Spring is HERE!

Sunset Through Boardwalk Bridge

Sunset Through Boardwalk Bridge

The Month of March has been a relatively quiet month on the tundra. The snow storms of January and February  have calmed and for many weeks the sun has been out and brightly shining. While the temperatures had dipped into the negative double digits on most nights, during the day we saw them inch up to the positive double digits as well. The return of the sun is noticeable as the days grow longer and longer. The end of the month brings us over 13 hours of light with sunrise happening around 8:25 am and sunset holding off until 9:37 pm. It is an amazing place to experience life!

Icy Boardwalks

Icy Boardwalks

While things are warming a little we still have most of the snow from the previous storms. During this month, the most frequented paths have become more and more compressed. The positive part about this is we can take longer walks on paths that were not available to us during the spring months as we can literally walk on water – you know, the frozen kind. The drawback to this is a lot of the boardwalks have layers of compressed ice and snow and it has become treacherous to walk on them without snow cleats. The kids seem to enjoy the challenge as we often find them skating down the boardwalks – some in skates and some in their normal winter shoes. It’s fun to hear them call out, “Look-Watch!  Mrs. and Mr. Sweet! We’re skating!”

Isabella's Snow Mask

Isabella’s Snow Mask

With all the sunshine and the longer days we have been lulled into a false sense that Spring was on its way, but Mother Nature had different plans. On March 31st, a new winter storm blew in. After just 24 hours, we have new snow drifts 4-5 feet high and it is still snowing. It looks like Punxsutawney Phil was a little off on his forecast of 6 more weeks of winter, at least for Kipnuk, as it looks like we will be keeping our snow and ice until the beginning of May. I guess we could use our own local celebrity to forecast our winters for us. Our options are rather limited as, during the winter, the only animals we have present are a couple of weasels, some mice, the village dogs, our raven clan, and the foxes that get everyone stirred up when they decide to take a stroll through the village. We have seen the signs of their presence, but so far, I have only seen one running from a snow machine as it was headed to the church (the snow machine — not the fox). None of these creatures are stepping up to help us figure out the true weather plans this year.

An interesting Yup’ik story about predicting Spring goes like this. When you see the Ptarmigan coming back from the hills, then Spring is almost here — they know when there won’t be anymore snow. When the cranes come then you KNOW for sure Spring is here.

First Boardwalk Bridge to Cemetary

First Boardwalk Bridge to Cemetery

Final Boardwalk Bridge to Cemetary

Final Boardwalk Bridge to Cemetery

One of the other favorite past times of the children in the village is to climb on the railings and do flips into the snowbanks that build up. With all the fresh snow, I am sure we will begin seeing the body prints from their adventures. They also like to build tunnels through the snow. One of the many things they have taught me during our stay here is how to get out of those deep drifts if you happen to wander into them. Often you are too deep to just back up and out, so you have to sit down and roll out. It isn’t a graceful process, but it works and it keeps you from having to stand around freezing while someone digs you out!

Snow Drifts After First Day

Snow Drifts After First Day

Snow Drifts To Play In

Snow Drifts To Play In

Other activities in March included a quick trip that Kim took to Kongiganak to visit their school. She got to meet many different people who were related to folks in Kipnuk and meet lots of other LKSD teachers. All the villages across the Lower Yukon Delta, while separated by many miles, are connected by many relations.  Greg got to experience his first Maqii (a Yup’ik Sauna) and enjoyed the experience greatly. This is a very efficient way to keep clean with a minimum amount of water.

Speaking of water, as the winter has worn on and renewed it’s commitment, our water concerns are growing. People in the village have ample access to ice, however we are down to only about 7 feet in our reservoir for the school. Really, now. Spring cannot come soon enough.

Finally, Kim spent a day learning how to make fur mittens from one of the elders in the village. It was an amazing day filled with stories about family in different places and how things were in different times. Each piece of fur had a story attached to it and while Kim sewed mittens, the elder wove her basket. Food served included dried fish, caribou/walrus soup, and fry bread. Delicious.

Next Time: Changes are coming

The Realities of Village Life

With the addition of this latest installment, we are caught up with the highlights of the winter. Of course, the events and happenings over three months cannot be properly conveyed in 3000 words or less.

