Sunday, December 28, 2008

To and Fro

Well, we made it.

Those ridiculous storms in and around the Seattle area were the bane of many itineraries, including those of myself and Erin and Macy. This is how it felt, just so you know:

When we loaded up and flew from Bethel to Anchorage on the night flight on the 20th, everybody on the plane was so excited. Just about everybody on that bird worked either for LKSD or else YKHC, and we were all on cloud number 9 thinking about the vacations lying ahead.

Once we'd all de-planed at Ted Stevens Int'l and had a chance to eat at Chilis and then look at the boards, only to see that our late night connections into Seattle were cancelled, we all were deflated. I think a few times I actually saw people look at the board and heard the audible sound of a balloon being let go.

When we waited in the customer service line for an hour, only to find out that the soonest our flight could be rescheduled would be on the 25th....well that was kind of like being slapped upside the head with a cold dead carp. THWACK!!

Throw in some personal problems, and add to that the fact that my friend Macy (Erin's dog) was puking constantly, all night long, and you get a couple of haggard and emotionally drained travelers in Erin and I.

Luckily we made the decision early on to try and make the best of it. So, we got a free flight back to square one, Bethel. From there we were able to have fun with friends, do some skiing and snow machining and eat some nice meals and enjoy not having to work.

Take 2 of Return to Wisconsin went quite well, everything was on time or else early. We got to Madison around 8:30 pm on the 25th and everybody slept like a stone at the Rendall house. The next day, the 26th, we headed to Racine and I un-stored the pickup. What a feeling it was and is to be able to drive my pickup after it sat for all those months. I think the Chevy was really happy to see me too.

From Racine, Erin, Macy and I headed up to Kaukauna to Mary & Jerry Kavanaugh's home. We went out for some terrific fish, and the next day I stayed for part of the Kavanaugh family christmas fun as I waited for the fog to improve. (which it did not) The Kavanaughs really made me feel at home with their fun, hospitality and conversations. There were a couple of exciting moments, but overall everyone had a nice time, and I was thankful to have been a part of it all.

Today my family and I finally got to celebrate our Christmas. We had more delicious food, fun, racket and chaos. Also, a couple of exciting moments. I always have kind of thought that my family was nuts. And we may be that. But this holiday I've sort of come more to realize that any family worthy of membership would and should appear a little crazy to an outsider, and totally nutso to a sane person. So I'd suppose mine qualifies and I'm glad for it. Traveling 4,000 miles with travel hiccups was completely worth its reward.

Hopefully it was for the rest of you weary travelers out there too.

Monday, December 15, 2008


I've been struggling here for days. I am really at a loss, disenfranchised, disillusioned, disheartened....disgusted. It just kills me. I mean....$161,000,000 for SEVEN FREAKING YEARS are you kidding me??!?! Baseball was really getting to be great. Not just because the Brewers made the playoffs last year. Not just because we have aspirations of doing it again, either. Over the past few years, the Yankees finally butted out of the scene (success-wise) and October mystique came back. Now Junior Steinbrenner is out to wreck it all over again. I hope CC finds success in new york, but not as much as I hope that that ridiculous contract comes around to bite the yankees in the ass.

I have but one more day teaching class here in Chefornak. It seems like a long time I've been here, due largely, I'm sure, to the fact that this visit has been drawn out longer, punctuated by a couple of sorties into town and several little adventures.

Thoughts on CYF:

Interesting people here. Folks are friendly and there are definitely some characters about. Not the easiest groups of students I've taught, but by and by I think we accomplished a good amount. I had to cancel my morning class today, as I had no students. They had flown to Newtok (boys) and Toksook Bay (girls) for basketball tournaments on Friday, and got weathered in up until today. Shamans basketball had a pretty good weekend on the court, by the way.

Speaking of weather, the wind can really rip out here, as I had mentioned earlier. Yesterday we had it blowing steady 50-60 for a while. People like to tell me about a couple years ago when it gusted 100. The seal hat does an unbelievably great job of cutting that wind.

The staff here is a pretty good mix, personality wise. I came to feel like part of the group, and this past weekend was even invited over for some delicious meals and fun games. I would have liked to spend another weekend here and hone my dominoes game, but there's always next time.

