I flew to Barrow on Wednesday to meet a friend from New Orleans who is leading some meetings at my church. Over the five and a half years that I have lived in Atqasuk a few of my family members have visited me here, but this was the first time that a friend had dared to venture above the Arctic Circle. Needless to say, I was pretty excited! I'm not usually a big fan of air travel, but this flight to Barrow was something I was looking forward to.
If connected on a map, the villages of Atqasuk, Wainwright, and Barrow form a geographical triangle which is the regular flight pattern of the airlines servicing our area. So my flight to Barrow began with a leg to Wainwright some seventy miles away. Flying low, we were graced with sightings of several small herds of caribou and, at one point, we saw a few that appeared to be running away from something. Passengers on the other side of the plane said that a wolf was chasing them. I missed the wolf, but the caribou were really fun to see, running full-stride, almost in unison...very different from their usual quiet grazing.
Wainwright is a coastal village, so much of that final leg of the trip toward Barrow was spent flying along the edge of the Arctic Ocean. The patterns of drifted snow and cracking sea ice were mesmerizing. My photos, taken through an ice-fogged window, don't do justice to the artistry of the wind and the cold.
Although I'm not crazy about flying, I have to admit, that the view from the air is often an inspiration. The advantage of a little elevation affects perspective as nothing else can. The seemingly haphazard arrangement of snowdrifts can be painfully jarring when experienced from the seat of a snow machine, but from the air the obvious pattern makes perfect sense. Arctic wind spends most of the winter cutting and carving, shifting and moulding, piles of frozen moisture. The final product is difficult to fully appreciate from the ground.
As I trudge up and down those challenging drifts that comprise my daily walk, I want to remember, I need to remember, that elevated view and appreciate the coherent beauty of a seemingly haphazard landscape that can only be understood one step at a time.
Another view of the sea ice...
Fuzzy view over my pilot's shoulder...
A smooth landing at the end of a smooth flight...can't complain about that!
As many of you quickly determined, the Towers of Peesa (thanks, Laurie!) were created by my four-footed companions, Rudy and Precious. When they are not busy proliferating towers in the snow, they love being able to run around in the white stuff on the pond in front of my house. These two video clips are from last spring. Judging from the dark road and dirty snow, I'd say it was late April or early May. I apologize for having to embed each clip separately. The YouTube remixer is down and it doesn't appear that it will be on the mend any time soon. As you will see, the wind tends to stir up a lot of friskiness and I don't think that's just a dog thing!
Spring is now only a few short weeks away and the restless wind is carving out all sorts of anomalous figures in the softening snow around my house. Those of you living in northern (especially windy) regions may recognize the mysterious sculptures I've captured in these photos. I'm wondering if my southern friends will venture a guess as to how they were formed.
This arctic anomaly always reminds me of those amazing mud-daubed towers built by crawfish, crayfish, or crawdads (pick your label) down south. These towers were created by creatures too, but with very little effort and a lot of input from the elements.
Maybe this will solve the mystery without too many unpleasant details. :)
Arctic cotton is white, Forget-me-nots are blue, Akpiks are sweet, And so are you.
(Written by a very adorable fourth grader for his mother on Valentine’s Day.) _______________________________________________________________
It was a sweet day full of all those typical activities that Valentine’s Day inspires….well, at least those activities enjoyed by fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. We made construction paper valentines and semi-homemade experimental peanut butter-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. The cards were really sweet. The cookies were…not so much.
Although I prefer the personal touch of child-crafted valentines, kids are always excited by the commercial variety. But this year, for one reason or another, there were no prepackaged valentines to be had in this village. So we pulled out the red, white, and pink construction paper, hefty bottles of Elmer’s, brightly colored tissue paper, and gathered poetic inspiration from the internet compliments of Google Search…an interesting experience!
The initial plan for sugar cookies was thwarted earlier in the week when I realized that several key ingredients were missing from my pantry. We improvised with four packages of peanut butter cookie mix and comforted ourselves with the idea of adding other ingredients to put our own unique stamp on the confection. Unfortunately, what we ended up with had more in common with peanut butter flavored baseballs, than actual cookies. But we learned from the experience and had a good laugh along the way. And that seemed like an acceptable trade off. Kids never complain about wasting time making cookies…even bad ones.
Throughout the hours that we busied ourselves with Valentine’s Day activities, I don’t think romance was ever mentioned. And, the truth is, I really liked that. Cards were made by girls and boys…for family members, friends, and even a teacher or two. One girl drew a picture of a cigarette in the middle of the card for her grandmother. I have no idea what the cigarette was supposed to represent and she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) explain it, but I have no doubt that, whatever it meant, it came straight from her heart. Was it romantic? Not in the least. Was it a genuine expression of love? Absolutely!
