a next year. Who knows. Since I have a dog that loves to pull me around whenever we go on walks, I figured I would invest in a toy that both of us could enjoy.

So, I recently purchased equipment for skijoring. The set up is pretty simple. Dog harness with crisscrossed weave across the back and loops at the back for hooking in the tow line. The tow line has elastic in parts in it to help absorb some of the shock of your dog taking off suddenly. It stretches out about 15 feet ahead of the skier. The belt the skier wears is padded in the back, has two loops for your legs (almost like a climbing harness), and has an elastic “V” set up in the front much like water skiing. The belt also has a quick release halyard in case the skier falls and has to release the dog quickly. The halyard attaches to one end of the tow line and the other end of the tow line attaches to the back of the dog harness. The only thing left is get some chump with x-country skis, minimal coordination, and the willingness to try anything once, hook him up to the dog, sit back and enjoy some comic relief. It works with biking, roller blading, and running as well, but I haven’t tried any of that yet.

The comic relief only happened the first couple of times, although, I’m sure there will be more comedy acts farther down the road. As any dog owner knows, you never know what your dog might do or when he/she will do it. Like the time Katja pushed the door shut behind me when I stepped outside for a second. The door was locked and where would you guess the keys were? Inside, of course. That was a minor inconvenience.

Anyway, back to skijoring. Today, Katja and I went out for about an hour and a half. There is barely enough snow to really ski the roads without running into bare patches wind swept of snow. Eventually we got a snow machine track and Katja needed minimal directions from there. She is an incredible puller and can follow a trail very naturally with little distractions. We followed the snow machine trail east towards Tununak (about 7 miles away). You can probably look it up on Google Earth. The trail wasn’t very established, yet but it was sufficient for us. Later in the year, it should be very established and allow a skier or possibly biker to travel all the way fairly easily. We got about 3 miles away from Tununak before we turned around and followed our tracks back to Toksook.

When we got back, Katja was ready to go again. I was ready for a serious nap and many carbs to replenish my energy supply. It was the most successful outing we have had so far with the skis. Katja is really getting a grip on the commands. “Wait,” means just stand or sit there. “Line out” means put some tension on the tow line. “Let’s Go!!!” means take off. “Gee” means turn right, “Haw” means turn left. “Easy” means slow it down and “Whoa” means stop. That’s pretty much it. The problem is half the time, I forget the stupid commands and Katja is left standing there looking at me, probably thinking to herself, “What is his problem?” Oh well, I’ll get better with practice. Katja is very patient with me.

I hope that many of you are enjoying the wintertime as much as Katja and I are here in Toksook Bay, Alaska.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, October 22, 2007

Winter is here

Well, we have had snow for over a week now and it doesn’t feel like it is going to melt anytime soon. I just came in from walking the dog and it’s a crisp 20 degrees F. at the most. Last weekend I took my bike out for my first winter ride of the season. This is probably my favorite time of the year, not just because of October and Halloween, but the ground is now frozen most of the time and the snow is starting to appear. It’s a perfect time to ride the bike.
The one downer here is the wind in the winter time. It is unrelenting and brings the temps down another 10 – 20 degrees F. It also drifts snow so that once in a while, the bike gets a little bogged down.
This weekend in Bethel though, I got a chance to ride one of the infamous Surley Pugsly bikes. What a winter biking dream machine. Four inch wide tires, no derailleurs, cables, shifters, or other moving parts. Just one gear, two wheels, a light, stiff steel frame and a monster truck mentality. It didn’t take me long to start trying to justify me owning one right away. The man that owned the bikes is one, Martin Leonard. He teaches at the university and is an outdoor enthusiast, like myself. Martin takes it to the extreme by doing Mtn. Bike and sea kayak expeditions here in Southwest Alaska… the winter. Anyway, his bikes were a real hoot to ride and it made me want really bad.
I don’t think that I’ll be purchasing a new Pugsly this year, but it may have to happen if I’m here another year or more. We shall see. In the mean time, I will have to equip my 1991 Specialized Stumpjumper Epic with studded snow tires and some special grease that won’t freeze up in the extreme temps here in Toksook Bay. Somehow I will manage to get by.