The store here, Chefearmute (aka Store) is quite the place. There are, of course, plenty of things you can't get there. Which makes the things you can get there that much more surprising. I treated us to some Dunkin Donuts coffee from Store. And, they have about any kind of candy there you could want. I got an ABBA-ZABA there tonight. I thought those things were long long gone. They also have Zagnut bars. Who'da thunk?

Aesthetically, this village is a looker compared to many. There is actually some topography in the form of Tern Mountain, which, sadly, I never made it out to. The ocean is very close, and when there is a clear sky (fairly uncommon) the sunsets are neat to look at. I'm going to be a double camera clown and post some pics of tonight's too. The reason being, when I looked out and saw it it nearly blew my face off. Pictures never do anything justice though, as we all know.

Well tomorrow classes come to a close, then Wednesday it's time to shine it and ship it.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Come See the Tundra Oasis Christmas Cabaret!! One night only!

These are the roomates at the TO, and this is how we celebrate the holidays. I guess.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's a Wonderful Saturday Inservice

This past weekend I flew back to Bethel for my 2nd of 5 fly-in Saturday inservices. I've yet to meet a teacher who likes inservices. Across the profession, people harbor various levels of hatred for an inservice.

As I sat there I started to ponder on what life would be like if this inservice had never been mandated. With my mind's eye I saw myself wandering the icy boardwalks of Chefornak, alone and cold, taking with me only the small comfort of anticipation of a can of Nalley chili that awaited me upon return to my quarters. Afterwards I came to realize that I was glad to be at inservice instead of in that sad little daydream. It got me a free trip in to Bethel, where I got to (briefly) see friends. We had a nice lunch served. I was learning a few new tricks, and besides...I would have been working on Saturday anyways.

At about the time I came to this acceptance of the inservice, I really was perturbed by what took place before me. The presenter was showing us how to use an online resource that brought forth myriad teaching materials, and a lot technical things that would relate directly to what I teach. But, I don't know how to use it, or really what the presenter said at all. That is because 2/3 of the people in the room were getting up and leaving to go catch their planes (which were on weather hold anyways.) And, they were talking about all of their plans and griping about the weather hold, worrying aloud about how they would get back home. All while somebody gave a presentation. I've seen teachers display the undesirable characteristics of their classes in the past, but this took the cake. It's one thing to hate inservice, and another to be plain rude about it. I'll bet Jimmy Stewart would agree.

I had a nice flight back to CYF. It was clear and sunny and crisp outside. From the air, the tundra looked like a black and white painting done by a lunatic. It was very easy to tell from looking which direction the winds blew last Wednesday.

I snapped a couple pictures of the awesome color spectrum that comes from a good sunset here. The bump on the horizon is Tern Mountain, which I am hoping to take a trip out to while I'm here.

Have a nice week, everybody. And for the folks back home...It is only 2 weeks before I get to come visit!! I am so excited to get to see you all soon. Especially the newest addition to the youngest nephew Evan, born this past Monday morning.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Turkeys, Blizzards and Vomit

Once again, a delayed posting. There has been a little excitement, but maybe not completely what we were after.

The week before Thanksgiving I had a pretty cool opportunity. My bosses approved my attendance of a conference in Anchorage. This time it was for the Alaska Association of Career and Technical Educators, and I was pretty excited for it. I was given a choice of "strands" which I could sign up for. The strand is basically a topic of certain seminars, and my choice was Alternative Energy Sources. It was to take place at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus in their Automotive and Diesel Lab. I was pretty excited for all the neat things I would be learning. As an added bonus, I would be receiving a college credit for attending all the sessions and writing an essay about it.

So the day came, and I flew into Anchorage, excited about my next four days. Once we landed, Jan, my co-worker, and I got her rental car and went and got some Thai food. Afterward, she went to attend her first strand, while I checked into my room at the Sheraton to rest a couple hours before I would be picked up and taken to my class in the evening.

A couple of hours later, it became obvious that the plans had changed. I found myself yawning in Taiwanese technicolor. Talking to Ralph on the big white phone. Nothing would stay down and I couldn't go anywhere. The plans had changed? The plans were totally screwed, that's what they were.

