Not only is Meade River School the most prominent physical structure in the village, it's also the hub of countless community events. Although Atqasuk does have a heavily utilized community center, gatherings involving more than about fifty or sixty people usually end up taking place at the school.
The community feast at Thanksgiving, Eskimo games at Christmas, city league basketball and borough-wide meetings are all held in the gymnasium. Sadly, the gym will be the site of a funeral this weekend. In a village like ours, the school is more than just a building. It is a safe haven where innocent laughter and tears of sorrow coexist without any discernable contradiction.
The school is the center of almost everything here and while the weight of that reality can feel uncomfortably heavy at times, in the greater scheme of things, that seems like a very worthwhile place to be.
When I started looking through photos for exterior views of the school, I quickly realized that most of my shots are taken from the vantage point of the school. Rather than being the subject of my images, the school is often more like a lens through which this village is viewed and brought into focus. Whether it's the warming sun-kissed southern sky or the northern view of sleepy houses tinged by moonlight, I must admit, it all feels a lot like home.
A while back I had this great idea (I thought) of making a video tour of the village. That could be fun, right? Well, I'm sorry to say that it hasn't happened yet. My video camera recently developed a glitch and refuses to download the videos to my computer.
I'm still hoping to put that together at some point. But, as an alternative, I've been collecting shots of the area over the last few weeks. Rather than post an unmanageable stream of photographs, it would probably be kinder to share a few at a time.
I'm not sure if these photos will answer often-posed questions, inspire new ones, or maybe a combination of both. Although it can appear forbidding, it really isn't as bad as it seems. And, for better or worse, this tiny village is home.
So I guess the best place to start is at home. My house is a duplex and I live on the right-hand side. This is my sixth year in Atqasuk and my fourth year in this house. It's a half-mile walk to school and a little farther to the all-important post office, but I like being slightly removed from the village. I have a great view of the river from my bedroom window and a pond across the road shared by loons and swans every summer.
The first buildings that I pass on my trek to school each day are a huge garage storing heavy equipment and the fuel station where vehicles can be filled with gas or diesel...at prices that make walking seem like a really good deal.
Between the fuel station and the school, a sentry of satellite dishes stand at attention. All television, telephone, and computer connections are dependent upon satellite signals. Though the airport is our physical lifeline, these towering sentinels are definitely our gateway to the outside world!
Newly-built snow fences are our only defense against the wind and blowing snow. Drifts can accumulate quickly during a blizzard, but snow fences help a great deal. Two summers ago the borough (county) hired a crew to repair our old snow fences and add several new ones in an effort to break the path of snow following easterly winds. Now if we could just do something about the blizzards that come from the south and west!
Well, that's probably enough sight seeing for one session, huh? Anyone ready to book Atqasuk as their vacation destination yet? Okay, maybe July would be more enticing.
Well, actually it's not the dog that is gone...just the doghouse. We had a fairly respectable blizzard last week and it pretty much finished the job of burying the dogigloo (no adhesives involved). During one of my digging-out frenzies two of my fingers suffered near frostbite, so the doghouse won't be rescued anytime soon. Until things warm up a little more, Precious will have to stay inside. She'll be disappointed. She actually likes going outside to investigate any traces of recent intruders and bark at anything that is new or interesting. Caribou often wander near my house and that really drives her over the edge!
Yesterday was supposedly the first day that the sun rose above the horizon, but you certainly wouldn't have been able to prove it around here. Overcast skies and unusually warm temperatures (we're up to 33 degrees above!) delivered shower after shower of fat, wet, sideways snow all day and into the night. The dogigloo photos are now obsolete. With an additional layer of fluffy white stuff blowing at 40 mph, all my hard work has been undone once again.
Since our sunshine is being diffused at present, I'll share a couple of photos from last January around the same time. If you check out the sunlight monitor in the weather information area of the sidebar you'll see that it doesn't hang around for long. But that is quickly changing...daily, in fact. By March, sunglasses will be in vogue again.
This was our first peek at the sun in January of last year. It wasn't the first day that it had risen above the horizon, but it is the first day we were able to see it. Cloudy skies prevented viewing for almost a week. So, the progress here is more than you'd actually see on the sun's first day back. But it gives you an idea of what we see this time of year.
