Friday, November 20, 2009

The First Snow on the Peninsula

Week of 11/2 was the calm before the storm.  I had a great visit to Chignik Lake where, as you can see, the snow continues to creep closer to the village.  However it's another week until it actually arrives.  While at the Lake I learned that it's possible to take the snow machines to the Lagoon and the Bay when the rivers and ground are frozen.  Usually the only way is buy boat or plane.  Lately, school at the Lake has been quiet.  Several families are in Anchorage for medical appointments that can't be handled at the community clinic or to visit family.  Due to the small class sizes I was able to spend my time in the classroom working with 1 to 2 students at a time.  What a relaxing and productive week with students. The extra time I have with the students on my caseload is wonderful for teaching them about their Individualized Educational Program (IEP) and involving them more in the development.  I'm currently working with one of the high school students to present the goals he helped create at his next meeting and have him talk about his progress on previous goals.  This is something I wouldn't have time to do in a large school.

I'm still learning about the weather patterns on peninsula, which can change in a 24 hour period.  When I began my walk there was little wind and the temperature was mild.  However, on my way home I ran into 40+mph wind gusts and dropping temperatures.  I was a good 6 miles out.  At one point it was so windy, that I thought of waiting in the ditch for someone to find me, but then I realized there was no one around to look for me, so I got up and kept walking.


Week of 11/9
School visits take me to the Bering Sea side of the Peninsula to Pilot Point and Port Heiden


The weekend of 11/13 brought us our first snowstorm and it was howling out.  It was amazing how much snow was on the ground Saturday morning and the storm roared on all weekend.  Port Heiden is the home of some of the best beach combing, which includes glass balls.  Ronda, Jim, and I did not let a snowstorm get in the way of our treasure hunt.  Despite the snow covered beaches and wind gusts reaching 50+mph we found several glass balls and a fossil of a walrus tusk.


Both days we battled the storm with success, but on Sunday mother nature won.  We chose the beach near north river, which is a good 30 minute ride on the Honda, but one of the best locations for finding glass balls.  Our day began with the usual bundling up in winter gear and cramming on the the Honda.  As we got closer to the beach we knew the storm was picking up, because we had little visibility and our eyes were freezing shut from the strong winds and dropping temperatures.  Once on the beach we found one glass ball and an angry ocean pounding the shores with fierce waves.  It was hard to tell if the tide was going out or coming in and we didn't plan on sticking around to find out.  So no sooner did we arrive and it was time to head home.  About 5 miles from home the Honda dies.  It must have been from the snow blowing on the carburetor and freezing the gas.  So our only choice was to walk.  At this point my feet and hands were frozen, because I use store bought gloves and boots rather than animal skins.  The wind gusts are so strong that they literally blow you off your feet and it's impossible to see more than a foot in front of you.  Ronda and I ran ahead to keep warm, but Jim soon called us back reminding us of dangers of getting lost in a blizzard.  Lucky for us we made it to the airstrip and someone was there working in the garage, so we went in and called Joe at the school to pick us up.  It never felt so good to be inside.  We found warmth, but we needed to go back and get the Honda. We took the truck and somehow between the three of us lifted the quad onto the bed and drove home safely.  Always an adventure in Alaska.

One of the best parts about our trips to the beach was the wildlife we encountered.  This included a sea otter, who we hope found his mother and a herd of caribou that I chose to enjoy instead of fumbling for my camera to take pictures.


One of my walks at Pilot Point took me to an old abandon cannery.
The deteriorating Alaska Packers Cannery, built in 1891 at Pilot Point, is one of the few original cannery sites still capable of being saved. Contamination concerns must be resolved before the City of Pilot Point and the Pilot Point Tribal Council can continue with plans to convert at least some of the buildings into a hostel for a summer youth camp, a museum, a visitor's center, and a community metalsmithing and woodworking shop 





My first flight since the first snow included a gorgeous view and sunny skies.  It's interesting how different the weather is on the pacific side compared to the Bering Sea side.  In fact, Perryville felt like a heat wave with 45 degree temperatures and beaming sunshine.  The day I got home I went for a run with a t-shirt and running pants.


On my way to Chignik Bay for the week
11/17 to 11/20


One of the best parts of teaching in a small community with a school of 18 students is the freedom from rigid schedules and rules.  A lot of instructional time is saved by eliminating time spent on tedious tasks such attendance, following a bell schedule, standing in line at the copier, planning to keep up with pacing guides, etc etc,  This leaves extra time to take advantage of teachable moments.  Such as the one that took place on Thursday afternoon. The high school class was finishing up a study session in my favorite subject, math (haha) As we moved into Science the topic of the water reservoir came up and since I've never been up there and the sun was out, wind was calm it only made sense to leave school early and make the long hike to the top of one of the mountains to check it out.  No permission slips needed, just go home and get your winter gear on and meet back in 10 minutes!

