Yes, Your Feet’s Too Big

poetry, Reflections

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Aren’t snowshoes wonderful inventions? – mathematical wonders, the trapper’s friend, even life savers.

And, of course, they are a wonderful source of fun! Here, some of our younger students race about on snowshoes. Each year we have a cultural week at school. Usually, an elder will be there to teach the youngsters how to make snowshoes of birch and hide, although the ones these students are wearing are store-bought.

I grew up in Texas. My only knowledge of snowshoes came from stories like White Fang, by Jack London:

In advance of the dogs, on wide snowshoes, toiled a man. At the rear of the sled toiled a second man. On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over, – a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again.

…and from poems like The Call Of the Wild, by Robert William Service:

Have you known the Great White Silence, not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies.)
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map’s void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is, can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild — it’s wanting you.

But (and I’m not embarrassed to admit it) the memory that first comes to my mind when I see snowshoes is that of a song made popular by Fats Waller back in 1939 – the laughter rousing Your Feet’t Too Big, by Fred Fisher and Ada Benson:

Who’s that walkin’ round here? Mercy
Sounds like baby patter
Baby elephant patter that’s what I calls it

Say up in Harlem at a table for two
There were four of us, me, your big feet and you
From your ankles up, I’d say you sure are sweet
From there down there’s just too much feet

Yes, your feet’s too big
Don’t want you, ’cause you feet’s too big
Can’t use you, ’cause you feet’s too big
I really hate you, ’cause you feet’s too big

Where did you get them?
Your girl she likes you, she thinks you’re nice
Got what it takes to be in paradise
She said likes your face, she likes your ray
Man oh man them things are too big

Oh, your feet’s too big
Don’t want you, ’cause you feet’s too big
Mad at you, ’cause your feet’s too big
I hate you, ’cause your feet’s too big

My Goodness! Gun the gunboats!
Ship, ship, ship

Oh your pedal extremities are colossal
To me you look just like a fossil
You got me walkin’, talkin’ and squawkin’
‘Cause your feet’s too big, yeah

Come on and walk that thing
Oh, I’ve never heard of such walkin’, mercy
Your, your pedal extremities really are obnoxious
One never knows, do one?

Please do yourself a favor, go watch and listen to Fats Waller sing Your Feet’s Too Big, then tell me if you don’t walk a little lighter on your feet the rest of the day!

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Come Quickly, May!

life in a village

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January – February – March – April – May

This time of year speeds by so quickly that it blurs my vision. In-service in Fairbanks for a week…then a week of school…now March Madness and another week away from school as chaperone to our team…another week of school…a week of those infallible standardized tests overlapping the week of our carnival…a second week of carnival in Venetie…a third week of carnival in Arctic Village…geese arrive…ducks arrive…school’s out.

Of course, the architects of our marvelous one-size-fits-all system of education think they know better than we, so they have mandated that we give their remarkable test during our week of carnival. Okay, here is a mathematical problem for you:

standardized tests > a week of fun and games

True or False?

The village isn’t about to change the carnival date because that is a traditional thing, and besides, carnival can’t be delayed because the river will become unsafe for the spring games. The kids aren’t about to go to bed early because the nights must be fiddled and danced into the wee hours of the morning. Oh, and the kids won’t be taking their time on the tests because carnival begins at 2 pm everyday. Put down those pencils and get down to the river!

Life is very different here. Arctic Village, Venetie and Fort Yukon families are interconnected, so many of my students will disappear for two weeks after our carnival to spend time with their relations. And hunting is essential to the subsistence way of life, so when the geese come the kids will leave again.

Oh, did I mention that my students must study simple machines, electricity, magnetism and other forms of energy? And complete the yearbook? and create science fair projects? all before school is over?

The baby spruce are pushing their way through the snow now. They know winter’s end is near. We do, too.

Come quickly, May, come quickly!

The Wright Choice

northern exposures

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We departed Fort Yukon on Saturday at 3:30 pm on Wright Air, headed for Fairbanks. There are 3 carriers out of the Fort and Wright’s is the only one we will fly. Their Grand Caravans are reliable even in extreme cold and so are their pilots.

Saturday’s pilot warned us that by the time we passed Birch Creek, about 30 miles south, we wouldn’t be seeing much. That was an understatement! Thirty seconds beyond the Yukon it was a white out, so I leaned against the window and fell asleep. At some point I awoke and saw this unknown creek cutting across the landscape below me, so I snapped a quick picture of it just as the snow clouds closed in again.

