Saturday, January 16, 2010


This is a picture taken from school out across the bay. The lumps in the far right distance are icebergs. Doesn't it look pretty out there?  Yeah, it's inaccessible right now. :(

It's so cold right now that walking from school to home (a distance of 500 yards at most) causes any exposed part of my face to get lobster red and throb all day.  It's so cold right now that when we walk on the wooden porch, it snaps and moans.  It's so cold right now that the impossible dryness that comes with it is causing all manner of skin ailments, including skin cracks that just won't seal up, no matter how much Weleda Skin Food I put in them.  It's really cold right now.

Most folks imagine that I'm used to this type of cold, but as my mantra expresses: Hooper Bay is the most perfect place on the planet, and one of the reasons for this is moderate temperatures.  The incredible cold that people read about in Jack London novels happens in the interior of Alaska, where there are trees and stuff.  While we get really crazy wild windy weather, we rarely get this kind of cold that we have right now. And when we do, it doesn't stick. And usually, it's the calm days that cause the mercury to drop.  This weather is defying all that.

What kind of cold, you ask? Well, for the past week, my thermometer has been reading between -2 and -10, and that does not take in to account any windchill. If the wind is calm, it's actually fun, actually cool to be outside in negative temperatures if you're dressed right.  The snow is so dry and packed that it feels (and sounds) like walking on styryfoam, and it's usually clear skies, so the stars are twinkling flashing multicolored magnificent.  It was like this last week, and I got a few early morning walks with the dogs in before anyone else was up, underneath the waning moon.  With the moon's sliver light, and the wierd snow to walk on, it kind of felt like what I imagine it's like to walk on the moon itself.

It's on these nights that we actually get to see the fickle northern lights, though sometimes it's in the wee hours of the morning and I'm never up then.

However, this week when it was already negative temperatures, the wind picked up to 30 mph, and that has caused it to actually feel like it's -50 outside, and maybe I'm wrong since I haven't ever lived in the interior, but it's a more dangerous, more cruel -50 than when it's just -50 and calm winds.  My lobster face says so.

So I'm not really used to weather that is too cold to function outside in. Usually, there is an activity that I like to do for every kind of weather -- I like to get out into those wild snow storms and such.  Plus whenever we've gotten snow this winter, the storm it rode in on has caused the temperature to rise to 32.5 degrees, which makes everything all mushy and wet, which just adds to the thick sheet of ice that is covering everything when the temperature drops like a brick again when the storm passes. So not only is it too cold to do anything outside, those 30 mph winds make for some interesting walks to school on the foot-thick ice. 

So we stay inside and bake, read, watch movies(when the girls go to bed), play board games, make up silly dances to Royksopp, talk on the phone, pretend to clean house and organize, put pictures in frames and scrapbooks, scurry the few hundred feet to the school to watch basketball games or participate in Yuraq (traditional eskimo dancing) in the gym, and BLOG!

In general we stay grateful for modern heating conveniences, though it always feels a little like living on the edge -- if the power went out, if we ran out of heating fuel... yeah, I can sense that the cold is a heartbeat away. It waits on the edges of the house, seeping in where I can't detect it and plug it up.  I think of people who were here before us -- what did they do in cold like this, in a sod house, fur clothing & blankets, and a little seal-oil lamp to heat the whole place?  Huddle together?  Yuraq to get their body temperatures up?  Although I think that it would be neat to experience a lot of things from earlier times, this weather makes me so glad I was born in the era in which I was born.  Plus, two yaks, my job would have zero application if I were yanked back 300-500 years (though I'd like to say my avocations would!).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

It's Interesting...

This weekend we returned home from our travels far and wide visiting our loved ones far away.  It was a great break, a great vacation, a great Christmas, a great chance to do things that the "real" world offers (shopping, movies,  pizza, seeing the Nutcracker Ballet in a big city), but man is it good to be HOME.

Yes, even though I grew up in the middle of the midwest, Hooper Bay is home. Almost as if it was home beyond this lifetime... if you get into those things.

But it's a new year, and a new decade, and this blog has been around for 3 years now.  I've learned so much about blogging and this internet world this past year, much in the last few months.

