Wednesday, July 28, 2010

All Things Must Come to an End

So by now, most of you know: I am not returning to Gambell. There were multiple factors that influenced this decision, but in the end it was not a healthy situation. I DO NOT REGRET going to bush Alaska; I learned so much about myself, the Arctic, and Native Alaskan Culture. I wouldn't trade the past year for anything.

And yet, there comes a time when one must choose self-preservation over other alternatives. Being in nature is a deep part of me, a part that is unfulfilled in my current situation. I love the Sun, I love Light, I love trees, I love grass and solid ground beneath my feet, I love running outside with my dogs, and I don't mind the convenience of stores within 200 miles. I look forward to not living with my colleagues, to working in an organized and established school, and to having a hobby/life of my own again.

I will miss Alaska terribly, especially Southern Alaska. I could live in the Alaskan mountains forever and be blissfully happy! I really do want to come back and find a forever home, but now is not the season. I need to get some experience down South, and I need to figure out my graduate school plans. I also need to figure out whether I can afford to stay in the profession (both financially and mentally).

So this is a sign off . . . for now. As I join the Unemployed Teachers Club, I will only look back gratefully at the learning experience of a lifetime.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Our Next Door Neighbor, Siberia

Another school day down, and we are that much closer to the end!

On our walk home, we noticed that it was as clear as we've ever seen it in Siberia! The Russian mountains were gorgeous so we went down to the West Beach to take some pictures and gaze into tomorrow. Amanda stuck her hand in the Bering Sea, and then we called it good and went back inside. Lunch was terrible today at the school so we were anxious to find some edible food.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The North Beach

I took the day off today! Teachers don’t get enough personal days during the year. I would trade some summer time for a few more days off during the year. We don’t even get federal holidays.

Amanda and I went to the North Beach today. It was a gorgeous day! The sun was shining bright and hot . . . well, as hot as it gets in the Arctic May. It was a nice walk (extra nice because people were in school and I was not!).

It’s funny to watch Amanda as she does things here for the first time, and remember back to my first time in August. The walk to North Beach in 30 degree weather seems like a tropical stroll . . . we weren’t even halfway there and she was asking why we weren’t at the beach yet. ☺ I remember my first solo walk to North Beach; I thought I would never get there! I felt like I would never get to where I was going, and then a few weeks later all the snow dumped and it fell 80 below freezing . . . and my sense of perspective was widened. Now that it’s not an epic battle through the snow and ice, everything seems so much easier!

We also popped into the blue store today since we were in the area and it was open . . . a rare alignment of the planets must be responsible. She spent some time gasping at the prices that seem normal to me now . . . $10 pickle jars, $30 Tide detergent, and the like. I spent some time thinking how my grocery bill will vastly diminish very soon. Either that, or it will skyrocket because I will think I can afford everything in sight.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Arctic Bocce Ball

I was planning on going to school today, but the weather was near white-out conditions and I decided it could wait until tomorrow. No sense in walking a mile out there when I don’t have to!

On the other hand, Amanda should get the full Gambell experience. It seems like FATE that a random Spring whiteout should occur mere days after she arrives! We walked to the West Beach (luckily I have the way memorized, because I couldn’t see a thing without the goggles Amanda was wearing) and then walked back . . . and that was more than enough for Amanda! ☺

It was ferociously beautiful out there . . . it was the Deadliest Catch Winter Bering Sea at its worst, a kind of raw and wild magnificence that cannot be tamed. As much as I am ready to leave Gambell, I will not forget the land nor the sea. It etches into your soul no matter how thick a shield you erect.

I could tell Amanda was getting bored as only you can get bored in the Arctic, so I suggested a game of Arctic Bocce Ball. Same game we all know and love, just in the Arctic. This was a special edition actually, because it was a blizzard out there! We used a blue hackey sack instead of the white ping-pong marker (since it would have gotten lost in the snow during the first round).

PS Happy Birthday Mom!

Friday, May 14, 2010

I Can Yupik Dance Goodly

I suited up Amanda today in all my winter gear. The weather really wasn’t that bad at all this morning, but I have no way of knowing how cold she really is. I don’t feel the cold as much anymore and it is hard for me to remember what it’s like. Especially since she just left some ridiculous temperature like 90 degrees F. Yes, that’s above freezing. I haven’t seen temperatures above freezing in about 9 months. Honestly, 20 deg feels balmy.

There is so much that I don’t notice about this place, so much that I take for granted and overlook. Village English is just one of those elephants that sit in the room making quiet trouble throughout the day . . . I’ve long since stopped being surprised at their peculiar grammar and unique phrases. I should include a sample conversation someday so you can see what I mean about the grammar; it’s hard to describe.