High noon on January 25, 2007. It was a cold, clear day and all the kids wanted to go outside to see the sun. It's an exciting time after a couple of months without rays.
Main Entry: 1dog Pronunciation: \ˈdog, ˈdäg\ Function: noun Usage: often attributive Etymology: Middle English, from Old English docga Date: before 12th century ____________________________________
Main Entry: ig·loo Pronunciation: \ˈi-(ˌ)glü\ Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural igloos Etymology: Inuit iglu house Date: 1856 ____________________________________
Main Entry: dog-ig-loo Pronunciation: \ däg-i-glü\ Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural dogigloos or dogiglus Etymology: a half-wit rendering of Inu-English origin Date: about 15 minutes ago...1/19/08
Definition: a semi-permanent arctic dwelling intended for mammals of the domesticated canine persuasion. Optimally utilized during summer months with some degree of use in fall and spring. Rendered uninhabitable during winter months if frigid temperatures, wind, and/or snow persist in disagreeable quantities and/or proportions. Often occupied by unexpected tenants such as parka squirrels, lemmings, and sometimes small children.
(See also related term: digging out)
This one was taken in the fall...October, I think.
It's been a strange several days. Our school schedule continues to suffer the effects of this roller coaster ride of colder temperatures. No one has seen fit to decide which thermometer should be used to determine school closure. Since the actual temperature depends on which side of the village you happen to take the reading, the fate of the school day has become rather ambiguous. Classes were dismissed after lunch on Monday and today they were canceled altogether. As much as I appreciate the unexpected day off, it's frustrating to imagine how much more instructional time will be siphoned away before someone realizes we are living in the Arctic!
In the meantime...we're keeping warm.
This photo was taken at Thanksgiving. The outfit that she is wearing is not warm enough for the temperatures that we are experiencing right now, but that's okay because she would be inside of her mother's parka anyway. Notice her hands...neat idea!
This is the traditional way to carry a baby regardless of season. The mothers wear a belt on the outside of their parkas, so that the baby/child doesn't slip down and out the bottom! They will carry their baby this way until it is literally too big for the parka or a younger sibling has come along to demand the space. I have seen a mother with one in the back and a tiny infant in the front.
This infant parka is the only one that I've ever seen. Babies are ALWAYS inside of their mother's parka. However, this photo was taken in August, so that may account for her being able to be "out" in her own parka rather than tucked away.
The fur ruff isn't just for show. The fur around the hood breaks the wind before it hits the face. It won't prevent frost bite, but it certainly helps.
Frozen eyelashes and frozen hair are both fairly commonplace around here, but eyelashes frozen to frozen hair? Now, that was a first for me! When I left for school this morning the thermometer read -45.9. All along the way, my breath collected back on my face and parka, so that by the time I reached the playground I could feel the tug of my hair pulling on my eyelashes every time I tried to blink (or maybe it was my eyelashes tugging on my hair). So, I decided to attempt to capture this very typical arctic anomaly with the camera. Please forgive the fuzziness. Small buttons, freezing fingers...not a good combination!
Over the last several days our temperatures have hovered around forty-five degrees below zero. It has really wreaked havoc with our school schedule this week because we aren't allowed to run the school bus when the ambient temperature is colder than forty below. That is a fairly new development, though. Until the spring of 2006, school was rarely canceled, even for a blizzard, much less a little cold snap. So the wisdom of that policy is still the focus of considerable debate around the district.
But, bus or no bus, teachers are still expected to show up. So I arrived this morning, as every morning this time of year, with frost on my ruff and frost on my face. When I entered the school the frost quickly began to melt leaving my face wet, even dripping a little. My friend and fellow teacher, Ami, and I laughed about the futility of wearing make-up around here. I know there is such a thing as waterproof mascara, but I have to wonder what happens to that stuff when your eyelashes freeze. And I have a feeling they don't explain that on the box.
One dog, five toys, twenty minutes, one very big mess!
