Off on Another Small Plane

I accepted a job in Huslia yesterday.

I’ll start December 13th. Grade 6, eleven kids. I couldn’t be more stoked to get back into a classroom. I’ve missed children a lot these last two and a half years, and 6th grade is a great fit for me.

I also feel weird about it. I want to start finding my way to someplace settled and permanent, and starting over in a new community where I don’t know if I’m likely to land for keeps feels like a step in the wrong direction. It also feels like a betrayal of the kids. Teacher turnover is such a huge problem in rural Alaska, and I hate to go someplace knowing that I’m likely to eventually leave. I guess that’s the nice thing about 6th grade, though: I’ll be with these eleven kids through the end of the year, and they’ll move on over the summer. If I do too, it’s not as big of a betrayal as it would for students I’d work with again next fall. Still.

And who knows? Maybe it’ll be just the ticket. Maybe I’ll never want to leave.

Here’s what I want, long term: I want to live in an Alaskan community that has more use for snowmachines and four-wheelers and boats and planes than for cars. I want to be surrounded by people I can love and who can love me. I want to live in my own home, not in teacher housing or a rental cabin. I want to have babies and to believe that they are safe in the homes of their friends and my neighbors. I want trees, caribou, mountains and rivers. I want to work hard for the things that sustain me, and in working to offer my gratitude.

Tangent: Speaking of gratitude, I have decided I’m going to be a gort — a meadow vole — (the one in my yard is named “Gort” so therefore all meadow voles are gorts) for halloween. I can make a costume with my brown overalls and my grandma’s mink stole and some bits of fur from my sewing box for ears. I’ll draw on whiskers and add a short tail and voila. DIY Halloween. Down with capitalism and plastic from China.

Here’s what I need, short term: a job that pays better than a graduate assistantship, health insurance that doesn’t suck. A dentist appointment.

So there’s some tension between what I want and what I need.

And maybe these aren’t the right questions to ask anyway–what do I want, what do I need. Maybe I should be asking who needs me. The sixth grade job has been posted since summer, so that’s an easy answer. And who wants me? Well, I interviewed as a backup in case they couldn’t find a substitute by the holidays (I figured I’d feel less bad about subbing, so I put myself on the list), and by the end of the interview YKSD was ready to offer me a contract. So.

So I’ll fly out in December and stay until the beginning of break, getting to know kids and families and the staff at the school. And then I’ll come back to Fairbanks, put my treehouse-home to bed for the time being, pack my things, and fly back to Huslia with Alan and Silna just in time to go dance at the hall for New Years. Alan will stay a week or so, and then he’ll come back to Fairbanks.

I’ll bring the Bravo. At first I thought maybe I’d leave it here, but when I mentioned that idea to Geoff he laughed out loud. “You’re just going to want to borrow someone else’s sno-go then.” And he’s probably right. And maybe in the summer, if I decide to stay, I’ll make a trip of it and take Lyra down the Yukon. She’s never been downriver of Tanana, and it’s a fine thing to have a boat in the fall.

On Not Stopping

Friday’s snow had that magical, slow, fat feel to it. Winter wonderland, powdered sugar stuff, and it was still warm enough to enjoy walking home from campus in just a fleece. There were a few golden leaves still clinging to the birches, and the Christmas-red bunchberries were still poking up through the snow on the ground. White and red and gold and sublime. I love that three mile walk through the woods.

And the snow kept coming. Alan came over on Saturday to help me wrap up some fall chores and had to stop to help someone out of a ditch just up the road from my place. Inexplicable ditch people are common this time of year. Been there myself once or twice. Here’s the story of this one as best I can tell it:

Alan and the driver pushed and dug and boosted, trying to get the car out of the ditch. While they worked, another truck came up alongside. This truck was creeping really slowly, checking them out and looking like it was about to stop, so Alan took a breather and waited, thinking more help was on the way. As the truck passed, moving at a snail’s pace, the driver rolled the window down. “I’m not stopping,” he said to Alan.
Why are you telling me this? Alan thought, sweating and puffing a little from exertion, if you don’t want to help you can just go on by. Then his eyes snagged on the wheels, all locked up: the driver meant to stop, but he couldn’t. The truck was just slow-gliding through the slush at a crawl.

I’m not stopping.
I like it. As a metaphor, it works. Brakes or no brakes, the truck just slides by. The inexorable in scene.
“I’m not stopping,” delivered matter-of-fact.
I thought the first snow would melt off and leave us another few days of fall, but it didn’t. Winter’s not stopping; no sense getting worked up about it. I won’t get cranberries this year; so what? I’m not stopping, I’ll just get them when another September comes sliding by.

In the meantime, this place is a confection of red berries, golden leaves and sugar-white snow and I am reminded to savor the sweetness while it lasts.

Putting it all to bed

Yesterday Alan and I devised a machine for lifting the engine off the boat. It consisted of a hook screwed into one of the beams at the back of his cabin and a rope harness and a comealong. We thought we were awfully clever when we got it all set up and it seemed to be working.

Hot tip: disconnect the battery before you attempt to lift a boat engine off the transom: there’s nothing like having it halfway up and then realizing your battery is still hooked up to the bilge pumps and they’re firmly attached to the boat and that battery is not coming away without a wrench which you don’t have handy, and and and.

Putting everything to bed for the winter is always harder than I expect: the loose axes and shovels need to be leaned up against vertical surfaces so they don’t get buried in the snow, the insulation panels need to be fit just so over the windows, every system needs to be drained or brought inside or fed its own special chemicals to keep from freezing and busting. It’s a whole set of fiddly chores, and they come right when it’s time to go hunting and berry picking.

Bye then summer, nice knowin’ ya!

It was a good summer, full of friends and floats and trips to Talkeetna and projects and craftsmanship and dogs dogs dogs. Alison helped me with the hearth pad mosaic project and we wandered the valley looking for big rocks for her garden. Daazhraii’s leg slowly gained condition, Silna had a near miss with a porcupine in the canyon up Petersville, and Crozier spent the summer escaping from every situation he could, the rascal. I figure he was just out looking for Alan.

Since Alan was away on Kodiak until school started, and I went to Arctic to bring Lyra downriver with Geoff and Tim instead of going down to the Kenai for dipnet, we’re looking at the bottom of the freezer these days, and I don’t like the look of it. It’s too late for moose, and caribou closes before the weekend, so we may be out of luck until winter hunts open. If all else fails, we’ll get serious about burbot this winter when the ice comes in and eat ourselves sick on fish fry.

Meanwhile, look for me out in the woods this weekend dusting the snow off the lingonberries. If we do come into some game later in the season, I want to be ready to bust out the cranberry chutney.

ALSO! If you’re curious about some of the things we’ve been getting up to, check out Alan’s youtube channel – it’s a lot of gun reviews (which aren’t exactly my thing, but I’m learning to appreciate his expertise) and great bonus videos of cute dogs.

First Snow 2021

I’m sitting on the 2nd floor of the Margaret Murie building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks watching the first snow fall on the green lawns of west ridge. I’m trying to develop a routine of writing here every Monday and Wednesday morning this year. So far I’m having mixed results – the last two weeks have been wild and fun, but not productive writing-wise.

I like the space though–on a clear day I can see all the way to the Alaska Range–and I like the idea of a routine. Maybe it’ll settle on me as the fall wears on.

Today’s project was finishing some copyedits and minor revisions for a forthcoming publication. It feels weird to write that, but I have to say I like it.

Spring Things!

Summer’s really getting going now, and I have the mosquito bites to prove it. Alan and I just got in from an overnight backpacking trip with a big crew of new friends (new friends! Meeting new people feels almost sinfully delicious!) in the Chena River Recreation Area, and we’re still all mud up to mid-calf and blisters under the toes and skeeter bites clear up to here and it just feels so good. So good. (Hot tip for anyone thinking of heading to Stiles Creek cabin any time soon: bring a mosquito net – the cabin isn’t safe from the swarms)

Celebrations!

It’s been a gorgeous, busy, cool-weather spring. The snow stayed on the ground a long time, and my garden plants have taken their time in germinating, but the mosquitos haven’t been too bad yet (well, up until this weekend), and the sap run went well into May. I brought in a pint and a half of finished birch syrup just using the sap from the two tapped trees in my woods.

Just like last year, my woods turned into a creek when snow in the field next door started to melt in earnest. Unlike last year, I was ready. Alan and I hauled a lot of water before the trail became unsleddable, and I had rubber boots ready to go for wading through the mire. By the time the flood was knee-deep, we had concocted a scheme for a new annual event: prodding stick required, rubber boots optional. Alan’s beer box boat won the race, but Silna stole the show when she came through for Manny and carried his craft over the finish line.

Manny, Alan, and Silna getting prepped for the First Annual Yaranga Creek Floodwaters Beer Box Boat Invitational
Fleshing is stinky, satisfying work.

Using this wonderful video as a guide, Alan and I have been trying to learn traditional brain tanning and practicing on a couple of caribou hides from last fall’s hunt. It’s going pretty well so far. He wants to make a buckskin shirt (without too much fringe, of course) and I want to have some soft, beautiful hide to make into a pair of beaded slippers trimmed with rabbit fur to wear at school when I get back into the classroom next year.

Scraping demands that good ol’ all-natural mosquito repellent

The past few months have been hard: Back in March, Daazhraii was injured in Arctic Village (we don’t know how, though the vet believes someone must have hit him in the knee with some kind of club). The injury left him essentially crippled and he developed a horrible abscess and infection that ate away at the bone and nearly cost him the leg. After more than a week of draining infected fluid all over the house, the vet cleared him for a first, exploratory surgery and scraped away the necrotic flesh from the knee. Later, after that first incision healed, the vet went in to operate on the severed cruciate ligament and nearly gave up and amputated: the infection had eaten away too much of the bone. Over the phone, Geoff begged him not to take the leg, so he did what he could and we all got lucky: as of today, Daazhraii is scheduled for a final surgery that should give him almost full use of the leg again by the fall.

The summer’s arrival has brought some much needed light: there’s finally good news about Daazhraii’s leg, there’s a memorial service scheduled for next week that will allow Geoff and me and our friend Alison to grieve in community for a loved one who died in the autumn, there’s all the good fresh food that the end of winter brings, and there’s the promise of a season brimming with new faces, smiles showing bright, bared to the endless sun.

Bring on that sun.