Marlinspike and Sunshine


So you may have noticed that the blog is kind of on hiatus. I’ve been avoiding even checking my email these past few weeks, and I haven’t really looked at facebook in months. Being home is wonderful, and the sun and the salt and everything keeping me busy have made me too happy to worry much about the rest of the world, or writing it all down. Basically, it’s taking an act of parliament to get me to a computer, but here I am, saying hey and apologizing for radio silence.

I’m spending today in the sunny back garden of my childhood home splicing thimbles into various lines for various things. I’ve never done it before, but with the help of youtube I’ve become competent.

Did I mention I bought a boat? Well I did. It’s a Tanzer 22, and I went for my first sail on Monday. Yesterday the weather was crap (also known as ideal for reading and beef stew and making cookies), but today is gorgeous, and Dad’s going to coach me in safe anchoring this afternoon. Jealous yet? I’ve already learned to step a mast, and how not to launch a sailboat from a trailer, and what chainplates and cotter pins are, and I’ve shaken off the outboard curse (an affliction I think I was born with) and now have a 70% and climbing success rate with the two outboard motors I’ll be running this summer. I’m brushing up on using charts for navigation, and I know how to use a radio. Penobscot Bay has been my back yard since I was a kid, so I’ll have a little edge. All that’s left is the part I’m good at, which is balancing between wind and water. I’ll learn the rest, and if I’m lucky and a little smart, I won’t damage anything in meantime. Wish me luck.

So far, the summer is exactly what I needed. Old friends, whopping good news from afar, salt in my hair, lupines and beach roses, excellent food, and a lovely fellow on an island nearby that I can pick up on a whim and go adventuring with in the bay. I’ll be back in the fall, and may put in a few words before then, but for now I’m taking a break from the internet to soak up every second of this perfect summer.

Welcome Spring

DSC02101It has been snowing for twenty-four hours now, though the accumulation is only a few inches. In any case, Nicole officially has the better part of spring with her crocuses and butterflies. I went walking yesterday afternoon in the biting wind and snow, and the village was all but deserted. B and A slid up on a fourwheeler to offer me a ride. A’s loooong ponytail swung across her back as they slipped to a stop, and the wind picked it up and blew it into her face. B squinted and grinned at me, tipping his head to keep the sideways snow from blowing into his eyes.

“Need a ride?”
“No, I’m just going for a walk”
“You sure? This is the opportunity of a lifetime!” He gestured grandly.
“More like the opportunity of a deathtime!” (teachers have to make really lame jokes. It’s in the contract)
He chuckled, then, catching himself, quickly straightened his face to indignation.
“okay, if that’s how you feel”
B tried to make a big show and just skidded halfway across the road. A screamed and her ponytail swung wildly as they disappeared into the curtain of falling snow.
Every day this week, I’ve taken myself on a long walk. Until yesterday, it was warm and sunny, and I rambled willy-nilly all over the edge of the village, trying not to pop up in anyone’s back yard or to cross the invisible line around the village where Outdoorsy Girl Safely Exploring The Woods Alone turns into Stupid Outsider Getting Eaten. I wouldn’t bring that up again, but someone new warns me every time I turn around. I’ll take it as a sign that I’m growing to be well-liked.

DSC02077In these past few weeks, people have grown much friendlier. A few days ago, a student’s grandma stopped me on a walk to invite me on a trip to Big Lake during carnival, and to warn me not to go too far alone because of the wolves. This morning, A and her brother, B, invited me in for waffles and to watch part of Mr. Bean. Someone always says hello to me, now, and people will stop me to talk about their kids or the school or carnival. I’m glad that folks have, indeed, warmed up with the weather.

DSC02082This was taken from the bank of the river on our warmest day yet, looking down onto the frozen water. I like how it looks almost like a wave breaking on a beach somewhere. I had to try several times to get close to the way I wanted it, but I like how it came out. I’m learning.

I brought in a willow branch on Monday afternoon, and by bedtime its buds had popped out in all their soft, fuzzy glory. Spring is swift and opportunistic in Alaska, I guess. You could almost watch these buds burst like popcorn.

There are these wonderful, fat birds that I’ve started seeing around. I don’t know about birds, but they look like overstuffed super-sized birdfeeder birds. Obviously, this picture is of no use to anybody as far as identification goes, but I like the image very much.

DSC02094The fat ones make a nice change from the ubiquitous ravens, which were flying together in the snowfall this morning, making a peculiar bubbling noise. I like ravens well enough. They have these great big fluffy ruffs around their necks, like little black flying lions that eat garbage.

DSC02102My class is making pysanky eggs next week. It’ll be a little lame after Easter, but I think the kids will still dig it. They loved blowing eggs this week, and Shannon was awesome and let them bring their jars of egg down to the kitchen where she fired up the griddle and scrambled each kid’s individual portion for a snack. I have dozens of perfect, empty, white eggshells drying on the windowsill now, just waiting for the post to catch up with our activities.

My amazing parents sent Easter baskets for each of my students, filled to bursting. We’re going to have a lot of fun with the marbles next week when carnival and testing leave us with weird time to fill. The kids ate themselves sick before lunch, occasionally asking “Ms O! Is this a marble or is it candy?” Nobody died.

DSC02096Things have been weird at school. We have state testing confusion and personal issues among the staff out the wazoo. With carnival next week and Easter this weekend, we had a real pressure cooker going. It would have been fine, but the interpersonal problems with the staff have been getting to me. There’s subterfuge and manipulation and venom everywhere, and I don’t feel like I can really trust anyone.

My nerves finally got completely fried yesterday. After a few kids made heavy power plays, I broke. I tried to get it together during lunch, but, when the kids got back, I still had tears plopping off my face. I tried for a few minutes to cool it, and, to their credit, the kids did exactly what I asked of them.  When I realized it was hopeless, I went to ask Jake to find someone to cover for me. Instead, he dismissed the class early and sent me home to cry it out, which I did. My students were brilliant. They brought me cupcakes and feel better cards, and told me to call Sean so that I wouldn’t have to feel so bad. They were everything I needed to feed the kindness and patience and trust that had worn thin and snapped. It’s not the job and it’s certainly not the kids that wear on me: it’s the climate of suspicion among my coworkers that grinds me down.

There will be changes next year, and for that I’m grateful. I have my fingers crossed for someone who will climb mountains with me on the weekends and likes to play board games. If you are reading this, I make good pizza and great cookies, and I’m willing to learn to cross-country ski properly. DSC02099Carnival starts on Monday, and I’m starting to get excited. On my morning walk, a gentleman I know passed me on his four wheeler with two dogs hitched to a plastic sled running behind. In the sled was his four-or-five-year-old granddaughter, laughing her head off. My kids keep telling me how excited they are for the dog races and the princess coronation. C will be racing four dogs and also running for princess. She started making her own earrings during math class this week, when I deemed her sufficiently ahead in her work.

DSC02098I can’t wait to see her in her outfit with all that dark hair falling down her back. She’s usually very practically dressed with her long braid tucked into the back of her sweatshirt. It’ll be a privilege to see her in the dress and slippers that she’s been working so hard on with her auntie and grandma, and to hear her give her speech in Gwich’in. I’m going to ask her to make a pair of earrings for me. If she can be persuaded to make them, I’ll treasure them forever.

North Pole or Bust

DSC01599No, we’re not actually driving to Alaska. That’d be ridiculous. We are on a nice long sleigh ride, though: Good ol’ Carro has once again carried us to Ohio to visit our friends at the farm.  He hiccupped a bit in Memphis, squealing at 1700 rpms, but we shrugged our shoulders, made a gamble, and ignored it. It paid off. We made it to Louisville in good time, and spent the night with Bethan. She woke up with Bruno Mars hair and made us pancakes.

I spent a stupid hour on the floor of a Louisville post office this morning, sealing up flat rate boxes full of pepperonis and coconut milk with crappy dollar store tape. The woman behind the counter was a little hard of hearing and we miscommunicated with abandon. It would have been frustrating and miserable, but Sean made me laugh and we sang along to the radio together, ignoring the stares of the less absurd P.O. patrons as we belted box after box with loud strips of tape. I am going miss the snot outta him.

"Alaska, population 2"

A student’s take on my move: “Alaska, population 2”

Carnivory in Ohio

We all slept poorly last night. It was hot, and the ticking ceiling fan and open windows couldn’t cool our dry skin. Chelsea and I rose from our sleepless beds at sunrise and ran down the farm’s long gravel driveway and then to the end of the road.
“Good morning moo cows. Good morning hounds. Good morning sheep. Good morning chickens.”
The dawn spilled over the hill that cradles the farm and sopped into the clouds that had carpeted the sky overnight. The breeze was cool and it left a chill where it lifted the sweat from our necks. The sky was soaked in a watercolor purple, and the birds were chirruping in the blooming weeds that filled the ditches. My legs hurt. As we started the jog back up the driveway, the world brightened and began to glow in Technicolor. I let a smile stretch my face.

The countryside in this part of Ohio is idyllic in mid-summer. The roadsides are overwhelmed with queen anne’s lace and something that flowers purple, the trees are blushing green, and the rollercoaster hills are spread with sunny pasture and crisp shady forest, and sprinkled with weathered barns and cattle. When we arrived yesterday, I went for a long run in the heat of the day. The heat billowing off the pavement and the gluey, humid air could have been Arkansan, but there was no mistaking the ambience of Midwestern Americana. When I got back, dinner prep was in full swing. We ate ribeyes from right here at the farm to kick off the inevitable week of carnivory that’s to come. We could hear cows mooing from our table on the patio.

Before the sun was fully up, Sean, Chelsea and I were weeding raised beds in one of the hoophouses. Jesse brought out steaming cups of coffee, and we surveyed our progress, listening to the beginnings of rain on the plastic roof.

Breakfast was Ohio eggs, potatoes and sausage with Arkansan tomatoes and cucumbers. Lunch was all Ohio: raw zucchini pasta with basil and nasturtium flowers, beet greens and crispy onion crostini, and broccoli raab. Not home-grown: bread flour, lemons, olive oil, balsamic vinegar. Summer is the best time of year. I forget what grocery shopping feels like for days or weeks at a time.

We accompanied our friends to the farmers market this afternoon. They sell grass-finished beef and lamb and pastured pork and poultry, in addition to eggs. I listened with pride as they fielded questions about the humanity of their farming practices and the quality of their meat products and eggs.
“Is there an agency that certifies that your animals are raised humanely?”
“Our certifying organization is our customers. We’re happy to give farm tours so that you can satisfy yourself that our animals are treated humanely.”
“Are these eggs free-range?”
“Free-range can mean that the hens have access to a concrete slab. Our hens are pastured. They eat plants and insects in addition to their organic feed, and their access to the outdoors is unlimited.”
This is a business to be proud of, and those eggs are worth every penny their customers pay for them.

Sean and Jesse hamming it up at the market

Sean and Jesse hamming it up at the market

Tomatoes are just coming on up here in the North. Sean selected this luscious beauty at the market.

Tomatoes are just coming on up here in the North. Sean selected this luscious beauty at the market.

Dinner was Thai food. Sean and I enjoyed the extraordinary luxury of ordering dishes that incorporated quality meats. My (droolworthy) masaman curry featured locally raised beef! I was swooning all through dinner. This was easily the best Thai food I’ve had in years. The four of us stopped at the grocery store on the way home and picked up two pints of Jeni’s ice cream for dessert, which is locally made and incredible. In the checkout line, we realized that we had no spoons and no way to transport the ice cream home without excessive meltage.
“Where’s the metal cutlery?” Sean asked.
“Aisle nine or ten” replied the cashier.
We looked, but couldn’t find it. We looked again, then met up in toiletries, befuddled.
“I’ve just had an idea,” Sean stated. “Let’s find cones and get an ice cream scoop. It’s better than plastic spoons that we’ll just throw away.”
So we did.

Sean scooped us each a cone and, as the ice cream began to melt, scooped us each another. We rolled over the hills in the dusky evening sunshine in a perfect, blissful, ice cream silence.

“Aw, shit!” Jesse exclaimed as we crested a hill. He swerved, but caught the rabbit anyway. It lay still in the road behind us, receding as the truck charged on.
“Go back.” Sean said.
“Go back. We can take it home and skin it.”
“We could eat it for breakfast if it’s in good shape. Keely can at least tan the hide.”
“Yeah! I absolutely can!” I said
Sean grinned. “We’ve been in Arkansas for… two years now?”

Skinning game animals might be an Arkansas thing, but eating roadkill is decidedly a liberal hippie environmentalist thing. We had late night beer floats not two days ago with two young intellectual-type people who had broken their vegetarianism on roadkill.

Meet Breakfast Bunny!

Meet (Meat) Breakfast Bunny!

The rabbit was in good shape when we picked it up. It had been hit only in the head. It had bitten through its tongue and one eye was lolling out of its socket, but the hide was completely intact and no damage was done to the internal organs. I got the rabbit skinned and gutted with a minimum of fuss, though I lost the tail. Fleshing is proving to be the hardest part of the process for me. I tore the hide in several places and didn’t succeed in removing all of the fat and membrane from the skin. I did, however, wind up with a perfectly respectable attempt at a clean hide, which was conveniently sized and shaped for a brief puppet show.