Precious and Rudy received a suitcase-full of new toys for Christmas from their wonderful Auntie Elaine. And Precious wasted no time in claiming each toy as her own. Then she spent the next week systematically destroying them one-by-one. At this point in the game, the only thing left is the tiny remnant of an enormous "dinosaur" bone. Not being filled with fluff or any type of squeaky toy has extended its usefulness immensely.
I wish I could report that Precious is a kind-hearted dog that has learned to willingly share toys with my older (less agile) dog, Rudy. But, alas, this has not been the case. If Rudy makes the mistake of even sniffing one of her toys (even the scraps of what once was a toy) Precious swiftly and rather ferociously sets him straight. He doesn't do much about it. He usually just looks up at me with large soulful eyes that very clearly say, "Well...I guess sheis the boss of me."
As some of you are aware, we're already gaining sunlight again! With every passing day the twilight in the southern sky noticeably increases in both duration and intensity. Toward the end of this month the sun will venture above the horizon for the first time in approximately sixty days. But, until then, the dark sky provides a perfect backdrop for any type of illumination.
Around midnight on New Year's Eve I heard the familiar percussion of fireworks "thunking" against my window. I left my two extremely irritated dogs yapping wildly inside the house and ventured out into the -20 degree air for a better view of the show staged on the southern bank of the pond directly in front of my house.
The stiff breeze of 15 to 20 mph made outdoor viewing rather uncomfortable, but that didn't deter the community from coming out in full force. Snow machines were darting and zooming from every direction. A few slowed up and parked right in the middle of the frozen pond as if arriving at an arctic drive-in! My photos don't do justice to the impressive scale or variety of the display, but I thought the vibrant colors and feathering effect of the wind made for some interesting (if not high quality) images.
For about forty minutes, this could have been Anytown, USA...each explosion reflected in the sparkling eyes and delighted cheers of the crowd. It's a touching thing when a community comes together. People who have been somewhat hidden from each other, huddled in their respective houses, quietly shake off their winter mantle just long enough to wave and call out to each other, "Happy New Year!" before moving on.
I really have to hand it to the Ivanoff brothers. Being the fire chief and first assistant, it's a little ironic that they are so good at setting fires! For several years now they have put on a New Year's Eve extravaganza at their own expense. I, for one, sincerely appreciate their generous efforts.
(To see more photos...click on any image.)
This is the preferred mode of transportation in the winter here. Apparently, it comes in handy for fireworks viewing as well. Although the wind caused -20 to feel like negative 50's that night, I think Stephen was plenty warm in his camouflage parka. I can't be sure about his poor face, though.
Welcome to the Arctic! This space is dedicated to observations and experiences related to daily life in the Inupiat Eskimo village of Atqasuk. Questions and comments are invited. Thanks for visiting! Quyanaqpaq!
nuna:tundra, the land atikluk:snow shirt, parka cover
Interested in Inuit culture? Check out these films...
The Fast Runner is an excellent representation of ancient Inuit culture. The R-rating is for nudity, violence, and some language. Subtitles are utilized throughout. I do not recommend this film for children, but it's an extremely accurate portrayal of the culture. It was introduced to me by an Inupiat woman who raved about it. And I agree!
For a preview, click here.
The Snow Walker is another excellent representation of Inuit culture circa 1940's. This film is rated PG, I'm guessing for language. No subtitles that I remember. It starts a little slow, but gets much better. It will leave you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the survival skills of this culture.
For a preview, click here.
Great For Kids!
Whale Snow by Debby Dahl Edwardson is a warm and culturally sensitive story centered on the Inupiat subsistence tradition of whaling. It is available in both English and Inupiaq translation. The illustrations, by Annie Patterson are exquisite and add to the quiet softness that the story inspires.
To order this title on Amazon.com, click here.
The Alaska Geographic series is an excellent informational resource. The edition entitled North Slope Now deals exclusively with this area and even features relatives of my students. Although it was published in 1989, it is still current enough to provide a general understanding of culture, lifestyle, and issues faced by this northern-most region.
To order this title from Alaska Geographic, click here.
More about Kaktovik Disaster of 2005 (from Dec post, "The Edge")