May is a Time of Transition

May began with snowy bluster and left us wondering if winter really happened at all. On May 6th we had 3+ inches of snow overnight and by the afternoon we were watching cranes fly overhead and were wearing only sweat shirts.

May Morning Photos:

Same Day – May Afternoon:

As the birds returned, we were once again struck by how silent our world is until Spring occurs and then how noisy it is. The winnowing of the Snipe goes on well into the evening and we just can’t stop listening to the sound — marveling at how magical it is to hear after the long cold winter. Children and adults alike were adjusting to the longer days and shorter nights, some finding it easier than others to go to bed at 10 pm with the sun still well overhead.

And about the transitions. We went from:

  • Going on snow machine across the river to break-up and going by boat
  • The Tundra covered with snow and ice to only small patches of frozen ground left
  • No birds in the air to (what seems like) thousands of birds on ponds, in the air, and on the river
  • Prom and Pre-School Graduation
  • School in session to school out of session

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As we went through each transition, we came to understand how quickly life was changing and how fast May travels by.

The breakup seemed very late this year compared to last. The ice on the river refused to surrender its grip on the land until well into mid-May. People were travelling back and forth by walking on the ice while pulling their boat until they hit a patch that was open water and then getting in the boat and travelling to the next patch of ice. It was how people traveled back and forth between the two sides of the village for about a week as the seasons were transitioning.

The Tundra rose up out of its snowy mantle, much less dramatically than last year, and none-the-less, beautiful to behold. Last year’s red berries and cranberries were waiting to dance on the tongue of the lucky forager who found the sweet/sour treasures. This year it was interesting to discover black moss. Moss that was dense in texture and yet hadn’t turned green. This moss was to be found in deep crevasses left behind as the snow slipped away. The blueberry plants were the last to show signs of the tiniest little leaves unfurling towards the end of May.

And the birds! So many! So beautiful! Such wonderful dinners!

Finally, it was time to close up the school year. It was so important to use every day we could for learning, so the end of school festivities were saved for the final two days of school. We had a field day with lots of fun, teamwork, and challenges.  Then we cleaned inside, cleaned outside, cleaned everything and had a picnic for the whole village. And, just like the winter departing, the school year was over.

By the next day, all the non-native teachers had departed the village for their summer adventures in the lower 48 (aka America). It was a quiet time to reflect and refine our understanding of the past school year and quietly celebrate our first full year in Kasigluk.

Over the year, our village has been touched by sadness and joy. We have experienced extreme weather and beautiful days that seemed to last forever. We have made friends, stood with them in celebration, and more importantly, stood with them in times of adversity. We celebrated Staff Appreciation with a big feast for all school employees and their families. Akula’s amazing kitchen staff made a tremendous dinner for everyone!

 

And….at the end of May…..for my birthday and the completion of the school year…..I had my first Throw Party! A Throw Party is an act of gratitude in a Reciprocity Based Society. The first priority is to acquire things to throw like:

  • hair ties
  • scrubbies
  • toys
  • bubble wands
  • kitchen bowls
  • cutting boards
  • cups
  • bowls
  • plates
  • material
  • flip flops
  • pillows
  • blankets
  • CANDY (LOTS)
  • and cake — since it was my birthday

Except for the cake, all these items were acquired at Wal-Mart during a Mid-May Mother’s Day trip and sent back. Greg made the cake and put frosting in between the pieces and put them in tidy little zip-lock bags. One of the ladies I’m close to supervised me to make sure that all the items were prepared just so and that I had enough bags. She also helped me throw some things — because there were a lot of things to throw and it’s kinda hard work. There is a lot to doing this kind of thing and she made sure that it was done properly! Quyana for the assistance!!

It was so fun to throw all of these items to the women who came! Did I mention that Throw Parties are for women only? Yes! By the time we got to the end, there was so much laughing and fun! It was the best birthday I have had in recent memory! And the men. Not allowed to participate — if they do, they may not be good hunters. But, oh, how they love to stand around — far away — and watch the women having so much fun! When we were done, it was apparent to me that this is a way I would like to celebrate my birthday again!

I also made my third Kasbeq from scratch — notice the Seahawk colors — and we prepared for our departure.

 

And then, poof! May was gone and it was our turn to leave the village for the Lower 48 via Bethel. We closed up our home for two months and set out for our own adventures.

Next Time: The Lower 48 — again

 

 

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February and Early March

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February, for all of it’s shortness, is one of the LONGEST months in bush Alaska. Winter has turned into something icy and brutal. Food is running low, strep, pneumonia, and the flu are everywhere, planes are few and far between, mail is slow and delayed, and patience with adversity is thin.

March is just that. A march through the end of the winter as we all hold our breath for Spring. Moose season ended March 15th and that last push to get some fresh meat into the freezer was intense. Communal suppers and sharing meals is a way of life this time of year. It speaks to a legacy of survival to share supper with an elder who wipes their bowl clean with their finger. Such a simple gesture gives a glimpse to famine times and times of no running water and conveys that the meal was delicious and satisfying that not a drop should be wasted.

