Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My efforts towards producing produce have been productive!

Now that the ground is frozen and the snow is starting to cover everything, I feel the need to be nostalgic about my forays into tundra gardening.  And to share my excitement over something new that literally drops into my life every week that makes, well, not everything, but pretty much most things, feel OK.

So the raised bed garden box was a project I started nearly 3 years ago, in the unusually early spring we had in 2007.  We had just moved to the new housing, and I was feeling the need to make it homey.  As the snow melted, it became evident that the ground around the new houses was littered with construction trash -- screws, pieces of wood and drywall, cigarette butts, and gross things I never could figure out what they were, that I assume were just tossed aside during the winter construction, in the rush to build the housing, and by the time spring came there was no one left to clean up.  So I started my beautification project, and that project led to planting of Alaskan wildflowers all around, and that project led to my clothesline, and that project led to my garden box.

It was fun to have an excuse to go down to the beach often for supplies (logs, etc),  and to use found materials (such as nails and wires), and to have an outside project while then-toddler Esther played in the dirt, as she always wanted to do.  I had no idea what I was doing, having only been informed by a few web searches.  But sometimes it's fun to have a project in which nothing too much is riding on it, and so it doesn't matter if I make mistakes and can learn through trial and error.

I didn't get anything planted that summer, but I read that letting a box settle for a year was helpful anyway, so I felt pretty good about it.  I ordered two big bags of soil, but other than that I filled it up with seaweed and other things I found on the beach, to enrich it.  I also started my compost project that year, as well, with an old washer found at the junkyard. I love composting. It's just one of those things that makes me feel good, even if I'm not really good at it or do it super well. I have ideas about how to do it better, but it's just one of those projects that is forever on the list.

So then the summer of 2008 I was pregnant, and didn't do too much with the garden bed except put the compost from the previous winter into it and mix it up and cover it with a tarp. Tuluk helped me dump the compost bin and it was still kind of smelly and he almost lost his lunch. It made me pause and realize who was going to be changing all the diapers in the near future. Ha!  Anyway,  then when I returned with Iris, everything was already frozen and snowy, so it was put off for another year.  But I think the extra time helped the compost enrich the soil. 

So this summer, I thought, what the heck!  I'll give it a shot.  I had some old seeds that needed to be used or tossed anyway, and so if they didn't grow, no big.  The question I have always had about this garden project is when to plant, because June is generally 40 degrees and rainy, and end of July/August is the time when it gets warm if it's going to get warm at all, but then I've only got about a month & a half till first frost.

Plus I generally travel in the summer, so when to tend it? How to protect it from marauding dogs and children?  Elders I've spoken with about gardening here said that earlier in the century, about the time of the reindeer herding, there were some gardening projects (maybe started by the missionary teachers? I don't know) here, and they had to be surrounded by large fences to protect them from the dogs.  Well, I haven't gotten to that part yet; we'll see about how I would make a fence in the future -- I think it probably would be necessary, because dogs seem to be drawn to the box as if it's a magnet -- not for eating the veggies, but for using the bathroom! But I think the danger was early in the season, rather than when the veggies were full grown.

Regardless, it was a success!  I tossed the seeds in about the middle of June, and although nothing had popped up by the time I left for our summer travels, by the time I came back the first week in August, I had great growth!  The spinach and kale was pretty fabulous.  The broccoli had already gone to flower, but we ate it anyway.  And the squashes seemed like they would have grown, but they just didn't have time. 
However, now that we sucked all the nutrients out of the garden experiment that we could and it's all under snow now, we still have access to fresh, organic produce, something that is unprecedented in all my years here.  It is definitely an expensive undertaking, but considering the cost of wilted, squishy, unknown-origin produce in the store here in town (and that's when it's available), and considering the cost and effort I put in to getting frozen fruits & vegetables out here as well as dehydrating fruits & veggies in the summer, it really pays off.

Who knew it could be possible?  I'm now a member of Carnation Washington's FULL CIRCLE FARM CSA! And I've converted many members of the teaching staff as well.  I'm actually kicking myself that I didn't research it earlier, because the farm has been shipping to rural Alaskan communities for a while -- many of them -- it just never crossed my mind that it could be possible.  It totally changes our quality of life -- my family is eating fresh, crunchy, ORGANIC things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Again, I ask, Who knew?

