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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why the Bush?

I was thinking about this question today and remembered an article on adn. The author was talking about the hopes of one group to improve the retention of teachers in rural Alaska. You can read my thoughts in the comments below the article. Basically, I shared what I believe lies at the heart of the teacher turnover conundrum in Alaska. 
So why am I going back? I have read many books over the years about Alaska, Nick Jans and George Guthridge among my favorites. Recently though, I read Steve Kahn's The Hard Way Home... If you've ever wondered what life in Alaska can be like outside of Anchorage, it's a must read.
The descriptions of the crisp, cold, fog-filled mornings on the tundra raise the hairs on my arms. I miss the quiet of "God's country." I miss the peace and serenity of watching mighty rivers flow by without a human in sight. The feelings that well up in me when I remember watching the sunrise over a frost-covered horizon with no sound whatsoever are overwhelming. Watching the wind blow the grasses and brush as far as the eye can see, this pristine, fluid canvas only interrupted by the playful grizzly cubs with their mother, is a truly one of a kind experience. 
I yearn for the ability to feed myself from nature's bounty. Fishing for the tastiest salmon the Earth has to offer, iksuq-ing for smelts through a hole on the top of a frozen pond, or harvesting eels from the Yukon will soon occupy my free time. I will glorify the Creator as I take a caribou, moose or black bear to fill my freezer. Each hormone-free, no-preservatives-added, free range bite will satisfy me on a level far deeper than the satiation of hunger. 
Will I be able to waste $20-$100 a week on dates that don't go anywhere? No. Will I be able to drink a beer, wine or cocktail 3-4 nights a week? No. Will I be able to blow money on clothes, window coverings, or gas just because I am bored? No. 
I will pour myself into the communities of the Lower Yukon and make their struggles my own. I will focus on my work, make new friends, and take up old habits. I'll read more and listen to stories...

Maybe I'll start carving, drawing, and writing again... 

...I think that about answers it...

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Mail it to yourself..."

Getting what you need from the outside world is always a challenge when living in the Bush. I remember arriving in Togiak for the first time, all the way from Louisiana. It was the two of us, three dogs in kennels, and (if I remember correctly) nine pieces of luggage sitting there on the tarmac. We didn’t know where we lived, we didn’t have cell phones, and we didn’t really know if we were even in the right place! The thought crossed my mind to get on the next plane back to Dillingham, but it passed. Soon the district maintenance man dropped by to pick up freight and kindly offered to take us to our new home… where we had nothing to eat, sleep on, or entertain ourselves with…
I learned that day that if we were going to make it in the Bush, we had to learn how to master shipping, shopping, and travel. Everyone has a favorite method, and if you ask around you can learn from the best. If you have a big family it’s all about quantity. A good friend of mine shared that Three Bears packs and ships what you buy at straight cost. This is a huge time saver when you are talking $2000 worth of groceries to pack, and totally worth a drive to the valley. Some folks keep it simple and shop at Walmart on Dimond where there is a Bush mail department (I despise Walmart on every level, but admit this is pretty sweet). It’s a simple process: you shop, roll your cart(s) to the back of the store, fill out a COD form, and leave. They pack and ship it through the USPS for shipping plus 20% of the purchase. Other stores will do something similar, but these are the best in my opinion.
My favorite method is “the tote.” Rural Alaskans love their totes!! Here’s how it works: I buy 20 lidded totes of various shapes and sizes, a pack of 100 zip ties and a roll of packing tape. Shop till you drop and fill your totes, paying special attention to weight (I try to even out cans especially). Then I drill holes on the lip of the lid (not from the top, this way they’re still water proof) through the bottom, 6 for medium sized and 8 for larger totes. The best part of this method is I get totes in the village! They are great for storage, laundry baskets, fish gut buckets, and suitcases!!
Anyway you cut it, rural Alaskans depend on the subsidy of bypass mail and reduced costs for instate shipping. I’ve mailed about 400 pounds of supplies to myself already and estimate the shipping to be a little over $200… that's a steal considering can of corn in the vil is $3+... 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Back to the Bush...


If you are reading this you must be a friend of mine or family member... I decided to move to Mountain Village, Alaska last week after much deliberation. I will keep my condo, car, truck and motorcycle in Anchorage but spend most of my time in the Bush. I'm not sure how I feel about it exactly, but it will be an adventure, that much I know.
I wonder sometimes if I'm even fit for normal society. I love Anchorage and have a million friends, don't get me wrong! I worked as a consultant to educators, administrators, and professionals around the state for two years. I talked the talk, smoozed at parties, wore a suit, and enjoyed life... but was it really me? Who am I? Have you asked yourself that lately? I do... often.
I have had the pleasure of a conversation or two with "sourdoughs" and Alaska Native Elders over the years. I love a good story. I think about them often: crab fishing in the Bering Sea, Bush flying, hunting remote wilderness areas, and working on "the Slope" to name a few.
"What's my story?" I wonder... here goes.
Today I bought a sweet Polaris 550 SS 133" single-seater. Set me back a few dollars, but hey, guys gotta eat out there, and there is a moose opener in January. Wish me luck.