Free Alaska
“Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring…”

“Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring…”

Will I go back to Alaska?

ANSWER. 

Yes.

Thanks W.W.

Amidst a generous amount of reflection and uncertainty, I decided last week to sign and turn in my contract, thus committing to one more year teaching in Tunt. Many factors weighed into the decision, but let me first say that while I have decided to come back for a third year, the next school year will be my last teaching in rural Alaska. This endless and recurring cycle of ‘indecision-making’ every year is not something I want to keep revisiting again and again. For that reason, I have decided to make a commitment to an ‘exit strategy’ that I hope people here will respect and understand, that will allow me to plan ahead for what’s next, and result in what I hope will make the eventual departure easiest on me emotionally. Strangely enough, this plan was originally inspired by Derek Jeter’s announcement that he will retire at the end of next season. It started as a silly idea, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense (to me at least). I (in my admittedly self-aggrandizing way) imagine that by letting my friends and students here know that next year is my final year, it will make it easier on me and those who wish that I would make Tunt my home for the long-term. Instead of dropping the news abruptly next March, I am letting everyone know now that I’ll be walking away from this job (and the alternate reality, essentially). I hope this allows me to savor my final time here and to ease my way out.

So why did I decide to come back for another year? Besides the obvious influence of friendships I have formed, one reason is because I simply have no idea what I would do if I were to come back to Ohio. I am fairly certain that I will never commit to teaching as my career until I have experienced other potential career paths, or perhaps not at all. Though there are many incentives to teaching, I question my ability as a teacher, and whether or not another unforeseen option would be a better fit. With not knowing what to do next, coming back for one more year gives me the stability of a good job, while giving me time to plan my next steps. Not to mention that one more year will put me in a good financial position in that I will be debt free, opening up even more options (like pursuing another degree if I want).

Other reasons I decided to come back are more specific and job-related. One of my friends (Eli) who currently teaches in another village in the district put in for a transfer request and is taking a vacant position at our school next year. This is a friend that I’ve been on trips to Anchorage with several times, and who visited Ohio this previous summer. He will be an excellent addition to our staff, though at the same time I am sad to see my colleague he is replacing go. But adding a friend like Eli to the staff here is huge because the staff is so small. It’s exciting to think he will be here next year. He Patrick and I will potentially live together in one of the 3 bedroom homes that are here, thus adding to the dynamic of my home life (and reducing my rent). An additional factor for next school year is that my principal has decided to resign his position. While you never know what is going to come next, it’s exciting for the school to get a fresh start with new leadership. Along with these positive factors, I also have the incentive to come back to see a solid group of kids graduate. A few of the kids that will be seniors next year are some that I am pretty close with. I like the idea of seeing them through their last year, and coaching my 4 seniors in basketball. Coaching basketball continues to a positive force for me out here, allowing me to keep my sanity and stay entertained. I have really come to love coaching and think it’s something I would like to pursue even after I leave here. 

While I know my decision is heavily influenced by my daily reality and it might seem easier to simply decide to stay on the same path, I genuinely believe that this decision is the best one for me. I imagined coming back home without a plan, falling into some substitute teaching work as a final option, and regretting not signing up for another year. One more year will allow me to position myself in a better way for what comes next rather than if I blindly come back and pursue…pursue…who knows what. I have yet to feel regret with the major decisions I have made related to this job (Hah…‘Job’. Simply calling what I am doing a job seems like a gross misrepresentation). Hopefully the lack of regret will be a continuing trend; and in regard to this decision I am confident it will. These past two years have been filled with incredible experiences, both good and bad, unnerving and uplifting; knowing there are more lows to come no longer worries me; I have sung that song before, and I found my way back. It’s the unsung song that now lingers.

And “The powerful play goes on.”

But what is the next verse?

End of Semester 1, Year 2

“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.”

I cannot believe that I am approaching the end of the first half of the year, this my second year in Alaska. The stressful days leading up to my original decision to come teach here were almost two years ago now. Time really does fly when you become a ‘real person’ with ‘real’ responsibilities. I think as you grow older you begin to learn why people use clichés all the time; they are mostly true. 