The next day I dragged my sorry kiester to the conference, despite my internal doctor's orders. The fact is, I went because this organization was refunding the school district for our air fare to Anchorage IF I attended at least 15 hours worth of sessions. So I needed to go, but I got about as much out of it as I would get from listening to Russian folk ballads. Less, probably. Unless we're talking about misery. Then it's back to about equal.

The next day, Friday, I manned up again, although it was easier this time. I actually ate a couple of normal meals on Friday. I still was nowhere near full strength. Saturday I finally got to attend a strand at the UAA campus again, and it was great. It made me even more sad that I had to miss the big class on Wednesday. As for that college credit-forget it. No chance, move on. Boy was I glad that trip was over with.

The next week, I finally made it back to Napaskiak and Oscarville to proctor the driving tests from Way Back When. I stayed over in Oscarville at Erin's on Tuesday, and took Wednesday off so that I could partake in the Thanksgiving Feast at Qugcuun School in Oscarville. We had turkey, caribou, potatoes and gravy, pie and juice. It was delicious, and a good warm-up for the official Turkey Day.

After the feast, we headed up to Bethel on snow machines up the frozen river. We stayed at the Tundra Oasis on Wednesday night and on Thursday got up to watch the Lions keep the dream of a perfect season alive, and with panache. Then we all sat down and enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, ham, potatoes, stuffing, corn and dessert were all served. We made pigs of ourselves and then snacked on leftovers. I love Thanksgiving!!! I did miss the family meal, but what we had at the Tundra Oasis was an acceptable substitution by Bethel standards.

The rest of the weekend was filled with rest, relaxation, fun, snow machine rides, sledding, and more rest and relaxation. Of course, all good things must end, and on Sunday I had to fly back out here to Chefornak, and even worse, I had to get back to work.

Yesterday we had ourselves quite a blizzard here. The winds were blowing 50-60 mph and it was a white out. If you opened the door, it started snowing inside the house. This morning we awoke to warm weather (mid 30s,) rain, and slush everywhere.

I'd post some pictures of Chefornak, but I don't have any. Whenever I've had time for photography, the picture would be a white and gray mess. Maybe next week I can post something for you to look at. Right now I'm ready for a turkey nap.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Get Back

For those of you who look forward to reading the new postings, I apologize for the drought. And, for those who don't particularly look forward to new postings, but feel some sort of a compulsory obligation to read them as a friend, then you are welcome for the break.

At the last posting I was working away in the village of Newtok. Things finished out pretty well. That village is a real diamond with all of the positive attitudes and good things going on. I also enjoyed my many opportunities to learn that I was past my prime in hoops. Way past...
On the 11th my charter plane showed up after a couple hours of delay. Once the plane radioed the school to say it was coming, two of my older and stronger students came and helped haul all the gear out to the snowmachine and sleigh to be dragged to the runway. The plane brought me and all the gear straight to the village of Chefornak.

I started teaching classes in Chefornak on the 12th. The plan was that I would start out the Chefornak gig, and then come back to Bethel, have the weekend off (finally!), see some friends (finally!), then work out of the office for a couple of days before heading in to Town for a professional development conference, and a nice Thanksgiving. Of course I was looking forward to all of this. After spending 3 weeks away and sleeping on the floor in a school, I wanted nothing more than to, as they say, get the Hell out of Dodge.

For friends and family in the lower 48 who wonder what Bush travel is like:
Friday afternoon in Chefornak was bright, sunshiney and nice. In Bethel, it was just the opposite. Planes were not coming. I called the local agent who handles reservations for 2 of the 3 airlines that come to Chefornak and said I wanted on, ASAP, and I didn't care which company. This is how you make a reservation. So I waited and waited. Luckily, the runway was right outside the window, so I could wait inside. As time passed I was starting to harbor some ill thoughts, damning the Bethel weather all the while, for keeping my airplane, my chance for some restful down time, on the ground.

Then suddenly a humming sound....A PLANE!! Not one of the ones I reserved with. So you know what I did? I grabbed my gear, boogied out there, chucked my stuff on the plane and got on for a mildly spooky ride back to Bethel. The first leg was a quick jaunt to Kipnuk. Because of the short distance and low ceiling, we were at about 100 feet for that part. After that we went high and quick on the Caravan, and after some searching, found a nice hole through the clouds into Bethel.