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Lent has begun and we have all surrendered something to the next 40 days, something of value: chocolate, meat, tobacco, gossiping, swearing, etc. And we all know how much prayer that takes. We are focused on this process of purification that ultimately makes us stronger. In the meantime, we are in the midst of the struggle. The struggle to keep the faith that in a few weeks it will appear as if winter never existed. The struggle to keep whole – mind, body, and spirit.

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Weather is unpredictable and we dread those words when the Yute Agent calls and says, “The weather just went down,” or “Bethel is sending the last plane of the day in 15 minutes. Want me to hold you a seat?” It makes me happy to be here in the village with no plans to travel until mid April.

Sudden warming makes travel on the ice river unsafe, while sudden freezing and below zero temps ensure the trails and boardwalks are covered with glare ice. This year has been the year for lots of different types of ice, all of it treacherous.

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In the midst of February was a trip to Texas for Kim to tour successful Dual Language Enrichment programs in the Grand Prairie Independent School District. These programs, with their emphasis on teaching students in their native languages through 1st grade, then teaching in both languages grades 2-6, give insight into the current implementation of Dual Language here at Akula Elitnaurvik. We have some work to do and are eager to add fidelity to our practice. Stops in Anchorage and Seattle made for good mountain pictures.

February, for all its challenges, saw many small victories with HS Girls, HS Boys and JH Basketball programs. Being able to acknowledge a growth year assists us with maintaining a positive attitude about not finishing first and celebrating progress. Additionally, the FTC Robotics team went to State in Anchorage and overcame many difficulties to finish with their heads high and the Judges Award in hand.

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And now we turn to March, noticing a few brave arctic willows adorned with their fuzzy pussy-willow like blooms. A flock of geese spotted down by Ketchikan leaves us wondering how long until they make their way almost 1700 miles to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, aka home.

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We still wait for the first swan of spring to fly overhead on its way to the coast, and the chicken-like chuckle of the first Ptarmigan under our open window. Until that moment, the quiet of the village, as we wait for the season to turn, is filled with the sounds of daily life. The sound of children playing out in the snow, the out-loud musings about Spring and when she will get here, and the persistent snow and ice, are all experienced with deep longing barely veiled under the surface.

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PS…..

Not as much as I thought I would, I miss the smell of daffodils and buying tulips. The land here is still sleeping under many thick layers of snow and ice. When the Tundra awakens we will once again be floating on the water flowing on top of the permafrost.
We will be foraging for the new greens and listening to the sounds of the returning birds.
Sometimes I think about the steep slope of the sinusoidal curve that describes the return of our daylight and wonder about the function that would describe the awakening of the land. Slow at first, and then a cacophony of living things celebrating the new season. And Bingo until then!

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When will Spring be?

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Still waiting for the sound of birds. One flock of geese spotted in Bethel last weekend. The glory of those flying spirits of the air. Five of them flying in a V formation. They have yet to make it to Kasigluk. We are patiently waiting for their voices to waken us from this long winter slumber.

The ice is rotting on the river. One family member posts on Facebook, “If you see my brother tell him the river is not safe to walk on and keep him on the other side.” We wake to new snow every morning that fades into mud and sloppy puddles by evening. And we still wait for the river to break and life to really begin.

still winter

Travel from the Akiuk side to the Akula side has become treacherous and time consuming. Each family has it’s own way of coping. Some folks move in with family on this side to avoid the commute, some families have a systematic and complex method of crossing involving walking across the ice pulling a boat and testing each step and some families choose to stay put until the river breaks up and boat travel is once again safe.

Last weekend, while flying over the tundra, it was with great hope I noticed the down-stream rivers flowing over and around flows and chunks of ice and that, by the time we made it back to Kasigluk, how frozen and immobile our own river appeared. The season is reluctantly turning, reluctantly moving forward, and reluctantly releasing it’s tight-fisted grasp on the village and its people.

This morning the sound of Ptarmigan — their chicken-y laugh — greeted me as I stood on the porch waiting for the dog to do her morning walk-about. Running in to get Greg, “BIRDS!!” Then back out on the porch to silence. Darn it. Was it just a dream or did they know somehow to keep their song just for me.

Last night, the whistling sound of snipes (yes – they are a REAL thing). Greg saying, “Hear that?” Um, honey, I think it’s just the windmills. Then the inevitable, “No, I really heard them.”

We have a legit case of “Bird Fever.” Not Bird Flu, way more serious. Bird Fever is only cured by that moment when then birds return to Kasigluk and begin once again their ancient life cycle. Building nests, laying eggs, flying from pond to pond, raising their young and ushering in the next wave of subsistence. A pattern of life that has existed for over 4000 years here, waiting for and dependent on, break-up!