Shak and Ebony joined us on the hike.  Both dogs loved it and were often runining ahead of us.  Ebony has an obsession with fetching rocks.  She picks up a rock and drops it at your feet and barks until you throw it.  This continued the entire hike.  I'm not sure where that dogs gets her energy, because we climbed some steep slopes and she was bouncing after the rock the entire time.

This is one of three steep climbs up a ladder that would take us to the trail.  Our goal was to make it to the water reservoir and back before dark, and with no serious injuries.

View of Chignik Bay from the top of the first ladder.

Parts of the pipe was leaking water which meant lots of ice.

The frozen waterfalls transformed the area into a winter wonderland.

Shak and Ebony enjoying sliding around on the ice.  Ebony is waiting patiently for someone to throw the rock.

Finally, we make it to our destination.  Some of the pipes are still wooden, so I wonder when it was built.

We built a fire to warm up before heading back.

We made it back just before dark.  I definitely didn't want to try and climb down in darkness or chance running into a wolverine.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Honda has arrived!


Our Honda arrived on the barge that brings the fuel to the village for the winter. The barge is the cheapest way to ship things to the bush. ATVs are the main source of transportation in the villages and having one is essential for trips upcountry, which would otherwise take days to hike. Also, when the tide is out you can ride for miles on the beach. It’s important to become familiar with the tides, because when the tide is in a stream can become a 3 ft river and then you’re stuck for a while. Having the Honda increasing the amount of land we can explore, hunt, fish, pick berries and also acts as a quick escape from bears.   Now that we have the Honda, Andrew and I will be setting our traps soon. We spent most of Sunday boiling the traps to remove the scents and stain them. Our next step is to use the GPS to map out the area we’re going to trap. Our trap line will be set for wolf, fox, mink, beaver, and sea otter. Most Saturdays will be spent checking traps, skinning and tanning the hides. I’m not looking forward to skinning the animals, but I really want the furs and the experience. Some of the natives have trapping camps where they go for the winters and sell the furs to businesses in Anchorage.

Being in the wilderness in Alaska is very peaceful and relaxing.

Most of the problem bears have been taken care of and the village has been free of bear visits. However, this is the time of year to dry and smoke fish, so the scents will probably attract more bears as they search for that one last meal before heading off to their dens for a season of hibernation.

One of the hunters on a guided hunt, shot a trophy size bear. It looks like he's about 8-9ft tall and 1000+ pounds!

Welcome to our trapping room.  All of the traps are stained and ready to be set.

Andrew and Christian hoping to push out some ptarmingan. 

A piece of moose fur that took along time to tan.  Andrew made a quiver out of it for his arrows.  I have some pieces I'll use for mittens.

Took the Honda for a ride on long beach to get use to driving it.  It's much easier than I thought.  It was a great day for riding.  Even though the temperature is dropping, the sun still comes out most days.

Another Bald Eagle, which is becoming my favorite to watch.  In flight they're majestic and graceful flying at speeds that reach up to 35-40mph. 

Every week the snow covers more of the mountains, soon it will be on the ground.  It's kind of neat watching it get closer and closer to the village.  We're expecting our first snow next week.  Perryville tends to be the last village to have snow.  In fact the average temp. is between 20-40 most of the winter and snow doesn't stick allowing the use of the quads throughout winter.  However, two of the villages that I travel to on the Bering Sea side of the peninsula can have temperatures as cold as -40 degrees!  I bought really good winter gear, because some of the best treasures are found after winter storms on the beaches of Port Heiden.  A couple of weeks ago one of the teachers found a US 50 cent piece worth $3000 because only a few of them were made!  She also found a butter dish from Japan in good condition.

I Spent the week at Chignik Bay and had a great time getting ready for Halloween.
week of 10/26/09

Halloween in the bush brings back many childhood memories.  All the kids wore their costumes to school and it didn't matter if it was a ghost, a witch or a scary monster.  We carved pumpkins, decorated a ghost tree, told ghost stories, and played Freaky Friday.  In my opinion, schools in the lower 48 have taken the fun out of Halloween and other holidays by placing unnecessary restriction on celebrations.

For the game Freaky Friday, we concocted gross food combination for the kids to eat.  If you ate 2 bites you advanced to the next round.  The winner made it through all the freaky foods without getting sick

Preparing the Freaky Friday Food that consisted of warm dried milk as ghost poop, choc cupcakes covered in mustard, salmon eggs mixed with peanut butter, and several other gross mixtures.  It was so much fun and the kids had a blast.

Chignik Bay as the snow creeps closer to the village... winter is coming to Alaska.