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

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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.

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(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.

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(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!

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(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!

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

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Introspection from earlier this summer.

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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!”

 

Stuff — mine, ours, and other

It is amazing how much a family can accumulate over years of being in one place. As we sort through our treasures and junk we are constantly amazed at the things that pop up that had been forgotten about or thought to be long gone. It offers a chance to relive past events and stir memories. Memories which anchor us to our home, to the people we have known, and the places we have been.

This past week we officially sold our house and with that act, we realized that much of the stuff we have; stuff we had painstakingly saved for that time when we would do something with it, or put it into another project, or (insert useful idea here) will not happen. It won’t happen here, at this place, in this house, and in this time. Ever.

Releasing these scraps of intent is ultimately freeing, but sometimes tinged with regret and it’s the regret that sometimes gets in the way of this process. It’s a heavy emotion that clings to memory and permeates the present with the idea that somehow, and in some way, we could have been more, done more, and explored more.

We’ve been releasing bits and pieces all along, but never really digging in deep, drawing a line in the sand, and saying, “NO – this STUFF does NOT need to travel to Alaska with us!” The motivation of a timeline coupled with the limiting factor of space, work together to create the cathartic  release of those items which are not needed.

Moving to a remote village in Alaska where everything has to be flown in and out dictates packing the belongings we are choosing to keep into large plastic containers (30 x 20 x 14). Each container will cost us about $100 each to ship. This encourages us to trim things down to the most wanted or needed items we own. We have to decide how many of the things we have acquired that are we willing to part with forever, and how many we just can’t release yet and want to store to revisit later. For some items the choice comes easy but for others it is more difficult as there are deep memories associated with them.

Now there is the question about storage – to store or not to store. There are these amazing pieces of art. All precious, signed pieces, which mean so much to us but that won’t fit in a small tub. The decision before us is to either take them to a family member’s place to store until we are able to transport them, or to place them in a storage facility. The first option is free thanks to the goodwill of relatives; the second option will cost us a monthly fee. It bothers me to have to pay for these items twice but it also bothers me to leave our possessions like so many abandoned children at the home of someone else. This is one of the decisions that we are still grappling with. We’ll let you know how this one turns out.

One thing we have noticed is how attached folks are to their stuff. Well-meaning people look at us, as we describe this undertaking, and still ask us if we have lost our mind. Others have definite opinions about what to keep and what to release. And at our two yard sales, we learned so much about how other people view stuff as well as how we view stuff. An example from the most recent sale is this. There was a person interested in our ax. An ax is a handy thing and we’ve had this ax for years. It’s been used to chop all kinds of things and when we need an ax, we are happy to use it. This person picks up the ax and says, “It’s really rusty and the handle is warped – how much?”

WOW! An object that holds such meaning and reverence for me is reduced to a rusty, warped-handled, five-dollar object at a yard sale. I learned a lot about myself through this transaction and there is more to say about stuff and how we value our stuff and other people’s stuff. More to say about how and why we acquire stuff and discard stuff and why. It’s a much longer conversation so suffice it to say that I have “stuff” on the brain.

A co-worker recently told me about his “scary box,” that he didn’t ever open but shipped to Amsterdam when he moved there, still never looked at it, then shipped it home when he returned. The “scary box” concept is interesting to us because we have left nothing unexamined or intact in its original container. In some ways it’s like a self-inflicted burn notice. I keep hearing a TV voice in my head saying, “When you’re a spy, sometimes you have to unearth every last possession you own and decide whether or not to keep it.”

Eight weeks ago we started the process of sorting through these treasures and memories and it has taken us this long to finally pack our first few boxes for shipment. With only 13 more days to go, we will definitely have to step up the pace. It has been interesting to see what we are distilling our lives down to and what is non-negotiable and what is easily released. Often times I’m surprised at the items that fall into each category.

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Selling our Home

My husband Greg moved often while growing up and never lived in one place for more than four years. My family was a bit more rooted and we moved every so often enjoying three different homes in the same area while I was growing up.

In our early married life together, we experienced a series of moves in quick succession – 7 moves in 4 states in 7 years until we found our “forever home” in Renton. We have lived here for the past 24 years – which when talking about a home built in 1910 is about 24 years of remodeling.