Basically the farm packs it on Monday mornings and ships it Alaska Airlines freight, which means it goes in the belly of a big daily freighter (I think?), and then it goes on the passenger planes out to Bethel (half of which is just cargo anyway), and then on the small plane with the company Hageland Aviation that comes here three times a day.  Most of the time it gets here by Tuesday evening, its scheduled delivery time, but there are times, mostly because of weather, that it gets delayed because the plane gets delayed -- however, that's been the minority of weeks.  Then it gets dropped off at the airport, and our very nice vice principal collects it for us, since he's often down there meeting the plane anyway, or our extremely nice plane agent Peter, who brings it to us out of the kindness of his heart, because it's not in his contract to haul freight to town from the airport.  There have been some weeks when I've been worried it would be frozen, but, really, for the most part it arrives in an amazing fashion.  AND Full Circle Farm guarantees everything -- so even if it's a loss for them, they credit or replace whatever has arrived badly.  They even will ship eggs!  Free-Range, natural eggs!  No more hormones or products of chicken cruelty for us!  Hoorah! 

With the quantities of subsistence food coming through my door, and the weekly deliveries of a produce box, who needs the store?!  AND who needs to leave?  I love my life. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Wonders of Grass

Ha! I wonder how many hits (I meant search engine hits you guys!) I'll get off of that title? Just kidding. I really mean Grass, the stuff that grows all over the ground:

Hooper Bay is famous for its grass baskets that women weave.  These baskets, that are in our school's display case, have been referred to by an elder as "modern art" because the truly traditional baskets were big, functional food-holders.
They're still pretty.  The smell is the best part -- it's like fresh-mown sweet hay smell inside the basket, no matter how old the basket is.

So, anyway, the grass that can make these baskets has been a mystery to me for a while -- which grass? There are so many different grasses on the beach and tundra. Well, a kind Hooper Bayer took me under her wing this past weekend and showed me which kind it is:

and it's totally easy! It's everywhere! Here's Esther picking her first grass:

 We took the grass we picked that day to Esther's great-great Aunt Helen -- since it was our first grass we ever picked.  I know it's only traditional to do that for the first catch of an animal, give the catch to an elder, but I like the tradition, and Helen was very happy to hear about our day and grateful to receive the grass. This is the auntie that waxes long about how many uses there are for grass, how invaluable it is to survival and quality of daily life.  I like to think about what of my things I could replace with natural materials.  I like to think of how long I could subsist at my camp, making the things I need with stuff found around me.  Learning all of this about grass, a very simple plant that is plentiful around me, is a step in that direction. 

 We had such an awesome day; it was warm and sunny and calm enough that we could just loll around on the tundra.  This grass is all over our camp, so we spent the afternoon picking grass there and just being relaxed, spending time with the dogs and each other.  It was like saying goodbye to our camp for the winter since it was the last time we were able to hang out there before it was covered with snow....

Learning to weave it, however, will be another story.
Next up brewing mystery:  which moss did the people in earlier times use for seal oil lamps?  How did they make the moss into a wick?  How did the lamp function?

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Flood Hath Commenced and Receeded...

Double Rainbow over the flood waters, in front of the windmills, the store, and the fuel barge.

Our annual flood: perhaps counter-intuitively, it's something everyone anticipates and gets really excited about. This year's flood was just right -- arriving on a Saturday morning, cresting on Saturday evening, and it was over by Sunday morning.  (the only thing that was a bummer was that if it happens on a weekday, we get an early out of school!)

 I don't know if it qualifies as a tsunami or not, because it's not started with an earthquake, but by really strong winds and really high tides.  It's a regular fall occurance, so it must be related to the jet stream or currents or fall storm patterns or something (anyone know more and want to enlighten me?).  People in Hooper Bay say that winter can't begin until it floods -- I mean, and it's a good thing, because if it flooded after things began to freeze, it would undermine all the solid, safe ice forming on ponds and sloughs that make it safe to travel by snowmobile. 

But, as a weather junkie, I am very much into the flood. It's a cool wild weather event, and no one gets hurt, very rarely is any property damaged, and then when it's over we can go on with our lives. To get these pictures, I got drenched to the skin (even through really good raingear) and pelted with hail, and blown around the road on the honda.  That's what I call fun! (especially since I got to go to my nice warm home afterwards and get all snuggled in with my fluffy slippers.)This is taken from my backdoor, which usually just looks out on tundra:

The next day, we went to the beach to see the wild waves, to see if anything exciting got washed up on shore (I'm still hunting for one of those old glass floats that used to hold up nets).  I found a torn bit of old net that had cool barnacles on it and took it home for a decoration in the porch.  But we still had fun seeing the wild beach:

Complete with wild monkeys:

 At Esther's dad Roy's house, where Jasmine and Avery live, Fancy and Draco's sister Taki had 5 puppies.  Check out Fancy and Draco's cute nephews and nieces!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

3.6 seconds of Fall

Fall is a blink-and-you-miss-it season up here, which is fine with me since I don't do well with transitions. September and October are all about "hurry up and do _____ before the weather gets bad, this might be our last weekend". And we crammed a lot in, as this post atests (in fact, I kept meaning to end this post, but kept finding other things to add to it, so it's a long one!) So here are some pictures of us hurrying up and doing _______ these past months (and having fun doing it), as well as some cute pictures of the girls accomplishing their most recent milestones.

