Ice britches


To get to camp this weekend, Geoff and I had to wade across an ice-cold, waist-deep slough.

It’s October, and things are in full swing at school. We’re short-staffed and holding it together by sheer willpower. This time of year is always like that.


Whoever made the crossing first lit a fire on the other side to melt the ice from between our toes. On Saturday, Geoff did this while I whimpered on the other side, looking dubiously at the ice at the water’s edge. “You’re the one who likes to get outside,” he called from the other side, and I made it across on laughter. Yesterday, I went in first, eager to get it over with.

I missed my best friend’s 30th birthday party this weekend, and talk among college friends of a New England New Years has me a little homesick. When I have free time, I miss the company of these beloved people with whom I have so much in common.


We went by canoe last time and set up camp on the far shore of the lake.

I have learned to say “it’s snowing!” in Gwich’in, (ah-shee) though no significant snow (zaa) has stuck yet.


Now the lake is frozen too solid for boats and not solid enough for skis.

The kids in Arctic Village are sweet – maybe a little too sweet – it makes me wonder when the other shoe will drop. I have a really eccentric third grader who makes me laugh every single day.


We walked in, maybe three miles in all over trackless tundra, dodging ponds.

I do miss the kids I taught in Venetie. They were like family, and they had a great deal of personality. I got to see them for a few hours when I was on my way into Fairbanks for a dental emergency a few weeks back, and they’ve grown taller and stronger and so much more mature since I left them in May.


Geoff carried the chainsaw in, which was no picnic.

In Social Studies, the high school has been doing CNN Student News every day, as usual, and practicing for the National Geographic Bee. The upper elementary class has been learning countries like crazy, making giant leaps from the beginning of school when they didn’t know their continents and oceans yet. I’m surprised at how much I find myself enjoying the younger group. They are so earnest and fun-loving, I can’t keep myself from playing a little every time they’re in the room.


But when we arrived, late in the evening, the arctic oven was waiting patiently. Some varmint had gotten into our supplies and dumped out the gas, but I’d packed in plenty for one night, so we were still able to run the chainsaw.

In English, we’re focusing heavily on writing. I’m allowing the kids to turn in as many drafts as they want to, and they’re keeping me hopping with their constant requests for feedback. I have a separate reading class where they practice reading aloud, discussing, and analyzing their novels in written responses. The whole thing is going well. I’m trying to keep a writing sample from each student so that I can see their growth between now and the end of the year. I hope they grow. I think they will.


We built a fire outside to warm up, and then busted out the chainsaw to do wood for the tent.

Weekends, though, are the best. Nothing can compare to spending days out beyond the edges of the village, picking a way through the tussocks and noting the fresh prints of wolves, spending nights under the aurora listening to the fire wheeze and the lake ice ripple and buckle.


In the arctic oven, we shared a caribou dinner. When I went out to brush my teeth, the lake ice groaned and snapped with a sound like a jumprope whistling by my ear. Phtheewwwwwww! It was ghostly and strange, with the aurora in green scraps overhead.

Someday, I’d like to spend more time out there at this time of year. I want to note how thick the ice gets before the muskrats stop plowing through it. I want to listen to the ice and learn to tell time by its shifting. Two-day-weekends are just not adequate (see me using today’s vocabulary word?).


I woke up chilly in the night and started a fire in the cold stove, then went out to pee and chop more wood. I was ecstatic over that small handful of wood, frosty-barked in my bare arms as I crawled back into the tent.


I am not an arctic badass yet, but I’m getting closer every day, and wading through that slough again in the gathering dark last night earned me a merit badge for sure.


It was full dark by the time we returned to the village. This morning, the river was icing in swirls and whorls.

3 thoughts on “Ice britches

    • I’m enjoying it so much! It’s been a rocky start, but I think things are starting to mellow out, and I’m getting outside more and more often, which is wonderful. Hope you’ve had a great fall!

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