Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Music in Bethel

Sqeaky Eeks II from Erin Kavanaugh on Vimeo.

This video is very old and should have been posted back in October...but better late than never. This was my birthday weekend and really made it a very memorable birthday for me. Traci Buckle, my roomie, and I decided to play at a benefit concert for the Bethel Council of the Arts. Actually Traci talked me into it and I'm glad she did. If it wasn't for her, I would never have dreamed of doing something so random as play my Ukelele and sing in front of 100 plus people. It usually takes me a couple of drinks (liquid courage) to get the gumption to perform in front of a crowd of strangers and since there are no bars in Bethel (yet...) I needed something else to motivate me. I don't think I'm a horrible singer, but I sure was glad Traci was there to enhance our vocals.

I bought a Ukelele on a whim back in late July for $40 and brought it out to EEK, Alaska, mostly because it would be easier to travel with than my big guitar. I found it very fun to play and it complements the guitar pretty well, at least according to Traci. Occasionally we fill our cozy home with music laughter that sometimes draws our neighbors over to join us. I only wish that I had gotten it when I could have practiced and played with some of my other Ukelele playing friends, Kale Iverson and Josh Cridler. Oh well, hopefully our musical paths will cross again soon.

Thanks to Erin Kavanaugh for shooting this video and teaching me how to upload onto Blogger. She was a big part of energy that we emitted on stage that night.



Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thanksgiving Break

Wow, what a great Thanksgiving Break I had. Traci and I had been planning to have a somewhat larger get together for the holiday and were very excited. A couple of friends flew in from outta town. Tania and her daughter Justine flew in from Toksook Bay and our dear and close friend Erin flew all the way from Bethel with her dog, Capt. Macy (20 min. flight). We spent most of Thursday cooking up a storm. Blueberry Cheesecake, Apple pie, Pumpkin pie, and Chocolate Peacan pie were on the dessert menu. Sweet potatoes, stuffing inside and outside of the turkey, two different kinds of cranberry relish, Garden salad, mashed potatoes, green beans, home made bread, and of course a giant turkey. It was pretty awesome!

Katja got plenty of attention too. She took over as guardian for Justine and was really amazing at entertaining her. Katja would walk over to Justine and just flop over on her side. She would literally let Justine crawl all over her and just lay there and take it, as if it were one of her own puppies. I never would have guessed she would respond that way. Erin and I got the dogs out a couple of times for some late day, virtually night time runs. There was plenty of knitting, by the ladies of course. I don't know how to knit. I did tie some flies though. Just getting ready for summer. We played lots of music as well. Justine loves to listen to music, either live or on TV or ipod. We had a fantastic time watching her dance around the coffee table with a giant smile on her face.

Anyway, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well. I look forward to seeing some of you over the Christmas break.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Visit to Quinhagak

This post a few weeks old, but I wanted to have some pictures to show you as well. I got a chance to visit Quinhagak, AK to visit some friends and take a trip up the Kanektok river in search of Rainbow trout. I got into the village on Friday evening and met up with my friend Milt who helped me finalize plans with one of the local fisherman.

The next morning, I met up with my fishing guide and another teacher from the school. We loaded the boat and headed up river for about 1 hour. Our first stop landed us in a part of the river that hosted many Cohos, Dolly Varden, and Rainbows. I managed to hook up with all three species which was my goal. That was the first rainbow that I had caught since I had been in Alaska. That actually sounds a little embarassing when I say it outloud. Hmmm??? I fished downstream a little more and hooked a Dolly that had to measure at least 24 inches.

We left that spot and hit a few other hotspots in that region of the river. We fished a section that was just inside Togiak National Wildlife Refuge and I got into a pod of Dollys. I must have hooked 20 Dollys in about an hour. It was laugh outloud fishing even though I landed less than half of the fish I hooked. After a while, I walked farther downstream to fish a tail out section. I rigged up with a double egg and large split shot to entice a nice rainbow. On my first cast, I laid my double egg rig out on the edge of the current and a huge rainbow came up and swallowed my indicator whole and took it right down to the bottom. My heart stopped, because I knew that I couldn't set the hook on the monster. The hook was no where near its mouth. I made several other casts, but I never saw the giant again. I left the hole with heart ache.