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A Village Feast

Greg Spring

There are many types of feasts here in Kasigluk. They are an amazing part of village life and cannot be described, they must be experienced! Some are to celebrate new life —  a baby’s one year birthday is cause for a feast. Some are to mourn the passing of loved ones — the days before the burial, the day of the burial, the 20 day, the 40 day, the 1 year, the anniversary. And, there are other reasons to feast: a visiting dignitary or long lost family member, first catch, Slavic, and more.

Common foods served at feasts are as follows. For children, the plate is colorfully filled with goulash (usually moose), jello, and cake. For adults there is usually a choice of moose or fish soup and akutaq. After the meal has been eaten the children run outside to play and the adults gather at the table to enjoy tea or coffee, meats or sweets, and bread and jam. As one chair empties another adult takes that place until everyone has been served. A feast can take days to prepare for, and hours to experience.

While people are waiting for their plates, younger family members pass out presents to the guests. Candy, soda pop, little bars of soap, tiny shampoos, t-shirts, socks, washcloths, and other small items are common gifts. People come to feasts with plastic grocery sacks in order to juggle all the things passed out. Waiting to see what is coming next is as much fun as visiting with the people we are siting with.

Sometimes 200 people (or more) will come to a house for a feast. Plates are first passed out to elders and clergy sitting at the table, then the children and people in the house and then to people on the arctic porch and then outside to the folks standing in line.

WAIT! 200 people? The houses there must be huge! Not really, it’s just that people sit where ever they can. On beds, on the floor, squished in and cozy. Yup’ik houses have a magic quality that defies description. There is always room for one more person.

WAIT! 200 people? HOW does one cook that much food? Once again, it is a magical experience where there is always enough food! AND, I have come to appreciate when there is macaroni salad. It is inconceivable to the Kass’aq mind how feasts really work. And yet, Feasts are one of the most important community events in the village.

Someday, maybe next year, Greg and I will attempt to have a feast. I know it will be likely that we will need much help and assistance from our friends and new family here. This year, we will have a Throw Party for my birthday and that’s where we will start. What’s a Throw Party? I’ll tell you more on another occasion.

So, what might a Saturday night Feast look like for Greg and I? Hmmm…. Please understand that we cook every meal here — with the exception of the occasional school lunch made by the fantastic chefs at Akula Elitnaurvik!

Occasionally, Greg and I will have a different type of “feast.”

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Seal Soup, Seal Oil (in Snapple bottle), Sailor Boy Pilot Bread, Blueberry-Banana Bread, Greg’s home-made Bread

It goes like this…

Appetizer: Popcorn

Bread Course: Sailorboy Pilot Bread or Ritz Crackers sometimes with butter

Salad Course: Some radishes or carrots (with or without little white root hairs)  usually served from a plastic container

Fish  Course: 1 OLD can of smoked oysters with the dust wiped off, or dried fish from the fridge

Cheese Course: Processed cheese wedges in a foil wrapper or single serve processed cheese in plastic. Market price

Dessert Course: 10 peanut M&Ms

Drink Course: Tea served with powdered coffee creamer and sweetener

It’s not an everyday feast, it’s a “sometimes we’re too tired to cook” feast and that’s what’s in the pantry. We are blessed with abundant choices and are grateful for the food we have available, especially as freezers are getting bare and we are waiting STILL for Spring.

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January

Wow! Here we are in January! Short days lengthening, sad news from our Renton School District family, and recovering from 3 untimely deaths here in Kasigluk the second half of December. Sunday marks the beginning of Slavic — a week long celebration of the birth of Christ — filled with feasting, visiting, and celebrating!

AND…we are having new carpet installed at school. The result is a beautiful reset of our school environment.

It is a busy time for us on the physical plane, as well as a difficult time on the emotional plane. Spiritually, we are held together through our relationship with the divine. Leaning into that relationship and knowing everything happens in its time and for a reason is helpful and reminds us to hope for new beginnings.

And that’s all I’m sayin’ ’bout January……IMG_6284[1]

December Musings:

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This represents the third Christmas in Alaska and the second holiday season we have spent in rural Alaska.

Last year, we were so grateful for that moment when the holiday lights went up, we were captivated by the extra warmth and light such a small action brought to our lives. We were excited for the first real snow that happened over Thanksgiving, and we marveled at the changing of the season. The Christmas tree went up right away and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this blessed season. We were so excited for our first Christmas in Kipnuk, Alaska! Read more about our adventures from last year in An Unconventional Holiday

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This year, knowing that the winter holidays will be with us for a time, we are more leisurely about our approach to decorating. We are more leisurely about just about everything this year. We haven’t even identified the Christmas Crates, let alone moved things around to accommodate the holiday season. Santa’s visit to our village was a bit of a catalyst to our holiday spirit. Yet, knowing the holidays in Kasigluk, as in other Russian Orthodox villages, don’t end until January 14th, we have a LONG time to celebrate! No need to rush.

