Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Please excuse the interruption, but we shot a moose!!

Only in bush Alaska does a successful morning hunting equal a school wide break.  Subsistence hunting and fishing takes priority over many things including spelling tests, because it's survival.  With no secretary in the school and very limited staff, the phone usually goes unanswered and interruptions are only made if absolutely necessary.  I guess I made the right decision this morning when I decided to pull our paraprofessional out of class to take a call from her husband regarding a moose he had just killed.  I was waiting for the call for my plane's arrival when I answered the phone and found myself as excited as the man on the other line as he humbly told me the news of his early morning hunt.  Within minutes the kids were piled in the school’s F150 heading to 3-star to celebrate a feat that meant meat for the winter.

It's not a huge moose, but it's still a moose!

Shortly after the moose excitement ends, my plane arrives to take me to Chignik Bay for the week.   The weather was perfect for flying and I was reminded of how lucky I am to have this opportunity and get paid for it.  I feel like I'm  learning and experiencing more than I'm teaching.

The scenry from the plane is amazing

Natural waterfall at Chignik Bay

Chignik Bay is a small remote fishing village tucked away on the coast, it sits between layers of old Scandinavian ways and Russian Aleut traditions, which is torn up against modern glories. Chignik is located at Anchorage Bay on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula roughly 450 miles southwest of Anchorage and 250 miles southwest of Kodiak Island. Chignik has a population of less then 100 people during the winter months.
Salmon fishing is typically from June through September. The most sought after is the red salmon, (sockeye). Commercial salmon fishing is the mainstay for the village, although cod and halibut and crab are caught in the waters, it's the red salmon that most fish for.   During the summer months it doesn't get dark till around 11 p.m. Sunrise is about 4 a.m. The beach is used mainly  for subsistence. Clam digging and octopus hunting are a favorite past-time when the tide is out. Berry picking is also another favorite subsistence activity.  I took lots of pictures on my hike tonight that I'll post next week along with some stories of my week here.

A little bow and arrow practice, not that I plan on shooting anything live, but it's a good skill to learn when your living in the wilderness.  The hood is to keep the bugs out of my face.  The mosquitos in Alaska don't bite nearly as bad as back east, but calm days with no wind, they are terrible and sometimes it's necessary to wear a head net.  Lucky for us we get very few days with no wind and after the first frost they'll die.

Linda, the head teacher in Perryville, has great aim and skill.  She also has a house on the Kenai Peninsula, where I look forward to spending spring break.  I hear there's lots of good surfing in Homer, which is about an hour drive...should be exciting surfing next to floating refrigerator size ice as it breaks up from the winter freeze.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A week in Perryville...home sweet home

