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.

 

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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.

Tunra Cotton Grass

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…