That was the last thing we saw until the runway lights guided us onto the East Ramp in Fairbanks. The flight normally takes 55 minutes; strong headwinds and zero visibility added another 25 to ours and you should have heard the moaning about that!

Our flight may have been slow, but one of the other planes carrying teachers to Fairbanks lost engine power briefly and began descending over the mountains. I heard there were some screams on that one! The problem apparently had to do with a vapor lock or something as the pilot switched fuel tanks. They landed okay. By the way, that wasn’t one of Wright Air’s planes.

And now you know which airline is the Wright Choice!

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! 🙂

Shopping For Valentine

northern exposures

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Just a week ago we were still in the embrace of a long & bitter cold spell. We had experienced 40 to 50 below for thirteen days out of sixteen when the forecaster called for -2˚F the next day. It turned out to be -3˚. Pretty good guess – good enough to save the weatherman the one way trip to Siberia that some of us were planning for him.

It is Valentine’s Day today. What do you do for your girl in a place with one general store and the only other form of entertainment is checking your mailbox at the post office? I opted to shop at the store.

The extension cords for keeping your car warm look nice, but we don’t have a car anymore – gave it away to a friend who needed it more. Wait, maybe a paperback romance! No, their space on the little revolving wire rack has been filled with chips. Surely there’s something here that will make Lindsay feel special…

They have needles and thread. Come on Dave, you can do better than this.

Canning jars? Momma said never give work disguised as a gift.

Hey, what’s this? N-e-t-i P-o-t. What the #@&* is that?

Isn’t there some perfume here somewhere, or some bath powder? Girls love bath powder, don’t they? Haha – here??? Not within 150 miles! There’s bar soap. Yeah, Valentine will implode if I give her a bar of Ivory.

Look at all those little Valentine heart candies on the shelf! Too bad we already ate a trillion of those at school yesterday.

Hey, ice cream, they have ice cream! Oh, but all of it melted (I mean it totally liquified) earlier this week when the store freezer went kaput. That’ll taste like disappointment.

Look, there’s still some chocolate on the shelf! Oh, thank heaven for chocolate! One Almond Snickers, one single serving package of Oreos, one Fig Newton bar.

One very grateful and contented girlfriend! I am so lucky!

Series: After Adrian 1

northern exposures

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Adrian Lewis lives in Bristol, UK. I admire his work very much and I was explaining to him how the boldness of his images challenges me to get out of the ruts. I hope you will visit his blog and enjoy his photographs. I am starting a short series of posts dedicated to striving for greater boldness in my own, especially in the shadow regions. It is something Adrian is quite passionate about, so I thought I would apply some of his preferences to my own editing and name the series “After Adrian.” Of course, this is all sort of an interpretation of an interpretation, and I have no idea if Adrian would treat these pictures as I did.

This first image of a rose hip in snow also appears in my last post titled “Leftovers”. I wasn’t happy with the way it turned out for the previous post and thought that increasing the contrast might embolden it a bit. Let me know which version you prefer. I’ve added the previous version to this post as well so you can compare them. Or should that be contrast them?

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˚. 🙂

11 of 15

northern exposures

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Forty nine below. Again! That makes 11 of 15 days that we have been in the forty’s or fifty’s. Most of the planes have stopped. Morning church services are cancelled. Haven’t heard a snow-go all morning, or a car for that matter.

It’s so cold, even the ravens are off shivering somewhere. At thirty below, their fly-bys outside our living room window are so frequent that I sometimes think of naming my backyard “Raven Alley”. Maybe I’ll post a sign out there and make it official. But I haven’t seen them lately.

I think we are ready to run our weather forecaster out of the country. I hear Siberia is nice this time of year. He says it is supposed to warm up this week, though, so I’m giving him one last chance. It’s 10 below by Friday or else!

Shaking Hands At Forty Below

northern exposures

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Today is a really cold day, as most have been recently. It began at -50˚F.

The temperature has fallen below the -40˚ mark ten days out of the past fourteen, all the way down to -50˚F on six of those.

We’ve weathered colder temperatures for two or three days at a time but I don’t remember such a prolonged period of cold during our lifetime here.

No long walks right now. Breathing comes hard and stabs like needles. Super-chilled air shrinks the skin on contact. One of my students came to school with frostbite on his face last week.

Forty below is the magic mark when Gabriel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius finally shake hands and agree upon something. But only for a moment. By the time Gabriel is declaring the temperature to be -50˚, Anders is arguing that it is only -45˚.

So how do we combat the bitter cold? We curl up with popcorn and a good movie. Today’s feature? Charade, starring the impeccable Cary Grant and the adorable Audrey Hepburn.

Stay warm!