The Land Sleeps

FEBRUARY:

The reality of village life is that we are at the mercy of the weather. When the snow comes, there are no planes. No planes mean no provisions, no eggs, no fresh food, and few luxuries (unless they were laid-in well before the snow). It means no people flying into or out of the village. People have been in Bethel on weather hold for many days at a time. Many of our Itinerant Service Providers (Social Worker, School Counselor, State Testing Personnel, etc…) have been unable to visit since December. We miss them and the services they provide for our school-age children. Life is frozen in place – waiting for movement of any kind.

Village Tractor Frozen in Place

When the weather is bad for a long period of time, the village can experience a lack of water. There is no plumbing in the village homes and drinking water is typically gathered from rain and ponds. Since the cold weather set in several months ago, the ponds are now all frozen and fresh water comes in the form of ice or snow. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of snow to make a small amount of drinkable water, so most villagers take their snow machines, with sleds attached, out to a location upriver that is known for it’s “Sweet Water”. They chip blocks of ice out of the stream and drag them back to their homes to serve as their primary source of water. Needless to say there are a lot of snow machines making these daily trips and some families and elders have become concerned with having enough water. Everyone pitches in to ensure that there is enough water for everyone.

Blocks of “Sweet Water”

Even in this time of bad weather, the daylight has been creeping back and the lengthening days encourage us to be outside more. Sadly, this has been a very cold February and it has been difficult to be outside for any length of time, even with all the cold-weather gear we have. There is an itchy impatience to February that is difficult to describe. Enjoying the  dark days of deep winter while simultaneously longing for the Spring; wanting to savor the fun the snow brings, while craving the sounds of the returning water birds, and a thousand other diametrically opposed emotions create dynamic tension and makes for a restlessness. The sunrises have been spectacular when it’s clear and cold. Lot’s of amazing sun-dogs to watch!

Sun Dog (AKA – The Sun Putting on It’s Mittens)

Staying Warm

The windows are frozen closed and we are wishing for fresh air to move through our home. The last trip to Bethel, at the end of February, I found myself in the grocery store looking wistfully at a bunch of daffodils – you know the 2/$5 bunch grown in the Skagit Valley and sold at the local grocery. This bunch had six daffodils and cost $12. I just picked up a bunch and smelled that fresh “yellow-flower” smell for a few minutes. I contemplated buying them, but couldn’t think about how I would ever get them home to Kipnuk, by the time all my bags went through their ordeals. In the end, I cherished the experience with an understanding and awareness that I am craving SPRING.

Turn Mountain

This month, in addition to the restlessness, death has come to our village and the delta – we have lost 7 important people in the past 3 weeks and have participated with our village in a much different way. It seems that much of the month has been about attending wakes, bringing coffee and cookies to family’s homes, and saying, “So sorry for your loss.” We have spent long days waiting for relatives to come on planes, long overdue because of the weather, to have funerals which take place in snowstorms that would keep most people inside. What is left is the sadness of those left behind and the impatience of the young who want life to return to normal as soon as possible. Everyone in the village has been touched by these losses.

New Graves in the Snow

It is important to note that death, and the rituals surrounding death, in the village is much different than in the lower 48. Here, when there is a body in the village, there is no basketball AT ALL. It is the height of disrespect to play ball when there is an unburied body. The dead are kept at their home, or the home of a loved one, for at least three days. During this time, the body is never left alone – hence the coffee and food. There is someone keeping vigil 24 hours a day until they are taken to the church for the service. People gather, tell stories, sit with the dead, eat, and visit in the home – no one is alone. When it is time for the burrial, the body is taken to the church and everyone from the village goes. Then they go to the graves and place the casket in a white box which sits on top of the tundra.

Graves in the Snow

Our trips to the grave are sadder for the new boxes and crosses, a testament to the losses of us all, and the relentlessness of February.

Hurry up, Spring. We are ready for the wheel to turn and the season to change.

Next time:

SPRING is HERE!

Winter Deepens

Hoar Frost on Foliage

JANUARY:

The New Year found us celebrating being in Alaska for 4 months with almost continual problems with shipping, shopping, and missing mail. Due to the ongoing bad weather, we had a steep increase in all of the above. Several of our orders were lost, much of the post was delayed, and there were days-on-end of listening for planes and hoping that some of our provisions would make it here in time. Greg’s Christmas present arrived just in time for Russian Orthodox Christmas in January.  