Later, we crossed the river and fished the other bank. Just standing and fishing on the bow of the boat, I saw some huge rainbows making their way upriver. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to hook any of them.

I was astounded when I looked at my watch and it was already 5 pm. We had to start heading back down river towards home. We did stop a couple of other places on the river as we made our way back down. During one stop, I waded down stream and crossed the river to a deep blue hole that was the confluence of two sections of the river. I made a couple of drifts at the upper end of the hole, but it wasn't until I let an egg sucking leech dead drift down into the bottom of the hole that I hooked the fish of the day. At first I thought it was my trophy rainbow. The fish made several strong runs and it took a while before I could actually get a glimpse at it. Eventually, I landed a very nice Coho that had just started turning its color from its Ocean fresh chrome silver radiance to its light reddish tones. I gotta tell you, I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a rainbow, but it was the hardest fighting fish that I hooked all day.

I can't wait to get back on the Kanektok river.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Katja and the EEK

This past weekend, I ventured up the EEK river again with my fishing buddy, Seth. This time I brought my 22 rifle and Katja along for the ride. Seth's dog Ginger is accustomed to the journey, but it was interesting watching the two dogs interact. Ginger is a healthy female Chocolate lab who is very focused on bird hunting with Seth. Katja is a ... playful dog that doesn't like to work much at all unless it is on her terms. The dogs had their little tiffs, but all was fine in the end.
It was a little colder traveling in the boat this time and Katja wasn't used to the lower wind chill and having to sit still. Eventually she came around and joined Ginger up at the front of the boat to spot the hundreds of ducks we saw on the water. Katja must have gotten really keyed in on the birds, because shortly after this picture was shot, she leaped out of the boat, traveling at 30 mph, after some ducks that were flying along beside us. Hitting the water at 30 mph was quite a shock to Katja who skipped twice, spun, and then tumbled to a halt all within about 2 seconds. Seth and I were laughing hysterically. Katja wasn't. With her head about 12 inches out of the water she was making her way towards the shore and out of the frigid river. She shook it off rather quickly and was very willing to get back in the boat. She stayed still while the boat was moving in the future. I wish I had my camera out for that moment. It was priceless. Luckily for Katja, she jumped out of the side of the boat and not off the front. It could have been a little more tramatic for her and us.
Seth and I did manage to catch about 12 - 15 Grayling and a couple of pike. The Grayling were all pretty good size, some reaching almost 18 inches. I took a couple of them home for dinner and released most of them back into their chilly environment. Still looking forward to catching a couple of trout in this part of Alaska. Maybe next weekend. If not, I'll have to wait another year.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A season to remember

Not only is the season starting to change from fall to winter already, but we have left Cross Country season and NYO has officially started up. I've helped coach NYO a little in Toksook Bay and I also participated in Cross Country practices, but this is the first year that I attempted to take on a team sport souly on my own. I jumped right into to X-C practice right off the bat from the beginning of school and got a surprisingly high number of kids show up. EEK School only has 91 students this year, so to get 14 of those students showing up to the first week of practice was very positive for me. Participants definitely came and went, but by the end of the season I still had 9 original runners, 2 highschool and 7 junior high, that were attending practices regularly.
Our season ended last weekend with our participation in the Bethel Regional X-C invitational. There were 17 different schools attending the meet, the largest attendance coming from Bethel Regional High School, who had approximately 24 runners and Nome, AK who brought 17 runners. Most of the other schools that are in this district brought 10 or fewer runners, some as little as 5 runners. EEK brought 8 runners that were very new to the sport but worked hard and competed well. We didn't place very high in any of the races, but we did finish each of our races and we didn't come in last place, although it was close sometimes. One of our junior high runners got tripped up at the start of the race, coming off the line dead last, but she fought and climbed her way past 22 other girls in the 30 runner field to end in 8th place. It was outstanding effort and I have great expectations of her in the future years of X-Country. The Bethel course was created in a giant sand pit that zigzagged its way around the perimeter up and down steep hills for about one and a half miles. Junior high runners did one lap and high school runners did two laps. The winning time for the high school boys, 19 min. 28 sec., came from a Chevak runner who ran very strategically and intelligently to clinch the victory. All of the races were very exciting to watch.
Part of the highlight of the trip for EEK, besides the actual race, was spending the night at Bethel's Regional High School with the other 150 runners from around the district. Energy was high the night before the race. The trip home was quite the opposite. Just about all the runners were dozing off during the 20 minute flight back to EEK on the "not so smooth" plane ride from Bethel. Turbulence wasn't a factor in keeping them awake. They were exhausted!
And a great compliment to me came from several of the runners expressing their anticipation for next year's season of X-country.
Happy trails!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Revisiting Toksook

