April was a month of change. Another major winter blizzard coated everything in fresh layers of snow complete with cold temperatures and it seemed unlikely that winter would ever end. But before the month was through, the days lengthened, the warming process started, and the tundra grasses began to emerge through the snow. The ice on the ponds melted, bit by bit, and pools of water floated on top of the ice. The land appeared to rise up out of its snowy cloak as it was reborn, day by day. It was still too cold to completely thaw our fresh water sources and the school had to go into extreme rationing mode as the water began to run out.
This month was also a time for learning new skills. One of the local elders, Elizabeth Mute, taught Kim how to sew her own mittens out of wolf and wolverine. By the end of the month she was mostly done with them and they turned out really good and very warm!
In her travels, Kim acquired a couple of fox hides from the Akula trapping club. Students had learned how to skin the animals but were not familiar with how to tan the hide in the Yupik way. Elizabeth Mute happily helped Kim learn how to tan one of the hides. This skill is definitely a work in progress and will take practice.
April’s emphasis on learning has opened the door for a clear understanding that, as people from the lower 48, we really know nothing about nothing (including survival) in one of the harshest, most unforgiving, places in the world. Being able to learn the old skills is a humbling gift and has opened many doors for understanding.
One of the unique aspects of village life is the reliance on subsistence living. Most families survive by hunting birds and catching fish, seal, and walrus. People also gather berries and tundra greens to complete their diet. It is a year-round process with each season having its primary subsistence activities. April’s theme was seal, fish, and birds.
April began with snow and quiet and finished with the calls of Ptarmigan, the first swan sighting, and the return of birds. The first call of the seagulls ringing through the still-cold air was breathtaking! Yes! It literally took my breath away to hear the call of the seagulls and to see them winging through the bright blue sky. The silence of winter broken with the sound of air creatures. And that first fresh Eider meat was so amazing and delicious!
This month of transition included the biggest one of all. When Kim accepted the Assistant Site Administrator (Assistant Principal) position in Kipnuk she knew the expectation was that she spends a year as an assistant and then apply for Site Administrator positions as they come open. At the end of April Kim applied for, was offered, and accepted the Site Administrator position at Akula Elitnaurvik in Kasigluk, Alaska.
When we headed out on this adventure we really had no idea what to expect. This year we have met many amazing new friends, learned many new skills, and (hopefully) contributed positively to our community. Kipnuk will always be our first village, the place where we experienced our first winter, learned that we know nothing, and fell in love with the Tundra. While it will be tough leaving this place we have come to know as home, we look forward to the excitement of living in a new village with the opportunity to continue to learn.
Up next: Beak-up, Moving, and See-you-laters