I will never get tired of sunset

DSC02232Luck bestows a lot of twilight on the arctic, but it is migrating rapidly from noon to midnight, and it’s harder and harder to get out to enjoy it. I didn’t come home from this hike until nearly 10:30 on Thursday evening, but it was well worth the lost sleep.

January

January

Everything I thought I knew about time and space seems very muddled. Sunset in no way corresponds with bedtime, nor does sunrise align with waking. When I first got here, the sun very determinedly rose and then shortly set again in the south. Now it’s all creeping north, sliding along the horizon.The whole arrangement seems very unreliable for something so cosmic. My classroom windows face north, and my avocado is flourishing there.

April

April

It’s very lively, the way the shadows never seem to fall the same way twice.

One of the most fun and strange things about teaching is how it pushes you to do things you never had any interest in before. My students don’t want to put on a play or start a literary magazine or a garden: they want a prom. Consequently, I have been very busy with, of all things, prom planning. What will our theme be? Who can come? How can we arrange for the girls to get their hair done? How can we transport them through the muddy May village without soiling their shoes? Last night was our first fundraiser, a spaghetti dinner and movie night, and the girls carried it off with style: They cooked, they cleaned up, they announced the event over the radio, they handled disasters and complaints like pros. It was so much better than I expected.

I know what you’re thinking: It’s your first fundraiser?! How can you expect to have a real prom if all you have is $120 and a group of wishful teenagers? Well, dear skeptics, we can’t expect to have a real prom. For a real prom, you usually need more than five boys in school, and it doesn’t hurt to have a local band, or a caterer, or a florist and someplace to rent a tux. Oh well. We don’t, and we have to make the most of it. Because I am their sponsor, we are going to try to get karaoke and laser tag, and to hell with your preconceived notions. I have enough cardboard stuffed behind my couch to make some very respectable prom decorations that can double as cover in the likely event of a laser tag shootout. I’m very pleased with the idea. $110 should get us enough glitter, and the rest we can scrounge. It might not look much like a prom, but it will be all kinds of fun.

If you happen to be sitting on a couple of old prom dresses or bridesmaid dresses that you can’t stand to look at anymore, it might be that my girls could put them back in action.

P.O. Box 81153, Venetie, AK

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.

DSC02195

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.

“you could try lashing the carseat to the sled”

There are four youth dog races: six dogs (ages 13-17), four dogs (ages 9-12), two dogs (ages 6-8) and one dog (ages five and under). I missed the four-dog race, but made it to the other three. I love watching the dogs run, mostly because of the silence and speed. It’s the sailing of snow-travel: no growling engine, no roaring and clattering, just the smooth slikkkk of the runners on the snow. DSC02140I was pleased to see so many of my students, more girls than boys, racing six dogs. I hear them talk about it sometimes: “My dad always makes me race” or “you just have to try not to fall off” but you can see they’re proud to be doing what they’re doing and having a good time.DSC02146One of these dogs, called Princess Peach, has the distinction of being half again as old as her musher. Their home was on the course, so to keep the dogs from running home, the young gal’s grandpa ran the course with them.

DSC02156DSC02164The one-dog race is hilarious: the bigger kids can stand on the runners and hang on, but the smaller kids just get tucked into the sled and sent on their way. The announcer and spectators call the dog (though these dogs hardly need calling: they clearly love to run) and someone chases down the sled when it crosses the finish line. Folks in the audience laughed about the old days when you’d just strap a baby into the sled and set it on its way, hoping for the best. There was one mishap when a skittish dog decided to run the wrong way. A quick-thinking spectator made a dive for the sled and dug in his heels, but, if he hadn’t, that dog could have hauled the child halfway to Big Lake before anyone caught him.

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.