Last weekend, I traveled back to Toksook Bay for a quick visit during our extended holiday. It was a really great visit despite the fact that 220 mile round trip flight cost me the same amount that my Dad paid to fly from Washington D.C. to British Columbia... round trip. Yeah, it's expensive to travel in Alaska.
Last weekend was the Blackberry Festival that I have written about in the past when I actually lived in Toksook Bay. This year seemed a little busier in the village, more of a social gathering and celebration of family and friends... and good times. It took me about 45 minutes to walk to the store from the school, mostly because I ran into almost all of my previous students and wanted to say "hi" to them. They asked me if I was returning to Toksook and where I was teaching and living now. Some even commented that they missed me and wanted me to come back to Toksook to teach again, to which I would respond with thanks and appreciation. But truth be told, as much as I enjoyed living in Toksook, I am also enjoying the village of EEK.
When I arrived, friend and colleague, Marty was waiting for me at the airport with his two oldest boys, ready to hit the river and start fishing. I quickly changed into my waders, jumped on the 4 wheeler and we sped off down the runway. We arrived during the outgoing tide, so the fish were there, but they weren't biting anything. Needless to say, we went home empty handed that night.
But we woke up the next morning ready to try again. This time, just Marty and I headed farther up river in search of some Dolly Varden. We found some and a bunch of Silvers that had been up river for some time now. They were mostly bright red males and they were pretty picky about what they would take. We both tied on a Bead Head Nymph pattern that we swung through the current and Marty was the first to hook up with one of the giants. I jumped into the shallows to help him land it against the sharp drop off of the bank. I hooked up with a couple of nice fish, but didn't get any landed. Marty, however, ended up landing 4 or 5 nice salmon and a half dozen Dollys. I threw most of the small fish that I did land, but kept this brute for my host and lodging provider during my visit.
It was great to see everyone from the school and most of the community members that knew me as well. I did miss seeing TJ and his wife, Kim who have transferred to Napaskiak this year. I am sure I will get a chance to see them during the school year sometime. In a way, I felt like I had never left Toksook Bay. It hasn't been very long since I did live there, but everything felt very familiar to me still.
It was an amazing realization when I returned to EEK of how different the two villages really are. Stepping off the plane in EEK and seeing just a couple of 4-wheelers waiting to pick up passengers and hearing the silence of the open tundra and the distant mountains made me really appreciate the quiet solitude of EEK. It felt good to be back.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Adventures on the... EEK!

