Sunday, October 18, 2009

Perryville... aka The Banana Belt of the Peninsula

A little clip from the shores of Perryville

It’s been over 10 days since my last blog entry and for good reasons. Knowing that winter is right around the corner, I’ve been taking advantage of the beautiful weather we’ve been having and spending my free time outdoors. Perryville is referred to as the banana belt of the peninsula. It’s been 50s-60s during the day and 40s at night, not too bad for Alaska. However, it does call for snow next week in King Salmon, where we’ll be for teacher inservice. School closes on Tuesday at 12:00 and all teachers and staff fly to King Salmon for a 3 day inservice. I imagine it costs quite a bit of money, because they have to pay for lodging, meals, and plane tickets, but It’s the only time we meet as a group. The excitement for the week includes eating and socializing at a restaurant and shopping. We’re also having a district wide “fun run” 5k on the beach, sponsored by the wellness committee.

Wellness is important to the school district. It makes sense to promote healthy lifestyles when health care services are very limited during the school year and if you don’t enjoy physical activity or at least walking, teaching in the bush would be a challenge. At the beginning of the year all staff received a pedometer and a LPSD Wellness team shirt. The pedometer measures steps and distances in miles. The recommendation is to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. A mile is approx. 2000 steps. It’s interesting to see how far you actually walk in a day. The purpose of the pedometer is to encourage daily exercise and we have challenges throughout the year. For example the last challenge was to see which site could walk/run the most steps in a week. Everyone recorded their steps for the week and then we calculated the average for school. The winner received a Pizza delivered by bush plane, great prize, but doesn’t quite fit into wellness!

10/6/09 leaving Perryville
On my way to Chignik Lake for the week... it was beautiful when I left, but soon after we had a fierce 3 day rain/wind storm that grounded the planes and kept me at the Lake until Sunday. 

Chignik Lake's mascot is a wolf and it sits in the lobby of the school.  It's a great reminder of what lurks outside in the wilderness and to be on the alert at all times.  The wolf population in Alaska is rather large and some believe they are the reason for the decrease in moose and caribou. 
There are only about 17 kids in the school and only 1 who receives special ed services, so I try to help out in other ways during my visit.  This week  I administered the high school exit exam and worked in small groups with students.  It's amazing the amount of learning that can take place with small numbers.  Most of the students at the Lake are involved in commercial fishing and have goals to continue that after high school.  Basketball is also very popular here, as it is in all of the villages.  Most schools have open gym from 6-9 and the community is welcome.  Since recreation choices are limited during the winter, just about everyone plays, and kids from a very young age are talented.  Even though I play with middle schoolers, I'm enjoying it and I'm actually quite fast and aggressive. 

Working hard to get the boats out of the water during the storm.  This picture doesn't give a good description of what it was really like.  The wind gusts were up to 70mph in some areas probably 50 where we were and the rain was relentless.
Being stuck at the Lake gave me lots of extra time to finish up the wedding gift I've been working on for my cousin, Meghan and her new husband, Greg...sure wish I could've have been there, but lots of time to fit in a visit this summer.  I'm thinking shipping the gift is not such a good idea, considering it's breakable and the halloween candy dish my mom sent arrived in several pieces...anyways
Congratulations Meghan and Greg!! : )

Chignik Lake is a beautiful Lake, cysrtal clear water and lots of salmon run in the rivers, even in October.  Having a skiff gives you the freedom to go to Chignik Lagoon and Chignik Bay.  A lot of people go to the Bay to get on the ferry to go to Homer and then drive to Anchorage, which is a lot cheaper than flying. It's only about $100 compared to $900+  round trip flight.  During the summer months until the end of October the ferry runs up and down the Peninsula all the way to Dutch Harbor and back to Homer.  You can actually take the ferry all the way up from Seattle.  It's also a cheap way to transport an ATV.

Finally made it home to Perryville, where I was greeted off the plane by 2 new friends.  They are loving their first milk bones, which are probably a little big for puppies, but village dogs aren't picky.

Pretty soon they'll be ready for their first beach run and begin basic bear guarding for dogs!

The kids caught a King Salmon off the beach and brought it to the school.  Dinner is served!  It's pretty amazing that I have a full freezer packed with halibut, salmon, crab, and berries.  Who would have thought I'd be eating healthier in Bush Alaska.  I guess it's easier because there's no Giant Eagle aka "dirty bird" or fast food to use as a resource.  Instead, you have the choice of nature or paying outrageous prices for online groceries that takes up to 3-4 weeks to deliver.  I prefer the latter.  Also, twice a month Full Circle Farms delivers a box of fresh fruit and vegtables.  Everything is organic and fresh when we get it, because we pay for special shipping and it's shipped the day it's picked.  I haven't had to order anything online since I've been here... it helps that mom sends good treats!

10/18/09... Hike around 3-Star

As I'm beginning my normal Sunday evening routine, which involves packing a suitcase and organizing paperwork for the week, 3 of the kids in the village stop by and ask if I want to go for a hike around 3-star. Anything to get out doing boring Sunday chores and how could I say "no" when the sun's out.  So we all pile on 1 honda and cruise down the beach to 3-star.  I know I'm getting old, when I have to remind them to slow down and I opt to walk up the big hill, rather than risk falling off the back of the honda!  We all arrive safely at the bottom of the trail and begin our slow climb... I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it was no leisurely Sunday hike that's for sure!

Don't look down!! Too late to turn back so, I slowly begin the long slow climb down the mountain.

