Unbeautiful things and beautiful things

The other night, two of my girls showed up at my door with a puppy. The puppy was whimpering inside C’s sweatshirt, and it took a minute for me to process the situation. My knees nearly buckled and I emitted an involuntary “eeeeee!” when she pulled the fluffy little butterball out of her jacket. He’s about four weeks old, so he was a little shaky on his feet, and just starting to think about playing. The stubby little tail wagged drunkenly and he wobbled across the floor, taking it all in.

We brought the little critter over to Jake and Shannon’s place to visit, and sat on the floor playing with him for close to an hour. When it was time to go, I came home, and immediately after I closed the door, there was a knock.

“Can I use your bathroom?” A asked.

“Sure. You could’ve asked Jake and Shannon, they would’ve let you.” I told her.

“No. That’d be weird.”

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it kind of is. The girls trust me enough to use my bathroom. They trust me enough to take off their socks and let me look at the weird oozy bumps on their feet, or to listen when I say “I think you’d be an awesome engineer”, or to bring me neighbor toddlers and toddling puppies when they visit, or to knock on the door just to tell me “the moon is outstanding! can I borrow your camera to take a picture?”

Beautiful things.

I went for a walk in the village this morning and a student stopped me. He was there, and two other boys, along with the two girls who brought the puppy, when someone was brought to the clinic last night. “Seven cuts,” said the boy. The man died.

PFDs came in this week, the big annual dividend check that all Alaskans receive. Predictably, things have been a little wild.

I try not to dwell on it, but there is ugliness here, in good measure: alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, neglect, hunger. Most of the time, the community keeps these things quiet. It would be easy to hear very little about these realities: these are the things everyone (else) knows and no one ever talks about. The teachers live a little apart from the rest of the village, and we aren’t intimately connected the way the other members of this community are. We don’t share blood and history and secrets. It’s rare for these things to come knocking at our doors, so a lot of the time, we don’t know.

When things like this do come knocking (a message from a little girl on my answering machine telling me that a man I knew has died, someone coming to my door to make a wildly inappropriate suggestion, a high schooler pointing out his blood in the snow from when a drunk man hit him the night before, a middle schooler casually mentioning that he’s witnessed a violent death) they are the more shocking for their incongruousness. Most of the time, life in the village is quiet as snowfall. It drifts down and covers the broken bikes and beer cans and candy wrappers caught in the willows.

Unbeautiful things.

Equinox and Fox Walks

A fairly typical scene from last week, before the snow fell.

A fairly typical scene from last week, before the snow fell.

Cosmically speaking, there are a lot of neat things going on these days. The aurora is supposed to be good on Thursday, which is exciting as it hasn’t been spectacular for a while. The equinox was a few days ago, launching fall in other places and winter here. Last, but not least, there is supposed to be an eclipse tonight. I am going to have to go out this evening to watch the eclipse. If last night’s moon is anything to judge by, it’s going to be pretty spectacular. The moon is supposed to be rising mid-eclipse, which could be really strange and special, but might be hard to see. Some thoughtful planning is in order. I wish I had access to some high ground.

Last night's moon over the slough.

Last night’s moon over the slough.

Yesterday, Terri, Ben and I went for a hike out beyond the gravel bar on a quest for a view of the mountains. We never really got there, but we had a nice walk and a campfire dinner of baked potatoes and apples. DSC03867On the way out, a local guy on a four-wheeler stopped to talk and warned us about leaving the village without a gun. We were carrying bear spray and making plenty of noise, but folks here are very cautious about wildlife, and he hated to think of our needing a gun and not having one. We did see grizzly tracks and scat, and the bears are known to hang out by the gravel bar where the dog salmon are spawning now. DSC03856After our friend took off, we stopped by the gravel bar for tea and to watch the fish, which are huge and numerous. Apparently, a large portion of the world’s population of these salmon come back to our slough. They’re called dog salmon because folks around here use them for dog food. I let two kids out of school early the other day to take in nets and feed dogs. The fish are clearly tired out, sometimes rolling a little sideways in the current. They’re two feet long, and all muscle. They have to thrash a bit to get through the skinny water, and they sound like a herd of caribou splashing through the shallows. Sometimes you can see their dorsal fins sticking up out of the water, even when they’re completely still and silent. It’s totally strange. Our friend found us there, watching the salmon drift in the shallow water, and pressed a rifle on Ben, just in case.

The three of us walked a while beyond the gravel bar before we lit our fire. I wanted to hike to someplace new, and the weather was perfect: forty at least, with day-old snow on the ground and blue skies and sun.


We found a hole in a tree


and fairy sparkles


and the sky looked like a bomb pop all the way around, the east more pink and violet, the west more peach.

We wound up walking home in the dark, which I haven’t done before. I walk within the village after sunset often, but I haven’t ever been out beyond the firebreak after sundown before. It was new, and new was just what I wanted from my day yesterday.

Friday’s snow has stuck, the first to last more than a few hours. We’re due for more on Tuesday, so this may be it, folks. My kids begged me for a hike on Friday, and I gave in with pleasure. There’s something magical about walking in falling snow, and it’s not something to miss out on when the opportunity comes knocking. When we got back, I opened the classroom windows and we watched snowflakes blow in and dissolve on the carpet.