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Another change we have noticed is that we are seasoned professionals at winter, or so we think. We have accumulated a wealth of outer wear for every conceivable situation: snow with wind, snow without wind, freezing rain with wind, freezing rain without wind, slushy with wind, slushy without wind, icy with wind, icy without wind, cold and clear, cold and cloudy, cold and colder, and finally…..coldest.

In fact, the weather and how cold it is, followed by a conversation on how cold it “feels” with the wind-chill, occupies a great amount of our time. One of the primary differences is that how it feels this year is much different than last year.

We have had to reset our “I’m cold” experiences. For instance, previously, if the temp is around zero with a “feels like” in the negative numbers, then the seal-skin hat with the flaps and flannel lining comes out. Additional outerwear for this situation included gloves inside of fur mittens. Nice and cozy warm – right? Um, no!  The current correct response is, “Why do I have so many clothes on just to walk to the post?!?”

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While Greg still appreciates being very bundled – especially with hands and feet, Kim has still resisted the seal hat in favor of snow pants and her new arctic fox Russian hat. Make no mistake, it is still cold, it is our relationship with the cold which has changed. WE have changed.

The same conversation can be had around the growing darkness. It is no longer creates apprehension. For in the dark, we can see the amazing stars and auroras, in the darkness we gather ourselves together and rest our spirits. In the cold and dark, the Tundra rests and we, like her, rejuvenate for the next seasonal shift – even though it is months away.

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In the cold and dark, nothing really happens quickly. Post comes slowly, if at all. Provisions are difficult to get and the occasional trip to Bethel, while important for work, has the secondary purpose of restocking the pantry.  And we always hope that we get home without being weathered over. The handy Ceiling Gauge at Yute Commute tell it all!

So, let me tell you about the light! In the light, people are out walking. We wave at all we meet, even if we don’t recognize people under their layers, hats, mittens, and coats. In the light we can visit about the latest happenings in the village, “Did you know….?” In the light, we renew our connections with the amazing people we live with her in Kasigluk! In the light, a few people are out on the frozen river ice fishing and walking. In the light, we can experience the warmth and joy of living in such a singular place!

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It is with gratitude for our abundance that we enter this holiday season. We go there with measured intent knowing that the next several months will be about rest and renewal!

Next up: Happy New Year

 

 

A Short Story with Photos

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It is that magical time of year. The ending of one season and the beginning of the next. Winter coats are coming out of their storage containers. The idea that we need our cleats and mittens is crossing our minds. And the air. The air is indescribable. Breath turns to little ice beings who hang and dance while the light slants through.

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There is a relaxed, almost joyful release of the work and duties of spring, summer and fall. Now begins the season of rest and leisure. Yet. Even that is an illusion.

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We are making mink and blackfish traps, pulling up boats from the water, looking for mouse food, and other activities that we do in winter. People are braiding their Tomcod together to freeze dry in the cold. Praying for the short cold days needed to properly cure them. As our Kipnuk Grandma says, “Too much rain and they get gummy. Like that candy. Gummy Tomcod. Bad for the stomachs.”

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During this transition, we had our first outside visitor. Our daughter came from Tacoma to experience village life. The quiet sleeps, the soft Tundra, chill mornings, bright stars, picking berries, a Throw Party to celebrate children who all graduated, church, bingo, volleyball, parent night, a visit to the post, and an expensive trip to the store (3 items = $30).

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Through her eyes, it occurs to me that we are still busy. Just busy in different ways. The busy-ness of community. Coming together to celebrate each other’s sucess. Coming together to pray. Coming together to play. Coming together for support through good times and difficult ones.

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As I reflect on our place here in Kasigluk, I realize, once again, how grateful we are for community. How grateful we are to be here, and to be of service, to this community of amazing and resilient people and their children. It is humbling.  Ellmikutvaq.

 

Back to Village Life

The day we were supposed to return to Kasigluk, we got weathered in to Bethel, and had to shelter at the Longhouse. This was THE BEST night sleep we had in the 2 months. The soft rain, with the quiet air, and the stillness. Ah……peace! The next morning we continued on to Kasigluk — armed with a good night sleep and a fine breakfast from the Red Basket. It was just so good to know we were back to the Lower Kuskokwim Delta after the hustle and bustle of the lower 48.

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Tundra Cotton Grass growing outside our back door

If you have ever traveled for an extended period, then you have probably experienced the feeling of relief when you finally arrive back home. We  always experienced that upon  our return home to Renton, Washington and thought that this would be what home would always be like. How quickly that concept of home has shifted for us in the past year! How beautiful it was to see that first sunset from our living room window!