After a while, my pal Sarah came to pick me up. It took a while, (since I reneged on the plans to fly with the other airlines,) for her to locate me. I was pretty thankful when she finally did. I really needed a break. The weekend was so nice and relaxing. I got to watch a couple movies, take a frozen river hike, take a nice sauna, and catch up on sleep.

Some pics of the river, taken before poor Sarah fell through.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Another aeronautical code title posting, this time it's WWT which is PilotSpeak for Newtok. I was going to photo the airstrip for show, but then thought better of it, so as not to give my mother a heart attack. These bush pilots earn their money.

Now that I've completed my first week here in this village, I have to give this place high marks in terms of how nice the folks here are. Staff members have invited me into their homes for supper on three occasions, and another delivered supper to me here at the school in between classes. I have good groups of students that are pretty well motivated and fun to be around.

On Friday we had a Halloween carnival and dance here. Many of the kids and teachers dressed up for the day. I did not have a costume, but I worked at the carnival. Unfortunately, due to weather, the DJ couldn't make it in from Bethel, which meant they had to use the gym's PA speakers and a student's iPod as an alternative. Between the sound and the smell, I didn't spend a ton of time at the dance.

I've been playing some hoops with some of the kids, including a long game of 3 on 3 yesterday. Hence today I am feeling very sore, broken, and past my prime. Good exercise though.

The weather here has had a lot of fog and low skies. People traveling to/from here have had delays which can last several days. Finally today we had a relatively clear, sunny, and very nice day. So, I got out on my lunch break and snapped a few photos of Nelson Island and the ice floes of the Ningaluk River. Sadly, I haven't seen any seals yet, or really much wildlife out and about. Or Russians. But I'll let you know if I do, you betcha.

Lastly, a story I hesitate to tell. I thought it was kind of strange, but at first I didn't pay it much mind. A couple of the older ladies around the school and community here have been asking me if I'd met any women here at Newtok. It seems like once or twice a day, I get "Hi Brian! Meet anybody yet?" One woman even suggested putting me up in a raffle for the Halloween carnival. (Which was NOT done, by the way) I started to really wonder where this was all coming from. Well well well, come to find out that one of my esteemed co-workers decided to have a little fun at the expense of yours truly. So, they went ahead and spread word prior to my arrival that the new teacher was looking to meet a lady and settle down in a village. Ahh nice play there. That's alright though. Anybody who was ever on the Lancer Wrestling Team knows that when it comes to practical jokes, I don't ever get even.

I get ahead.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mr. Rendall Goes to Town

My wonderful friend Erin Kavanaugh thought that would be a great title for my next blog posting. It sounds like a children's story to me, but I suppose it fits.

As some of you know, this past week I headed to Town (Anchorage) for a professional development opportunity. Now, opportunity....there is a word that I can never use in the same way after having taught and worked at Maple. Our principal there was a great man, and ever the optimist. He would use "opportunity" as a descriptor of some odd things. In that light, I might say that last weekend I had the opportunity to change the Big Red Fred's oil in the icy driveway of the Tundra Oasis when it was 15 degrees out. Or, I might say I had the opportunity to sit in a class being taught to teachers by people who don't teach. I also just had the opportunity to watch the Illini take a 17-10 lead over Bucky.

So the class was pretty much like having a tooth drilled-all day long, for two days. It was a good chance for me to reflect on how much it must suck for MY students when I'm having an off day. The benefit of this class was that I gained a core curriculum and endorsement from CEF (Construction Education Foundation) that is by no means limited to construction trades. At some time this could come to benefit my students, but probably not under the current configuration. Perhaps the bigger plus was networking with CTE teachers from all over the state. Some of the guys had some pretty interesting stories from the areas they came from. For example, one guy who teaches in Barrow was saying that the daylight changes by 20 minutes per day right now. Talk about rapid change...they will be in complete darkness very soon. From talking to some of these cats I got the sense of how unique each area of the state is, and some of the strange ins and outs that go along with them.

So I didn't want to give the impression that the whole trip was torture. This organization put us all up in a really nice hotel. Big bathtubs, down comforters, big screen TVs and drop-dead beautiful desk workers. It was a nice place. The view out the window wasn't bad either.

The mall was right nearby, which afforded me the chance to finally get a haircut (the first since mid-July) and I went ahead and tamed the beard as well, which I think was probably due.

I got to go out for a couple of good meals. One was take-out from a nice pizza joint at the mall. On the walk in, I noticed several dads with their little boys with little hockey sticks walking in to the mall. As I waited for my pie to cook, I walked over and watched the little kids' hockey practice in the rink that serves as sort of an atrium for the mall. I felt bad for some of the kids who couldn't do the drills. One kid was brought back to the side with a stick, like he was a big hockey puck in a green sweatshirt.

The next night, Thursday, I was feeling a little stuffy, so I went to a nearby Thai restaurant that came highly recommended from Wednesday's Foul Mouthed Latin Cabbie. He used so much profanity in describing the quality of food here that I knew had to go try it. The spicy curry I had really cleared out the stuffy head, and yes, Cabbie, I would agree that it was some kick @## mutha *#*$@# ! #!***, brother. Way better chow than what's in Bethel.

Also, I got to pick up some needed supplies before heading back. Some new shoes, some mitts, and some toiletries. And there is a Sportsman's Warehouse. That place is a little slice of Heaven right there in Anchorage. It's kind of like Gander Mountain, only dare I say a little better.

Finally, it was back to Anchorage International for my trip back to Bethel. Here's one of the many impressive mounts in the airport, a world record brown bear.

By the way, I found out that security really does not apppreciate if you lose your boarding pass in the process of taking off your shoes, coat, backpack, and emptying your pockets in a big rush. Security guy "Boarding pass?!?" Me "Umm...crap. Sir, I think it's in your X-ray box." Security guy "What's it doing in there? You need your boarding pass!" Fortunately it turned up in one of the plastic tote bins as I rifled through my stuff coming out of the X-ray box. I was becoming fearful of the "question room."

As I wrote this story, I had the opportunity to watch Bucky come back and beat those Illini. And tomorrow, I have the opportunity to head out to Newtok and start my next assignment.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


This morning was a nice, calm, sunny morning in the village of Napakiak. I deemed it the perfect time to get out for a nice leisurely stroll. And besides, it's part of my daily duty to go out and make sure there aren't any Russians roaming about. There was a HEAVY coat of frost on everything. The Kusko had some steam rising off the surface. The ravens were making new sounds I'd never heard before. For the information of folks back home, ravens make a lot of very bizarre sounds, unlike the crows we all know, which are just obnoxious.

I walked down to the Kusko, then veered off to the side and walked along the Napakiak slough. I could hear the ice that had topped now empty puddles along the shores cracking all around me. At first I thought nothing of it. Then I pulled focus and watched as the shore appeared to flood all around me. The rising tide was refilling all the puddles and breaking the ice everywhere. It was pretty surreal to watch and listen to.

Eventually I followed a trail towards the airport. Right about that time, I could hear this distant dull roaring sound. I looked up and on the distant horizon I could see what in all honesty looked like a huge rocket or missile taking off, followed by an enormous plume of spent rocket fuel and smoke. I did a double take, rubbed my eyes, and thought to myself, holy crap, it's the Russians. Then my mind started pontificating about what a brilliant place the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta would be for our military to conceal nuclear arms. So maybe this was one of ours. One thing was for sure. This thing was moving, rising, and I could hear it gaining intensity. After a couple of minutes, the 'missile' got closer, but not necessarily higher, and through the fog I could see it for what it was. I then headed back to the Kusko to watch the missile as it went by. I couldn't actually get the tugger in the shot, as it was about 400 yards ahead of the barge.

I have just 3 more days left here in Napakiak before I head back to Bethel to regroup and take care of some business. Then on the 20th I'll be heading out to Newtok, which some of you may have seen featured in the Tougher in Alaska show. It is the town that they are going to move/rebuild before it erodes away completely.

