Saturday, October 31, 2009

What a Sweet Day!

October 31, 2009

This has been an exceptionally nice day.

It began quite uncharacteristically. I woke up early and still felt great! I can't explain it. There was no good reason for it. It just happened. In spite of staying up late and not feeling well for the past week, there it was. I was awake at 6:25 a.m., without the aid of an alarm clock and didn't feel like I'd been hit by a truck or was being sucked down a gigantic drain.


Is this how morning people feel every day?

My dog wasn't prepared for the early start (he's not a morning person either) and continued to snooze on his bed while I made my favorite scrambled omelet, read, checked my email, and had time to do a leisurely catch-up on almost every blog that I enjoy, including a few new ones that I had never seen before.

That was huge!

It was still dark outside. Only a house or two showed signs of life. No snow machines or four-wheelers buzzing here or there. No dogs barking or kids yelling. Nothing. Just quiet and stillness and the soft glow of streetlights on freshly fallen snow.

Not long after lunch, there came an intermittent pounding on the doors of the four-plex where I live.

Trick-or-Treaters? Already? In the middle of the day?


Trick-or-Treat 2009

Trick-or-Treat 2009

One after another, they kept on coming, some unknown force drawing them away from the warmth of their homes toward hands full of chocolate and Sweet Tarts and bubble gum and toys.

Trick-or-Treat 2009

Trick-or-Treat 2009

Eventually, I realized that this is the first Halloween that I've spent in this village that didn't fall on a school day. Even when Halloween fell on Saturday, we had Saturday school, so most of our kids are accustomed to trick-or-treating almost immediately after school. Without the confinement of school, they were free to get an early start.

And they did!

One after another, they showed up on my door step with faces sweeter than the candy in their bags.

Trick-or-Treat 2009

And tonight is Puuqtaluk!

But that's another story.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009



We've had blowing snow all day and it's still going strong. Drifts of snow, piles of snow, whirling, swirling flurries of snow, all creating slippery slopes perfect for sliders of all sizes.


This is how fall is supposed to be! Frost is nice, even beautiful, but just not that much fun.

I've already heard the growl and whine of snow machines around the village. Rescued from no-snow limbo, they are free, free, freeeeee!

I guess my motor is pretty revved up too, huh?

Happy, happy, happy! I am a cold weather person!

I'm not sure, but I think the duck might even agree.

October 21st

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This is October?

Frozen Pond in October

On Friday afternoon, one of the young men in my Literature class looked out the window of our classroom and sighed, "I think we might have a brown winter."

I sighed as well and had to admit that I'd been having similar thoughts. Then we comforted each other by agreeing that certainly we'd get more snow soon, but with three snow falls come and gone, it didn't look hopeful.

The river and lake have frozen over and ice fishing has commenced, but temperatures in the mid-thirties have stolen our snow at least three times since September. One morning last week, the ground was covered with a thick layer of very slippery ice, but no snow.

Then today it snowed again, a nice thick layer, and everything looks clean and white, at least for the moment.

Many of you have asked for more information about Wanda and her progress. I haven't asked her many questions because I know she's fielded quite a few since her return, but I don't think she'd mind me giving a short update.

On the day she was rescued, Wanda was first taken to our clinic here in the village and then boarded a flight to Barrow. The hospital there checked her out and treated her feet which were suffering from 1st/2nd degree frostbite. A few days ago, she was able to return home where she is resting and healing.

At least I hope she's resting!

She didn't require surgery on her feet, but it is still painful for her to walk. Also, her fingertips are numb. Both of these are conditions that she should be able to overcome. It's just going to take some time.

I do want to thank all of you who have thought good thoughts or said prayers for her. I know she appreciates it, as do I.

And, again, I can't say enough to commend our search and rescue volunteers. They worked round the clock for five days and nights. They are a credit to this village!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Surviving Story

I write this with trembling hands, unsure of where to begin or what to say. This is what I know.

Saturday morning our school secretary (also the mother of several of our students) packed up her sled and four-wheeler and left for a day of caribou hunting. Fall and spring are prime hunting seasons in this area and Wanda is a caribou hunter.

Wanda was taught to hunt by her father. She is an excellent shot and seldom comes home empty-handed. As a single mother, she has continued to hunt, fish, and gather subsistence foods, teaching her own children similar skills. This is what the Inupiat do. This is their way. Six days ago, Wanda began an ordinary journey that ended today with an extraordinary outcome.

She survived.

Late Saturday night, into the earliest morning hours of Sunday, one of Wanda's daughters realized that her mom should be home...and wasn't. Notifying our local search and rescue unit set an enormous effort in motion. And across the village telephone lines burned an incredible and frightening fact.

Wanda was missing.

I won't try to relay the distress that a thing like this produces. The search and rescue team, mostly unpaid volunteers, spent five nights and five days tirelessly scouring the tundra over-land while a chopper and rescue plane searched from above. A grid was mapped out, evidence was analyzed, prayers were prayed, and tears were shed.

Everyone knew all too well how the story could end. Five nights alone on the tundra, braving temperatures in the low twenties with 20-40 mile-per-hour winds seemed like too much to bear. But no one was willing to underestimate the power of a miracle or the strength of a determined Inupiat woman armed with survival skills and fueled by a will to live...for herself as well as for her children.

Yet, after so many days without a trace, brave faces were beginning to weaken. Eyes glazed over as fatigue and fear of the worst crowded in. Rumors proliferated causing spirits to soar then quickly crash against the harsh reality of truth. People of the North are not strangers to this. They have lived for centuries with the vicious bite of the elements at their heels. Death is a part of life, but not knowing is an added burden that no one can be prepared for.

Where is the line between delusion and hope? And who has the right to draw it?

Thankfully, Wanda's family and this community won't have to answer that question after all. This afternoon Wanda was found, not only alive, but in good shape. She was exhausted, sore, wind-burned, possibly a little dehydrated, but conscious and talking and walking on her own two feet.

Her survival skills had served her well and left her with a story to tell. This is what the Inupiat do. This is their way...but I'm not sure anyone expected such a powerful and beautiful end to this particular tale.

This is a surviving story. One that was lost has made her way home.

And for that...we are all incredibly grateful.