Kasigluk Sunset

Kasigluk-Akula Sunset at 12:30 pm

Since this is Kim’s first year as a Principal, we decided to return to the village a little earlier to give ourselves some time to figure things out like: what hours the store and post office were open, determining what that loud boat coming down the river was about,  finding what VHF channel Kasigluk uses, discovering how we get our satellite system working,  deciding who we use for internet service, and starting up our Full Circle Farm delivery. OK, most of those were Greg’s priorities while most of Kim’s centered around figuring out school schedules, where new teachers were going to stay, and how to get the newly leveled teacher building hooked back up to water and power. On top of that we wanted to learn more about village life in Kasigluk.

As the days passed we were finally able to get all of those important issues ironed out. We found out the store was mostly opened to Monday through Saturday until 6 pm, but occasionally they would stay open later. They always have sales on the 1st and 2nd, and 15th and 16th of each month, and occasionally add sales for special events. With things in Alaska being so expensive a 15-20% discount on everything adds up quickly.

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Kasigluk Windmills

We also found out the post office has limited hours. Since there is only one postal agent working at a time they have to close for lunch. That means always checking the time before heading to pick up the post. Anna, and her backup Bertha, have been very helpful getting our mail sorted out.

Post Office Hours

Post Office Hours

As far as the loud boat we kept hearing is concerned, since we are so close to Bethel a hovercraft barge brings supplies up the Johnson river on a regular basis during spring, summer and fall — as long as the river is flowing. It isn’t uncommon to see the barge a couple of times during the week.

Barge Coming In

Barge Coming In – and the Newly Leveled House

Then there are the technical challenges. Between VHF, Satelite TV, and Internet, let’s just keep this part short and positive: All technical difficulties can be solved with persistence and patience. In the meantime, Greg learned a lot about satellite dishes.

Checking our Satellite Signal

Checking our Satellite Signal

Recording Dish Alignment

Recording Dish Alignment

The easiest thing to do was restarting our produce delivery. We used Full Circle Farms when we lived in Kipnuk so we went ahead and got that going again. The deliveries are a little more consistent being closer to Bethel, but we still get delays and damaged produce. Luckily they are always willing to credit items that are missing or damaged. One benefit of moving to Kasigluk is that Corp generally has a few more fruits and vegetables in the store so when a shipment gets lost we still have some options.

Our Produce Delivery from Full Circle Farms

Our Produce Delivery from Full Circle Farms

While we were sorting everything out, Kim was working diligently to get things setup at school before the students arrived. One of the teacher houses had to be raised and leveled over the summer. Due to a variety of delays it was ready the night before the teachers arrived. Prior to that moment, there was no heat, sewer, or water connected to the house. That could have been awkward.

One thing we had become spoiled with in Kipnuk was that we had several shelving units available. When we moved to Kasigluk we only brought the small one that Greg had built. In the process of unpacking we decided we needed to go ahead and try to make some additional shelving. As it turns out Kasigluk’s hardware store had a great supply of pine 1” x 4”, 1” x 6”, and 1” x 8” boards, so this was one of Greg’s first projects here.

Shelving in Progress

Shelving in Progress

One of the amazing things about village life is how much people in the village support each other. When someone has a large salmon catch, or catches a moose, it is not uncommon for people to offer other families bags of food. We have received several moose roasts since we have been here and several silver salmon. When one of Kim’s co-workers called to offer us fish one night we went to pick up a salmon. It was already late and we found out she had over thirty fish to process that night and was supposed to go to work the next day. Having never cut strips for fish before Kim offered her assistance as long as her coworker would show her how to do it. They then spent the next few hours cutting, cleaning, filleting and stripping fish for drying. Kim had a great time and learned a new skill!

Cutting Fish Into Strips

Cutting Fish Into Strips

One other learning experience we had shortly after arriving in Kasigluk is how to identify the various berries on the tundra and when the best time is to pick them. When we arrived, the blue berries were already ripening. Shortly after the bog berries (or pink berries) were starting to change. Many people prefer these in their pinker stage than when they start turning darker red as they have a tarter flavor. Finally, the crow berries and cranberries come ready. All of this happens over about a 2-month period so there are ample opportunities to pick berries. There are so many berries on the tundra around Kasigluk that it is near impossible to walk without stepping on berries. If you are used to picking berries in the lower 48 you might look out at the tundra and say “Where are the berries?” because these berry bushes aren’t big shrubs like found down south. They actually crawl along the tundra and the berries are mixed in among the short foliage. It is not uncommon for lots of cranberries to be left behind over the winter, buried under the snow. These berries don’t go to waste, however, as many people prefer collecting them after spring thaw as they say they are much sweeter then.

The first week of August Kim had to head into Bethel for some additional training. There she got to meet the two new teachers. By the time she returned to Kasigluk that weekend some of the returning teachers had arrived. The teachers had a week to prepare before students started on August 17th. All of the preparation paid off as the school year started off pretty smoothly.