And don't worry, folks. I'll still be keeping my eyes peeled for any Russians.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

At Napakiak, the Sky Falls Out of the Snow

That's right, people. We had our first official accumulation of snowfall this morning. When I saw students walking in with snow stuck to their clothes, I knew I'd need to skip out of school for a spell today. A mere dusting, but the first bona fide sign that winter is only a step away. Soon we will walk into it face first. What we had this morning was one of those beautiful winter wonderlands. I suppose partly because it's the first snow I've seen since the end of April. The other bonus was that all I needed to stay warm on my walk was a hooded sweatshirt. That first icing, for whatever reason, stirs some emotions in all of us. It's beauty, it's change, but it's the omen that our beloved summer sun is calling it a happening.
Here are a couple pics I snapped for you folks in TV Land. Then I put the camera in my pocket and enjoyed the rest to myself.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Saturday Inservice, Sunday Funday

This past weekend afforded me the opportunity to return to Bethel for the first of a series of 5 different teacher inservice sessions that are for first year teachers at LKSD. Any teacher can tell you that the bane of their existence is the inservice. These are on Saturdays, so it's just that much more excruciating. Couple that with the fact that getting in to Bethel means catching a flight, which for me meant waiting at the Napakiak airport (WNA) for an hour, having the plane come once I had finally abandoned hope. The nice thing about coming to town, though, was having a weekend to spend with friends.
On Sunday, one friend, the co-owner of Fred (as in Big Red Fred) called and wanted to go on a date. So, what do you do if you want to have a fun date in Bethel? You go to the dump.
Here is some of what the dump has to offer: A tundra loaded with soft overripe blueberries, panoramic views of far-off mountains and planes taking off from Hangar Lake.

A new boat, a new gun, a new way to train your best friend.

Isn't this pretty? Guess what these ducks are swimming in. I'll give you a hint: it is not water.

I should have some pics of Napakiak coming soon. I need to take some pictures here first, and the weather has been kind of iffy for the camera.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Dog Days of Bethel

I have spent the past 8 days in Bethel. I have not posted recently because Bethel in and of itself is not a place that inspires a ton of stories. But despite that, there have been a few noteworthy events.
Last Friday there was an inservice for site administrators (what folks in the lower 48 call principals) at the district office. There were several other district teachers in the office for inservice and professional development as well, including my wonderful friend Erin and her roomate Christina. To accomodate all the people and make Friday fun, there was a potluck, which lent my first opportunity to sample some of the traditional native foods. There was plenty of food that would be right at home at a traditional potluck, as well. But none of the hot-dish we 'Sconnies know and love. Anyhow, the first new item for me was dried fish. This is pretty much what you might think. It is dried fish. The fish is hung up and dried. I enjoyed my dried fish. Next I had akutaq, which is pronounced a-goo-duck. Akutaq is the famed Eskimo ice cream, for which there are many recipe variations. Typically it will include berries and whipped crisco, and some other additions could be cream, potato flakes, fish, and I don't know what else. What I sampled had salmonberries and blackberries. It was also quite good. The salmonberries are tasty and unique. The third thing I had was pickled fish. I love pickled fish, especially herring and pike. So I took a couple chunks of this figuring I would surely enjoy it. As I enjoyed my meal, Erin and Christina asked me a couple of times if I had had any of the pickled fish yet. Their poorly masqueraded grins tipped me off to the fact that they probably were privy to some information which I was not. And sure enough, they were. It turns out that what I had on my plate is called salunaq, which means fish head and belly, salted. It didn't really have the pickled fish flavor. It did, however, have the fish head texture.
In other Bethel news, it is PFD time. People are getting their oil checks and that has a variety of effects. For many people, it means that they have the money to get that 4 wheeler or snow machine they have been wanting, or they can stock up the household with the many supplies needed to last the winter, they can buy new clothes, shoes, boots, and other things that they needed the money for. Other people blow it on pull-tabs, bingo, and booze. I talked with one man at the airport today who works for Yukon-Kuskokwim, the hospital in town. He stated that the amount of alcohol related injuries in the hospital since the PFD checks started coming was "asinine." Last week the police had to use lethal force on a guy. Another was found dead in the road. We're all hoping that the PFD season quiets down.
To end on a happier note, I have included some pictures of a local dog team. Mushing is big around here. This is home to the famous Kuskokwim 300. In Napaskiak, a couple of mushers were working with their teams by having them pull the 4 wheeler in neutral and that in itself was quite a sight. These pictures are for all you people who have read Jack London and envisioned a team of huskies.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I'll be back