The important thing is that Katja and I are having a blast in the snow. I feel for all those that are still feeling the hot humidity on the east coast. Come visit for a little taste of winter. I'll let you walk my dog at 6:30 in the morning when it's 15 degrees out.

See ya soon,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Umkumiut - part duex

A couple of weeks ago, I ran back to the smalling village of Umkumiut with Katja. This time, I brought a camera and took some photos along the way and of the village itself. The weather was beautiful on this day and the wind was a little calmer. The tide, however, was not as low, so I had to keep the pace up so that I didn't get stuck on one of the points.

As you can see the coast in parts isn't so nice and sandy. Some parts are actually rougher than this, so it's good to slow down a little in order to not sprain an ankle or just break your leg in two. Katja is good about taking her time and sometimes she is actually being more cautious than I. This particular point is one that is impassable at higher tides.

Along the way there are also little streams that trickle out of the hills. Some of them braid out into minuature deltas as they enter the sea and this one had a small school of sea stars scattered around on the beach. Watch your step.

Along the way, there were many skeletons that Katja loved to sniff and puruse.

Skeletons of all kinds. I think this was a Ski - Doo 550x.

The actual village of Umkumiut is not inhabited all year round and recently is barely used at all. The highschool does a 3 - day overnight there at the beginning of the year for all high school students. There are some families that have homes there and stay there for part of the summer. I took a peek in some of the windows and saw food scraps spread out on tables and some food wrappers still on the floor. The homes are very basic: kitchen, table, a few chairs, wood stove, and beds. I don't think there is running water, but some homes have electricity and heat.

This path acts as main street through Umkumiut. There are also many paths that connect to the beach where fishing boats are stored.

It is so mind boggling to think that people actually stayed out here for months at a time long ago. As I walked around, I took way more photos than I could ever put into a blog posting. And as luck would have it, when I made the return run back to Toksook, I had to wade through the water around those points because the tide had already covered the rocks that I ran across on the way out. It was worth getting a little wet and the wade only added to the whole experience.

This is the view you get as you approach the village from Toksook. The cliffs behind are very rugged and the coastline on past Umkumiut is very steep and unforgiving.

Well, it's not exactly a place that you would make reservations to see, but if you ever get to the west coast of Nelson Island, I strongly suggest that you check it out.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Trip to Umqumiut

I got home from work absolutely exhausted today. I let Katja out and them we laid on the couch where I tried to get a quick power nap. Katja had other plans however. It only took about 90 seconds before she was at my face licking and nudging me awake. I rose and put on my light rain gear and running shoes and we headed to the beach. I didn't think of bringing my camera, because I wasn't aware of the adventure that I was about to embark on. I'll try to get some pictures some other time. Upon arriving at the beach, I noticed that the tide was really out. Normally, I can only run up the coast around a couple of points (about 1 1/2 miles) because the high water, but today I decided to see how far I could go. I was filled with excitement as I rounded the farthest point I had been to since. I skipped over the rock strewn sections of beach and around the rockweed until I found smoother beach and headed to the next point. Eventually, I rounded a point and saw small buildings in the distance. Again, I was filled with new energy despite the almost constant head wind that I was bucking the whole way.
The beach leading to Umkumiut, the small fish camp just south of Toksook, was almost stone free. We continued to pushed the wind, but it didn’t bother me. I almost decided to turn around once I was in sight of the village, but my sense of adventure urged for onward. As I ran along the village, I passed fish drying racks, small smoke houses, and slightly larger houses. Only a couple houses, out of the 15 total, had heaters or electricity. We made it to the other end of the village and stood up on some boulders to celebrate our arrival.
Before we turned back, I decided to find a nice skipping rock to bounce of the breaking waves that hit the coast. Katja had wandered out in the smaller waves and got a little taste of salt water. As I skipped my rock, Katja followed it out into deeper water. Pretty soon after that, she took a five foot breaker right on top of the head, which I’m sure surprised the shit out of her. I just about fell over laughing as she bounded out of the water seemingly on her hind legs trying to get her head as high as possible. After we recovered, we let the strong wind push us back to Toksook. With the tide coming in, I had to pick it up and the tail wind helped a lot. I still had to play spider man a couple of times and race some small breakers into the high spots on the cliffs. Katja just splashed through the shin deep water with out regard.
We eventually made it back to the house, worn out but wearing smiles. Once again, I am thankful to have a companion to get me off my ass and outside exercising. As we ran the smooth section of beach from Umqumiut, Katja found a burst of energy and started running circles, literally circles around me. It was fun watching her race in circles and then turn and scream down the beach at full tilt. By the end of the run, we were side by side and sometimes Katja was trailing me, which means she had a good workout. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Visions of Berry Fest

Although it's been over a week ago, I thought I would give you a few highlights of the Blackberry festival that occured here in Toksook this year. I actually can't give you highlights that occured in the village, just highlights of my weekend in particular.