And speaking about bad weather, there is nothing quite like a genuine blizzard. By way of warning, several villagers took the time to tell us the story of the young man who wandered off into a blizzard and they found him, “slumped over, the next day, by the dump.” This story is so ingrained in the fabric of the village and serves as a warning to those who might dare go out into the snow.

Blizzard Setting In

Snow Piles Forming Between Blizzards

One afternoon, the wind and snow were so fierce that we dismissed school early and every child was released to a parent to ensure their safety. Then, just walking the 20 feet home became a harrowing journey. I called Greg to watch for me before I stepped out the back door of the school and kept my sight firmly on the staircase by the house as I walked into the wind blowing the icy snow sideways counting my steps to the porch.

 

The next few hours our home shook from the wind and it sounded like the windows would break from the icy snow being driven into the side of our home. Even though we worried a little, the school generator worked like a champ and we had power and heat through the whole experience. Blizzards are like nothing we’ve ever experienced. They are intense, fierce, and powerful and the next day, it’s like nothing had even happened, EXCEPT for the HUGE drifts of snow all over the place and the COLD clear air! Some of the drifts were up to the roofs of the little houses next to the school. Other places where drifts accumulated, next to the boardwalks and against the school, proved to be another type of playground.

Snow Drifts After Blizzard

Snow Drifts Formed After Blizzard

The bravest of the children would climb up on the railings of the boardwalks and do flips into the soft, cotton-like drifts of snow. Some children took advantage of the wind-swept ice and went “skating” on the clear surfaces. No skates required, just rubber-soled shoes. Some children worked to make tunnels through the drifts by the school and played hide and seek in the snow. Some children even went out to play basketball on the snow/ice covered outdoor court. Spectators carved seats into the drifts to watch and to cheer on their friends playing. When Greg and I stopped to watch, the children reminded us that, “We are Yup’ik – we play basketball – even in the snow!”

All the snow allowed us to bring out the snowshoes! WOW! That was so fun!! Getting to snowshoe out to the Graves and back was really awesome! There was one especially awkward moment when Kim fell into one of the drifts and the extra length of the snowshoes created a very comical situation trying to stand up again. By the time we were both upright again, we were laughing so hard that several children came to investigate. Finding us laughing next to a huge drift was an invitation for kids to jump up to the top and slide down. More laughter, play, and fun ensued. The stress and fear that comes in with a blizzard are quickly replaced by the joy of new snow and a changed landscape.

And, Isabella LOVES the snow. She views the drifts as big, giant snow cones which she loves to eat! This winter we have been letting her off-leash when we are at least a mile out of the village. She loves this freedom to explore, wander, and eat snow! It is part of her great adventure to sniff after fox tracks and mouse holes while discovering the landscape. Her other favorite activity is sliding around on the icy puddles. All of this contributes to the sense of fun and joy that accompanies our daily winter walks in the snow.

Isabella Enjoying a Home-made Snow Cone

Next up…The Realities of Village Life…

 

An Unconventional Holiday

a-winter-sun

The Solstice Sun

Note: As you may notice about many blogs from people in Alaska, there is a lull that happens in the winter. This lull is best described as an intense enjoyment of the darkness and solitude of the season. We will catch you up on the events of the last three months in quick succession.

DECEMBER:

When we initially heard we had vacation for three weeks during the holidays we thought “What a perfect time to travel and visit family!” Of course, that was before the realities of village travel to and from Kipnuk, Alaska became apparent Then we had to start getting more realistic….

When we lived in Renton, Washington, Kim would often have 2 weeks off for the holidays, but Greg would be lucky to get 2 days off in all of December. There was seldom enough free time to travel so we would generally plan a meal with family, volunteer at Luther’s Table, and sometimes squeeze in a visit with friends. Three weeks sounded like an amazing opportunity.

Over the last 4 months, we have realized that travel in and out of Kipnuk is always unpredictable. There are days where you may see six or seven planes come through (mind you most carry 6-9 passengers – or less if they have lots of cargo). Then there are other times where the fog, wind, or snow might prevent planes from landing for days. The unpredictable nature of travel was the biggest factor for reconsidering our travel decisions.

winter-air-travel

Winter Air Travel

 

The second factor that affected our reversal in travel plans was having to travel with our dog, Isabella. Our girl cannot be neatly stowed under the seat in a carrier which  means she flies cargo. While on the smaller planes this is not a problem,  on the larger ones, pet travel is not always guaranteed. We came to understand that we could have found ourselves stuck in Bethel for days waiting on a plane she could travel in. Holiday travel, at best, is very exhausting. Adding these complications on top of that led us to scratch our travel plans.

