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Moving So Quickly 9/17/2003

Evening all. It’s 10:10PM @ 27°. Thursday, September 17, 2003.

Stephanie and I just this moment came in from a walk through the neighborhood and down to the river and back. As we walked we saw the thinnest sliver of green northern lights, and over the next thirty minutes, they blossomed into undulating ribbons of green. We stood in the quiet and watched them stream from the eastern horizon, split apart, bowed out into four separate braid of curtains over our heads, and come together again as they faded into the western horizon still outlined in a smoldering orange. It was electric.

Everything here has been moving so quickly. The school year has begun like a flash flood in a box canyon. We are just trying to keep our heads above water. Daily life- especially during the week- is not that different from life anywhere else. Steph and I walk to work about a quarter till 8 and it takes fifteen minutes to get there. That’s not so bad now- it’s even enjoyable- but it will be different when it gets really cold. My days in the office have been really fast paced. I have jotted down a few notes here and there that I wanted to turn in to letters home, but they haven’t progressed beyond just notes. So this is a collage of tid-bits.

One day shortly after we arrived here in Fort Yukon, and the weather was still sunny and warm with blue skies and a gentle breeze, Stephanie and I were walking home for lunch. As we walked, we saw a bald eagle fly low overhead, circle around in wide slow circles for several minutes, and then drift away with the wind. We stood and watched in disbelief.

A couple of weeks ago, Fort Yukon hosted a gathering of tribes and villages from throughout the Yukon River watershed to address environmental issues surrounding the river. The Gwich’in tribes are fairly evenly distributed on both sides of the Canada/Alaska border and there were many people here for the week. There were temporary shelters hastily erected and a field full of tents that people brought to stay in for the week. The first day of the gathering consisted of native dancing and singing, and what I heard was going to be a blessing by a priest. I was intrigued by this, and I was fully expecting some kind shaman invoking native deities. It was so amazing to hear this native man stand before the assembled people and pray in his native language of Gwich’in. Of course I didn’t understand a word, until he used the name of Jesus Christ in his prayer. He also said the Lord’s Prayer in Gwich’in. It was a powerful moment. That night they had a village Potlach where the whole community was welcomed to come and eat. They served moose stew and moose roast, and several different kinds of grilled salmon dishes and salmon salad. All the sides were your typical potluck dinner kinds of sides. It was a welcoming experience to sit and eat with the rest of the village.

One day during the week I had the chance to fly out to two of our other school sites in other villages in this part of the state. I flew in a plane even smaller than the planes we take back and forth to Fairbanks. It was a real-deal bush plane, flown by a real-deal bush pilot named Frenchy. It was a four-seater with big balloon tires that can land on airstrips or sand bars in the river. During the flight, we cruised at about two thousand feet, which was considerably lower than we flew on the way from Fairbanks to Fort Yukon. That was when the leaves were turning, so the landscape was mottled with patches of the yellowing deciduous trees, the green evergreens, and the many small lakes that pock the land. It was great. I just heard yesterday that Frenchy crashed his plane a couple days ago while trying to fly two hunters out of the bush a couple hundred miles north of here. He lived. He’s scheduled to fly some district personnel around next week.

The week of September first, the district sent all it’s staff to in-service in Fairbanks. The week was chosen to coincide with the opening of Moose season when many of the kids would be gone anyway. This was our third trip to Fairbanks at the school district’s expense. It has been nice to be able to go “to town” as everyone here calls going to Fairbanks. This will be our last trip to town for a while. A couple things about that week… I wish you could have seen Stephanie in action. She was the most involved, the most contributing, and all-around most valuable player. One of my responsibilities in planning the teacher in-service was to bring in a reading specialist that came to present a Reading Tutor program presentation. There were a few teachers that had had this program before, and while making arrangements to bring this speaker in I suggested that Stephanie pull out those teachers who had already heard the presentation before and give a different presentation in teaching students with dyslexia and reading disabilities. Everyone wanted to go hear her presentation and she did great and garnered high praise. One of the training sessions required a bank of a dozen computers and Steph jumped in and was doing more than the district technology guy. She’s an incredible asset to this district. While we were there “in town” we also had the chance to buy groceries and cold weather clothes. Since won’t make it back to Fairbanks for groceries for a couple of months, and the weather will get cold before then, we did both in a big way. We’ll have to send pictures of us in our super cold weather gear.

I recently met one of Fort Yukon’s finest. Reggie is one of four Fort Yukon police officers. He lives in Fairbanks, as all of them do, and works shifts of two weeks on, two weeks off. I peppered him with question about his time here in Fort Yukon, and he had a collection of stories that were interesting and sometimes heartbreaking. Alcohol plays a huge role in a small village like this, and he said that the vast majority of calls were cases of domestic abuse where alcohol was involved. But, I don’t doubt that the majority of calls in an urban area of Dallas after midnight are also alcohol related domestic violence cases.

Reggie also told me about an incident last spring when he had to go retrieve a body on the river. Apparently a local man went out of town on a snowmobile and got it stuck in a deep snow bank. He decided to walk back to town, but walked the wrong direction. After realizing his mistake, he found his way back to the snowmobile and, accepting his fate, wrote a note explaining what happened before he died. A police officer was required to recover the body, but Reggie could never have made his way out there alone. Another local man with a snowmobile took Reggie out across the frozen river to where the man lay dead. It was near the spring break up time- the time when the river ice begins to thaw, break apart, and flow grindingly along- so they could see and hear the ice creek and crack as they drove over it. Reggie told me that he is none too fond of the river, frozen solid or flowing freely.

Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2003 at 10:10PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | CommentsPost a Comment

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