Thanks to having a dog now, I have been forcing myself outside more often to explore and exercise my furry ball of energy. I've been hiking up the hill more times than I can count and recently been exploring more areas off the beaten path. I've been amazed at the number of berry patches that I have discovered by walking off the trail system. I have over a gallon of blueberries frozen in my freezer this year and last year I had less than a quart.

It's also been a great year for cranberries and red berries. The cranberries are darker red and the red berries are, of course, bright red. I haven't tried the red berries yet, but supposedly you can eat them.

And of course, you can't mistake these for berries. I haven't seen a live Musk Ox in the wild yet, but they leave signs all around the island. My 4th grade friend Coby said that he saw some just over the hill a couple of weeks ago. He's such a lier. Can you tell I'm jealous?

This picture is actually taken just a couple of days ago and long after blackberry fest. This is my friend Erin from Oscarville with her little dog, Macey and Coby, the 4th grader, giving Katja a little hug. Judging from the picture, I think that Coby will make an excellent dog sitter some day.

Well, that is all for now. I hope this doesn't seem like a desperate and random post. Stay healthy and live it up!


Friday, September 07, 2007

My humble abode

Well, many of you are probably wondering what my home life is like up here in the most rural setting I've ever lived in. So I've finally gotten around to taking some pictures of my most humble abode. This building actually houses my boss/principal and family on the left side and me and Katja live on the right side. Yes, the walls are thin. As you can see, I also have a lawn, if you want to call it that. The landlord doesn't make me mow, which is fine by me. The big black drum outside is my oil tank for my heater. I have a board walk that goes right up to my front door which is kind of nice. Step off the board walk and you will most likely be in mud. Supposedly there is a small river that flows under my house when it rains alot, which it does because I live on the west coast of Alaska.

The house is quite a bit smaller than my old home. It is also quite a bit more rustic and closer to the center of the village. I did have a little fly problem, but that is slowly being taken care of with the coming of colder weather and my dog is a master fly catcher, although she leaves dead fly carcasses scattered around the floor. Good dog! Living closer to the center of "town" poses another problem that I didn't have last year. I get a lot of visitors. I think this is mostly due to my proximity to other families and their kids and also that Katja is such a friendly and sociable dog, kids just love her. I guess that isn't a bad thing. Almost everyone knows her name by now, so I just have to ask kids to hold her leash while I duck into the school quickly for something or they can tell me which way she ran off towards if she sneaks out of my sight. I like kids and I like my job, but usually, whatever you do for work is the last thing you feel like doing when you're not at work. (a.k.a. entertain kids) I rarely invite kids in for visits, but they are always asking to come in. Sometimes you just gotta be stern.

Anyway, back to the house. It's cozy for Katja and me. It does have lots of storage space, which is nice because I'm such a gear head. I don't have a real good place for a TV/VCR and such besides my bedroom, but I can drag the computer out to the living room to watch movies with Katja.

I have three windows in the house, but the screens are all torn out. Luckily there aren't bad mosquitos in town. Actually, I haven't seen any in or around my house despite the grass/swamp outside.

I am using every square inch of my house. One nice thing about the size is that it will heat up quickly, which I will be doing in another few weeks. I haven't turned on my heat at all yet, but it is noticably colder in the morning when I wake up and Katja is almost always cuddled in her crate instead of sprawled out on the floor next to my bed.

I have recently purchased some hardware to make Katja a little tether outside so that she can spend time outside when I am at work. Hopefully she will grow used to it quickly. Here you can see her little dog house, which my friend Brett left for me. She is a little co-dependent yet, so we will see if she tries to break her neck to get off the tether or not. She already climbs right into the dog house without hesitation. We will have to work up to spending long periods of time left alone outside.