On this holiday that our media-driven society has narrowly defined as a day for lovers, I am happy to report that my classroom is full of them…real lovers. Most of them are little more than four feet tall, but they all have hearts as willing to love as any I’ve seen. And that makes me hopeful and thankful on a day that could easily seem lacking in so many ways. It reminds me that love comes in lots of different packages...not always wrapped in a heart-shaped box with a tidy bow. Sometimes it comes wearing an old tee shirt with ketchup stains left over from yesterday’s lunch.
Just when you get the challenges of darkness figured out, the planet goes and shifts on you and there's a whole new set of anomalies to deal with. Keeps life interesting, I guess.
This is a copy of the semi-annual "disclaimer" that we received in our school district email today. I thought some of you might find it interesting or amusing...or both.
Subject: AT&T Alascom Network Advisory
Please note that AT&T Alascom satellite facilities will be experiencing sun related service degradations as a result of the alignment of the sun with our telecommunications satellite and ground stations. Sun outages occur for a few days semi-annually when our satellite passes directly between the antenna on earth and the sun. Radio frequency noise from the sun is stronger than the desired signal from the satellite, resulting in a brief service interruption.
Beginning 2/21/2008 and ending 3/5/2008, customers may experience noise or service interruptions. The most likely time for these interruptions will be between 12:13 AST/21:13 GMT and 12:34 AST/ 21:34 / GMT. Different areas will be affected on different dates and times during this period.
AT&T Alascom customers who experience fading or interruptions during these sun outages may contact the AT&T Alascom Client Solutions Center for assistance by dialing 1 800 403-9234. ______________________________
That last sentence seems a little goofy to me...are they actually offering assistance with telecommunication outages via phone? :)
Today has been a lazy day. Well, maybe it's just me that's been lazy. The last several weeks have been draining and fighting with this uncooperative internet connection isn't adding any energy to the coffer. After struggling with it for a few hours, I’m thinking there is only one way to handle this.
It’s time to take a nap!
I've had these video clips for a few weeks now, but haven't been able to edit them because of the internet issue. I've finally decided that I want to share them slightly more than I want to control the final product.
So, here goes.
My voice is really irritating (sorry) and would have been edited out if it weren't for the stubborn slowness of my connection, but maybe the cute kids will make up for that. I enjoyed watching them have fun.
The internet is one of those things that I don't really have to understand to use and appreciate. Like flipping on a light switch, the "magic" of cyberspace is something that I've grown accustomed to, though it does remain a complete mystery in many ways. A recent increase in internet subscribers in Atqasuk has turned our local service on its ear and I'm not exactly sure why. It has something to do with that mystery, but in this case it doesn't feel all that magical.
Checking email (or updating a blog) during peak hours is like waiting for cold syrup to pour. It's almost painful! So, when a window of opportunity presented itself tonight (for some reason the connection is fairly decent at the moment), I found myself a little unprepared. I've wanted to add to the "tour" of the village, but thought that I'd have to wait until 5 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday morning. That appears to be the optimal hour for tasks that require any speed, such as loading photos. But, here I am, faced with a speedy connection without a clue as to how to share what's been going on.
Many of you are aware that our little village lost two young men last week. It's been a difficult thing and, quite truthfully, I've felt more numb than anything else. Death isn't easy to deal with at any time, but senseless deaths seem even harder to accept. I don't want to handle lightly or insensitively the private pain of the families involved. But, at the same time, I don't think it makes sense to focus on the beauty of this place without at least acknowledging the harsh reality that exists alongside that beauty.
There is a danger in the darkness that has nothing to do with predators or frostbite. There are ways of being lost without ever leaving home. Like the snow that covers our corner of the world, sadness clings; it lingers. It changes the appearance of almost everything we see. My prayer is that the sadness covering Atqasuk will, like the snow, eventually loosen and melt away. If you are inclined to add the warmth of your prayers, I know this tiny community would be extremely grateful. Thanks.
It's gotten very late as I attempt to complete this posting. If I don't get descriptions added tonight, I may come back in a day or two (as the internet connection permits) and do a better job. Until then, please feel free to ask about anything you see.
Atqasuk Chapel...small in number...great in heart. :)
Meade River Store (left) and Atqasuk's post office (right).
The tan building on the right is the bus barn...center building (with lights) belongs to the borough and houses the water and waste disposal trucks. The building center-left is the police station...one officer on duty, shifts change every two weeks.
A few houses have continued to display Christmas lights.
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")