Yesterday, I headed up the EEK river with my fishing buddy, Seth. This was our second trip up the river. The first time we went up, there were not any fish to be seen in the section of river we were on. I was with Seth, his wife, Janine, their son and Seth's mother. We did have a nice evening picnic on a gravel bar after some fishing and berry picking. We just didn't catch anything.
This second trip up the river, Seth was determined to get up river to where the fish were. We traveled up river for about 1 1/2 hours before we stopped the first time. Seth's dog, Ginger, really enjoys boat rides and looking for water fowl along the way. Apart from the water fowl, we looked for quiet water in the confluence of side creeks and big bends in the river with deep eddies that were next to the main current. The first fish I landed was a 25 inch northern pike. We were both excited for the first landed fish, but I knew there were salmon in the area as well. I walked up stream a little cast out in the middle across a slow moving eddy, allowing my fly to sink down to the bottom and then retrieved it up through the eddy. Boom...fish on! A nice medium sized silver salmon that we decided would be lunch for the day. About 5 minutes later, some other fishermen joined us and I landed my second silver. Another boat came down and pulled up to the beach across from our fishing hole. They said the fish were everywhere up stream a little ways, so we headed up. There were a couple of boats already there, so we pulled up on the point where the river splits into two branches. Seth then headed up river to check out some native land that was handed down to him through his family. While he was gone, I hooked a big, bright red male. When Seth came back down, we fished a little longer and then headed back down to eat our fresh salmon lunch and start back down river. We fished the big eddy bend where I caught the two earlier salmon. I was on my last cast, reeling my line in and BOOM! Fish on! This time a Shee fish grabbed my fly and set off running around the eddy. After landing that fish, we went to shore. Seth and I pretty much finished off a whole salmon between the two of us, which set us both into a food coma. Hanging out on a beach on the EEK river in sunshine, bellies full of fresh salmon. Life doesn't get much better than this.
After fishing some more, with no more hits, we started drifting back down stream, bouncing off the shore and tree branches and whatever else got in our way. We decided it was better to use the outboard to position ourselves better for casting into the bank. I hooked a couple of Grayling and then we saw some fish working in the mouth of a side creek. We drifted the area about 6 times and hooked up with a pike and another big bright silver. Seth hooked another silver, but it spit the hook.
After that we decided to head back towards home. Stopping a couple of places along to way, Seth told me about families that had lived way up on the river in the early 1900's. We visited a grave site where an entire family was buried, the latest having passed away back in the early 1940's. We didn't get home until 11:30. I was still cleaning up the kitchen from filleting fish at 1:00 in the morning. What a long day! What a great day!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Settling into EEK

Well, it's been a long time my friends and I apologize for that. It was truly a great summer at home in Maryland. Lot's of traveling during the month of June. Bonaroo, then up to Maine for some fun and recreation with some Alaska friends as well as some reconnecting with old friends up there. A little bit of fishing, great 4th of July celebration, and lots of driving around in my Nissan Versa. There was still lots of time spent with family, although they would probably argue that it wasn't enough. All in all, it was a great vacation.
Now it is back to Alaska, to settle into a new village, explore new terrain, teach new classes, get to know new students and staff, and continue the adventure. So far it has been pretty wonderful. My students are still upper elementary and middle school students, but they do show a huge amount of respect for teachers and staff. I am currently teaching "middle school", which includes some 4th graders, 5th, 6th, and even some 7th graders. It is a widely differentiated class, especially with Math and Reading. My overall schedule is pretty sweet. 8:45 am starts out with High School P.E. class, then U.S. history, Math, Reading, and finally lunch. After lunch is Science, then my prep, and lastly middle school P.E. All my students are having a great time playing soccer right now, although they are eagerly anticipating me starting a basketball unit. That I will try to hold off until March.
I've also started coaching X-country. Actually, they haven't had an active team in over 7 years, so I"m kind of starting the program back up again from scratch. None of the students on the team have ever run x-country before, so it's been a slow start, literally and figuratively. Today the high schoolers ran 4 miles and the middle schoolers 3 miles. They are definitely showing a lot of progress and seem to tolerate my authoritarian coaching style, if you can believe that. I hope to have an inter squad meet in a couple of weeks with just EEK students competing against each other. I also want to travel to Bethel with a couple of students if our minuscule budget will allow it.
I have tried the local waters for fish as well. I rode up river about 45 minutes with a family that works for the school. It was a fun, but chilly boat ride. We didn't catch any fish, but we had a wonderful dinner on the beach and to top it off, we came dangerously close to running out of gas. I think we are going to try heading up river again next weekend, so I will keep you posted.
I think that is it for now. Stay tuned for more exciting news from EEK. New posts will follow more regularly now that I'm back to work.
Thanks for reading,
Dirk and Katja

Saturday, May 23, 2009

almost airborne

The house is packed up. My classroom is cleaned, electronics wrapped in plastic, walls are cleared, desks are pushed to one side of the room. My computer is about to be returned and given a clean sweep (re-imaged). I need to make a trash run to the dump with all the junk I"ve accumulated in my house. All of my packed things are hopefully going out on a plane tonight, before I actually leave. It will be waiting for me in Bethel, where I will send it on to EEK.

tonight will be left over pasta, some old re-runs of "Scrubs" and then falling into a peaceful slumber in my sleeping bag. It is always such a rush to finish up at the end of the year. I feel like I've been chasing my tail.

