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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Coming up next: