So, it’s New Years Eve.

Every new year, since I first came to Alaska, has marked profound changes in my circumstances and in my dreams. This is the first time in many years that I’ve spent this transition away from old friends – my heart’s family. In fact, at the moment, I’m completely alone except for my dog. If I can’t be with loved ones, I’m glad to be by myself. There’s a little extra gravity to sitting and thinking and writing alone. Later on I’ll go get Geoff and we’ll go to the community hall and join the fiddle dance, but for now I’m free to sit here in perfect silence and consider.

It’s been a year of changes around here: Congress voted to open ANWR and Arctic Village got cell service.

There were some pretty great achievements: The inservice snowmachine trip last March, the school play, learning to skijor with Daazhraii, the Christmas party, the river trip, dipnetting our limit on the Kenai, finally getting the Bravo running properly, doing stained glass with the art class, reading Harry Potter aloud to the elemiddles, that time I got my tongue stuck to an axe-head and then unstuck.

I was in town last week, mostly to take the GRE, but also to do some shopping. When the plane took off yesterday morning, I slipped back to my first flight to Venetie. We flew over a dawning Fairbanks where the streetlights were painting the parking lots and roads with pale pink circles, the Chena was steaming, everything was smoking and billowing in the cold, catching the little light of the almost-sunrise, and the lights of town were golden. It was exactly as I remember it from that first time, three years ago, when I was hurtling headlong and helpless into the unknown.

This time looked the same on the outside, but it felt entirely different. I was going home in a plane full of familiar faces, not alone into some unknowable adventure.

In that first year, I left things behind and began from scratch.

In the second year, I found my feet and my skis and a kind of real happiness.

This year, I grew strong and brave. I have learned to navigate on the rivers of the interior, I have camped alone in the winter, I have been stuck in overflow, I have chosen trees and cut them down and chopped them into firewood, I have learned to flush the fuel lines/grease the shaft/change the spark plugs/replace the pump and filter, I have slept on a bed of spruce needles fifty miles from anywhere at forty-five below.

This was the year of Daazhraii:

This was the year of Lyra:

This was the year of firewood:

I have been able to look forward and outward this year. I am applying to graduate school. I am counting down to the release of this year’s state land sales brochure. I’m daydreaming about the rivers I will explore in Lyra, the chickens I will raise if I wind up living in Fairbanks for a while, the cabin I want to build somewhere remote some day.

It’s a good view, this teetering on the the brink of new things. I can see the sun coming up on some pretty great stuff, and this new year’s full moon is lighting up the things behind and around me that make my life awesome: students who are beginning to come into their own, a dog who makes everything sunshine, a fella who is maybe even more independent than I am, friends who are orbiting the same sun, mountains and miles of snow, and a community hall that is even now beginning to fill up with dancers.


Princess Coronation and a Dance

DSC02191On Friday, I walked over to the community hall in the evening to watch the princess coronation. There were three young ladies in the running, all from my class, and each had spent some time in the week prior perfecting her speech and running it up to the Gwich’in teacher for help with translation.


On the left with the heart-melting smile is Venetie’s newest princess, with brilliant cookie girl C in the middle, and witty G on the right.

The girls walked down the aisle through the middle of the crowded community hall slowly and regally, and everyone’s attention was riveted. All three looked stunning in their handmade dresses and fur-lined slippers. Pride was palpable in the hall. Each girl stood up and quietly thanked the women who made her outfit, her mother, grandmothers, aunties.

These girls are not accustomed to speaking before an audience. Just standing up there took tremendous courage: A fourth girl dropped out a week ago, too frightened to go through with it, and G was sick to her stomach all afternoon at school.