 First up: Esther's First Day of KINDERGARTEN!  How did it happen?  Well, it is happening a year early, since we asked for early entry because the Headstart Preschool was too full.  But, still, how did she get big enough even for early entry?  It's amazing and wonderful and emotional.  By and large she is doing great, though she gets pretty tuckered-out.  I am really happy for her that her life is so full, though, with good, solid things.  Here is a picture of her walking toward her future, as her teacher calls her name and her classmates (and the principal) wait to line her up:

She is enrolled in the Yup'ik Language Immersion Kindergarten, so she gets lots of great language and culture all day long.  Every day she knows a new phrase or word, song or dance.  When I think about how I dreamed of her partaking in this program when she was a baby, and now it's come to fruition, I get all teary.  As a side note, I got voted to be on the Yup'ik Immersion School Parent Committee, which is exciting because it's all new -- every day of being a parent, being on the other side of education, is all novel and gives me thrills.

The other big milestone: Iris's First Birthday! She was feted and celebrated among her plethora of cousins, and seemed to enjoy it, even if she was a bit in awe of the festivities.

Directly after her party, it was first haircut time!  Daddy did it with an attachment on the shaver.  She was very unsure at first, and eventually started crying, but she lived through it. 

She looks nice, now, all evened out.

Another amazing fall accomplishment was the First-Ever Camping Trip with Students.  As a school, we have been wanting to take the students out on the tundra as part of our Place-Based Education initiative, but it has always fallen apart, as it is a huge undertaking to bring a large group of students anywhere.  However, it was a success!

Above, Jerry sings campfire songs with the girls -- they're totally enthusiastic and also totally out of tune.

Iris was kind of sick during the evening -- she kept kind of spitting up, and I couldn't tell exactly what was wrong with her, if she was really sick, because she had no fever and was playing fine, acting happy, or if something else was wrong.  I felt guilty keeping her out on the tundra, but she really was having a good time and got to get held by some of the older girls that she adores (and Esther was in seventh heaven with all the high school girl attention), so I just hard-core mommed it and stayed out.  She woke up crying in the night and I worried she was sicker, but she went back to sleep with some nursing and in the morning was totally fine, so I'm glad I stayed out.  But the following day I woke up with yucky digestive issues, so I bet it was a bug, and I made my poor child camp in a tent during that!  Well, at least she'll have lots of stuff to talk about during therapy when she's older.  But, seriously, look at how much fun she looks like she was having: 

Below, several boys caught birds and proceeded to pluck and roast them over the fire for the group to gnaw.  Gnarly! :) Below, the boys coming back with their catch:

Then, the plucking and roasting that even impressed Tuluk!

I took advantage of the time outside to show Esther some stars, because much of the time when we are outside when it is dark (because, remember, when we camp in the summer it is never dark enough for stars) it is too cold to stay out long.  Iris fell asleep inside my coat and so I got to snuggle my two girls on the tundra under the stars.

That night, it was what you might have expected from a group of high school students -- howling between tents, tent-swapping, tent-shaking, running around tents, everything I'm sure I put my chaperones through on camping trips when I was young -- till ridiculously late at night.  In the morning, when Tuluk woke up early, he went close to the student tents with his large shotgun, pointed away, and fired several shots for wake-up revelee, just for keeping him up so late!  Amazingly, even after only a couple hours of sleep, the students were happy to get up. 

In the morning, we had hot cocoa and a good-morning fly over by a local pilot(maybe he was coming to see if we had survived the night!)....

The students had gone to several learning stations the afternoon before, led by the other teachers on the trip, about tundra plants, microorganisms in water, and a reflective writing station, and so this day it was time for the students to host the same learning stations for other, younger students who were making the trip out to the campsite.  Here Chuck helps a student look at a caterpillar under a microscope: 
They did pretty well spreading their learning, and the experience, out to the other kids.  It was by and large a really great success, and a foundation to grow for next year's trip.  

