Oops Pie

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By far, the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me happened on Monday.

Last weekend, Geoff, Albert and I borrowed a canoe and took off for an adventure. We were camped a ways up Deadman’s Creek, and we spent all of Monday hiking in the tundra and berry picking at the base of the mountains. We’d just gotten back to camp, tired and sore from picking our way across the tundra, and were sitting down to eat some dinner before heading back to the village when search and rescue showed up. A complete surprise.

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“Yeah, your Dad called the troopers,” one of the guys said. I looked down at my feet, silently wishing the ground would split open so that I could fall in and be swallowed up by a new slough. Stupid-girl Slough.

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The details don’t matter much, just that it was a communication breakdown and entirely my fault. The searchers were good-humored about it, glad to find us all in one piece. What a first impression I must have made, though, moving to Arctic and causing such a stir within a week. There was a sign posted out in front of the school when we got back “No school Tuesday September 6th until Teachers are Found.” Wright Air flew over the river looking for us, and Venetie was all stirred up on my account. Board members called the superintendent. Kids cried. Geoff’s mom found out and told her neighbor and he managed to get a prayer circle going in West Virginia. What a mess.

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But all things, even embarrassing things, pass, I guess.

I made pie the other day from the blueberries we picked on Monday. They were shriveled up and sweet and purple on the red-leaved bushes, and they made my fingertips and teeth blue. That Tuesday morning the mountains were dusted with snow (we motored through a nasty little rain-squall to get back to the village, and it was cold and awful, so it stands to reason it’d be snow a few-hundred feet higher), so I think that was the last of the season’s blueberries. Embarrassment pie, mortification pie, sweet, delicious, wonderful, blueberry-major-oops pie. dsc05140

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Bye for now, Summer

I’m in Arctic Village, this time for good. I flew in after inservice and Boots took the plane low to show his granddaughter, in the copilot’s seat, the herds of caribou up on the mountains. The plane dipped and bumped low over the trees and the other passengers turned green and pukey, but I was thrilled. The tundra was red and gold and the caribou were silver and galloping under a clear blue sky. What more could you want from a flight?

Everyone in the village was cutting meat all week or scrounging for gas to get up the mountain to hunt. It was science and traditional knowledge week at school, and the kids were cutting meat in the gym and working on a dogsled. Geoff opened the fridge in the school kitchen one afternoon and a whole bloody leg wrapped in garbage bags fell out. It was crazy.

Here are some pictures from my back porch, overlooking the Chandalar:

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If I step out back at five in the morning, I can see every pond in the valley (there are a lot of them) breathing silver mist into the air before the black mountains and the red horizon.

The willows have all turned yellow and rumor has it there’s been frost in the wee hours. We’re turning the corner and I’m so glad – winter is my favorite season since I’ve found ways to get out in it. I’m running most evenings now, getting ready to start strong with skiing this winter. I want to set a rabbit snare along a short ski loop so that I can check it often, and I’ve persuaded someone to teach me how to do it.

Geoff has agreed to go with me to Venetie by snowmachine. I hope it happens. There’s a lot of work involved, but it would really be something to show up some weekend out of the blue and visit for a while.

This week has been hard. Starting something new here and imagining those kids in Venetie starting a new school year without me has been a constant ache behind my heart. I miss their personalities and their ease with me. I’ll get there with the kids here, but it will take time, and, meanwhile, I’ll miss my class of characters like crazy.

Inservice was a stupid as usual (cold to lukewarm showers, sales pitches from textbook companies instead of professional learning, no collaboration time except bits and pieces at the end of the day), but some good things happened: Terri’s Aunt Bernice came and did a poetry workshop, which was fun; Student News is going strong in its second year, with more folks than ever participating; the union meeting felt productive and energetic, which made a nice change; and the math teachers met and agreed on a resolution to offer a two-year Algebra 1 option, which will reflect the kids’ learning more accurately on their transcripts. Barring sabotage by administrators with control issues, this will mark a good change for kids.

Geoff and I ran his boat up from Circle and camped on the Yukon for the week. We spent some time exploring the route to the Chandalar and some of the rivers that feed the big one just south of Fort Yukon. I’d write more, but there are things to do. It’s the last long weekend before Thanksgiving, and the mountains are calling. Here’s the photodump with illumination by caption:

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Packing in Fairbanks, prior to the great canoe heartbreak of 2016

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Camp on a high bank just north of Circle

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That log has ears

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This was my first bear sighting in Alaska, and the gorgeous animal was swimming across the Yukon. Pretty amazing.