Our Girl Catching Snowflakes

Our Girl Catching Snowflakes

Instead of a glamorous holiday in the lower 48, we elected to remain in the village for the whole vacation. So, one of the first things we did was decorate for the holiday! Out came the two boxes of Christmas ornaments and the small artificial tree that we had shipped north with our belongings. Up went the lights — all over the house, and by the beginning of December, the halls were officially decked!

kipnuk-christmas-tree

Kipnuk Christmas Tree

Excitement for the Solstice and the coming darkness was indescribable. Each day we lost more daylight, and each day we wondered, “How dark would it really be by the Solstice?” We had the uncontrollable urge to bake. Greg found the best sugar cookie recipe and we ran out of molasses from all the cookies he made.

And, on the day of Solstice, we still had 5 hours and 54 minutes of daylight. The sun spent the day hovering very low on the horizon.  That day, it rose in the far South-East corner of the tundra and set on the very South-West corner of the village.

cloud-formations

Winter Sky

As vacation crept closer, we did get a lot of questioning looks when we would tell people we weren’t going anywhere for the holidays. Even several days after the winter holiday started, people would look at us and ask us when we were going. We were told we would get bored and run out of things to do but since we have rarely had so much time off together, we felt we were up for the challenge!

So, you might ask what we did for 3 weeks in a village that has no restaurants, no coffee shops, no museums, no theaters or other forms of entertainment? Well, we enjoyed life as it happened…

a-panaorama-of-the-cemetary

Winter Landscape

During the break, we had a lot of variety of weather; from snow storms and blizzards, to thaws and freezing rain, plus a little flooding thrown in for fun. While we had to shorten our walks on several days we were still able to get out and enjoy the village and the vastness of the tundra.

We also had the opportunity to do a little volunteer work. During the break, Kipnuk hosted a basketball competition that was sponsored by the Junior High basketball team. Adult teams from other villages came to Kipnuk to compete against each other. While the weather presented some challenges for travel, the closest villages were still accessible by snow machine, so many teams used this method of travel to make it to the competition. This week-long competition offered plenty of opportunity to meet more of our community members.

boats-in-december

Winter Boats

Besides the basketball adventure, we were invited to visit the local Moravian church and hear students sing and share readings in their native language (Yupik). Carolers came to our home to sing a song and to bless our house! We also listened to musicians from Kipnuk and surrounding villages sing a variety songs in both their native and English languages as well. This provided us yet a different opportunity to interact with our community.

Tom Cod Drying

Tom Cod Drying

Finally, we received invitations from several local families for holiday dinner. This allowed us to get better acquainted with others, learn a little more background and history, and enjoy some of the local dishes.

While we did not travel to different places for the holidays, we supported our community and learned more about the place we currently call home. And, we watched the light return. What a very pleasant way to spend the holidays.

sunrise-with-frost

The Returning Sun

Coming up next:

Winter Deepens…

Life and Its Surprises

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This past month has been filled with all manner of surprises. My last blog seems like a lifetime ago, but only one month has passed. In that time, winter has arrived, like we knew it would, and the landscape has transformed into the snowy scene you see above.

Some of the surprises of the past month have included an unexpected trip to Bethel, followed by a LONG weather delay on the return trip home. Followed by a surprise Thanksgiving dinner invite to celebrate with co-workers who stayed behind in the village. Finally, the biggest surprise of all is how comfortable we feel here during the holidays.

While we miss our friends and family in the lower 48, and yearn for those connections we have left behind, the connection we feel to Kipnuk defies explanation. It is like a place we have been yearning to come to, without having any idea that it even existed. Here, we have found a peace and contentment that had eluded us in out lifestyle in the Seattle area.

This morning, while we enjoyed our breakfast and spoke about what we needed/wanted to do for the day, we mulled over a couple of radical ideas: a long walk and some laundry followed by putting up more Christmas lights. Sounds good. Greg and I then reminisced about what the Sunday morning conversation was on this very weekend last year. It would have been, “We need to go to Costco, then……followed by a long list of social commitments to attend to and chores that needed to be done, in order to prepare for the work week ahead. Oh, and by the way, Greg have been packing for a trip to Connecticut or Portland, or….where-ever he was off to that week.” It was a busy, frenetic, exciting, satisfying, hectic, and rewarding life, filled with community service opportunities and life-changing experiences.

