Saturday, November 20, 2010

You Snooze....You Lose

Last night I was exhausted.

I don't think I've ever thanked God for a Friday with more heartfelt gratitude. Juggling girl's conditioning sessions, GED instruction, and managing the student store alongside regular teacherly responsibilities has my brain and body reeling. When my head finally hit the pillow I was, as they say, dead to the world.

Most nights, that would be just fine, but just a few minutes ago I trekked over to the post office and discovered that my much-needed snooze session came with a price. Apparently, there was a polar bear in town and it was actually right outside my window!

Being dead to the world, I had no clue.

This is my ninth school year in this village. In that time, this is maybe the fourth polar bear that has ventured down from the coast. However, it is the first time that one has wandered among the houses. I heard from neighbors that the outside dogs didn't even bark (smart dogs...they know when to keep a low profile). No one knew the bear was there until one poor teenage girl, walking all alone, rounded a building and found herself face-to-face with what could have been her worst nightmare....only yards away.

Don't worry. The quick-thinking girl jumped into a nearby house immediately. She's fine, though understandably shaken. I heard that the bear was walking toward her as she scrambled into the building. I shudder to think what would have happened if one of our little ones had been in the same position. Would they have had the presence of mind to get away or would they have just stood there gaping or crying, frozen in terror?

Hopefully, we'll never have to learn the answer to that question, but there are murmurings that this bear was not alone (two more sets of tracks have been found), so it's a concern.

Polar bears are not easy for me to write about. On one hand, they are magnificent animals that fill me with curiosity and admiration. I would have been thrilled to see a polar bear sniffing around my window! I think most people feel the same way. I was completely mesmerized by the video about Klondike and Snow (the polar bear cubs that were raised at the Denver Zoo years ago) and I am envious of those who live in the coastal villages where bear watching is commonplace.

Unfortunately, when you live in the Arctic, there is always the other hand to think about. In spite of all the movies and commercials and photographs-in-emails that depict bears as cute, cuddly, fun-loving creatures...or even aloof, independent ones...the bottom line is that they are wild animals with no sense of right or wrong or sentimentality beyond survival. A hungry, wandering bear might prefer to eat fish or a seal, but if there doesn't happen to be any fish or seals around at the moment...a defenseless dog or even a person would certainly be fair game.

That leaves me with very mixed feelings...especially now that one has crossed the line.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finally!

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After weeks of waiting and whining, we finally got a little snow. For the last three or four days, my morning walk to school has been a little crunchier, a little whiter, and I'm loving it! Even the lake and river are showing signs of freeze-up. Maybe fall ice fishing will commence on time after all.

Another long-awaited event (at least for me) occurred just last night. The clouds finally parted momentarily and I was able to catch a brief glimpse of Jupiter and its moons! I wasn't sure I'd be able to see anything. I don't have a powerful telescope at my disposal, but I do have some nifty (and gargantuan) binoculars.

My astro-binos in moonlight.

Jupiter was easy enough to see with the naked eye, but I could only see the moons through my binoculars and (surprisingly) through my camera.

Catching sight of this very cool cluster made the cold legs and frozen fingers completely worth it!

Wind from the WSW (250 degrees) at 13 MPH (11 KT)
Visibility 10 mile(s)
Sky conditions mostly clear
Temperature 19.0 F (-7.2 C)
Windchill 6 F (-14 C)
Dew Point 17.1 F (-8.3 C)
Relative Humidity 91%

Jupiter...barely there.

I know this is not impressive photography. I wasn't really expecting to get great pictures, but I thought it couldn't hurt to try.

I had no tripod and just set my Sony DSC-H50 on ISO. I know there are probably settings that I could have used to get better photos, but I am admitting complete ignorance here. I have not read my owner's manual and have not experimented with settings much.

And still, my little camera does the best it can do under the circumstances. (Great little camera that it is).

This was the best shot I could get without a tripod (I held my breath a lot).

Jupiter and moons (the best my camera can do).

And this is a cropped view of the same shot. It's not pretty, I know, but it (not-so-clearly) shows Jupiter with two moons on the right and one on the far left. I think I saw three moons on the right through my binos, but I can't be completely sure because...well...I'm fairly ignorant of astronomy too.

Jupiter and moons (cropped photo).