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Island Camp. We were visited by a moose (he left only footprints while we were out) and a beaver, who slapped his tail and turned his nose up at us as he flew downriver. There was old bear scat in the dry slough, but we didn’t see any recent sign.

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Before inservice began, we explored miles up the Christian River.

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I got Chainsaw 102 in this dreamscape of an old burn on the Christian River.

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Firewood!

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The confluence of Cutoff Slough (part of the Yukon) and Marten Creek. Look closely: Marten Creek is the color of black coffee. The Yukon is the color of chai. The Christian River is the color of black tea. The Chandalar is blue.

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Yukon sunset, just north of Circle.

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I did it again

I bought another boat. What is it about the early days of summer that just does this to me?

This one is an eighteen foot square-stern canoe, and it’ll be built this summer by a small company (a dude named Michael)  here in Alaska called Yukon Freightworks Canoe Company.  I wanted something to take on serious adventures up interior rivers, and this felt right. With a small engine, Geoff and I will use it to make the trip from Circle up to Arctic in August, down the Yukon and then up the Chandalar, even in the shallow places where heavier, deeper drawing boats bottom out, and it’ll maybe be good for caribou in the fall, which would be a pretty cool adventure.

DSC04813I went up to Arctic last week to visit and relax after school got out. On Saturday, when I got off the plane, the river was cluttered and hissing with ice. By Tuesday, it was clear, high water full of muskrats and ducks. I hiked along the river on Wednesday afternoon and took a few pictures. A willow in bloom hummed with bees and made my heart fizz. When I came across a four-wheeler and spotted some folks out hunting ducks a little ways along the bank, I turned and slogged through the marsh to get back to Geoff’s place, stopping for raven feathers and tiny purple flowers in bloom. When I got to the house, I napped in my hammock, strung between two stringy spruce trees, until the sun dragged over the mountains. The next morning, it snowed. DSC04814

I can’t quite believe that this staggeringly beautiful, remote place is my new home. I have a P.O Box there (PO Box 22045, Arctic Village, AK 99722) and now that I’ve turned in all my school keys from Venetie, the keys to that box and the key to the Sassy White Bravo are my only keys in this universe. I like the things I can unlock, very much.

DSC04809This week, I’m taking classes in Anchorage to maintain my teaching license. To get here, I took the train from Fairbanks to Wasilla with Geoff, a trip I highly recommend to anyone who is thinking of visiting Alaska. The views are magnificent, the food is good, and the staff are informed and friendly. I have always liked taking the train because the landscape moves by at such a graceful pace. It’s not headlong and hurried like in a 12-passenger van full of kids. We saw some cool old home sites, several moose, trumpeter swans on their nests, and a single lost caribou, way out of his territory and all alone. Over lunch, we dreamed up a backpacking trip that would make use of the flag stop service that some routes still offer.

Yesterday was the best though. Geoff brought me up to Hatcher pass and we hiked several miles in along the Gold Mint trail through this beautiful river valley. I’m an idiot for not bringing my camera. There were a lot of people for the first few miles (forgive me, I’ve been in the bush, there were probably twenty), but as we slowly climbed up the valley alongside the clear-running river, the trail got swampier and snowier, the footprints grew less and less dense, and the cottonwood trees, aspens and alders thinned away to willows. We passed beaver pond after beaver pond, right beside the river, and spotted what I think must have been a wolverine in the rocks across the water. Lupines were blooming on the south side of the valley, and I was so glad to see them that I got a little misty-eyed.

After a while, we came to a place where the river was shallower and braided and the sun was shining on a sandbar in the middle. We took our shoes off, rolled up our pants and waded across the knee-deep, frigid moat, swearing and shrieking at the cold. My feet went completely numb and then burned with the cold, but the sand was warm on the other side, despite the patches of snow still clinging to it. Geoff and I both fell asleep, barefoot in the mountain sun, for a blissful half hour in the afternoon.

My Auntie Sheila (sender of bomb-ass care packages – THANK YOU – the kids [and I] loved the trail mix) tells me that my father said, after visiting me this spring, that if he had come to Alaska at my age, he’d have never come back.  There’s something in that, Pops.