That is pretty much it though. So when you are kicked back on your couch with an ice cold beverage of your choice, watching the football game on your wide screen, listening to the fire in the wood stove crackle in the background, just think of me in my humble abode and remember, I live in Alaska.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back in the village

Well once again, I had written out an elaborate summary of my summer travels, my return to Alaska, and finally my return to Toksook Bay, but the internet went down just as I was posting it and it never made it. So now, I will try to pick my brain from two days ago, when I wrote it, and come up with something similar and likewise, worth reading.

Indeed, I am back in Toksook Bay, work has started, and my neck already hurts. I arrived in Bethel on Aug. 1st after a lovely stay with some friends in Anchorage. Bethel involved 10 days of training and a couple of down days that I got to sit around and watch movies in the Bed and Breakfast/hostel that I was staying in.

Some rather big news involves a new female companion that met while staying in Bethel. She is pretty young, very energetic and outdoorsy, a great cuddle bug, and absolutely beautiful. She listens to almost everything I say, she is gets along great with everyone in the village. Yes, Katja, my new friend, moved to Toksook with me. The best part is that she is also house broken, has had all her shots, and responds well to a shock collar. Some of you might be thinking that I went ahead with the mail order bride from Russia. Sorry to disappoint you. Indeed, she is a very athletic Husky/Yellow Lab mix. She weighs about 35 - 40 pounds and is roughly between one and a half to two years old. She is the perfect dog for me right now.

I also had to move to another house. We received two new teachers from Michigan, Jimmy and Kerri Dunn. They are enjoying the comforts of my old house and I get to move in next to the Principal and his family. His wife is the high school science teacher. Katja seems to enjoy the house. Even more, Katja enjoys long jaunts out on the tundra, eating berries, tripping over tussocks, and stretching her legs. She is incredibly fast and loves to chase birds. Sometimes I will look down for 5 seconds and look up to find that she is completely over the next hill hauling tail after some bird. She comes back eventually, but the shock collar helps bring her back a little faster. Just so you know, the collar has a tone that reminds her. If she doesn't respond to the tone after I call her, then I give her a gentle buzz.

Well, speaking of Katja. I better see how she is doing in the house alone. Thanks for not giving up on me and my blog. More to come soon. Stay tuned.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Breaking the Ice

The weather has been warming up some recently and it's actually been in the high 40's and low 50's lately. Still it takes a long time for 5 - 6 feet of ice to melt and clear out of the bay. Well this week, the firm ice pack that I so comfortably rode my bike on to go ice fishing, finally broke up and started clearing out of the bay. I didn't realize how much I missed open water until I saw the frigid blue water and the ripping outgoing tide pushing all the mini icebergs out to sea.

Jamie and I hiked up to an overlook where we could see out to the mouth of the bay as well as the ice still packed pretty tightly around the head of the bay. It was about 45 degrees and around 10 pm when these pictures were taken.

Many of the men and boys have been going out seal hunting for the past couple of weeks. Students actually get excused absences, called traditional leave, to go out and seal hunt to contribute towards part of their subsistence lifestyle. Apparently there is the possibility of seeing a seal or beluga whale in the small bay during this time of year as well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

It is so nice to see water again!

This picture has an old cemetary from the village in the fore ground with one of the wind powered generators in the back ground. Kind of mixing a little old with the new. Apparently there are human skulls that can be seen in this graveyard, but I didn't want to go digging to find them. I was worried about being haunted just for taking this picture.

This is a picture of fish drying racks that they make to hang their herring, Salmon, and other fish from to dry them for later use. I recently had a chance to try some cooked dried herring and it was the strongest fishy tasting fish I have ever eaten. I couldn't even finish it, but I ate enough to let people know that I really tried to like it.

Here is Jamie, enjoying a cool north wind on top of the bluff just outside of town.

Well, that is all for now. I have almost survived my first year of teaching out here. I have only 5 more days of teaching to go. It's definitely been a challenging year for me, but I have also had many rewards that have helped me to decide to teach here next year as well.

I'm excited to see many friends down in the lower 48 over the summer.
Thanks for reading.