Our site-administrator, TJ, and his wife, the science/math teacher, Kim are also leaving Toksook. The animosity in the village has reached its pinnacle with a couple of people (20 or so) that are dissatisfied with TJ's performance as site administrator. Thus, he is being asked to leave to eliminate any further animosity or possible action against him from the few dissatisfied people in the community. It is really a mess. Most of the community and all of the school staff are very upset that TJ and Kim are leaving Toksook. They will leave a gigantic hole within the school that will be very, very hard to fill. TJ and Kim both got jobs in Napaskiak, which is only 20 miles north of EEK on the Kuskokwim River. It will be nice to stay near them.

I'm definitely going to miss Toksook Bay and the friends that I made here. It's been kind of difficult talking to people and explaining why I'm leaving, but everyone has wished me the best of luck and hopefully a more satisfying teaching position in EEK.

But, come August 11th, we will all be re-united at the district in-service in Bethel. See you all there. Have a great summer!

Dirk and Katja

Monday, May 18, 2009

Another year??? Eek!

That's right! I've made the executive decision that I will continue my work in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta educating young minds and becoming more and more Yup'ik. I won't be in Toksook this year. Instead, I've transferred to a smaller village right off the Kuskokwim river, about 35 miles south of Bethel, called EEK.

Things that won't change
  • I will be teaching in a village where I am a minority and don't speak the primary language
  • There won't be many trees where I live, if any at all.
  • There will be a lot of tundra everywhere
  • There will be good fishing.
  • I'm still an Alaska resident (cheap AK fishing license)
Things that will change
  • I'll be teaching a younger age group (5th, 6th, and 7th graders)
  • Smaller village (approx. 300) and smaller school (110 students K-12)
  • I will be a tenured teacher
  • I will be working with a new Mac-book computer
  • I will be much closer to Bethel (quasai civilization)
  • Flatter terrain, no hills nearby. But mountains 50 miles east (2000 - 4000 ft. elev.)
  • Better fishing (Kings, Silvers, Chum, Dollys, Grayling, and Sheefish)
Anyway, I'm happy with my decision so far. I figured that I won't be stressing about finding a job in the lower 48 with the collapsing economy. I've heard many horror stories about school districts cutting the number of teachers they have and cutting budgets left and right. I just signed a contract today for next year, so my job search is over for a while.

Stay tuned for summer adventures and news from EEK!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Last days of school and Spring skiing

It's May 12th and there are 7 more days of school left. Spring is fully upon us and there is a lot of meltage occuring all around us. Many of you who read this are not used to seeing snow around your houses this time of year. Heck, my Dad has been telling me about all the great fishing he has been doing all ready. Well, up here, the ice still locked in the bay and fishing of any kind is weeks if not months away. There is still enough snow (corn snow) to do some skiing if you are willing to work to get to it.
Today, I hiked up over the frozen, but thawing tundra to find a couple of short runs that allowed me to make some turns on my back country skis. I probably looked like a crazy person hiking up the hill with my skis on my shoulder, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Katja was even able to catch herself a little tundra mouse appetizer before dinner.
I would have to say that I definitely earned the runs I made down the hill. The walk to and from the skiable areas was long and soggy. Sure my hands and feet were wet by the time I got back, but it was worth it. Parts of the valley are full of water that has been running off the top and filling up areas in the bottom creating a dirty ice bath. I avoided those places.

Pretty soon, all the snow is going to be gone except for the highest points of land and the deep valleys where the wind packed snow 20 - 30 feet deep. Maybe there will be some snow still here in August. Personally I won't ever know and I'm okay with that.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

2/3 of the way out of Alaska

Well, so far, I have packed up all my art work (4 paintings), two boxes of books, 3 tubs full of camping gear, clothes, and fly tying materials, my guitar, my bike, tool box, and random bike accessories. I've given away a tent, a sleeping mattress, a fly rod and reel, and some movies. I plan on taking part in a garage sale type event, where I hope to make a little dough.

When I leave here, I plan on traveling with two tote bins, my backpack, dog and dog kennel, and my carry on bag. Anything else gets thrown away or given away. I don't need it.