And, if you had asked us a year ago if we were happy, we would have said, “Yes! And, we would like a little more down time, but it’s all good the way it is.” Well, clearly, we were ready for a change that we didn’t even know was coming. And now that it’s here, we are not just happy, we are content. It is the contentment of people living life the way they want to and finally having the time to choose what to do next. It is the contentment of a different kind of connection with the people in our community. Finally, it is the contentment of a single income family. Surprise!

With Greg firmly settled into pre-retirement, there are opportunities for us to use our time in a different manner. He handles the household and the shopping (online and at the local stores) and he handles a lot of the details that we reserved Sunday afternoons for. Since he can handle them at his own pace during the week, Sunday afternoons have been transformed into time to stroll the tundra, relax, and reflect. It is also the time when I attend to correspondences (email and snail mail) which is a luxury I haven’t had in years. It is a time of connection to each other, time to talk about big ideas and small things, both of which matter immensly.

In this time and place, we are happy and content. It is an unconventional (uncomfortable) moment when we realize that some of the things we held most dear no longer fit into the lifestyle we have chosen and the equal realization that what we miss from home are the people. So, it is with happy and contented hearts that we know we will see our friends again, and we will all be different because of our experiences in between. It will be another surprise!

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Next Time: An Unconventional Holiday

Gratitude and Graciousness

In my last blog I mentioned how folks here have been holding their breath, waiting for the fall flooding to arrive – see Fall is Coming (the WIND is here) . The big flood came on Friday evening as a result of a new moon, strong winds, and driving rain, combined with a +11.25′ high tide. This made for many feet of water all over the place, up to chest high in places, sliding along on top of the previously frozen and only slightly thawed land. The school gym was opened for families who needed shelter during the height of the flood and we were able to graciously provide assistance for those in need.

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(Above: Water outside our home – October 28)

The next morning we discovered up-ended boats where they are not usually found, loose dogs, missing boardwalks, overturned sewage dumpsters, and drifts of trash all through the village. The Tundra has returned to her regal fall beauty except for the addition of jelly-fish scattered through the grasses and in the ponds. These crystal-like plankton jewels dot the Tundra like gems in a crown – a testament to how far inland and how high the ocean rose. Today, the sea gulls are unceremoniously feasting on them.

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(Above: After the flood – October 29)

As I write this there are many things for which I am grateful. I am grateful there were no severe injuries to any of the villagers – despite a couple of close calls. I am grateful for our dwelling which has withstood storms and floods before. And mostly, I am grateful to be witnessing the ferocity with which the seasons change and the stories they bring with them.

This fall’s flood is not the first one, nor is it the second. This fall’s flood is another in a long line of floods told about for the past 4,000 years. Living on a land which has experienced this recurring cycle for so many years is comforting, even though the weather and its upheavals is not. It is reassuring that people can say, “First comes the wind and rain. Then comes the freezing. Then the little thaw and then the flood. After the flood then comes winter.” After how many times this has happened, it is part of the story of the land, the story of the people. And really, that’s the part that many do not recognize; that the story of the land IS the story of the people. They are not separate and as a guest in this story, I am grateful to be able to play the part of witness to something which is much older and bigger than my lifetime.

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(Above: The freezing – October 22)

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(Above: A little thawing – October 23)

There is the uncomfortable knowing that the drama has changed, and is continuing to change, in the past few years due to warming. The flood on Friday was, “The worst anyone has ever seen.” The cycle is changing and no one is really sure how that will affect the story or its outcome. Will it return to how it has been for the past 4000 years or will it be a mystery to discover? Perhaps the liturgy of the weather cycle and when winter comes will change, perhaps the knowing about what comes next will not be as sure, or as insightful. Perhaps, with the warming of the Tundra, people will not be able to live here the way they have always lived. I wonder if there is a construct for the new part of this story. I also wonder if we will have another flood this evening….