The Prom

You would not have know that you were in a remote fishing village in Western Alaska if you were at the Nelson Island High School prom last week. Of course once you stepped outside the gym, you would slapped back to reality pretty quickly.

Our prom was held for all students in grades 7 - 12. About 65 people attended, which included a lot of people from other villages. For many people, it became a reunion of familiar faces that used to attend Nelson Island School and other people that were from the community.

The students were totally decked out from head to toe. Gents had all their bling bling out on display with a nice button down shirt or vest. A couple of guys even sported a penguin suit. The girls were all dressed up as well, wearing their fancy and elegant dresses.

Jamie and I attended even though I was feeling very sick that day and was tempted to stay home, but I caught a quick 3 hour nap and popped a couple of Alkaseltzer Cold Plus tablets and was good to go until about 2 am. After everyone left, I hung out with the DJ and the two site administrators for some good laughs about how everyone in the village drinks and that if anyone should be allowed to drink, it should be the teachers. That day is a tiny speck far, far down the road of possibilities. Anyway, a good time was had by all.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Stepping Out

I decided that this weekend I was going to get my work finished early so that I may enjoy some other more time consuming endeavors. Therefore, I packed up my backpack and headed out for just an overnight. The first trick I had to figure out was how to sneak out of the village without being seen. That proved easier than anticipated. Even the group of kids playing basketball as I passed the outside court, didn't even acknowledge my presence. I just didn't want any kids trying to track me down with snow machines or 4 wheelers to play late night pranks.

I hiked around our back yard mountain ridge to be shielded from the bitter North wind already starting to pick up. My goal was to get away from the village view point, so that I truly felt alone and away from things. Finally I found a camping spot, that wasn't too windy, in the bottom of a huge bowl of mountains that surround me from the north. My second, more challenging obstacle, was trying to get my tent stakes into the frozen tundra. After about 2 - 3 attempts, I quickly revised my plan and moved to a patch of packed snow.

After my tent stabilized as much as possible, using multiple stakes in some corners, I hiked up towards the north ridge to get a better view of the landscape before the slowly approaching darkness overtook the day. The 20 - 30 mile per hour winds brought the overall temperature to about 12 - 15 degrees F. During the night, as the wind picked up, I thought that my tent might blow away with me inside it. With this a forboding possibility, another thought struck my mind. Surviving a storm! Storms out here are no joke. Winds of 50 - 70 miles an hour that could be driving snow, bring the temps down incredibly fast. You can find yourself in -20 degree temps or colder in no time at all. With this thought in mind, I considered peeing into a bottle so that I could drink my urine to stay warm if necessary. In the end, I opted not to.

Morning came and I only lost about 1 hour of sleep to my troubled thoughts of having to chase all my gear across the tundra in the strong winds. Packing up and not losing any gear in the morning wind required much focus and planning. Gear caught by the wind would likely never be seen again. Eventually I got packed up and started my journey back to the village, this time, up and over some of the hills to visit one of my favorite places...the thumb. Climbing the steep back sides of the hills, still covered with much snow, made me wish I had a snow board...and a chair lift of course.

I eventually made it back to my humble abode, unpacked my gear to dry, and fixed myself a hot breakfast. I hope you enjoyed my little outing as much as I did. It felt good to get out of town and away from phones and the rest of village life. Like disappearing for a short time.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Winter basketball

Well, the temperatures have finally cleared 0 degrees farenheit for more than a week and the kids are really getting shifty in their seats. To add to the high ampage of energy building in the early teenage bodies, they had to sit still and quiet for most of this week and take their SBA's (student based assessment tests). Therefore, when the idea of going outside to play basketball entered my mind, there was really no question. "All right kids, grab your coats!"

The outside basketball court isn't your traditional court to begin with. It is basically a giant deck with a basketball hoop at either end and a low wooden bench on one side. Now add about 2 feet of snow and you have yourself a real interesting basketball game.

Basically, it is just shoot around for about 20 minutes, but the kids come up with interesting games and rules that give the game an additional twist and make it more fun.

I like these activities, because it allows the kids to get rid of a little energy before I have to make them sit and listen for another two hours through Geography and Science.