Careful!!! I must have said that a thousand times, it was a steep descent! To be a kid again with no fear...

A beautiful ending to a perfect sunday in the bush. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bears, Bears and more Bears

Early morning hike to the Kametolook River for some fishing and scouting for animal trails.  Although we only planned on being gone for a few hours, we had to pack for days. In Alaska, When you venture into the wild you never know what or who you'll run into!  I had 4 layers of clothes on, a fishing pole, spinners, multi-tool, extra socks, water, pb packet, bug spray, camera, bear spray and a compass.  A lot of preparation goes into a simple hike... but we had a good time, caught some silvers, found otter, fox, and moose tracks, and of course lots of bear tracks headed towards the village...not such a good thing.

My camp Kon-O-Kwee skills are coming in handy.  Picture of the school in the background.  It's out of place compared to the rest of the village and it's big for 23 students.  No shortage of desks or books here.

The waterfalls at Chignik Bay creates the feeling of being on a tropical island.  At least until the wind starts howling and the snow is blowing.  The first snow fell on the mountains when I was there.  It's a reminder of what lies ahead.

Chignik Bay

One of my running buddies who also acts as my bear guard.  Even though bears are much larger than dogs, they usually avoid them.  So, when I go for my runs I take a few of the village dogs with me and in return they get milk bones, which is a luxury in the village.

The ever changing weather produces beautiful rainbows.

Having the Honda will make a huge difference in the amount of ground we can cover.  Hopefully it'll be on the barge, which is expected to arrive next week.  Oh the places we will go!


It’s hard to believe it’s already October.  The year is going by fast and I still have so much to learn!  I’m proud to say that I’ve acquired the skill of cleaning and filleting fish and my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, and crab.   I’m currently learning about trapping animals and tanning the hides.  This weekend Andrew and I went for a hike to scout for animal trails and tracks.  We climbed quite a ways up a mountain and had a great view of both sides.  We found an area where foxes and wolves might run and ponds where otters will cross.  As we were enjoying the view we spotted a big brown bear, about 9ft 900lbs, walking away from the village.  Since he appeared to be taking our path, we decided to change course to avoid a confrontation.  Andrew carries a 44 magnum, so I felt pretty safe.  However, a bear is still dangerous after it has been shot, so the hike back to the village was a little nerve wrecking, but exciting. We made it back with no bear encounters.

There has been an unusual increase in bears in the village lately.  The natives believe it’s because the salmon runs were all late this year, the rivers are high, and the berries were not as plentiful as usual, which results in hungry bears.   This causes them to come closer to the coast looking for fish. From the beach they can smell the smoke houses and banos, which brings them into the village.  In the village they find food in the dump and destroy smoke houses to get to fish and dried meat.  At this point they are labeled problem bears and often must be shot for everyone’s safety.  Last night there was a bear lurking around our neighbor’s house at about 2:00am.  When he went to investigate the noise outside, he was greeted by mother bear and her cub in the window!  He shot his gun to scare her, but she didn’t move, so he had to call for back up.  Thankfully, she decided to look elsewhere for food.  Just tonight another bear incident occurred behind teacher housing with a fatal ending of two bears shot and one injured…so now the hunt is on at 10:30 at night for the injured bear.  The dogs are barking and most of the village will be up until the bear is found.  An injured, angry bear is more dangerous than a hungry one…. Stay tuned!

View from the mountain we climbed on our hike.  The Eagle below provided entertainment as we observed him looking for prey and fixing his huge nest.

I got lucky this week with my transportation and Billy was my pilot.  He is one of the best bush pilots in Alaska.    The plane in the picture above is referred to as the caravan and does much better in windy conditions than the smaller planes that only seat 3 people.

week of 9/28/09
King Salmon has pine trees!.. and more fall colors than the southern peninsula.

This past week I was in King Salmon for special education training.  Our school district has an audit this year, so we need to make sure all of our files and paperwork are in order.  Oh the joys of special education.  We spent 3 days on procedures and Federal and State law pertaining to special education services and IEPs.  In my opinion there needs to be a separate “set of rules” for Bush Alaska.  For one, the transition plan requirements include: students having a part time job, taking classes in their field of interest, visiting post secondary schools, etc.  This is difficult to implement in small villages where resources are limited.  Many students plan on working and living in the village after graduation and who am I to try and convince them otherwise.  Its one thing to present students with options and encourage them to continue with school or seek employment outside the village, but it’s another to push western society and lifestyle on them as the only option.  A huge part of the Aleut, Indian, and Eskimo cultures have been tainted by the "white man’s" culture.  Things such as store bought food, soda, alcohol, and motorized vehicles are a few examples of things brought into villages that have altered the way of life.  Village English is considered a second language.  However, it never use to be, so there’s an over representation of children identified as having a speech and language impairment.  In fact since I’ve been here I’ve worked with the Speech and Language Pathologist to exit 4 students from special education who were found eligible by a speech impairment when really it was related to their culture.
 I'm learning the importance of being a culturally responsive teacher and I'm able to use many of the strategies I used when working in california with hispanic students.  As much as I enjoyed growing up in western PA, I'm glad I ventured away to experience this great world we live in.

Bear season opened 10/1, so there are lots of hunters in the surrounding villages.  Some pay as much as $16000 for a 10 day hunt!  I personally do not like the bears being shot, I think they're beautiful and amazing animals to watch.  Most hunters don't eat the meat, and only keep the fur... stay tuned for some pictures of the hunter's kill