G is outrageously funny: she can bust me up effortlessly with her quick wit and her innocent deadpan. Her writing sparkles with her sense of humor, and when she’s relaxed, she absolutely oozes cool confidence. I hate that this situation, where all of that should have been on display and celebrated, completely robbed her of her charisma. Princess C, similarly, spoke in a whisper as she delivered her speech. In the classroom, she’s not afraid to take a stand on anything, and her force of will and no-nonsense, tough-girl attitude make her a natural leader. I expected to see her taking on the world the way she takes on school, and I was totally shocked by her meekness. I want to work harder next year to give my students opportunities to practice public speaking and performing. Their voices are important, and no one will hear them if they whisper Cookie girl C, characteristically unlike the others, was perfectly herself. She’s unshakeably self-assured, and I love her for it. DSC02200Later, Terri, Ben and I walked back to the community hall for another dance. I spent what time I didn’t spend dancing playing with the little kids that always swarm like remoras around Ben and Terri. DSC02203My partner for the second dance complained to me about the heat and the teenagers who sit against the far wall, putting too much wood in the stove and never dancing. I tried to drag B away from the wall to dance with Terri, but he was too embarrassed. I bumbled and erred my way through another square dance, and finally realized that I am not totally inept, it’s just that there are only so many dances and everyone knows them already, so there’s no need for a caller. Next time, I’ll know what to do.

Late in the night there was a jig contest for each age group, and it was a joy to watch my kids show off steps they’ve known all their lives. The very littlest couple in the five-and-under were three and two. She pretty much towed him around the floor, giggling, to much applause.

Wisely, I think, we left before the twist and the jitterbug contests. I don’t think I could have handled the pressure.

Snowshoes and SnowCanoes

After school dismissed today, everyone hustled to the spring carnival. I watched the start of the men’s four-mile snowshoe race with a few other teachers. Five of my kids crammed themselves onto a four-wheeler and watched for a while, then took off to sell raffle tickets. I bought two for a moose hide.DSC02114We waited for a while, but soon realized that the pie-eating contest wasn’t going to start until the race ended. It takes a while to go four miles on snowshoes, so we headed home for a snack. The way things unfolded, we missed the pie-eating contest and the baby contest altogether, but it was well worth it. Three of us hiked out to Big Lake and checked out one of the islands.

DSC02121I even found time for a paddle!

DSC02129I swear I’ll make it to more of carnival tomorrow, and I promise I’ll take pictures at the princess coronation on Friday. I’m being bold and heading out to the dance now. I’m going to hide in the back so nobody asks me to dance, unless it’s a square dance, in which case I’ll tear it up. Who knows?

Two hours later:

DSC02137Athabascans fiddle like folks in the Appalachians. I danced once with an elderly fellow who wore a necklace of bear’s teeth and caribou legskin moccasins. He told me that his sister had made them for him before she passed away. He also had on a particular sort of hat that I’ve seen here before, a slouchy black cap with a white bow on the front. He came up to about my nose, and his eyes disappeared when he smiled.

The second dance seemed to last forever: it was a line dance, but it wasn’t called like contra, so I felt pretty clueless at first. There were five couples, and one led. The pattern wasn’t too complicated, which made it easy to follow but not too interesting to dance. There was a lot of bopping in place, waiting to swing someone down the line, which was good because it went on for so long that I had to keep running to the seat where I’d stashed my stuff to strip off more layers.

As I was leaving, a fourteen-year-old girl I know was demanding they do a square dance next and grinning. Maybe I should have stayed, but it’s late and there’s school tomorrow. I walked home in my t-shirt, sweating from the long dance and giggling at the dancing aurora. Carnival is a good time.


School has been a madhouse lately. Baseball and softball regionals were in Palestine starting on Friday and running through today. My ninth grade students were preparing for their big state test, and I had to kick up a fuss to keep them from getting pulled out of class to work on the field. Teachers were assigned to work at the ballgames during school hours, which left the kids feeling, fairly, that they were kept in school for no good reason.

P was playing with sketchup in my classroom during my prep on Friday while everything was crazy because of regionals. He made this awesome tractor!

P was playing with sketchup in my classroom during my prep on Friday while everything was crazy because of regionals. He made this awesome tractor!