Plane Back to Bethel

Plane Back to Bethel

Bethel Sunset

Bethel Sunset

Next:

The school year in full swing and heading into the darkness…

Visiting America (aka The Lower 48)

How does one respond when a person who lives in a remote village in Alaska says, “Someday I hope to visit America!” The first time we heard this, we were surprised. As time wore on we came to understand the meaning of this statement better. Our first real “Aha!” moment was when Kim was on the phone with a person in California inquiring about a Professional Development opportunity. The lady Kim was talking to told her, “Of course you would need to come to America to take the class.” Wait – she is in California and we are in Alaska – aren’t they both part of America?

Entering America – AKA the lower 48

We are no longer surprised to hear things like this. There is a pervasive gap between Alaska and the lower 48 which appears in many different forms. Things cost more to ship, shipping is often delayed, policies made by government (State and Federal) are either not relevant, or not sensitive to people in remote places. We have gotten used to being treated like we are in a different country when ordering from online retailers but hadn’t considered that others BELIEVE we live in a different country.

This month’s blog is about our visit to the foreign country known fondly as “The Lower 48,” or “Outside.”

In January we had made ambitious plans for a 10,000-mile road trip we fondly referred to as, “Round the Lower 48.” Because of extenuating circumstances, it became the, “To Ohio and Back Again,” road trip. Kind of sounds like a Tolkien novel, doesn’t it? Believe me when I say, “There were dragons!!!

We started off from Tacoma, Washington and headed to Spokane to visit family. We couldn’t resist digging in the dirt and installing a Salsa Garden for the family we were staying with. It brought back so many memories of digging in the dirt on warm summer days from that time when gardening was such a large part of our lives.

Once we were done playing in the dirt, we continued East. Our next stop was Missoula, Montana for another quick family visit and a promise to stop longer on our return. We then continued driving to our overnight stop at Chico Hot Springs near Pray, Montana. These amazing hot springs are warm and relaxing – they are sacred waters which flow freely for all to enjoy. The theme of sacred sites and a prayerful journey would follow us throughout the remainder of our trip.

After Pray, we continued to Medicine Wheel, Wyoming. We had a very beautiful drive on Alt Route 14 through the winding mountains. What an amazing place! We ended up getting there later in the day, and the last few visitors where leaving as we arrived, so we had the place to ourselves. Being alone at the Medicine Wheel to pray for our family, friends, and villages was comparable to having Stonehenge all to yourself. This is an amazing spiritual site worth the visit. Find more information here https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/medicine-wheel.

To reach the site we had to take a mile and a half hike, which was made interesting, and a little treacherous, by lingering drifts of snow which partially covered many parts of the path. Wildflowers were already blooming on the parts of the path that were free of snow. By the time we got back to our car it had already been a long day, so we headed to Sheridan, Wyoming for our stopping place that night.

Throughout this trip, we established a consistent pattern in our travels: leisurely wake up and departure, and late night arrivals at our destination for the day. We decided we would stop at places we wanted to visit and not worry too much about the time.

A moon shot along our way east

A shot of the Full Moon during our late night travels

On our next day we first stopped in Fort Collins, Colorado to visit with Dr. Debbie Thompson. We had a lovely adjustment in the park, along with a nice lunch, and then continued down to Limon, Colorado for the night.

An adjustment in the park with Dr. Debbie Thompson

The next two days we traveled on into Columbia, Missouri, taking a stop along the way at BB’s Lawnside BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri for lunch. Then we headed on making a stop at the arch in St. Louis, and rested that evening in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

On our final travel day heading east we stopped at St Xavier Church in Cincinnati, Ohio and then continued to our final stop in Delaware, Ohio, where we spent most of a week visiting with our grand kids, resting, relaxing and sightseeing. We took time to enjoy a car show in downtown Delaware, visited the Olentangy Indian Caverns, traveled up to see the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio and stopped by the cemetery of Marion Ohio. The time went quickly and before we knew it we found ourselves packing up to head back to Washington state.

On the way back to Seattle we stayed in places like Altoona, Wisconsin, Bismark, North Dakota, and Great Falls, Montana. We decided we really enjoyed visiting Prairie Fire Pottery in Beach, North Dakota and figured we could really enjoy living in Lewiston, Montana.

Art near Beach North Dakota

Landscape near Great Falls Montana.

From Great Falls we headed back to Spokane, Washington with an extended stop in Missoula, MT along the way to have lunch as we had promised. We had a lovely visit – well, all except for Isabella, who kept trying to hide behind a chair to seek safety from Walter the cat.

Walter laying down the law to Isabella.

From Spokane we headed on to Renton, where we scheduled a couple of nights at the local Red Lion so we could leisurely handle the rest of our medical/dental follow-up appointments. Following that we headed back down to Michaela’s house in Tacoma for a couple of nights.

The Columbia River

Since we were back in Washington early, Kim decided to take a course to keep her Washington CTE certificate valid. So, on Sunday June 25th, we headed to Richland where Isabella and Greg hung out in the room learning more about Java (the software and the coffee kind) and Kim worked through some classes.

The Mountain on our way to Richland Washington

Kim’s basket project she created during the WAMC conference.

Finally, on June 30th we headed back to the Seattle area to accept a generous offer by one of Kim’s friends to house sit for her until it was time to return to Kasigluk. This provided us 3+ weeks to adjust to a slower pace of city life, allowed for Kim to complete a couple more classes for work, and gave us time to pack up a few more of our remaining items we had left behind on our quick exodus to Kipnuk last summer. We also got to unwind with a little biking along the Green River, watch the Osprey’s, visit the mountains, and spend time with friends prior to heading back north. Our two months of summer ended up going by quickly and as the last week of July approached we started getting antsy for our return trip to Kasigluk, Alaska.

Coming up next:
Back to village life!

Break-up, Moving, and See-you-laters

When we first moved to Kipnuk, the expectation was to be there for a year and to then move to a different village for the next school year. By the end of April, we knew our new destination would be Kasigluk, Alaska. It was a humbling experience for Kim to interview and accept the Site Admin/Principal position at Akula School in Kasigluk. It was exciting to know that next year we would be Tundra Foxes!

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Kasigluk Tundra

With this destination in mind we could now set into some serious packing. Well, Greg could as Kim was very busy working with her principal to wrap up the school year, and learn all she could, before departing Kipnuk.

School in Kipnuk was scheduled to end on May 17th and the plan was to move the following weekend and to depart for the lower 48 around the 20th – or so – you know a leisurely time schedule. Kim had even booked dental and doctor appointments and made dates to catch up with friends. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

During this time, nearly every day from the beginning of May, we would walk out and look at the changing landscape. Waiting patiently for the spring break-up when our river, the Kugkaktlik, would start flowing again and which would mark the true end of winter. Views from the sky revealed a still very icy Bering Sea. It seemed like winter would be holding on for a long time more.

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Thawing Tundra Next to the Frozen Bering Sea

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Kugkaktlik River Before Break-up

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The River is Almost Clear

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Evening Sun Over Kipnuk Village

We hoped to see break-up before leaving Kipnuk and Greg was able to take pictures and video of  this amazing process.  It seemed like one day the river still had ice on it and the very next day it was as if winter had never happened — the river flowing so easily without any trace of ice. Birds singing, people smiling, the warmer air, and the feel of Spring finally here!

Then, the unexpected happened. The existing principal in Kasigluk needed to depart early for the lower 48 and left on May 10th. Kim was asked to finish the school year as the site administrator at Akula School starting on May 15th.

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Kasigluk Playground

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Akiuk Side of Kasigluk

This change meant that we had to be ready to move on May 13th. We had to step up the packing pace a bit. Kasigluk was on a different schedule and their school did not end until May 24th which put pressure on our departure plans. All of a sudden nothing was leisurely. Appointments needed to be rescheduled, plans changed, and planes chartered.

The big question was how to get  efficiently from Kipnuk to Kasigluk. What we learned from some of the tenured staff was that we could charter a plane to move our things. This eliminated the need to relive the packing experience from last year: bundling and labeling everything into big black containers with yellow lids in order to overcome the harsh treatment usually encountered when shipping things to Alaska.

Chartering planes allowed us to transport boxes straight from Kipnuk to Kasigluk avoiding the delay of having our household goods going from Kipnuk to Bethel to Kasigluk with the USPS. Because of less handling, we could use some of the cardboard boxes we had collected over the year and overcome our shortage of shipping tubs. Then we had to revisit the conversation from last May, “How much stuff do we need?” And add the question, “How much stuff can we transport on a plane?”

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Planes Move everything

Taking our family’s weight (Greg, Kim, and Isabella) into account, along with the few things we acquired during the year, we figured we would come close to approximately 3000 pounds, which meant we would have to charter two planes, a Cessna C207 (which could carry 900 pounds) and a Cessna C208 (which could carry 2300 pounds). As we were packing, we discovered that we were going to exceed the target weight of 3200 pounds by a couple hundred pounds.

The final days before departure we began pairing things down, shipping a few boxes that could survive harsh treatment, and giving away many items. We were finally able to get down to 3150 pounds for the planes, including ourselves and the dog, and found we had once again reduced our lives down to 75 boxes and 7 suitcases amounting to less than 3200 pounds of goods.

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The Cessna 208 we used to move from Kipnuk to Kasigluk

To put things into perspective, we recently had a conversation with a family member about how moving companies generate quotes. The formula goes like this: 5,000 pounds for a married couple, then add 1000 pounds for each year of marriage. Whoa….we should have had about 32,500 pounds of stuff….and we probably did before we made this life-changing leap last year.

It is interesting that the conversation of “stuff” regularly rears its head in our life now. It goes like this, “Do you want it or need it?” Followed by, “Will you pay to ship it, or pay to move it?” Depending on the answers, the item may or may not make it into our village lives. We have come to understand stuff in a very visceral way and still wonder if we have too much stuff.