Travel light, live light, share the light, be the light


Monday, May 04, 2009

We're melting away

Alaska is a difficult place to live in for most of the year and during the winter especially, but the in between seasons are my least favorite times of the year. Fall and Spring. In the fall, the rains turn everything into mud, which gets tracked everywhere. On top of that, when it dries, it turns into dust, especially in carpeted areas. Our whole school has carpet, except for the gym, so that level of dust during the fall in early winter gets pretty high in the school adding to sinus and respiratory problems.

The winter starts out by just getting cold. Tundra freezes solid as well as the rivers and coastal water. Then it starts snowing occasionally. There are a couple of warm spells here and there that melt some of the snow and bring back the mud temporarily. As the winter goes on, the snow levels increase and the storms begin rolling in bring strong wind storms and blowing snow.

In the spring, all that snow starts to melt. This year, the temperatures seemed to shift rapidly and the snow got soft very quickly and started melting away. The days become absolutely beautiful with blue bird skies and warm temperatures. As the snow gets soft, getting around becomes very difficult. Watching the 4-wheelers spin and slide around is quite entertaining. As there is more and more snow turning to water, the snow machines can be seen skimming across the water at full throttle, like jet skis. Walking however, is the most frustrating mode of transportation. At first, you can stay on top of the snow, but as the days go on, particularly later in the day, you start post holing. Post holing is when you break through the upper crust of packed snow and sink down to your knees or upper thigh. With all of the snow turning to water, most of the time you post hole, you sink down to your thigh and your foot ends up in an ice bath.

To combat this, I’ve decided to create some channels to let the melting snow, so the water could easily drain off the land. There is still too much snow for the water to drain completely, so there is a lot of standing water. But, I figure it’s better walk through water know what you are stepping into, as opposed to post holing unexpectedly. It’s a lot of work, but it makes life a little easier. The kids don’t let the multiple ice baths get them down. Eventually the snow will be gone and the mud will return. I hate mud. I really do.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Trying to make the sun shine

Just as fast as the snow is melting away, so are my days here as a teacher. The kiddies don’t know yet, but non the less, they are getting restless. I’ve been trying to keep the news of my leave under the carpet for now. I definitely don’t need my students acting even more belligerent thinking that they have beaten me. Of course, I don’t feel that way, but I’m not a teenager living in a sheltered village of 600, hundreds of miles from any realistic world. This year has been filled with my students wafting through their own little fantasy world, their wild imaginations running at full tilt.

Not to mention, the days are already almost 15 hours long and only getting longer. So I find myself trying to do more and more to keep their mental status fresh and energized for the classroom. I constantly find myself pouring my heart into each day, yet these teenagers find something, sometimes everything that they dislike. Life must be hard for these “almost” young adults in ways that I have forgotten. Yes, life must be hard. Some of my 13 – 15 year old students have their own $8,000 snow machines, brand new i-pods, cell phones. Non of these items are allowed on school grounds, except snow machines if you are 16 years or older.

I guess my students are the same as other teenage students around the country in many ways. Nothing I, or any other adult, could say or do would please them. They surely wouldn’t show it, even if it did. They are constantly spreading doom and gloom when inside the walls of school. Not that I’m trying to be their best bud, but I would like to see them happy in class or enjoying what they are learning. Research has shown that when teenagers go through this adolescent growth spurt, they slow down or sometimes shut down mentally. It’s definitely given me a little insight into what it’s going to be like raising my own kids in the hopeful future.

It’s just kind of draining my own personal energy being present with 18 pessimistic foul tempered teenagers full of complaints about life when it doesn’t go the way they want. I hope that I can make it 4 more weeks. Don’t worry, I will.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Late Spring

The snow is still heavy and the Ptarmigan are still hunkered down deep in the snow. Marty, his nephew Trevor, and I went out to explore the tundra last weekend, but ended up just cruising around on the snow machine. Well at least there are a few signs out on the frozen landscape to help orient travelers towards our village as they are zooming around in the white oblivion.

Thankfully there aren’t any signs leading people to my little ski haven. Heading out there today, the area was covered with velvety white as smooth as silk. I made several good runs up and down the slope. I only wish that the slope itself dropped a steady, but gradual 1000 – 1500 feet. Unfortunately, my little private ski resort only drops about 300-400 feet and is not quite steep enough to get any speed. However, now that I think of it, I should grab a snow machine and do some exploring on a grander scale. There are some mountains farther out from the village, but I’ve always settled for the neighborhood hill, mostly because I don’t have a snow machine of my own. I will also have to leave the dog behind most likely, because she probably won’t be able to run 20 – 30 miles over the snow in a couple of hours. Maybe it’s time to take my ski attitude to the next level. Better do it quick. There are already some spots of ground showing on the tops of some of the hills.

I’m actually a little torn about the weather. I long for warmer weather, but it’s kind of sad to see the snow go. Now that the sun is out and the air is above 30 degrees, I am really enjoying being out on the skis. The sun even softens up the icy spots a little, giving way to slightly broader terrain. If I’m lucky, it will stick around for another week or two. Then it will be full on packing time. The light at the end of the tunnel shines brightly towards the near future. Can you feel my excitement???

Monday, April 13, 2009

2009 Yup'ik Dance Festival

Now that I've acknowledged that I am a blog slacker, I figured that I should make up for all the events that passed by without even a mention on my blog. The weekend of the Yup'ik Dance Festival is always a busy one. People from Bethel and all other neighboring villages travel by plane, four wheeler, and snow machine to come to Toksook for a weekend of native Yup'ik dancing madness. The outside of the school is a sea of snow machines parked any which way and the inside of our gym is packed with hundreds of people from all over. There are concessions, lots of dance groups strutting their stuff, a 50/50 raffle, and a huge supply and gift give away to all the people who traveled far to get here, elders first. Anything from furs and pelts, gas cans, lumber, water jugs, fabric to make Qaspuks (sp?), and food to larger things such as wooden sleds to pull behind a snow machine or even a stove for a steam house. Dancing goes on for hours each day and into the night.
Many neighboring villages come to dance, but Toksook usually puts on a show that is hard to beat. Most dance groups have some students mixed in with adults from the village. The dancers are in front with men kneeling in the very front and women standing behind them. The drummers are seated in the very back singing and chanting to energize the dancers. The Toksook Bay Islanders dance group is all students that work very hard and put in many hours of practice to perfect their song and dance. The students really get into performing and representing their village by creating memorable entertainment for the visiting audience. Sometimes the men also stand and one or two of the stronger dancers gives a special show as in the second video here. Most of the students really do have a wonderful personality when it comes to relaxed day to day interactions. This is one of the things that I will miss most about working here after I leave.

Easter bunnies, pranks, and more snow

Well, it's April 13th and we are still experience full winter conditions here in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. This morning it was apparently -9 degrees F. outside. I couldn't even tell anymore. Beautiful day if you ask me. Sun rising over a perfectly clear sky, reflecting off a landscape of snow and ice. Like a cold slap in the face every morning.
This weekend was extended thanks to TJ, our principal, who gave us Monday off as well. Yesterday, I hit the hill behind the village before we gathered at one of the high school teacher's house for an Easter feast. We got pounded by storms all day Friday and most of Saturday as well. It dumped powder both days, but the wind must have carried a lot of it away. This is a picture of my house being buried. The snow drifts blocked out all sunlight from penetrating my windows.
I still found plenty of pow pow up in my favorite little ski bowl where I go to unwind. Much of the surrounding hills are wind packed with deep tongues and grooves carved into the snow by the wind. It makes for very difficult skiing on such unpredictable snow. At the bottom of the steep drop off though, one can almost always find light fluffy powder to play in. This is my playground. And since I'm always trying to challenge my self, I had to attempt a couple of steeper drop in points only to crater in the deep snow below. Oh well. Skijoring with Katja on the way back home, I ran into Brett, our former Site Administrator Intern from my first year as he was traveling back to Tununak. He stopped and talked a bit. I think that he wished he was out with his dogs playing in the snow too.
Cindy, our Easter host actually lives in the house that I lived in my first year. I'm glad that I don't live there this year. In the fall, there are actually a couple of steps that you have to climb up to get to the door. Now, it's a 18 - 20 foot snow drift to get down to it. We had a good time relaxing and mingling in a non-work atmosphere even though there were still teacher's kids running around all over the house.