I'm still happy. I saw Jupiter...and it's moons....more than I've ever seen before.

And there's fresh snow on the ground!

Life is good.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wet

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Even today, a glorious, blue-sky morning bursting with sunshine and windswept clouds tinged pink and gold, the first morning in over a month possessing the faintest hint of fall, even today the air is thick and heavy and wet.

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It is yet another in a long string of days laden with the bane of my existence, one hundred percent humidity. As I walk to school each morning, I feel the oppressive weight of it as I breathe in and out. It clings to my skin and clothes and every other available surface. I won’t even mention what a snarling tangle it makes of my hair.

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There should be frost on the berries, but instead they’re just wet, wet, wet. Everything is wet and dripping and has been for weeks. September usually brings our first substantial snowfall. Sometimes it melts away, but more often it remains, white powder piled up on fresh sheaths of ice skinning the surfaces of ponds and lakes and eventually the river...just the way I like it.

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I know this isn’t much to complain about while Southern regions are still scorching (and plenty humid as well), but…this just isn’t right. It’s not the Arctic autumn that I know and love.

Students have been asking, “Man, when’s it ever gonna get cold?”

I shrug sympathetically and admit that I’m wondering the same thing. I remind them that break-up came late this year, that the river ice didn’t go out until the middle of June and most of the summer was cloudy and cold. August brought lots of rain ensuring muddy boots and juicy berries. The seasons seem to have shifted a bit, abandoning the predictable timing of things that some of us so obviously crave.

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September’s chill usually brings dryness. Humidity, trapped as frost or snow, crunches underfoot and leaves the air so fresh and crisp that it seems to snap. It’s something I look forward to—a lot. This year is just different. For now, first frost is still an elusive prospect as we wade through day after day of thick humid air...

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...and more wet.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Buoyed by Breeze



It's already the last day of July!

How can that be?

Where did all the sand at the top of my vacation hour glass go?

Somehow spring slipped into summer, yet the transition never made it to my blog. I've got some serious catching up to do! And today I'll take the first step.

The first half of July was relatively cool with average temps in the forties...my kind of weather! But over the last couple of weeks, the Buggy Side has seriously lived up to its name.

It's been buggy and muggy and way too warm with nary a breeze to rustle even the most delicate sliver of grass. That lack of wind is significant because, without a stirring of at least 10 mph, mosquitoes become relentless. I have reluctantly been spending a lot of my time indoors.

But today wild winds from the West have energized the village!

Children are running around like parka squirrels, happy to be bug-free and cool. People are smiling as they scurry here and there on foot or four wheeler. The lake water is choppy with white caps breaking toward the shore. Little fluffs of arctic cotton float on the air, building up here and there, like summertime drifts of snow.

I walked into the post office earlier today, happy to be out, even ecstatic to be swayed by 36 mph gusts. The first thing the clerk said to me was, "Thank goodness we finally got some wind!"

At least for today, there is a lightness afoot, a reprieve, a respite from the sticky, sweaty, suffocating stillness of the last two wearing weeks.

Of course, that crazy wind is kicking up sand which stings the skin, irritates the eyes, and fills the nose and mouth with an unpleasant grit.

But, for today, I'm completely satisfied with the trade.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cold War

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The transition from autumn to winter is a gradual, practically graceful, thing. Like two old friends on a quiet walk, no matter how much fun they have conversing, the time for parting ways inevitably comes. Winter winds up. Autumn falls silently away. The seasonal shift is gentle, barely noticeable.

But...the springtime changing of the guard tends to be characterized by a very different tone. Unwilling to relinquish control, Winter’s grip is strong, but Spring is youthful and wages a ferocious battle of its own.

With snarling teeth, it devours Winter's hold bite after bite...

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...while the Sun aides the arrogant upstart with pounding rays both day and night.

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Still, Winter’s allies, Wind and Cold, keep the old one in the fight.

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But in the end, things never change....

Winter's loss is Spring's delight.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Babies On Board



I flew to Barrow last week.

It was just for the day…out on the morning flight…back in the afternoon.

I said good-bye to a friend and hello to some much-needed groceries. It was a short trip, but a great day. Chinese food for lunch with a much-loved friend and a full fridge when I get home…how much better can it get?