I’m cautiously optimistic about the Algebra test. I had been feeling really discouraged after my mock EOC returned disappointing results, but I’ve remediated a lot since then, and I think that, though the percent of students who score proficient might be lower, I’ll have more of my students score advanced. It starts tomorrow. The main obstacle keeping my students from blowing it out of the park is morale, so I plan to write them individualized encouragement cards tonight. I already hung some posters.
I wasn’t this concerned about scores last year, and I haven’t been thinking about them this year until recently. I guess I’m afraid that if my students don’t top the charts again I’ll lose any leverage I may have with the district. On the other hand, my “leverage” hasn’t earned me any favors this year: I first submitted a request for a new projector bulb last May, and when Sean came to observe my class last week he was surprised to find that I haven’t been exaggerating about teaching in the dark all year. On top of that, I found out today that the 8th grade Algebra class I wanted to create next year has been nixed. I’m pretty crushed. I had hoped to leave my mark on the district by kickstarting a group of students who could realistically pass an AP test, but, apparently, 8th grade Algebra would make our scores look bad. There are a lot of things wrong with this rationale, but let me just acknowledge the obvious (scores are more important than educating kids!? WTF?!) and ask the burning question HOW ON EARTH COULD THIS MAKE US LOOK BAD? Our scores for next year are going to be incomprehensible anyway, since we’re switching to common core, so this is a great opportunity to try something new. I’m hoping to have a chat with the Great Naysayer sometime soon to have my concerns heard. I am convinced that I will not be able to make a difference with the GN, since he’s the one who laid down the No Fieldtrips mandate (because they take away from learning time, apparently in contrast to baseball pullouts), approved the purchase of classroom printers but won’t approve ink, referred to sanctioned student murals as “graffiti”, and attacked a colleague’s personal values during a conversation in his office about a school-related conflict. I like my job and I love my kids, but I need to stop being compliant when I feel that people, myself included, are being abused. If this guy makes my life a nightmare, I’ll just take my mad math teacher skillz elsewhere and bite my thumb on the way out the door.

This weekend was rad. We gardened and gardened and gardened.

There was all this lettuce

There was all this lettuce

Sean made a glorious Sunday brunch. Everything was home grown: a fried egg on salad, English peas sautéed in buttah, and pork sausage.

Sean made a glorious Sunday brunch. Everything was home grown: a fried egg on salad, English peas sautéed in buttah, and Pinkie’s pork sausage.

On Saturday, we went to Palestine to help the Spanish Club with their bake sale. I’m planning to accompany them on their trip to Costa Rica next summer, so I like to help out when I can. Here’s a link to the gofundme page if you’re interested in what the kids are up to. If you want to make a donation, do so here so that 100% of your donation goes to the trip. Gofundme takes a cut.

The Spanish Club couldn’t set up at the baseball field, which was a bummer, but they parked themselves at an intersection nearby and did some business. It was hot and sunny, but the kids are always hilarious and people were generous with us. Sean, Roma and I walked down to the field and watched a very little bit of the boys’ game, but missed the girls’ game entirely. As we were walking back to the bake sale, Roma and I and two of our friends stepped right over a baby copperhead without seeing it. What good is a dog that’s oblivious to snakes? Sean had his foot poised over it when he spotted the little bugger and launched himself balletically into the stratosphere, wailing “Weeeaaaah! Snaaake! Snaaaaaaake!” Sean doesn’t care for snakes.

We had dinner in town (mmmm fried pickles) with Mallory and went to the square for Arts in The Park on Saturday night. We sat on the grass listening to the band, visited with friends we don’t see often and shared a lonely waltz.


Easily the best part of the weekend was visiting our friends Butch and Linda on Sunday evening. Butch helped us slaughter our barbeque hog last spring; he’s an expert on all things critter. Linda is the lady behind Arts in the Park. We chatted for a couple of hours and made plans to get together for dinner and a tour of their farm sometime soon. I can’t wait! One of our summer goals is to spend more time with our neighbors.