Solstice

Yesterday, I went out alone to bring in the tent.

This seems like a small thing, but I rarely go out alone, and when I do I never go very far from the village. I wanted this independence, this next test, but I was hesitant. I would have to go out beyond my comfort zone on the snowmachine (a vehicle I’m still new to) while hauling a sled (for the first time) and do a demanding chore alone in the cold. A chore I’d never done before at all – the tent had been out there since September, when we brought it out by canoe, and I’d only ever helped put it up last year. Geoff always went back to take it down alone.

My heart was in my throat the whole way across Maggie Lake (I broke my own trail through the fluffy new snow). I had to bushwhack up through a slough and onto the hill where the tent was pitched, and I’d never done much bushwhacking on the snowmachine, so it was exhilarating and terrifying. When I got to camp, startled to be there with so little trouble, not having hit a tree or flipped the sled, I shut down the Bravo (bangbang, bang… bang). The silence fell in on my shoulders like the snow.

And it was fine. Lovely, even. I didn’t spend the whole time looking over my shoulder for lions, tigers and bears. I worked. I had to hammer and dig and chip and lever every stake out of the frozen tundra. I stripped out of my coat and let the falling snow melt on my long-johns. It melted on my hands, too, and when I dismantled the stove, my bare fingers stuck to the metal and popped off – puck puck puck. I put my gloves back on, after a moment or two of that.

I rode in at dusk (it’s always dusk when it’s not night, but I mean around 3:00) without too much trouble. I hit a stump and nearly got bucked off, and there was that steep bit in the bushes where I thought the machine might pitchpole, so I walked alongside, but, all things considered, it was a roaring success. I could do it again.

How awesome is that?

Happy Solstice, everybody.

Keely (newly minted junior varsity arctic badass)

It happened so fast!

At the moment, I’m in Anchorage with a group of girls from Arctic Village. This is their annual Native Youth Olympics field trip, and I’m the female chaperone, borrowed from the next village over.

There’s no snow on the ground here, and it rained on the way down from Fairbanks yesterday. There are tiny green leaves on the trees.

On Sunday I put the Sassy White Bravo away for the last time this season. When I get back to Venetie in a week and a half, there won’t be snow on the ground. I returned my skis to gym storage, too. It was a hard day, Sunday. It seemed like winter would last forever, and then suddenly it was over.

As a last hurrah, Ben and I and our visiting student teacher, Addie, took the SWB on its most epic adventure so far. We rode out maybe six miles to the north, the farthest I’ve been along that trail, and started a fire. Terri had given us a foil packet of moose meat, so we set it in among the coals to cook while we went skiing.

It was a gorgeous, warm sunny day. The snow was thick and slick and slushy, and we flew over it fast and sure, hatless and gloveless in our t-shirts.

On the way back, I skied behind the snowmachine – a handy way to move a third body, and a lot of fun. You fly back there, bumping over the ice at a ripping ten or fifteen miles per hour. The trail opened up and I practiced skiing off to the side of the machine in an open area that had been solid ice hours earlier. It happened so fast – all of a sudden I was flying face-first into the deep slush. My skis had sunk into the heavy snow and hooked. I pitchpoled and wound up with ice in my teeth.

I was fine and came up laughing. It’s hard to hurt yourself in the deep, thick, pillowy white spring snow.

But oh, it happened so fast, this spring. It’s suddenly almost summer, and the goodbyes have already begun: Goodbye, snow. Goodbye, skiing. Goodbye, kiddoes.

And goodbye, Venetie.

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be teaching in Arctic Village next year.

Still. It happened so fast.

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Beautiful northern lights at midnight last week

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Spring Carnival

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the women’s snowshoe race

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skiing on Big Lake

I’m on my way to a new adventure, but I’m savoring every moment I have left with my kids and in the village, and lingering over the small farewells.

Sassy White Bravo

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While I was in Fairbanks last weekend, I bought a snowmachine. That wasn’t my aim in going to town (I really wanted a backpack and some bell peppers, both of which I got). Geoff was going to take me snowmachine window-shopping, basically, to help me learn what to look for and what to stay away from. “You want a long track, nothing so heavy you can’t shift it on your own, something like a Bravo.”

We looked around, but everything at the dealerships was too big or too powerful or too new and expensive. There wasn’t even anything worth showing me in any detail, as far as Geoff was concerned. I was cool with it. I didn’t want to have to test drive a sno-go – it’d be my first time driving one, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn under that kind of pressure.

We’d given up on the windowshopping when some guys pulled into the parking lot with a snowmachine on a trailer. “That’s a Bravo. You need one of those. Let’s ask if they’ll let us take a look at it,” said Geoff. He hopped out of the car and introduced himself. “Would it be okay if we took a look at your machine?” I was close behind, and he gestured to me, “She’s looking for her first machine and I think a Bravo would be perfect”

“absolutely. These things are fantastic. Nothing more reliable than a Bravo,” he turned to me, “and you’d have no trouble moving it if you got stuck.”

“sounds pretty good to me,” I grinned.

We chatted for a while, and they told us that the Yamaha dealer sometimes gets older Bravos in and that they’ll put you on a list for one if you’re interested. We shook hands all around, said thanks, and cruised over to the Yamaha place.

To make a long story short, they had one on the lot. “This is perfect.” Geoff said, “you’ll never do better.” I thought about it for all of five minutes and decided to go for it. Why not?

My first time driving a sno-go was a test-drive after all. I told the guy who was helping me that I was completely new at this, and he was stoked! When Geoff found us on the lot, my hands were all greasy and there were two guys standing beside me with big grins on their faces, coaching me through replacing the belt. They talked me through the basics (gas goes here, oil here) and explained how to start it. It fired up on the first pull. Geoff gave me his gloves and I took it for a spin around the parking lot, getting a feel for it, nervous, excited, then giddy.

I sat down with paperwork, and Geoff wandered around the place finding the various bits and pieces I’d want to go with my new ride (“here’s a kit for handwarmers, and here’s a siphon hose, and we’ll need to get you a gas can… Don’t forget to get sparkplugs… and oil!”)

Pretty soon, it was done. There was some shuffling of vehicles and some running back and forth to the airport, but it all worked out. I had a snowmachine. “Your very own?” one of my students asked, when they found out why I was calling Wright’s every day this week (they finally flew it up on Thursday). Yes. My very own.

Ben and I took my Sassy White Bravo out for our first adventure yesterday. We rode five or six miles, then unloaded our skis and skied another four or five miles beyond that. This is why I wanted a snowmachine: to get out beyond the circle around the village that has been circumscribed by my physical strength and skiing skills. Now I can carry myself and my gear outside of that circle and explore new territory.

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Here’s our route from yesterday, more or less. We left the Sassy White Bravo at the marker farthest to the right, and skied west as far as that green lake (currently white, of course), then turned and came back.

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The part that scared me the most was cold-starting it by myself in the field. What if I couldn’t get it going? Ben knows less about this stuff than I do, and we were miles outside of the village, already exhausted from skiing. It’d be a long haul home on foot, even with skis, and so embarrassing. I did it though, on the third pull. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

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I like snowmachining. Jake says the grin on my face is so big, I’d have bugs all through my teeth if we had bugs up here. It’s crazy how fast you can move, even on a Bravo (top speed… thirty? I dunno. I think I get a little jittery at twenty, for now, so I haven’t pushed it) compared with skiing.  It’s like the world opened up, or the map just unfolded so that I can see the whole thing, instead of just the panel I’ve been living in for the past year. There’s some cool stuff out there, and now it’s all within my range.

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