Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Right Place At The Right Time

So this past Tuesday I flew back out to Goodnews Bay, this time on LKSD's dime, since I'm out here to get work done. I started classes on Wednesday, so we're basically just getting the ball rolling. I'm already excited about a couple of projects that lie ahead for my welding class. Some of my students are more excited about it than others. A couple are so excited they follow me around the school asking all kinds of questions, anxious about when they'll get to do this or that sort of welding activity. I hope that enthusiasm holds up when I put them to work on some metal fabrication.

I'm making an effort to eat better "itinerant food" this year. Packing up 3 weeks worth of chow in a box can mean taking in tons of salt, preservatives and lots of other not so good things. There's no getting around some of that, but I'm thinking that with a little smarter shopping and prep-ahead, I'll be doing the body some small favors.

Of course, me being me and all, it's not all work and no play out here in Goodnews. Thursday evening my friend Paul and I took his boat a little ways up the Goodnews River and set out a spread of goose, duck, and swan decoys. Unfortunately, that night the birds were moving, but we only got one to come within range. That one flew off safely, although he might have soiled his feathers for fear of the racket and steel balls whizzing past him.

When we got back to the village and were trailering up the boat, Paul apologized for the evening's lousy hunting. But check out these pictures I snapped from where I was sitting waiting for birds, and you'll see why I laughed and said the hunt was fine with me. And these you can click for bigness.

To one side was the river's mouth and the small ridge of mountains lit up by the low-level light of the setting sun, hovered by flying-saucer clouds.

To the other side was a real eyeball exploding event...the setting sun chasing, catching, and hiding behind Beluga Mountain. (named so because from the side it is shaped like a...)

So yeah, we didn't catch any birds Thursday. I'm kind of glad, though, because if the hunting had been good I wouldn't had time to sit back, take in and ponder the beauty the evening had to offer.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Don't Die With A Quiver Full Of Arrows

This blog has been a quiet place for months. I suppose most readers I had have given up on me and moved on. It's not that I haven't had stories to tell, just none I really felt compelled to broadcast to the world. So if you're still out there reading, here's a story for you and a simple thought to ponder.

For those not in the know, I flew back here to Bethel, AK on August 8th, landed in the cool rain and got to work the following day. It was awesome to see all my friends back home at the Tundra Oasis, and equally good to catch up with the friends I've made throughout the school district over the past two years at our district-wide inservice. I learned that all summer long, the weather was pretty much the same as I was seeing-rain, wind, and gray skies.

Soon enough, the two-day inservice drew to a close and I ran several sorties in an LKSD Suburban, transferring teachers out to the air carriers where they could embark on another (or their first) school year here. It was kind of bittersweet, knowing it would be some time before I got to see these fine folks again. It was time to get to the real work. The rain continued...

The "real work" is starting a bit differently this season. Normally I'd have shipped off to this or that village and started doing my itinerant routine after a week or so in town. This fall I've been positioned in Bethel, where I'm assisting with a building project at the local high school. Additionally, I've been teaching a welding class at the Bethel Youth Facility, the place where I ended out last school year putting on a Drivers Ed class. It's all well and good, but it's a change. I'm not used to spending this much time in Bethel, or in a town this size at all for that matter. City life just isn't really my thing.

I came to town this fall with aspirations of filling up a freezer with fish and birds, enjoying the harvests and our beautiful late summer days. But, not many people I knew were going out. Due to high waters and a reported "strange" run on the coho salmon, fishing reports were poor. Due to limited Bethel contacts, and some with malfunctioning equipment, fishing and bird hunting opportunities were scarce. Meanwhile I toil on in my work, feeling like I should be "out there" in the villages, doing what I do. Increasingly on my mind with each day are the friends and family I left behind back in Wisconsin. Could it be homesickness? I had a terrific summer and I miss it already. I become restless, tired from sleeping poorly at night and anxious with thoughts questioning the validity of this early autumn. And of course, it rains.

Closing in on Labor Day weekend with no plans besides rusting in the Bethel rain, I converse with my friend Paul out in Goodnews Bay, and we hatch a brilliant plan: I'll pack the gear, guns, and fishing rod, and fly on out there for a nice long weekend of hunting and fishing. The words "just what the doctor ordered" probably never fit so well.

I climbed aboard the Cessna 207, just the pilot and I, my gear, and a plane full of cargo being delivered to the village. The wind was really ripping on the coast, so the pilot opted for a different flight path bringing us up over the mountains that are to the east of Quinhagak and cutting over to Goodnews Bay that way, instead of taking a beating in the coastal winds on the usual bay cut-across route. He tells me this when he notices me peering over at the altimiter and watching it tick higher and higher. Eventually we reach a height of 4,600 feet, and are still not above the clouds where I know the mountains lurk. It was smooth sailing though, and soon enough we were over goodnews bay, where the pilot banked hard and corkscrewed us down towards the water to set us up for a landing. Approaching the airport, I could see my friends Chris and Amanda walking with their dogs and their baby boy, waving to me as I swooped in. I could see Paul on his four wheeler waiting to pick me up at the airport. I was already feeling good to be in a friendly place, and I wasn't even off the plane yet. Talking about the flight later on the river, Paul reminded me of the Far Side comic where they talk about the funny clouds with mountain goats in them. Fortunately, no rocky clouds today. As an aside, I have to say The Far Side has got to be bar none the funniest comic of all times.

After a little time to unload gear and settle in to my little shack, myself, Paul, and a student headed up river and got into some dandy salmon fishing. I don't want to make this a bragging board but I might as well show a picture of this brute coho I landed that day.

Later on as we gutted and cleaned the day's catch, we reminisced about the aggressive brown bear that harassed us last year. I pondered whether the borrowed .45 I had on my chest would be enough gun to dispatch such a bear if it became necessary. Paul's advice was "well, as they say, don't go die with a quiver full of arrows."

The next day we decided to focus on the waterfowl instead of the fish. We set out a spread of decoys and waited for the geese, Canadian cacklers and white-fronts. I'm happy to have finally bagged some, instead of having the birds fly off laughing at my efforts. It was a great hunt for me, despite the fact that we were sitting in the rain getting soaked, and didn't catch a ton of birds. It was a thrill to be out taking in the scenery, and watching Stella (Paul's Chesapeake Bay retriever) work on fetching us birds.

Sunday we decided to head back up river in some iffy weather and work on putting up some more salmon. Our perseverance was rewarded by calming winds, clearing and partially sunny skies, warmer weather and a nice catch of salmon. We even got a nice look at a good sized brown bear on the ride back to the village.

On Monday I caught the last flight into Bethel in gray rainy skies and dodgy flying weather. On that bumpy plane ride, for some reason I got to thinking back to our river discussion...that one about the quiver of arrows. I started thinking more and more about how it doesn't just apply to battlefield enemies, or throwing chunks of lead at an attacking bear. It's life. Everybody's got a full quiver of arrows. The real battles in life are in the day to day trenches, the challenges you face in your professional and your personal life. Your arrows are the good things that get you through it feeling whole and well on the inside. But they don't do you any good on your back...

For me, I was starting to feel kind of down and out, missing my loved ones, missing out on what I wanted to be doing, so I knocked an arrow and aimed for a weekend of hunting and fishing, "river therapy" in some pristine land.

And you know what? Despite the fact that it's a cold day here in Bethel, so windy that the rain is blowing sideways, and I spent the whole day in an inservice, and my truck is sitting at the office with a flat tire....I feel pretty darn good about things.