Today was Friday so we had our last Yupik dance of the year. I danced most every dance Compliments were related to me afterwards . . . for some UNKNOWN reason, they REALLY like the way I dance here! Apparently, I have a natural talent for Yupik Dancing. That’s sure to come in handy someday. ;-) Amanda participated in the dancing and had fun, though I am not sure if she has the Yupik Dancing gene. Perhaps it just hasn’t been expressed yet. Anyway, my class gave her a Yupik name. They call her (in English) Sandhill Crane. She has long legs compared to the Yupik people, you see. Allen’s rule stands the test of time and space.

(Amanda is the tall one in the back, lol)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Roast Whale is Hard to Cook

Amanda is here! Her plane came in earlier than expected. I was just about to suit up when I heard it fly in over the village. I ran out of the apartment half dressed just in time to see her standing all alone with her rolling luggage and city hat by the airport hanger (which she calls a shed). I gave her a better hat, put her suitcase on the sled, and led her back through the walrus boneyards to Teacher Housing.

She looks very tired. ☺ I’ve taken that long trip a few times, so I imagine she is more tired than she is letting on. I suppose I will have to cook her a real laluramka dinner instead of whale. Especially since I burnt the whale roast I was cooking.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The December Country

In Alaska, everything is beautifully backwards. One expects water to ripple and wave as the wind tosses it back and forth. Yet, in wintered Alaska the sea sits still and mute while the sky swirls and sings in alien colors. The line between land, sea, and sky is fogged beyond that which can be discerned by human eye or intelligence. Blue ice is inverted upon opaque skies. Ivory islands float haphazardly between sheets of white pastels that have been smudged and shaded beyond recognition. Time is kept not by the everlasting darkness nor the shackled sun, but by the rhythms deep within our beating hearts.

It is every place that is familiar, it is every place that is foreign. It is the wild light we have always longed after, it is the wild darkness that has always frightened us. It is the time of our first awakening, it is the time of our first slumber.

In shock we have discovered that our beauteous land is deplorably fierce and feral.
That which should infuse our hearts with awe instead fills us with terrible desperation.

Somehow the land that first demanded our love thus turned to break our spirit. The quiet isolation we once worshiped faded into an unfathomable desolation as the winter fell around us, and even still we wonder how such a thing can be. It seems there are things in this world which are meant to be only temporal; short seasons of inexplicable impossibilities. We can never truly belong here for this place was not shaped for us.

And so we learn that creatures of the Light should not live within the interminable Dark. Though a vast prison of ice threatens to keep us perpetually bound, it is strictly the memory of Light which pulls us through the December country.

*published in The Mensokie, June 2010 Edition (Central Oklahoma Mensa)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Easter Whale of a Tale

The village got the first bowhead whale of the season today! They were the first out of the whole state, so they are way excited. I am excited too, as this means there is no school tomorrow. It was a small female bowhead that was only about 25 feet long. They finally pulled in onshore about 11:00 pm (just as the sun was setting), and spent the rest of the night butchering it. They had a terrible time getting it out of the water, even though they had huge construction equipment to help them. Rushing does not work well when dealing with multi-ton whales.

Once it was finally out of the water, we all stood close and took pictures with it. The skin was much more spongy and forgiving than I expected it to be. All this time I thought whale skin was more plastic and rigid.

The whaling crew butchered the whale and doled out the cuts according to crew and clan rank. We were given a piece of whale meat at the end (they prefer the blubber). Ashley and I cooked it up like a steak . . . and it was just as good if not better than any steak I have ever eaten! It was very rich and tender. I would eat it again, most definitely.

PS Happy Easter!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The February Crazies

I can never work with the people I live with again. We spend entirely too much time with each other. It’s not healthy. We all yearn for intellectual conversation but can only seem to talk about school when we see each other. There is no break from work drama; we can never just leave school at school. Good grief, we even live in a school so it’s no real wonder. We work in a school, live in a school, and room with our colleagues that work in the school.

The days are getting lighter and not a moment too soon. I underestimated how the darkness would effect me. It sits on my shoulders and settles upon my soul so that I can’t even remember what light is like. I was sick a few days ago and I stayed home from work . . . only to find that the sun actually does make an appearance near the middle of the day. I bundled up in my parka and just stood outside with my eyes closed toward the sun. The world without the sun is a dark and lonely place, indeed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Typical School Morning

Every morning I walk over to the other teacher apartment building to meet up with a group of teachers before school. Since it is polar bear season and still very dark in the mornings, we feel most comfortable walking in small groups. Probably this has a reverse effect and makes us too comfortable (so that we let our guards down), but there is no sense in being terrified every morning on the mile walk to school.

When I get there, I usually have to tunnel into the door and tunnel out with a shovel so I can dig them out of their place. This morning I walked up to their door and discovered that the doorknob was clear down by my knee. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, only there was no magical pill to take. I had to shovel snow instead to fix my dilemma.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back to Gambell

Christmas Break never lasts as long as I wish it would! Time to fly back to Gambell and do this teaching thing all over again. The good news is that I'm exactly halfway through my year in bush Alaska. The bad news is that there are virtually no holidays or overseas meetings this semester, so the semester will seem extra-long.

View from the bush plane while flying over Gambell: