I couldn’t sleep last night, so I went for a walk and found the sky fickle with its watercolors. Green first this way, then a wash that way, then washed out to start completely fresh. The aurora feels eerie and sentient, like the synchronous fireflies in the Cataloochee Valley. Maybe I am just easily bewitched by things that glow in the dark.The row of glowing windows is the community hall, down the old airport runway from the school. This is the very center of my village, just a pool of light that doesn’t even touch the sky.
When I told Jake that I’d gone for a night walk, he looked dubious.
“If you’re walking at night, don’t go too far” he warned
“I was just out front here,” I gestured to the airport.
“Well, don’t go beyond the last house, anyway, even on the old airport” he said. “These ice bears won’t hesitate. They’ll just come at you and there’s nothing you can do. We’ve got one near the village right now. Big, nasty sucker.”
“I won’t be going far, no worries. I’m too chicken to really get out much, even in daylight”
Jake laughed and slapped my shoulder.
I guess ice bears are bears that don’t hibernate. Horrifying.
I’ve been walking in the village as often as I can, and, yesterday afternoon, I found myself out of school with daylight still burning low in the sky. I strolled down to the community hall and around by the washeteria. I saw C unfastening a harness from her blue plastic sled. She introduced me to her dog, (“he’s a hunting dog, but he fits the harness, so I have him pull me around sometimes. He’s pretty fast.”) and her auntie stepped out of the log house and said hello to me. We chatted for a minute, then I walked on, waving goodbye to C and grinning. Later, an older fellow called me over to chat about the weather. He was standing on his porch, watching a little girl play in the snow. I walked on, and they soon passed me on a 4-wheeler, waving, “just looking after you, to make sure you stay out of trouble” he teased as the rumbled by. On the surface unremarkable, these bits of chit-chat marked a turning point in my life here. Until yesterday, I hadn’t spoken to a non-teaching adult in the village (outside of business at the store or the post office), even about a child. I want to be a part of life here. I want to be invited to dinner or on adventures, and to have people to talk to who aren’t my students. I want someone to show me around and to tell me stories and to explain how things work. I don’t want to feel like the last, lonely dodo in the zoo, just sitting on my rock, serving my purpose while everyone waits for my expiration date.
This morning, one of the school board members approached me in the gym. “Do you like it here?” He looked directly into my face. He has dark brown, crinkly eyes that laugh easily from the shadow of his ball cap.
“Yes.” I said.
“Good.” He said. “I’m on the school board. I wanted to hear it straight from you.”
“I like it here. I love my kids, and teaching here, but It’s hard,” I said, meaning the dodo thing, wanting to say more.
“To us, it’s just our way of life,” he said, doing the laughing eyes thing, “you’ll get used to it.”
I suppose he thought I meant the climate and the geography and the ice bear threat and the price of butter. Those things are just awesome or appropriate, depending on your outlook.
I love this place. I love those things. I love my kids. If someone would just ask me to dinner or in out of the cold for a cup of hot tea so that I could love them too, I’d be almost sure I want to stay in Venetie next year. I know, without a doubt, that I will be teaching in the bush, but I don’t know if I can commit to spend next year here if the social tensions within the school and between the school and the village don’t ease up, at least enough for me to slip some thin roots through the gap. I don’t want to rust away from emptiness.