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(Above: The Graves at sunset – October 24)

Currently the wind is blowing HARD! The rain is coming DOWN! And the tide is coming IN. This is the same story that just happened two nights ago, so we will see what happens next.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the generator which ensures we have heat and lights. I am grateful that our weekly baking is done so we will have bread to eat. I am grateful that my rain gear is ready and I am rested in case we’re called upon to assist in providing shelter at the school for those who are flooded out of their homes. I’m grateful to have renewed my first aid card before leaving Renton (Thank you, CD), and mostly I am grateful to bear witness to the changes in the land as it is happening.

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(Above: Kipnik at Sunset October 13)

Next Time: Life and Its Surprises

Fall is Coming (the WIND is here)!

Fall is here! The lush grasses of the tundra have turned orange and gold, seemingly overnight. We are losing about an hour of daylight each week and are down to 10 hours of daylight today. The temperatures have dipped into the 20’s and 30’s on several occasions and the boardwalk is slippery both morning and evening. Isabella doesn’t care as she is happy to finally be able to put her heavy Akita coat to good use. She loves the colder weather and can’t wait for her daily walks even when we walk in the dark.

our-shadow    isabella-2    fall-pond

(The tundra dressed in reds and golds that match Isabella’s heavy coat)

The highlight of September and October has been the wind. The wind is one of the defining factors of our lives. A few weeks ago I experienced my first side-ways landing due to high winds coming in from the West  (35-45 mph) and a N-S runway. The pilot brought us in  hot, perpendicular to the end of the runway, banked at the last moment and dropped onto the ground. There is a skill to this which bush pilots have mastered – performing this type of difficult landing, while simultaneously being calm so their passengers are less likely to panic and/or throw up. It was exciting and at least it wasn’t raining when we hit the ground.

evening                    reflection

(In between storms — a brief interlude)

We are in between storms of pelting rain and 50+ mph winds and have been experiencing some beautiful clear days. However, during the storms our house felt like we were on a boat rocking back and forth as the rain pelted sideways into our home.  Due to the severe nature of the storms, the school generator has been going since last Friday afternoon to ensure we have lights and heat.

Here, when the wind changes direction and is blowing in from the Southwest, we can expect heavy flooding. Everyone seems to be holding their breath for the fall flood to come so that we can then move on to winter. During the storms the river and streams rose quite high and there was some flooding, but nothing so serious that we had to cancel school, or evacuate housing.

A few years back there was an unusual occurrence involving the wind.  One of the men I work with told us about the wind that knocked his house off the supports (stilts) a few years back. Of course Greg and I came home and looked under our house right away to verify it was attached to the posts. Whew! It really is. It just moves a lot!

With all the heavy rain and wind, internet had been down, cell service intermittent, and planes grounded.This made mail and supplies iffy on more than one occasion. Once the weather cleared, we had lots of planes of people and supplies come in. Folks are happy to be home to the village and to see supplies on the shelves at Corp and the other stores. A refueling barge made it’s way up-river to top off the tanks so that we can make it through the winter. It’s getting pretty late in the season to see barges on the river so it’s probably one of the last until spring. fall-collage

(Refueling barge, the full river with Turn Mountain in the distance)

About three weeks ago, Greg went hunting and got the smallest duck imaginable. It’s called a green-winged teal. We’ve nicknamed this type of duck, “Tiny but Tasty” as it’s the best duck we’ve ever eaten. It’s been about 20 years since I’ve had to pluck anything, fortunately I remembered how to do it pretty quickly. This was quickly followed by the gift of two geese (Dutes as opposed to Nukluks) which I was also able to manage to pluck while getting feathers ALL over the place.  While we would like to get a few more birds in the freezer before winter, it’s challenging because hunting and gathering on Sunday is frowned upon and it’s one of the best days we have available to do this.  But alas, winter is coming and our feathered friends will soon fly south to hang out in the lower 48 (aka America).

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(Full moon rising, the graves in the moonlight, layers of twilight)

Last night, while walking in the moonlight, we heard a flock of geese flying over us in the dark. Their calls and sounds were eerie in the stillness. We will miss them when they go. The tundra will echo with the subsequent silence and all that will be left is the wind through the grasses.

School is going really well. Always lots to do and learn. Friday was the end of the first quarter. Wow! Already 1/4 done. It’s going by too fast. And while I work long hours everyday, there is just work, home, and the tundra.  Greg is now the official FLL coach for team #516. He’s AWESOME and having a lot of fun as well! He is a natural with kids and computers and it’s nice that he gets the time and space to enjoy something different!

The simplicity of our existence FEELS relaxed and manageable. In general, it’s still the most amazing place we’ve ever lived and is perfect for this time in our lives!

new-slippers   isabella

(Modeling our new Seal-skin slippers, the view from the front window of the school)

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(A Sunday walk chasing the sun between the storms)

Next Time: Gratitude and graciousness

An Adventure in Fish!

Guest Blogger – Gregory Sweet.

It’s like stepping into the great unknown. For the last 37 years of my life I have been working 40 or more hours per week and receiving a paycheck in return. While initially most of the checks were small, over time they have become more adequate and have facilitated my ability to have the (perceived) freedom to do what I want when I want. As long as I remember to show up to work on Monday morning ready to be productive.

Now I take a step backwards in this progression. I basically go to ground zero where the concept of a paycheck no longer exists. It has become more obvious how much of my self-worth has been determined by how others perceive the value of my work. I work, therefore, I am. During daily work interactions, constantly receiving feedback on the work done, helped me understand my place in the world. Feedback arrived through comments, facial expressions, body language, voice tone, inflection, and conversation.

Cut out that daily work experience, with the nearly constant feedback loops, and I no longer have that external reinforcement of value. Perhaps then it becomes easier to listen to the more critical voice we all possess. It is sometimes like the Red Dwarf episode: Confidence and Paranoia. For those of you wondering, look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confidence_and_Paranoia and let me be clear, it has NOT rained fish here in Kipnuk, nor has the mayor of Warsaw spontaneously combusted.

While the workplace is where much daily performance feedback originates, it is not the only place. Daily interactions with family and community also provide positive and negative reinforcement. Being here in Kipnuk, where my primary job is to cook, clean, hunt, and fish, I still have opportunities to receive feedback on my performance. I am lucky to have a spouse who is eager to share her thoughts and provide this positive reinforcement! And she loves to eat the fish I have caught! But now, much of my own self-worth and self-value must come from within. It’s becoming more self contained and introspective about my place in family, community, and the world. Many people pay a LOT of money to unplug and to come to an understanding about their own intrinsic self-worth. I just had to move to Kipnuk and step into the great unknown.

So, when a person is young and unemployed they say they are unemployed. I’m embracing the idea of being pre-retired. And because  we planned on not having additional income when we set out on this adventure, the lack of conventional work opportunities is not financially impactful. It has just confirmed for me that I will have to look for other opportunities to contribute in the village I live in, and continue my introspection, in order to maintain a positive sense of being and accomplishment.

In other words, when life is feeling a bit slow and I have little to do, I might as well go fishing.

Next time: Fall is coming!

salmon-roe

An omelette made with some of the fish and salmon roe I caught!

greg-labyrinth

Introspection from earlier this summer.

tundra

Lots of space for thought AND to go fishing!

Hello! Pleased to Meet You!

Today is a very rainy and windy day here in Kipnuk, AK. The visibility is so low that I’m not able to see the cemetery on the horizon which has become both a favorite destination and a barometer of what the weather is like. When the weather is clear and sunny, it gleams white in the middle of the tundra. When the weather is gray and dreary, it seems to sink low on the horizon while still remaining visible, and when it can’t be seen, it is really storming. For my Seattle folks, today looks like October 10th! Perfect day to sit down and update you on the past week’s happenings.

First and foremost…..SCHOOL STARTED! How exciting to be surrounded by enthusiastic learners! The staff is incredible and the students are equally amazing. In general, people are very gracious with my learning curve as a new administrator. Patience and graciousness makes learning a new position easier. And, of course there are bumps along the way – nothing that is unexpected or surprising (so far). The pace of the day is brisk and there is always a lot to do. Learning to do the fine dance/juggling/plate twirling that comes with the position of Assistant Site Administrator is exhilarating! Learning the systems that make a whole Site work well, and in a seamless manner, is a task I will be working on this entire year.

And, after school is done, there are the walks! Everyday we are able to walk out onto the tundra through a series of boardwalks. When the boardwalks end, with mud-boots on, it’s time to explore this vast area. There are wild lilies, sorrel, daisies, rushes, sedge, artemesia,  cranberries, salmon berries, blueberries, blackberries, fire weed, and many other plants that I have never seen. When the wind blows across the tundra the grasses dance under the relentless airstream.