That's what I told my students from Napaskiak and Oscarville as I wrapped up classes on Friday. And thanks to our state DMV, I will be back there this week to finish up some business that really should have been finished this past Thursday. It is a somewhat delicate situation, so I had better leave it at that.
It is nice to be back in Bethel, back at the Tundra Oasis. I flew in yesterday. From the airstrip in Napaskiak I could see some of Bethel's landmarks, mainly the radio tower, the hospital and the big oil tanks. It's kind of odd to be able to visually see your destination when your mode of travel is by air.
Kenny (the site administrator's husband) and I hauled all my gear (2 four wheeler/trailer loads full) out to the airstrip and waited for my noon charter plane. We were early, so we chatted and waited, chatted and waited some more. We saw some planes go by from Bethel but none of them turned to make the landing on our airstrip. At 12:30 suddenly a plane pulled around the corner and came taxiing over to us. It came from the other direction, and managed to swoop in and land without us even knowing it. It turns out the plane was one we had seen go by earlier, looking towards Bethel, but it went to Napakiak, which is a few miles downriver, not Napaskiak, due to some confusion on somebody's part. How could you mix up those two names, right? The pilot waited there for me for about 15 minutes before radioing in and going to the right place. I didn't bust the pilot's chops about it too much, since, you know, my life was in his hands.
It took us about 15 minutes to load up the plane and about 5 minutes to make the flight. After touchdown in Bethel I was picked up by my boss with an LKSD cube van for all the gear. On the way to the District Office I spotted Big Red Fred at the fire station where it was supposed to be. The keys were in the glove box, so away I went with my wheels. All the gear was offloaded at the District Office, save for mine, which fit in Fred's bed. Soon enough I was enjoying three tacos in the company of a good friend, and feeling pretty happy to be back in Bethel.
Last night my roomates got to find out how serious we Wisconsin folks take our Badger football. For anyone who watched the game, that "no fumble" call reversal pretty much sent me over the edge. I was shouting at a television set. Football season has now officially begun.
Sadly, neither the Packers nor the Jets were featured on the Sunday broadcasts here. And for the record, I'd rather watch the Jets.
I had a great experience at Napaskiak. The people were very welcoming and friendly overall. I will be back. But for now it is nice to be able to go out to eat and watch a ball game on the TV.
I've added some photos of: My shop setup from PKA, and some in-class activities.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Four Star

It is getting near the end of week 2 in Napaskiak and it feels like I just arrived. I thought I might as well share a few photos of school life. Aunt Barb asked, and Nephew Brian delivers the goods. First picture is my room in the attic. Now, in my defense, there is no furniture in my room, so where else would I store my gear besides on the floor. That really is the best place for it. At least I have an excuse.

Next is the famous basketball court outside of Z.J. Williams School. I was invited in for a pick-up game tonight, but I declined on the grounds that I'm a wrestler. That, and none of the students had bugged me enough to want to go in and foul the crap out of somebody.

Thissa here is the infamous Red Shed. This is where the magic takes place. Sort of. It is where I have set up my welding machine (the doors to the left) and my driving simulator (doors straight up the boardwalk.) I spend at least half of my day in the shed.

Stepping inside, it's a pleasant 58 degrees now that I've mastered the controls of my heater. Before this, it ranged somewhere between 40 and 80. The driving area is also a quasi wood shop. I also use a classroom inside the actual school to give the students other content. They like the driving alot more. Here are some students from Oscarville in my night class, hard at work, making me proud.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

I thought this was interesting....

Notice the long line of poles in this photo, about 15 feet tall with yellow bottoms? These line the bank of the Kusko in Bethel. Come to find out, these poles are filled with freon. They are there to keep frozen the permafrost mud river banks so that they don't collapse and wash out. That's what I call a proactive approach to erosion prevention.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Monday I began my real work here as I was shipped out to my first village, beautiful Napaskiak (home of the Hawks), or PKA as it's known from by airlines. So that morning I packed up the rest of my crap and headed in to the District Office, and from there I loaded up an LKSD cube van with all my gear and the drivers ed/welding gear. We chartered a Cessna 207 and one of the boxes still didn't fit. Once it was time to go, our pilot turned and asked "ok who's co-pilot?" to which I said "what the hell...can I be?" It turns out, yes, I can. Pre-flight instructions are a little bit different on bush planes. Ours went something to the effect of "your seatbelt works just like you'd think it does, the emergency exit is the door right next to you, we'll be there in about 10 minutes." A friend told me about the pre-flight instructions they got a while ago, which went like this: "In case we go down, the gun's under my seat." I can see how that could be a really good thing to know. So sure enough, 10 minutes later we were at PKA International Airport and Convention Center. (see photo)