The snow is starting to melt quickly, but I'm told that there will still be snow around in late May when I leave to fly home. I'm also told that the snow machines stay out until then as well. I've already seen people driving snow machines around on the dirt and mud. "We don't need no stinkin' snow"

On a different note, I'm looking forward to getting a short, nearby camping experience in before I fly home. Getting away from this developing country we call Toksook Bay and getting back to the wild Alaska that people say still exists. That may be my next blog entry. Stay tuned!


Monday, March 26, 2007

NYO Toksook Invitational

I know that I made a weak attempt to explain the Native Youth Olympics (NYO) earlier on in my blogging history, but I have more pictures which will hopefully shed some light on these unique cultural games. Last weekend we had 12 schools from the Lower Kuskokwim School District visit Toksook for this invitational meet. That's about an extra 120 students in the school than we are used to. Yikes!!!
The meet started off on Friday afternoon with the Kneel Jump. Basically athletes kneel at the line, similar to standing broad jump, and then try to jump forward off their knees as far as they can, without falling backwards. Sorry no pictures of this. The next event was the wrist carry. This event looks even more painful than the kneel jump, if you can imagine that. Athletes wrap their wrist over a thick dowel rod. Then they grab their forarm below the wrist and lift their entire body off the ground while two other students, any would be volunteer, carry them down to the other side of the gym and back again, or as long as the athletes can hang on. It just doesn't look enjoyable.
The next few events are difficult to get good pictures for, especially with my picture quality challenged camera. The two foot high kick (kick a ball or small stuffed animal skin about the size of a grapefruit suspended in the air with two feet and land on two feet again), the one foot high kick (kick a suspended ball with one foot and land on that same foot again), the toe kick, and the Alaskan High Kick. These last two events are other ones that just look difficult and dangerous. Let's start with toe kick. Athletes stand behind a line (standing broad jump). There is a dowel rod lying on the floor in front of them, maybe 24 inches to 80 inches. They have to jump out and kick the dowel rod, just with their toes, so that the stick rolls straight back and the athlete still lands with both of their feet together. Look at the picture on the right and you can see a blur of a jumper with toes just touching the stick. If an athlete jumps successfully, the stick gets moved farther out. Our state champion can toe kick over 80 inches.

The next event is the Alaskan High Kick. This is an event that you might have some trouble with the first time. Athletes have to kick a stuffed animal skin (ball) suspended at a certain height while holding a foot with one hand and using the other hand to elevate the body. I guess a picture may help with this image. This picture of Simeon here is showing winning technique. Simeon is an 8th grader that took first in the high school competition. His technique and ability is pretty amazing. If athletes are successful at kick the ball, they still have to land on the foot they kicked with and not fall over.

Now that brings us to one hand reach. One hand reach is similar to Alaskan High Kick in a couple of ways. One reason is that you have to support yourself on one hand and you can't fall over. The main difference is that you have to reach for the suspended stuffed animal skin (ball) with the other hand instead of a foot. It requires the most balance and concentration, I think. This student from the village of Oscarville was the winner by a long shot. She had great technique and was fun to watch.

Other events at the games were the Seal hop, Eskimo stick pull, and the Indian stick pull. The seal hop is another entertaining and torturous event that most people would not even want to try. This event is unique because athletes actually compete at the same time. Its a race of endurance. Athletes have to start behind a line in the down position of the push up position with their chest just above the ground. While staying the down position, they have to use their arms and toes to hop forward repeatedly until they collapse form exhaustion. The whole time athletes are hopping, their backs have to be straight and their hips and but have to stay even with their shoulders. They guys have to hop with their first knuckles curled under their hands where the ladies get to hop on their full palms. I've tried it and it is tiring. It also causes blisters and raw skin on your knuckles, but it is a great workout. The two stick pull events are not quite so interesting to watch, but the idea is still very unique. Here is my friend Deanna with an already greased up stick that is used for the Indian Stick Pull. She got to make sure the stick had enough grease on it and I got to judge who won each match. It's a dirty job, but somebody has got to do it. Thanks Deanna!

Well, This is probably one of the longest blogs I've posted. I hope you have enjoyed following me through an NYO meet. It' s a spectacle to watch, but it is taken very seriously up here. Each event is based on a specific tradition from their cultural history, many of which I don't understand or haven't learned about yet. I don't think that any of these events will ever make it to the World Olympics, but then again, have you ever watched curling?

Thanks for reading,