So, after years of living in the same house, we are now moving to Alaska. At this point we had to come to a decision: sell or rent……

This was a tough choice since we had developed our home into the place we most desired to be in a community in which we love to participate. A lot of love and effort was invested in transforming our home into the space it has become and developing our community ties. It has become a very spiritual place for us and is a place we are grounded, connected, and rooted to. Releasing our home is like releasing an extension of ourselves.

Many friends recommended holding onto our house and renting it out as it would give us the chance to try out our new direction and still have a fallback plan. The idea being distant landlords and attempting to manage a property from a remote village was not very appealing. We felt that holding onto our home wouldn’t allow us to focus our energies fully on our new direction and would most likely lead to micro-managing and frustration. Instead, we decided to find someone we could pass our home to that would love and enjoy what we’ve made, while having a vision of how to make it even better, and who would develop their own connections.

Part of this decision hinged on what a fantastic time it is to sell a home in the greater Seattle area. The scarcity of homes combined with a growing population has created a very brisk seller’s market. Additionally, having a unique and well-maintained home also worked to make selling a (fairly) quick and easy process.

As soon as we resolved to sell our home we received an amazing offer before the house ever made it on the market. And, it was an offer from someone we adore, who loves our home, enjoys the uniqueness we built into it, and appreciates the downtown Renton community. This relieved so much stress and worry about the future of our home! Please read – no sign, no staging, no photos, no publicity, and no loss of privacy. This left us the ability to focus on getting ready for our move mentally, emotionally, and physically (and packing).

Our one challenge with the process of selling has been to come to terms with the fact that we no longer need to focus on any of those other projects we still had on our wish list. It is now time for us to hand off our home to the new owners so they can begin their own wish list and make their own changes. One of the strategies we are using to remember the sweetness of home is to visually document the changing seasons. Here are a few images we have captured.

Clockwise from top L to R:The winter garden, Nootka Cypress, Roses and Garlic, Spring Poppies, Lighting our way…..

Next up…..the battle with STUFF……

 

Finding a J.O.B. (It’s really all about the best fit)

The first step to any adventure is to find the direction in which one wishes to travel. Translate this to — I needed to know where my next job would be before I could make concrete plans on how to get there.

In collaboration with my husband Greg, I went on a nationwide search for that perfect “next position.” Since I already have a GREAT job, with a GREAT team, in a GREAT district, it was easy to be picky. My quest felt more like it was about what I would learn next, and who I would learn it from.

After applying in 4 different states, in multiple districts, and interviewing both formally and informally with people about 25+ different times, it became easier to talk about my skills, my passions, and my desire to help all students succeed. That translates to 24+ times of “no thank you.” After the first 4 or 5 times it became apparent on a visceral level that the next J.O.B. really IS all about the fit.

Going forward with this insight, it became more important for me to re-focus on who I would be working for and what their priorities were in order to make an informed decision about whether I would truly enjoy working for and learning from them.

Please note — while location was somewhat a factor — Greg and I had prepared ourselves to relocate if necessary in order to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves.

In interviewing with the district that eventually picked me (and we picked them), I noticed that some of the things we thought were important, became less of a priority when focused on the who and the what. Things like, “I only want to work somewhere that has a Costco,” and ” We only want to go somewhere where we can….” became inconsequential to, “WOW! Look at the things we will get to do differently!” and “WOW! This is the adventure and opportunity of a lifetime!”

And that is how it came to be that next school year Greg and I will be in Kipnuk, Alaska and I will be working for the Lower Kuskokwim School District as an Assistant Site Director.

More to come…..

Getting Started

This is my very first post. The title “Getting Started,” is inspired by all the tasks at hand that need to happen before we can even take off on our Alaska Journey. Some of the things we have been up to are:

  • Securing Employment — more on that process later
  • Selling our home — what a good time to sell in the Seattle area
  • Freeing ourselves of worldly goods and possessions — another post at another time
  • Wrapping up our current careers with gracious professionalism — sometimes easier said than done
  • Starting a blog…..

Each of these items represents a profound shift in our universe and will be explored more deeply in subsequent posts.

Here’s to my first blog and a lifetime adventure.

Kim Sweet

May 16, 2016Peace