When I got home, I was confronted with a monstrosity of snow stacked in front of my door. I couldn't even get to my shovel, so I had to borrow TJ's. I have to admit, the kids here enjoy my presence. If they didn't like me, I'd end up with broken windows and a kitchen full of snow. It was a good laugh and I cleaned up the mess with a smile on my face. I never really figured out who did it, but I think I have an idea. Revenge is sweet. They'll have to wait for it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lame Blogging Blues

I know... I know.
What's the point of having a blog if you don't post new things every so often. I have had a long dry spell lately and I admit it. Blogging just hasn't been a priority for me lately. I work long hours and just want to go home afterwards. If I had internet at home, I would be prone to more blogging. And it's not that I don't have anything new, interesting, or exciting to post. I'm just not feeling motivated. But I want that to change. I am going to set a goal. I will post a new blog entry every weekend. I will set aside at least 15 min. every weekend to write something new in my blog. There are a lot of new things to write about too. Some of you may already be privy to some information. Others will have to wait for the blog.

Lastly and above all, I would like to thank my followers and supporters for your patience and interest.

stay tuned,

Friday, February 06, 2009

Nelson Island Haikus

Got to leave this class
So boring Mr. Martin
Please can I visit?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

My Christmas Story

My Christmas break was preempted by a little accident that happened on Dec. 10th, a week before I left to start my voyage home to Maryland. I took a little spill on the ice. Now I would love to be able to tell you that I was launching off of a 20 ft. snow bluff performing a perfect southern cross on my backcountry skis or that I was careening down the hill behind the village on my mountain bike with my dog in hot pursuit and washed out on a patch of ice tumbling for 100 feet, but no. No, I was simply walking my dog to a neighbor’s house. One minute I was walking cautiously, the next minute I was trying to pick myself up fast enough to get inside a building so that I wouldn’t go unconscious and die of exposure. After spending about an hour at my friend’s house looking at my dented face and applying ice as much as I could stand, I got a quick trip to the regional clinic here in Toksook. There I got an x-ray, called home to notify my parents, and then went back down to the house for the night where I was awakened every two hours on the hour by either my neurotic dog or my concerned friends.
The next morning, I flew to Bethel for a CT scan. Afterwards I hung out in Bethel for ohhhh……three more days due to weather. I returned to Toksook, taught for two and a half days and then caught my plane home. By the time I had gotten home, I had talked with a surgeon in Anchorage that convinced me that surgery was the right call. He referred me to a facial plastic surgeon in Baltimore and I had a surgical consult scheduled before I got home.
Christmas was good at the Martin household. I got a rifle for spring Ptarmigan hunting and a pair of ice cleats to wear around the village from now until May when everything turns to mud again. Everyone was pleasantly surprised and appreciative for the gifts and we later went to Grandma’s house for wonderful home cooked meal.
The day after Christmas I drove back down to Baltimore with my Dad for my surgery. We found out through my CT scans in Bethel and Baltimore that I had broken my eye orbital in two places and shattered my zygomaticomaxillary complex (cheek bone). It was my first time being under the knife, so I was a little nervous. I was out for about two hours and woke up with my face looking more normal and a small titanium “L” shaped plate fastened and securing my cheek bone. The only incision that was made was on my upper gums inside my mouth. From there the doctors were able to lift my cheek bone back into place and set the other shattered bones in their proper positions so that my face had some normal looking structure again. After a couple of recovery days at home, watching movies, eating soft foods, and pretty much being a slug, I was out in the field with Dad gathering firewood and playing with the dog.
New Years was fairly uneventful, but enjoyable just the same.
The next day I flew back to the frozen hinter lands of Southwest Alaska. When I arrived Bethel, the air temperature was 33 below zero and 55 below with the wind chill. Brrrrr! This morning I finished the last of my antibiotics and am waiting for the rest of the inflammation to disappear. I am looking pretty normal though, except for the cool scar on my cheek that reminds of the split second that I was in the air and then bouncing my face off the frozen ground. The hardest part for me is the next 4 – 6 weeks when I have to take it easy. I want to get out on the skis with the dog and start testing out the slopes around the village. Luckily the snow conditions are not that great for skiing right now, so maybe I will be able to heal a little more before we get enough snow to really have fun on the skis. I would still be excited to see some more snow fall during the next 4 weeks. My fingers are crossed.