While waiting for the flight back to Atqasuk, I was steadily entertained by the antics of two toddlers soon to be passengers on the same flight.





Bush planes provide passenger and freight transport, but not much else. There are no attendants distributing magazines or snacks; there is no in-flight movie to pass the time.

But…there is always the window.



And sometimes passengers put on a show without even trying.



I lucked out, having babies on board, because the passenger strapped in next to me was rather short on conversation.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Snow Bath of a Different Kind



So...

I'd just finished observing the snow bunting giving itself a snow bath (previous post). I walked through the school to the front deck. It was a glorious day and the front deck of the school offers a great eastern view of the tundra. There are caribou out there...if only I had the lens to prove it!

Anyway, as I stood there, camera in hand, breathing in the fresh, frosty air I heard the slow scraping sound of a sled on the icy road below. Sure enough, a sweet pair come into view. A devoted young mommy and her extremely curious three-year-old son are enjoying a peaceful stroll in the bright spring sunshine.

It made me sigh inside to witness such a wholly unspoiled scene painted upon a canvas of pure white, simple and clean.



Then...

BAM!

Teenagers tumble into view.

And a snow bath...of a different kind...ensues!



Pounce...



Bounce...



Denounce...



Flounce!

No preening or cleaning with this snow bath, but there were plenty of ruffled feathers!

And you'll notice the little guy observed it all...significantly out of reach.

Me too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Snow Bath!



While my southern friends are already contending with heat in the 90s and humidity that melts the body away from the soul, in Atqasuk we are experiencing breezes of 16-24 mph and windchills as low as -11F. If Forrest Gump had jogged this far north, I feel certain that he would have said, "Arctic springtime is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get."

And he'd be exactly right.

As I look out my window, every day brings something different. Today, swirling snow is gathering up in puffy piles on the window sill and lightly dusting the crusty shell that has formed over our still-frozen ground. Other days (as above) the air is cold, but the sky is clear. Sunshine toasts the rooftops and warms the surface of the snow so that treading upon it produces a little crunch.

On the edge of my roof, just outside my window, a lone snowbird is staging a concert...totally free...for anyone who will listen. I have to smile as he puffs his chest and belts out his lively tune. It's better than any lullaby (or alarm clock) I know.



Aside from ravens, snow buntings are the first birds to return to the North Slope in spring. After months (and months) of silence across the tundra, the song of the snowbird is a welcome sign that break-up is on its way.

Though I've been waking to the cheerful sound of snow buntings for several weeks, the first one that I actually spotted was on a rooftop behind the school. He was too far away for really nice photos, but watching him vigorously enjoying his snow bath was a special treat that made me smile all the way home.



Preen...



Clean...



Pristine!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

You might be a bush Alaskan if...




Living hundreds of miles away from a clothing store, most of mine are purchased over the internet.

Long live Amazon.com and all of its cousins!

Being able to buy clothes online is a blessing and it's usually a relatively easy process, but...pants are a problem.

Invariably, I choose items that are just wrong for one reason or another. It doesn't matter that I know my size. Even if I order the same brand and same size...something is always...hinky. And returning is a real pain-in-the-neck. I've done it, but don't like it much. There is a hefty stack of ill-fitting jeans in my closet to illustrate the point.

So...shirts I've got.

Socks are plentiful.

But, at this moment in time, I am pants-poor in the worst way.

I have put off buying pants until I can get down to Fairbanks or some other such city with actual dressing rooms and garments that I can touch and try on for myself. What luxury awaits!

Last year, I didn't get down to Fairbanks and what's left of my "trouser-wear" is on its last leg...uh..so to speak.

Last night, I was up late patching holes in my khaki-colored jeans by hand.

Now, it's embarrassing enough to admit that my clothes are so worn that I have to patch them. I'm not a little kid, after all. I haven't exactly been climbing trees or sliding into second base. I have no idea how I've managed to reduce heavy denim to thread-bare rags, but what's even more embarrassing is that I didn't have any actual patches, so I had to make some out of an old kitchen towel.

Yes, I said kitchen towel.

Yes, there were images of roosters printed all over it, but I did take care to place the patches on the inside where the roosters wouldn't show. At least, I don't think they show.

It was late, I was tired, and the lighting in the room was dim. Sewing by hand was slow and tedious, but by the time I finished up the last patch, I was feeling a little proud of myself for saving those raggedy khakis.