We also had some pretty fab Beach Evenings before the cooler weather hit. Check out Iris figuring out starfish and Esther and the dogs enjoying the Bering:

The starfish are so cool.  I love fall time when they wash up on the beach in hordes.  They are so interesting, leaving trails and cleaving to anything in their path:

Another fabulous happening this month, which was a culmination of lots of work and arranging on everyone's part, was that Veterinarians came to Hooper Bay!  The group "Christian Veterinary Mission" travels to out-there places in the world to volunteer their services to the animals of the place.  As some of you know, there is a tremendous need for animal care in rural Alaskan villages, as vaccinations are hard to come by (every winter there are cases of rabies when foxes come into the village and tangle with the dogs) and the dogs breed willy-nilly, creating such unlikely mixes as this husky/corgi (or something -- yikes!):

See, it looks like it has a nice, Husky head, but then its body is all little teeny dog:

SO, anyway, we need help from vets.
However, it costs seat fare (as much as a person's seat) to fly a dog out of the village just to Bethel (where a vet comes once a month), and with tickets at over $200 one-way to Bethel these days, it's pretty near impossible to do it unless you win the lottery.  SO  we needed help, and, actually, the credit goes to my mom for starting it off, because she talked to her Equine Dentist about his involvement in a similar organization, and it just spiraled from that point.  And it was awesome!  Check out the vet team doing a neuter surgery in the school shop, as Esther watches (she has quite the stomach for medical procedures. She always has to watch everything when we go to the doctor, too):

They accomplished over 200 vaccinations and 60 spays & neuters!  It was such a success that the parent organization asked Liz, the lead vet, if she would lead another trip next year.  Awesome.

This fall's main subsistence goal: I was a woman on a mission to gather Cranberries:

I stole moments here and there to sneak out with just the dogs and pick them near the beach (our camp was covered with them), and then some nights after school we all went down to pick them:

 There's Esther filling her mouth, not the bucket, as usual.  Iris likes them too:

 Some people say they're not used to their tartness, but the girls like them fine, and they are far superior, if smaller, for Thanksgiving cranberry sauce.  So they're actually one of my favorite berries to pick. They're just like crimson treasure on the tundra.

We've had fun showing New Teachers to Alaska & Hooper Bay the exquisite flavors of our environs, and Katelynn, a 21-year old brand new teacher from Arkansas, has been the best sport about everything.   Here she is learning to pluck ducks:

 Tuluk was impressed with how she plucked it, saying "She almost did as good as me!"  Ha ha, sir.
She also really enjoyed her first taste of seal (mukluk, bearded seal), saying it tasted like "filet mignon"!

That can be the tagline when we advertise it: "Seal: The Next Filet Mignon" and we can use these pictures of Iris completely enjoying her seal rib to promote it:

Yep, that girl has a healthy appetite. :)

Katelynn and another new teacher, Lindsey, came down to check out a beluga whale catch, as well, and tried it out!  Good for them, getting out of the school "compound" and experiencing real life here. Here Tuluk is beginning to cut the flipper off the whale as Esther watches:

Esther gets a bite of "gum" the raw whale skin -- she liked it!

Katelynn watches Tuluk do the same -- just before she spits hers out -- she didn't like it! :) Well, Katelynn, you liked seal, so I guess you're still in the Hooper Bay "cool" club. (I joke).

Daddy and Iris -- her Yup'ik name means "creature from the ocean" -- with another creature from the ocean, or what is left of it at this point.

The first SNOWFALL was on the Autumn Solstice -- Sept 22, and then again on Oct 5. But it didn't really stick; it got colder and colder with no snow.  In fact, we had a week or more with frozen dust blowing around, which was not pleasant at all, but at least it will make it safer when we travel by snowmobile (that's right! We went in with a couple folks to buy a snowmobile!) after the snow covers it.  So when we finally we got to the days when the ICE stayed on the ponds, we went for a walk to check it out:

Here Fancy and Draco remember ice, and how to break it to get a drink. And Esther has fun cracking the brittle little pond surfaces:

So now this brings us to HALLOWEEN!  Yes, these are the pictures you've been waiting for, and though by Halloween, we were officially into winter, I'll still put it in this fall post because I've had so many requests to see these pictures, and I might as well do it now while I'm posting.  Esther decided to be a lion, and I toyed with the idea of Iris being a lamb and me being a Shepherdess, but all the Little Bo Peep costumes online were "sexy" Little Bo Peep (really, people?) costumes and that was too gross to contemplate.  AND the skunk costume was totally cute and I figured it might be the only year I could get away with it.  So (drumroll please)  here is the menagerie!

My little lion with glittery shoes -- and practicing to be fierce!

And my little stinker -- who loved getting her stuff on, even her face makeup (which was all natural by the way, from Luna Organics off of Etsy.com, not that I feel I need to advertise, but so many folks wanted to know where I found it.)

And me, I am the ringmaster of my own personal circus.  I live it everyday, but on Halloween I just dressed like it!

We won the costume contest!  

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