After school, I went out alone and followed fresh fox sign around a pond beside the old airport runway. DSC03831It’s the kind of thing that has to be done alone, a very personal pleasure. I walked out to the pond on purpose, knowing that there’s a fox that hangs around near there, thinking I might pick up his trail. After some bumbling around, I did, with deep satisfaction. The snow was only a few hours old, so I knew with certainty that the prints were fresh. I followed the fox’s tracks until they doubled back on themselves and I lost them under my own garbledy old boot prints. By that time, I was ready to move on to other things anyway, so I walked on up the runway.

DSC03842I love the way ravens’ wings make that whipping sound, a weighted rope swinging beside your ear. I like the way they leave wingprints in the snow.

DSC03846The snow is still so new. It’s a change in the landscape, for now, and I’m seeing it fresh. It’ll be with me a while, though, and after a while, I’m sure, it won’t seem so sparkling. Still.

I’ve been eating well, and walking out often. School is great and I’m mostly happy. I miss having friends around, but some of my favorite people have called me up lately to say hi, and that’s been awesome. If you tried me yesterday and I missed you, try again! I still can’t make outgoing calls, but I’m in touch with the phone company about it, and when their technician gets back from moose hunting, I think the issue will be resolved.

Gideon sent me a box of honeycrisps, which arrived just after school dismissed on Friday. I can’t wait to share them with the kids on Monday. The two who were still around when the box came in said (and I quote) “wow! How juicy!” and “I think… that is the best apple I have ever eaten.” They go crazy for fresh fruit, and really fresh really good fruit is unheard of. It’s freaking awesome.  Here’s a picture of apples in the snow:

mmmm! Picnic!

mmmm! Picnic!



Today, Jake and Shannon are taking me out shooting, and I’m excited about it. If I’m going to be an Alaskan, I guess I should learn to be comfortable with firearms. Later, when there’s more snow, I’m going to learn about snowmachines. Terri and I are talking about going in on one together, and now that my boat’s sold I think I can commit to that. Why not? I’ll for sure be able to get out to the mountains if I’ve got ski power, and that could make all the difference.

Arctic love,


Fall in the Air

DSC03813Snowfall, that is. (hardyhar)

I gasped out loud when I opened my blinds this morning and saw this. I was hoping for a blue sky and a golden fall day after yesterday’s rain. I wasn’t expecting this.

It happened so fast. Last night I was standing out on the playground at midnight, watching the aurora in a hoodie. Eight hours later, there’s snow on the slide. I’m going out for a long walk today, for sure. I want to see new snow on the riverbank.

In other news, project Arctic Salad is coming along nicely. My microgreens are thriving in the front closet. I started them last weekend, and this weekend they’re thick and juicy. I nibbled a little yesterday and went into an ecstatic, drooling, vegetable-induced dance. Behold, one week’s growth!

DSC03744 DSC03809

I need to order some worms so that I can get a little compost bin going in the closet. It’d be awesome to have a salad plot that doesn’t require much by mail-order.

Weird things my kids don’t know about

  1. Hammocks: My hammock has been a source of endless fascination for the kids in this village. They don’t know the word and they’ve never sat in one. Everyone has had to try it.
  2. Everyone’s related: I taught about how humans came to the Americas last week, and started the story in Africa (my ancestors hung a left and wound up in Ireland, and yours took a right and trooped through Asia and crossed the Bering Sea when it was land during the ice age…). The kids stared at me like I’d sprouted horns and said “wait. Back it up. You’re saying everyone in the world is related? We’re related?”
    Yeah guys. In a distant kind of way.
    Got a tremendous giggle during this discussion when I babbled about poor old Homo erectus. Sorry gramps.
  3. In the book we’re reading, Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt, the protagonist fabricates a story for her little siblings about their parents’ wedding, which, in reality, never took place. When asked why she did this, my kids couldn’t answer. Many of their parents aren’t married, and I don’t think they knew the meaning of the word “bastard,” which so troubled the kids in Homecoming, until we discussed it.

    “Are your parents married, Ms. O?”
    “Yeah. Where I grew up, most people’s parents are married or were married, then got divorced.”
    “My parents aren’t married.” “Neither are mine.”
    “Well, for the kids in the book, it’s a big deal. People treat them badly because they’re ‘illegitimate’ or ‘bastards’ which means their parents weren’t married”
    “that’s weird. Is it still like that?”
    “Some places. Some people.”

  4. Ms. O, why do white people train their dogs so much? And keep them inside?

The grinder is out, which means the whole school building smells like sewage. We cancelled today (we don’t get snow days, but we get shit days), so there are only three days of school this week. It’s too early for a break! I have everything all planned, and I’m excited! Here’s hoping they get it fixed for tomorrow, and here’s some pictures from this golden weekend.

A and little H enjoyed the hammock experience until every kid in the village showed up, and they had to retreat indoors to guard their share of the cookies.

I was sulking at home (nobody would go camping with me this weekend) when these characters showed up and brought instant joy. A and little H enjoyed the hammock experience until every kid in the village showed up, and these two had to retreat indoors to guard their share of the cookies.

This one and the next one go together. I was so happy looking out over the lake, and I felt the happy showing on my face.

This one and the next one go together. I was so happy looking out over the lake, and I felt the happy showing on my face,

so I flipped the camera over and took a selfie. That is genuine happiness, folks.

so I flipped the camera over and took a selfie. Folded up neat and tidy and tucked into that dimple is genuine happiness, folks.

the last of the fireweed in the foreground.

the last of the fireweed in the foreground.






color! Also, this was taken on my little brother’s 24th birthday. Happy Birthday Dylan!