I felt rather resourceful.

Practically handy.

And I had to smile at the notion that my little patching job was a very "bush Alaskan" thing to do.

Even if it didn't involve any duct tape.

Sometimes I think being Alaskan has as much to do with the state of a person's mind as the state in their address.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ch-Ch-Changes

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Until this weekend, springtime has been a reality (pretty much) in name only.

Then... yesterday ambient temperatures shot from -20F to +1F above zero. I thought that was really something, but this morning I opened the door and was slapped in the face with a major blast of warm air sporting +28F degrees!

Now, I know that doesn't sound very warm, but after months and months of subzero temperatures, twenty-eight degrees above zero is practically toasty.

And signs of spring are finally creeping into view.

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Very nice.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Testing Terror Turns Tasty!



This has been one loooooooong week of state proficiency testing.

Practice tests, official tests, make-up tests...they're all done and should be packed up and on a plane as I type.

Thank goodness!

After such a week as this, ice cream makes perfect sense, even when it's still -6 degrees outside.



What an excellent way to celebrate and soothe those testing jitters!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Joy of K-12 Schools

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There are challenges associated with meeting the educational needs of diverse students regardless of the setting. Having experience as a student, as well as a teacher, in both rural K-12 schools and larger metropolitan schools, I know there are pros and cons on either side of the equation.

But on days like these...

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...I really enjoy being in a rural K-12 school. Kids of all ages participate right alongside each other. No one is too cool to have a good time (not even teachers).

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As a part of our celebration of the Inupiat Value of Humor, our Inupiat teacher planned a few fun cultural games. The photos above and the video below highlight a traditional (and challenging) activity intended to strengthen ice walking skills.

Though this is an inland village and seal hunting is not common here, this is still a coastal culture and one never knows when such a skill might come in handy.

From what I hear, the cans we used on this day were much larger than the soup cans used by previous generations, but I guess you've got to start somewhere and these guys did pretty well!

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We also played a game called Akuu, Akuu. This activity is sort of a combination of Red Rover and Simon Says with a little Inupiat flare thrown in. Instead of holding hands, teams take turns calling across to one another, asking for particular players to come over, performing or acting out a certain character.

For example, the student team called out, "Akuu, Akuu. Send Lindsay over like a walrus." Then sixth grade teacher, Lindsay, had to cross the gym to the student side, acting like a walrus.

Oh, yeah.

I forgot to explain that participants aren't allowed to smile or laugh as they cross the gym acting like who-knows-what and the opposing team does whatever they can to make them laugh--of course.

If successful, Lindsay wins the towel for her team (and she was). If she's not, like if she cracks up (which she didn't), then she remains with the opposing team.

Students are much stricter about the smile thing than the teachers are. Teachers seem to be conditioned to reward good effort and often bend the rules in favor of the other team.

Students have no such compulsion.

In a final push for victory over the teachers, the student team called out for Neal, our third grade teacher, to come over "doing The Worm." If you aren't familiar with this particular dance move (and I use that term loosely), here is a demonstration performed by one of my students.

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And here is Neal, God bless him, who cannot do The Worm, but he does something that I think is much better. At least, it's a lot funnier. I don't know if this will be as hilarious when you don't know the people involved, but I've watched it over and over and it still cracks me up.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Dark Side of Sunlight

At the bottom of the slide...

There is nothing more effervescent than springtime sunshine across the tundra!

With daylight hours stretching well beyond ten o'clock in recent days, children of all ages find making hay much more appealing than hitting it.

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In other words, there's no time like springtime for staying out late and soaking up rays...even if it drives your parents and teachers crazy!

Cool ride...

Yet, however strange it might sound, all that sunshine does have a dark side.

While it splashes itself across the seamless white tundra and packs a visual wallop that demands protective eyewear, sunlight (this time of year) doesn't actually carry that much warmth.

It slyly disguises still-frigid temperatures with its flashy smile and those who are fooled by its brightness often pay a hefty price.



It's still cold.

And no one knows that better than this fifteen-year-old girl who made the mistake of riding a skidoo wearing only warm-up pants instead of insulated snow pants.

Her frostbite wound was painful at first, but is healing well.

Lesson learned...I hope.