And we never walk alone. We are always accompanied by our guides. These guides are children from the village, who are smitten with Isabella and the idea that Greg and I spend so much time walking and exploring our new home. We walk and talk and they tell us about all the important happenings in the village.

One entire day was spent finding all the places to shop here in Kipnuk. On the internet, it seems there is really only one store, but there are 6 stores in the village – including a hardware store down by the river.

Now, when I say store, are you thinking Costco?  Please know it’s not at all like that. Imagine a small house with shelves of items that seem to follow a theme. For instance, at Corp we can find lots of bottles of things like soy sauce and frozen food like meat and bread. At the Blue Store we can find laundry supplies, compression straps, and long ice poles for ice fishing. At the Green Store we can find different kinds of clothes and equipment including team gear for our school. No one store has every thing all at once – retail seems to be shared. So, imagine the excitement when a co-worker comes in holding a bag and says the following simple sentence, “Corp has eggs.” We look at each other and grab our coats!

Another day was spent walking to the dump. Yes. The dump. The site where all of our waste, garbage, etc ends up. It’s a bit of a walk out of town, but the day was bright and the company especially informative. We realized that sometimes the dump is called Walmart when a man on a four-wheeler rolled by with roofing materials on his trailer cart. He stopped to tell us about the great sale items he found today! The next day we went back to try to find a bike tire we needed for a project. Not too much luck — but we had a great time looking.

That’s about all for now. Next time: An adventure in Fish!

Saying, “Good-bye for now,” or “Sometimes Good-Bye is another Chance.”

The past six weeks have flown by. With travel and moving, there has been very little time for reflection until just recently. Apologies for the LONG gap in posts.

June was filled with many social events. Saying, “Good-bye for now,” and, “We’ll miss you very much,” was the order of the day. Seeing friends we haven’t seen in a long time, while making time for friends and family we see more often, was a bit challenging. Added to the task of packing and moving, there were times it became overwhelming. Saying goodbye is another chance to remind people we care deeply for them and will miss them and was an essential part of our departure process.

In the end, there were still a fair number of folks we would have loved to have visited with face-to-face but weren’t able to make our schedules match up. Social media takes the sting out of missing absent friends. It’s still lovely to have one last face to face opportunity to let our community know how much we love them and will miss them. And, there were many opportunities.

Almost all “Good-bye for nows” were challenging and there were some that were surprisingly difficult. The ones that were the most difficult for me were the ones where there is a good chance that we won’t be seeing each other in person again. My elder friends gifted me with the opportunity to understand that life is to be lived and mortality catches up with us all, eventually. Other surprisingly difficult partings were folks in the robotics community that we have worked to build over the years. Being surrounded by excellent individuals who regularly practice gracious professionalism is a gift that I never take for granted. Parting ways was painful. For the most part, I hope our paths will cross again, and they may, since that’s the type of community it is.

Of course, saying, “Good-bye for now,” to our home of many years was part of the journey, and since we knew it is in great hands, it wasn’t hard – just different. This led us to the next part of our timeline which was to visit family in Ohio and then Tacoma. This period, with no permanent address and only the possessions in our suitcases, was very liberating. We explored Detroit in the early morning hours with few people awake, rode a Greyhound bus through rural Ohio, and flew thousands of miles. It’s much more challenging on many levels to live outside of the norm, outside of community, and to be uprooted and on the move. Because of the graciousness of family we were able to experience an ersatz freedom from responsibilities that many of us don’t ever get to have. Although we still helped with the dishes and kept from throwing our clothes on the floor, we essentially were relieved of many of our adult responsibilities.

While we were in this process, we took the time to prepare for our own eventual departures from this life and set up our last will and testament. I know it’s a bit gruesome to chat about, so I’ll keep this part a bit short. Having to think about what we will leave behind from this life – our residue – was timely and important. Essentially, we will be leaving in a way that reduces impact on our children and their families and allows them time to simply grieve/celebrate/party/process – whatever. This is one of the most important “Good-bye for nows,” that we thought about.

In essence, this last period of time has been about celebrating the life we have been leading, preparing for our new life, while also preparing for the eventuality of leaving this life all together. It’s been quite a bit to process and having time and space to do so has been helpful.

As I write this, we have unpacked our last box and are getting settled in our new home in Kipnuk. Isabella is a local celebrity and we spend time every evening walking her in the village. So up next: New friends and lots of “Hellos!”