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!

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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!

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!

Bough Breaker

northern exposures

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What a bough breaker of a winter this has been. Snow, snow, frost and more snow. I think I’m living in a postcard! Well that is an insult to the beauty all around us right now. I dreamed of living in a world like this when I was a child. How fortunate I am!

Somehow the spruce trees hold up under all the weight – I wonder how? I wish my limbs were as supple as theirs.

Sticky Gum & the Ts’iivii

life in a village, northern exposures

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Pitch oozing out of ts’iivii, the spruce tree. When you’re out cutting wood or picking berries and you need a treat, chew the older rose colored sap like gum. Yum!

My Gwich’in friends tell me to heat a few tablespoons in a pot of water, and drink it to reduce coughing and relieve sore throat.

You also can make a salve from it; just heat the clearer sticky gum in a little water until it melts, mix in some fat and stir until all is liquid. If you put it on your wound, it will heal faster and you will have less chance of infection.