It was a really nice day, and the pilot radioed the school to let them know we were soon there, so upon landing I just dragged all my gear out of the plane and sat down on some of it and waited for Joe, (the school secretary, town mayor, barber, et al.) to come get me on his 4 wheeler/trailer, which he did within a half hour or so. After a hectic day of setting up, settling in, planning schedules (overfilling my schedule), and other business, I was "ready" to teach on Tuesday.

My daily schedule has 4 welding classes in a row in the morning, then a drivers ed class in the afternoon. Then at 6, I have a group of 10 students from the village of Oscarville (home of the Hornets) who come across the Kusko for drivers ed class. I give these kids a lot of credit. They work hard, have good attitudes, and they get on a boat every day to go take a night class. I've really enjoyed the students so far. Here is the Napaskiak slough where nautical arrivals and departures take place.
I have had the opportunity to cross over to Oscarville a couple of times myself. I went and taught the class at their place this past Wednesday, in the very classroom of my great friend Erin. We had so much fun that I was invited back to Oscarville after class on Friday, where I was treated to a couple of delicious meals and learned how to play Canasta. Crossing the Kusko is more of a trip than it would seem like. It's a very, very big river. It takes about 10-15 minutes in a boat moving at a pretty good clip. Here are some photos of the river. It is not only large, it is effected by the tides by several feet. That is why you will see some boats sitting way up on dry land in some photos, and boats wisely anchored out in the sloughs in other photos. Getting in and out of boats at low-tide requires rubber mud boots, which places mine high in the running for being the Best 17 Bucks I Ever Spent.

At Napaskiak, everybody gets around on 4 wheelers via the boardwalks, which go everywhere, like streets almost. There is a small general store, a public water fill station, the school, and a large Russian Orthodox church(below), among other things. There is a basketball court at the school, 3 feet above ground on deckboards and fenced in. The kids are really good basketball players. They play anytime the weather is good for it. The weather has been alright. We've had some really nice days and a few, like today, that have been sort of drizzly and blah. I teach class in a little red shed outside the school, where they have their "shop" classes. Wednesday morning was a particularly chilly one, about 45 degrees, and I hadn't yet gotten the heater working out there. The girls came to class and exclaimed "MAaaaannnn, so COoooolld"
Anyone who has spent time in the bush has probably heard that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ice cream for breakfast

That's right, I decided to go ahead and have a nice bowl of ice cream for breakfast this morning. Tomorrow morning I head to the first of my estimated 9 villages for the year. For the next 3 weeks I will be calling the village of Napaskiak my home. I am looking forward to going there. Napaskiak is right across the Kuskokwim from Oscarville, home of my dear friend Erin Kavanaugh. I'm hoping I can sweet talk her into showing me some of the sights and sounds of Oscarville and the nature that surrounds. The Oscarville students will be joining my class as well. How many places in the lower 48 do kids get on a boat after school to cross a river and take a night class? None I'm aware of. After Napaskiak, I will be spending 3 weeks in Napakiak. Following that, having exhausted our district's villages that rhyme with Napaskiak, I will be moving on to Newtok. So I figured with all that on the agenda I had better enjoy my ice cream now, while I can have the kind that has no fish or Crisco.

I am going to miss the Tundra Oasis. I have had a really nice time here. I will miss my new friends that are my roomates. I will miss my king size bed. I will miss the fine dining at VIP, Shogun, and pizza at the airport, my favorite so far. But, there is work to be done.

As for the pictures, one is of the TO, the other is of me walking the bank of the Kusko. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Big Red Fred

Let me introduce you all to the newest addition to the family. The name
is Big Red Fred, and this is what $250 will get you in Bethel if you go
halfsies with a friend. All in all a pretty sweet rig, sure to be the envy
of many.