View of the village from above the tsunami shelter.
This was a busy week with school visitors and meetings. The past two weeks I’ve been in my home village of Perryville, almost too long because the more I get settled in, the harder it is to leave. I’m usually gone from Tues. to Thurs, but I had several IEPs and other special ed tasks I had to attend to. I have students on my caseload in grades K-12, so many different situations arise when writing IEPs and adapting curriculum. Needless to say there’s never a dull moment. Most of my students are at the age where they are beginning to develop transition plans for life post-high school. This is a high interest area of mine and when I go back to school for my "third stripe", I intend to specialize in secondary transition services. Transition planning in Alaska is a whole different ball game than the lower 48. I’ve had to learn about the different agencies available to natives who are tribal enrolled. I’ve taken a crash course from the elders on commercial fishing since it’s a high interest job. In order for me to help the students plan for life beyond high school and experience a successful transition from school to life I must understand the lifestyle and what’s important to them. Being involved with the community and the students outside of school is the best way to do this. Life is much slower and simpler in the village. Not a lot of multi-tasking going on. Family is valued and rigid schedules are not.  Preparing for winter includes many hours of picking berries, cleaning and smoking fish, hunting moose, fishing and more fishing. It gets harder every year for people in the village to live the subsistence way of life, mainly because of the high cost of fuel.  It's a misconception the subsistence life doesn't include money.   Rural families use money in order to purchase basic goods and services: fuel oil and electricity for heat, light, and power; subsistence equipment like guns, ammunition, fishing nets, power motors, gasoline, rain gear, and so forth. Money is used to invest in the tools for hunting, fishing, and gathering.  In order to remain in the villages and maintain this way of life it's important for recent graduates to obtain employment outside of the village for part of the year.  This means attending vocational school or college in Anchorage or Fairbanks, which involves adjusting to a faster pace of life with many more people, cars, decisions, money, and of course cell phones.  Short urban experiences will be necessary for the students to learn skills to cope in this environment.  Working with other staff in the district to provide this will be an exciting project. The best part about being the only sped teacher in the south is that as long as I’m working in the district I’ll have the same kids on my caseload every year, which means being more effective and making a bigger difference in their lives.
A powerful statement from an elder in the village when I spoke with him about subsistence life:
“Subsistence defines us.We battle the elements and sometimes risk our life to get the foods we crave. It is not an easy life,but it is ours.”
A short hike behind the village there is a perfect place for spotting big game.  If only I had a skiff to explore the many rivers that are rarely, if at all, used by people.  The other 3 teachers and myself went in on buying a honda 350 rancho, which will be delivered on the barge in the next month or so.  This will allow us to cover more ground, set traps, hunt moose and escape bears, amongst other things.  We bought it off another teacher in the district and got a really good deal.
The mosses and lichens that cover the tundra are as soft and thick as new carpet.
More good times fishing with the kids, it's exciting when you discover the river with lots and lots of salmon swimming upstream
The fog looked really neat from afar, but made for limited visability on our boat ride home.
My excitement over the weekend included fishing and duck hunting with Andrew and some of the students. The results were dead ducks and some delicious duck soup and course many fish.  Andrew caught several more halibuts and gave me two, but informed me it was time for me to learn how to clean and fillet them. I’ll let you know how that goes next week, for now they're resting in the freezer. I’ve actually learned quite a few new skills and intend to acquire many more before the year is over. I’ve learned to make bread, granola bars, basic canning, and how to smoke fish. Linda, a veteran bush teacher, is going to show me how to sew mittens using beaver fur, which may sound easy, but my domestic skills end at washing dishes. I'll buy some fur at the local fur store when we're in King Salmon for October inservice.  We are planning on trapping this winter, my job will be setting the traps, I'm not going to check them or skin animals, that's where I draw the line.  We checked out the areas this weekend and even came upon an old trapper cabin.  I’m beginning to enjoy the slow pace of village life and adjusting well to no TV, no cell phones, and no starbucks. Alaska really is the last frontier, and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to experience it before humankind invades it.

A night for howling at the moon!
This is the view from behind the school, the pictures don't upload very good on this blog, but if you look closely in the middle you'll see the volcano spitting, it's very cool.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Building rapport with students through fishing...