I was recently asked to join a group on facebook called, "I Am Eskimo" and my blog was listed as one of the group's favorite blogs.  Thanks!  I like it -- I like feeling like my blog is getting out there to the world -- AND the whole experience raised an interesting point of discussion and made me feel like I needed to re-asess and rethink about the purpose of this blog and you, my audience.  I'll fast forward to the results of this thinking process and tell you that I feel great about this blog, its content, purpose, and you, my audience.  But you may find this thinking process interesting, so I'll detail it below. :)

When I moved to Alaska for the second time, with my M.Ed in hand and ready to take on the rural Alaskan educational system, and with Esther as a babe in arms, I was sending monthly newsletter emails with a couple pictures attached to a group of friends and family. This was a success -- and the number of people who were interested in our adventures kept growing.  So I decided to start a blog instead, so that I could post more pictures.  I also had the motive of reaching out to teachers new to Alaska, new to Hooper Bay, helping them visualize their soon-to-be surroundings, and showing them by example how to make the best of their experience: to get out into the community and the tundra.

Then when the random readers kept appearing,  I realized that my words were reaching kind of a lot of people -- not as many as the big bloggers, but maybe some who had never read anything about Alaskan life before.  Maybe my voice would be the representation of Alaska for the reader in Brazil, in the middle of the Amazon Forest (for real!  Check out the Clustrmap on the margin!).  Although most folks in other parts of the world know by now that people don't live in igloos up here, Alaska is still a shadowy region in their minds, especially rural Alaska.  And I have to say that a lot of what information does make it out is not good.  There are books and movies that, because they need a climactic plot line and a hook to drag  people in, show the ugly and tragic sides of Alaskan life (or the overly romanticized parts, which doesn't help, either).  So it was at this point that I promised myself that I was going to show the positive and wonderful parts of living in Alaska -- not to gloss over the hard parts, or to put on a rosy show that was not truthful, but to give a portayal of healthy wholeness that is inspiring, to show the ways we deal with the hardships that everyone knows are there but that I choose not to write about.

One example is the book "Ordinary Wolves" by Seth Kantner, which is really a fabulous novel and has received critical acclaim around the globe from all my favorite writers (Louise Erich, Barbara Kingsolver).  Although it tells an important story about cultural and identity confusion, does not give one positive depiction of an Alaskan Native person within its pages.  I appreciate the catharic nature of his novel -- it must feel good to express the difficult experiences he writes about (though it is indeed fiction).  And for many people who are going through similar issues as the main character, it may be a helpful read.  I think there is a lot of power in straight-on dealing with the ugly, hard side of life, and in my personal life I am definitely on the side of talking about things directly and keeping no secrets.  However,  I believe the problem comes in when the book or other media that reaches a worldwide audience who have no context to embed the portrayal within, or any real life experience with a culture to balance negative portayals with positive ones, and that one piece of media becomes the representation of the entire culture to the reader who lives far away.

This area of the world has its share of troubles, troubles that have no easy solution, and troubles that it's hard to get a break from.  But my answer to dealing with all of that is to focus on the positive, good things that are possible, to work on the things that can make even a small part of it better -- and to get outside.  I really believe that the tundra heals all, if you give it a chance.  Subsistence activities are the most healthy mind-body-soul activities I have ever had the honor to partake in, and I'm sure to a Yup'ik person, or any other native person, it is even more healing -- as Dr. Oscar Kawagley says, "Landscape creates Mindscape."

With Dr. Kawagley's quote in mind, I've chosen to raise my daughters here so that with any luck, they will be fluidly bilingual and bicultural.  Although this blog may seem mommy-bloggish at times, it's really the story of our family navigating complicated ground -- and I hope that our success so far is inspirational to any of you out there who are contemplating the same thing, whether you are thinking of taking the plunge into village life or you are in a different culture/region entirely.  I guess my point is this: it is possible to do important, meaningful work, be very involved in the village community and raise your family in a healthy way in rural Alaska, despite the challenges. And to prove it, here are pictures of my Esther, taken within a 10 day span -- she's riding the cultural divide with finesse, and I can't wait to see how she and Iris choose to negotiate the rest of their lives -- it's all new as they're living it; they're creating their future with each choice they make.

So please, enjoy the pictures and stories, and know that we are loving our life up here, and thanks for reading!
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