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.