Back to moving……

Once we had everything ready to go, the act of moving was quick and mostly painless (except for the sore backs from lifting all those boxes). We had our planes chartered to arrive Saturday May 13th. We moved all our items to the warehouse at the airstrip the night before. Then, when the planes arrived, it took about 30 minutes to load each plane which was mostly waiting for seats to be removed and stowed, and then approximately 45 minutes in the air flying between villages, and another 30 minutes to unload everything. We were grateful for the help from a couple of the maintenance guys, the local Kipnuk RAVN agent, and one of the young men from the village in Kipnuk to facilitate the ease of our departure. We also had help from one of the teachers in Kasigluk, and many of young people who decided they wanted to help haul boxes from the vehicle to the house. It was one of our quickest and easiest moves yet – 3 hours from start to finish

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Our new Kasigluk Home

When we arrived at our new home, we found that we already had a mostly furnished house because the previous Site Administrator had left most of his belongings behind. This allowed us to take our time unpacking and going through everything in our new household. Not having to look for pots, pans, and the coffee maker was a gift!

We decided to set aside the items that were duplicates for the new teachers that would be arriving in August. This also allowed us the ability to take some time to get to know the new village, and our new home, a little better before our summer departure. It also allowed Kim a smooth start to her new job just 48 hours after leaving Kipnuk.

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The Johnson River

Here’s what we have learned about our new home so far. Kasigluk is a village that is slightly smaller than Kipnuk and is divided by the Johnson river. There is no bridge between the two sides of the village, so people travel by boat during the spring, summer, and fall, and by snow machine or 4-wheeler during the winter. There are a few vehicles in Kasigluk that are driven on the ice during the winter to travel up to Bethel to pick up supplies and travelers. There is a time when the ice has either not frozen enough, or has melted too much, that people cannot travel between the two sides.

There are two schools in Kasigluk: Akula (say Ah-goo-la) and Akiuk (say Ah-kee-yook) and Kim is the Site Administrator for the Akula School. Each school has 90+ students, grades K-12. Because they are smaller sites there is a Site Administrator but no Assistant Principal, and some teachers teach more than one grade level in the same classroom. The airport, grocery store, hardware store, and post office are all located on the Akula side. The Russian Orthodox church, the Kasigluk Community Center, and the clinic are also on the Akula side. The Moravian church is on the Akiuk side. Kasigluk has running water and 3 windmills to supplement the generator power. Despite what Google maps shows, Akula school is in the section on the southwest side of the river while Akiuk school is on the Northeast side of the river.

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Travelling Between Akula and Akiuk

And, while we had some time to relax, there was the stress created with the change in timeline. All appointments had to be rescheduled and our departure from Alaska was moved back a week. In between our arrival on May 13th and departure on May 24th there was an ASB meeting, visits from contractors to evaluate the state of the school facilities, two feasts, graduation, and prom. It was a very busy 11 days.

When school wrapped up on May 24th, we had most of our boxes unpacked and many items set aside for the new teachers who would be joining us in August.  We then packed up a couple of suitcases, the dog and her travel crate, and on the afternoon of May 24th headed to Bethel so Kim could check out with the school district.

Because of flight delays, we got there late so Greg and Isabella hung out at the airport awaiting Kim’s return. That evening we took a flight to Anchorage, where we stayed the night. The next morning, Greg went to the DMV to get his Alaska driver’s license and that afternoon we boarded the plane to Seattle.

Plane from Bethel to Anchorage

In the Air between Bethel and Anchorage

Upon our arrival in Seattle we immediately understood that we had quickly adjusted to the slower, quieter village life. The view from the plane as we were landing, of all the houses, cars, and people, was overwhelming. By the time were on the ground and headed south to Tacoma, we were on sensory overload – just in time for rush hour traffic. It is hard to imagine we lived in this environment for so long, and how foreign it had become, in a very short time.

Seattle from the air

Seattle from the Air

The final days of May were spent with our daughter while we got our medical and dental checkups (even Isabella) and planned our foray across the country to visit family and friends.

One of the challenges of village life is there are no dentists, doctors, or vets. There is a clinic staffed with Community Health Aides who perform tests, gather results, and consult with doctors in Bethel and Anchorage for the best treatment plan. Any serious cases require medivac to Bethel, or even to Anchorage. For routine medical care, like physicals, blood-work, and teeth cleanings (even Isabella), our options are to return to Renton for care with doctors we have used for years, or to locate new doctors in Anchorage. We are grateful for the ability to return to the doctors we have used for years and the care they give (even Isabella).

May was busy and filled with so many transitions. The transition from winter to spring through break-up, the transition between Kipnuk to Kasigluk, the transition from the school year to summer vacation, and the transition from Alaska to the lower 48. It was one of the most challenging months so far.

Kasigluk pussy willow 2

Coming up next: Visiting America (aka The Lower 48)