This school year has been another journey of highs and lows, although the peaks and valleys have been less drastic. The highs have been lessened as my sense of wonder and overall naivety have diminished, and the lows, while not entirely avoided, have been mitigated as my experiences from last year and some different circumstances have made me more resilient to the difficulties of living and teaching in rural Alaska. 

I have been much more comfortable teaching in the high school, with classes cycling in and out between periods, bringing in fresh faces every 52 minutes, rather than having to entertain the same students all day, everyday. Though I thought that teaching nearly all social studies classes would make planning and teaching much easier, as it turns out I really do not know much more about most humanities subjects as any other (besides government which I am starting to think I would be happy to teach continuously). In fact, I sort of miss teaching a variety of subjects, especially math. Unlike social studies, it is simple to teach; show them how to do it, guide them through practice, then allow them to practice on their own, and repeat.  

In any case, teaching history has had it’s challenges. You try teaching the founding of the United States in an engaging way to Yup’ik Eskimo students who, when queried about the country they live in, confidently respond, “Alaska!” Most kids here have no American identity whatsoever. And why would they? This village (and region) is a bubble. It is easy for me not to think beyond the village; now imagine being born and raised here. It reminds me of Plato’s ‘The Allegory of the Cave’ in many ways; though that is not to say that our reality is ‘realer’ than those of the people who live in Tuntutuliak. Just a different cave, casting different shadows. 

The isolation and lack of traditional perspective is part of what makes teaching so difficult here, but simultaneously, it is what makes it rewarding as well. I feel like I have so much to offer at times because my experiences and point-of-view is so different. In the same way, I also have much to learn from them as well. 

Speaking to the idea of ‘perspective’, I am beyond excited for an opportunity I sought out in August and was recently selected for for this spring that will offer a mind-altering experience to some of my students. The Alaska Humanities Forum, which is the same organization that brought me out for the C3 Cultural Immersion Program (before I moved to Alaska) has a program called the Sister School exchange. The basic idea of the program is to enhance relationships and understanding among Alaskans by offering an urban-rural exchange program. One urban school and one rural school are paired to ultimately share in a cultural exchange, with each school sending 1 teacher and 5 students to go to school and live in the other setting for 1 week. See this link if you’d like to know more:  

Sister School Exchange

So, this April the five students I hand picked for the experience will be hosting a group from Juneau in Tuntutuliak for 1 week, and then I will bring them to Juneau, where they will each live with a host family (and student) and go to school for 1 week. Imagine how mind-blowing it will be for a kid who thinks Bethel is big and scary (population 7,000) to go Alaska’s capital (population over 30,000 and the 2nd largest city in the USA by land area). This kind of experience can fundamentally change these student’s perspectives by bursting the bubble that they live in and allowing them to see and experience the world that is beyond the only one they have ever known. I could teach for 30 years in the Lower 48 and never have such a great opportunity to be a part of this kind of a paradigm shift in a student. I cannot wait. 

As I write this post, my final two days of school before winter break are approaching. Basketball is in full swing, and students and teachers alike are ready for a break, I am excited to get back to Ohio and see friends and family, but am not itching to get out nearly as much as I was last year at this time. In regard to my future here, I find my mind stuck in the all too familiar state of indecision. In many ways, I feel that this year is it. I am still unsure about teaching, and I remain afraid that other aspects of my life may pass me by if I choose to stay here too long. In many ways, it seems silly to return to a place where teaching is essentially my life when I don’t know if I even want to remain in the profession. Not to mention the days where the stress of the job and  lifestyle bring me to the point where I wonder what the hell I am doing here. But then, there are the relationships with students and friends that continue to tug me back in the other direction, along with the feeling that my presence here is really valued and would truly be missed. There are so many cases here where you can see and feel your impact on the school or community; you can reflect and think ‘if not for me this would not be happening’. In many ways, I feel as though my ‘value add’ is much greater here than in it would be in Ohio or in any other school. But, I will ultimately choose what I think will make me happiest in the end. The fact remains that I will not be here forever; there is too much of myself that does not exist here; and I am afraid to become complacent with where I am and what I am doing. It is easy to continue on the path that you never really intended to take in the first place, just because the path exists; all the while knowing that so many alternatives await, but are less tangible than the reality experienced on a daily basis.

