It’s An Ephemeral Thing

northern exposures

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Frost. It’s quite beautiful, and that’s too bad.

Maybe if it wasn’t so beautiful it would last longer, but you know the old saying, “beauty is fleeting.”

The high school students are skiing for PE. I can see them set off outside my window and I get a big kick out of watching them. I’ve done this in flat country before, so I know they are learning something very valuable – exactly where each of their 640 muscles are located. I’m so glad I am not in PE!

Because youth, like beauty, is fleeting, and mine has certainly fled! 🙂

Warm Skies & Spring Fever!

northern exposures

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Warm skies and Spring Fever are trending! It’s 12˚F outside and climbing to 18˚ today according to our reprieved forecaster. In fact, he says it is supposed to be warm all week long.

Twelve degrees isn’t going to make a Texan think of Spring, but it sure is stirring blood up here. Snow-gos are whizzing down the streets, people are strolling about and a major epidemic of Spring Fever has struck the village.

Kids have it. Teachers have it. I’m afraid the prognosis is poor – high fevers for the final twelve weeks of school resulting in severe learning impairment.

Let’s see, twelve weeks. That’s a week of in-service in Fairbanks and another for high school championship basketball in Anchorage – a hopeless time for learning.

A week preparing for the omniscient, infallible standardized test and another to take it.

There will be the traditional week of Carnival in Fort Yukon followed by an exodus of our students to Arctic Village for theirs.

Uh, so let me do the math here: 12 weeks less 2, less 2 more, and less 2 more equals…6 weeks!

By then, geese and ducks will be winging across the Flats and many of my kids will be seriously hunting. A successful spring hunt will put food on the table for much of the coming summer, fall and winter. Hunting is an excused activity and for good reason.

I love the last quarter of school!

Leftovers

northern exposures

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Haha. Here’s scraping the bottom of the barrel, hoping it warms up because this morning -54˚F came knocking on my door. Hey, I’m out of good stuff and I need to get out of this cabin and makes some pictures! Warm up, already!

Not really happy with the way these images turned out. Much duller than I expected when I edited them. Oh, well. They are leftovers.

Here are the lows in ˚F for the past 16 days ( most days warmed up into the -30’s for 3 or 4 hours in the afternoon):

  • -45
  • -49
  • -50
  • -50
  • -50
  • -50
  • -34
  • -29
  • -32
  • -45
  • -47
  • -50
  • -50
  • -50
  • -50
  • -54

The forecaster says we’ll see -2˚F tomorrow. We’ll see about that. It’s 9:20 pm and -44˚. 🙂

Catkins & Chilly Fingers

northern exposures

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“Can we go out to take pictures today?”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that! I’ve five rookie photographers in my class, so yesterday we did it. We bundled up, grabbed our Canons and went out stalking the elusive photograph.

“Hey, Dave, come see my picture!”

“Hey, Dave, check out this one!”

“Hey, Dave, how come my pictures look weird?”

There they go, scampering through the snow and it’s -20 ˚F. Some of us are wearing summer weight tennis shoes (yes, me too). We all left the school with gloves on, but in the excitement the young Ansels have torn them off and stuffed them into pockets. After all, who can take pictures with gloves on?

And besides, when you are on the hunt, little things like chilly fingers hardly seem to matter…

Witch’s Glass

northern exposures

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Snowed last night and all day today. Tiny crystals, slow and steady. Some believe that deeper snow somehow keeps the severe cold at bay.

There really is a connection between snow depth and temperature, but the cause and effect are reversed. Most snowfall occurs at moderate temperatures (around 15 F / -10 C). Colder air holds less moisture and really cold air usually doesn’t contain enough wet stuff to make snow.

It is the Hallowed Eve. There will be goblins about tonight, snow or not!

Frosted Hips

northern exposures

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Everything happened at once. We fell below the zero mark for the first time this morning. The mercury registered -3 F (-19 C) as we left for work. Ice fog had begun rolling in off the river, swathing our village in frost. It remained all day and many of my students elected to brave the cold to get some pictures this afternoon. What dedicated photographers!

This is the frost season, my favorite time of year.

Disconnect

life in a village

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I and my students enter the tribal hall quietly and take seats along the back wall. Fire blazes in a massive wood burning stove in the middle of the hall, fending off the cold outside. Tables have been arranged in a ring of honor at which dozens of Native Alaskan fishermen sit. They come from every bend of the Yukon River, from Canada all the way down to its mouth where it empties into the Bering Sea.

Many research and management representatives are present, too, and I know they are devoted to restoring the king salmon population. But honestly, they present observations and data but no answers for the decline. I can hear the impassioned sincerity of the researchers as they present their data, and their pain as they explain that 2014 will be another difficult year for the fishermen.

The fishermen listen respectfully, speak the same, but frustration and fear hang palpable in the air. This symposium is about giving everybody a chance to share ideas and concerns, and they do:

“We want to know why this is happening. You study and get all this data but you don’t tell us why and don’t help us fix it. What is the answer?”

“Every year we come to meetings and voice our concerns and offer our help, but who is taking what we say to others who can do something about it?”

“The pollock fisherman in the Bering Sea are taking too many of our salmon in their by-catch and nobody stops them.”

“In Seattle you can buy Yukon Kings for twenty dollars a pound, but we are told we cannot fish in our own river.”

“We are made to feel like crooks.”

And from Simon, the eldest of the elders present, a seasoned word of wisdom, “This has happened before. Our climate is changing, and we have always known such things affect the King.”

There really are two problems here.

The first, what to do about the Kings. Researchers haven’t enough data to thoroughly understand this one, much less to propose a solution for it.

The second, trust. And who can say which of the two problems really is the greater long term issue?

Those who manage the fisheries along the river react conservatively and shut down fishing for the Kings when their monitors report small runs. But they permit more fishing in some segments of the river than others and this angers fishermen. There are legitimate reasons for this but if you are the fisherman drawing the short stick, the reasons aren’t much consolation.

And the fishermen. What are they to think? They want answers but receive none. They sincerely want to preserve the King’s future, but their caches go empty and they must find a way to feed their families.

When men work together, they accomplish great things. But teamsmanship requires trust, doesn’t it?

Disconnect.

For your information, fishermen in our stretch of the Yukon were permitted to fish for kings for only 24 hours in the year 2013. Canada did not receive the number of Kings agreed upon by treaty.

Simple Things, and Higher

Reflections

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Wishing all my family and friends hearts of gratitude on this Day of Thanksgiving. Gratitude for the simple things, like spruce boughs heavy laden under fresh fallen snow or the smell of woodsmoke drifting on the air.

For the higher things. For family and friendship, life and love.

And to the One who “so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”