Flying out of Fairbanks yesterday I got completely disoriented. I kept scrubbing the plane’s window to melt the frozen fog so that I could peer down at the landscape. Reflexively, I looked for familiar hills and riverbends. I found none. This is new territory.
Just now I got back from my first walk around Huslia. It was my first and last chance to walk in daylight, since I’ll be teaching all week and leaving on Saturday. I walked around the school a little and bumped into some kids who filled me in.
“The sixth grade boys are kind of mischief,”
“Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be okay though. They’re not my first mischief boys.”
“If you yell at them, they’ll just make fun of you.”
“Good to know.”
I’ll challenge any of the boys who messes with me to a wood-chopping contest after school. That should do it. Or at least get someone’s wood chopped.
The girls were worried about me being out in the cold, too. “Your eyes are freezing!” Just the usual: a little ice in my lashes and on my hat. It’s maybe thirty below, but it was sweet of them to worry.
“I’m doing okay. I want to walk all around the village to learn my way.”
“Well don’t be afraid to take breaks. It’s pretty cold out.”
They’re awful sweet.
Here’s what jumped out at me on my walk: there are birch trees here, and a couple street signs (at about chest height, since they’re mostly not for cars), and people tow wooden basket sleds behind their sno-gos, not just plastic ones. The riverbank is really tall. I stood on it to watch the last sliver of the sun set over the river. Wish: May tonight’s be the first of many Koyukuk sunsets I witness.
There’s something either really silly or really profound about how different my first observations of Huslia were from the ones I made in my first weeks in Venetie. I guess we notice the things that are most different from what we’re used to.
It feels really good to be back in a village. It’s like a clamp came off my chest as soon as I got off the plane. Everything just seems to move slower in the bush. I’ve missed it. And that confirms something I already knew: this is it for me. This is how I want to live.
I’m also, kinda weirdly, in the lap of luxury. For this week, while my unit is getting painted, the district has me staying in this massive three-bedroom apartment. There’s running water (and laundry!) and baseboard heat with a backup blazeking. I keep finding myself standing around with no idea what to do because I’m used to so much time going to chores. For now, I’m not missing the chores, but I will soon. It’s kinda hard to sleep in a house that stays this warm. And stuffy. I can’t believe I miss the drafts in the yurt, but I do. Gosh, am I good at finding something to complain about or what? I love having a bathtub though.
Last night was my first night in Huslia, and just as I was getting settled in there came a knock at the door. When I opened it, I found four young girls standing on the top step.
“Hi!” I said.
“Hi,” they said, “are you a new teacher?”
“Yep, sixth grade.”
“ooh, we’re in sixth grade,” one girl gestured to one of the others. They were full of questions. “Do you have any kids?”
“a dog, but she’s not here right now.”
“I have a dog,” one girl said.
“we have a class pet!” said another.
“Yes, I met Sammy the Hamster.”
“how long are you staying?” They all quieted down to find out.
“I’ll be here until the end of the school year,”
“Oh good!” said one girl, “you seem nice.”
“Howabout the rest of your life?” said the smallest one.
I think it’s time to dust off the mixing bowl and bring back cookie night.
The girls asked for a sleepover, but I don’t think I’m ready to commit to that in my first week.
When I saw them again at the end of my walk today, one of them asked when they could come for cookies. I said I’d talk to the principal, and if she says yes we can do it on Thursday. “I’ll bring chocolate chips,” said the ringleader.