Teaching in a small village has the benefit of getting to know your students outside of the classroom and forming a genuine rapport and relationship.  On Saturday we had the opportunity to do just that with a trip to Humpback Bay for fishing and a day in the sun.  About half of the school went and we got to meet a lot of the parents.  The kids loved teaching us all about the wilderness and fishing.  It was great for them to see me struggle and make mistakes, and it be ok.  I predict more learning will take place when we return to school.   Marvin, an elder in the village, and Captain Bill were our guides for the day.  They had just returned from a successful salmon fishing season, so everyone was in good spirits. 
One of many bald eagles.  They're such an amazing sight.
Loyd and Andrew (on the right), I imagine are busy swapping fish stories.  Andrew is the K-2 teacher and he's an avid outdoorsman.  He has a great sense of humor and the kids love him.  He's looking forward to shooting a moose this year.  He's very good at hunting and fishing, which is very important if you want to eat food other than ramen noodles!  I still have a lot to learn, so in the mean time I wash dishes or pack out meat in return for the daily catch! 
The snow continues to creep closer every day...can see the volcano spitting? 
Two of the students helping out on the deck.  One thing I noticed right away about the kids in the village is their work ethic.  It's quite different than kids in the lower 48.  They're much more self sufficient and willing to help out to get things done.  I believe it makes a difference that they're "unplugged" from cell phones, video games and internet.  Some have internet and video games, but not many and they are outside most of the time.  It makes teaching a lot easier, because your not competing with electronics. 
My first experience pulling crab pots was quite exciting.  I felt like I was on a miniture version of The Deadliest Catch!  It's very exhasuting and disappointing when the pots are empty.  All this work with fishing and being on the boat gave me a better appreciation for eating seafood and the subsitance way of life. 
One of many salmon caught that day, mine of course happened to be one of the smallest, but I'm slowly getting the hang of it.  I tend to get a little anxious and try reel them in right away, instead of letting them take some line and tire out.  We were fishing at the mouth of the river that emptied into the pacific, so it was a great spot for catching salmon, especially silvers, since they're running. I hooked several, but most got away, part of me is ok with that, because I am not fond of killing and cleaning the fish, but there's no whining in Alaska and if you catch it you clean it! 
These boys know how to stock the freezer for winter!
This is how it's done in Alaska!  Fresh crab and salmon, doesn't get any better than this.  One of the traditions is spreading seal grease on the salmon and then sprinkling with salt and pepper.  It's actaully very tasty.
The many steps of pulling a crab pot.  1. hook the line by the buoy before the boat runs it over and pull the rope over the wheel thing, 2. one person pulls and the other coils the rope 3. lift the heavy pot out of the water, 4. open the pot, remove the crab from their back legs to avoid being pinched and put in the holding tub, 5. add more bait, 6. in unison throw the crab pot back into the ocean.  Get ready to do it all over again. All this while listening to Captain Bill yell out the orders and remind you of how much of a wimp you are!  Good times 
Captain Bill's a great guy, very funny and taught us a lot.  He has some great fishing stories. 
We were all excited with the number of crab we got and were able to take as much home as we wanted.
These kids have no fear...Brandon up in the crows nest signaling it was a great day :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

weekly commute

A typical week for me includes traveling to a village from Monday until Thursday, except for the week I am home.  Pen Air or as we like to refer to them - When Air, because you never really know when you'll be picked up, is my transportation.  I didn't think I would have a hard time with flying, but it's much more intense than I anticipated.  It doesn't help when the pilot is busy spotting for bulls (caribou) as the plane is being tossed about by the high winds.  The air strip is nothing more than a piece of dirt and to me it always looks like we're going to land in the ocean or on top of houses.  The pilots are all very good, but when they tell you to prepare for a bumpy flight that means tighten your lap belt and hold on tight to the seat it's wise to listen!

Flying to Chignik Lake, sure beats sitting in traffic!....now if only we had a skiff to explore those islands

Treasure hunting at Bristol Bay in Port Heiden

8/28/09 sunset over the Bering Sea in Bristol Bay, Port Heiden.  High tide is incredible to watch, the strength of the rip current is unbelievable

8/29/09 Up at 5:00am to head to the beach to search for treasures left behind by the tide. To our disappointment the sun didn't rise until 6:30, a sign the days are getting shorter. It still amazes me how empty the beaches are, when everything is so beautiful, clean and untouched. Miles and miles of coastline to share with only the wildlife.

The sky after very high winds, the reason I didn't make it back to Perryville on Friday.  The plane made it to the pacific side of the peninsula, but winds were at 70mph so it was too dangerous to go south, so the pilot took me back to Port Heiden, where I stayed for the weekend. Had a great visit with Ronda and Jim.  It's kind of neat fishing and beachcombing with the principal!

Tossed, carried, pushed, and polished. Glass floats, a beachcomber’s most treasured find, are still thrown upon West Coast beaches after their long journeys across the sea.  Port Heiden happens to be a hot spot for finding them.  After 2 hours of walking the beach with no luck, we walked around the bend and like an easter egg hunt started finding them buried in the sand on the bank.

sunrise on the beach at Port Heiden.  Miles and miles of flat open beaches makes for exciting early mornings after high tide, would be ideal to have a quad to cover more ground.

Fishing for silvers...

looks like we weren't the only ones!