Since I fail to express myself as precisely as I’d like, and others before me have said it better than I ever could hope to, I’ll end how I started, with a quote from Thoreau:

“I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”

See you in less than a week, Ohio!

Hello everyone.

First blog update this year. Sorry that I haven’t been too inspired to write so far this year, but I thought  I’d at least share some photos from some new experiences this year.

Coming into the year, I was hopeful that I would get to have some new experiences in the summer and fall months and I haven’t been disappointed. Native lifestyle is very cyclical, revolving around the different seasons and weather patterns more so than what we are used to in the lower 48. I was excited to come back this year for summer and fall cultural activities, knowing that I formed relationships with people who would be eager to take me along to have new experiences. Last year it was nearly winter time before I formed any real friendships, which meant that I did not get to go out on the river and fish or go boating, with the exception being the one time my friend Jason brought me for a quick ride (when I killed the muskrat). Thus, I was missing a key piece of the Yupik cultural experience.

This year, however, I have had the opportunity to fill in those ‘experiential gaps’ as I have gone out on the river many times over. I’ve gone fishing with a drift net, I’ve observed a seal hunt, I’ve picked berries, spotted a few moose from the boat while riding along, and went to different areas which I had not yet seen (like the mouth of the Kuskokwim where it meets the Bering Sea). All have been really interesting and fulfilling experiences that continue to make me appreciative of the friends I have made and the time I am spending here. Hopefully come winter time I’ll be sharing about my first caribou hunt. Hope all is well. Comments are encouraged! :)

- Jeff

My friend Jason and I went ptarmigan hunting this past week. A ptarmigan (silent ‘p’) is a small bird, larger than a dove and smaller than a chicken. We went out on snow machines and used Jason’s 22 and 12-Gauge. It was the first time I ever used a shotgun. Basically, you cruise around the tundra looking for a flock of ptarmigans. Once you find them, you approach them slowly and at a constant rate of speed, as not to startle them. Then fire away. Once you shoot, you collect your prize or lower your head in shame and then see where they fly to. Usually they stay within view so you can simply drive up and try again. 

Once you shoot them, you semi-savagely end their existence by wringing their neck. We caught about 8, and the fox of course. Later that night Jason came over to show me how to pluck, gut and butcher them. I marinated them overnight and baked them the next day. It wasn’t bad, but nothing I would ever really crave. But porcupine on the other hand. YUM!

Hunting and this fellow crossed paths with us.  It is a tundra fox. 

Cama-i Dance Festival:

A few weeks ago, there was a dance festival. This event is held every year in Bethel as a cultural celebration and to raise cultural awareness. It involved all sorts of Native dancing, and also featured some dancers from other cultures as well. Along with dancing there are many native people selling all sorts of crafts. The district pays for first year teachers to fly in and go to the festival. 

“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”

Greetings All,

Lots to share, but where to begin. I suppose I can start with basketball, the activity that has dominated my life for the past two months. Our season ended during the first week of March. As previously discussed, out team made it to the district tournament in Bethel. Districts are a pretty big deal out here. Basketball is king, and many villages empty during this weekend of basketball as people travel to Bethel (some by plane and many by snow machine) to come watch the games.

We arrived on a Wednesday after school, with three caravans (9 person planes) taking the boys and girls teams, along with coaches and chaperones. The games started Thursday morning and went through Saturday evening. Unfortunately, the boys had a pretty poor showing, losing our first game handily. Once you lose a game you no longer have a chance to go to Anchorage for states. Sadly, our team never got back up from our first game and lost to a team we should have beaten in the second round. But, even though we played poorly, the trip was still a lot of fun.

It was crazy how many people traveled to watch the games. Many people came in from my village, and it seemed as though other villages must have emptied completely as their cheering sections were relatively huge. The games were organized in sessions, with one session lasting for four games. After the session, people had to exit and pay a reentry fee. This was done not only to make more money for the school, but also because they physically could not fit enough people into the gym. It was busting at the seams, with people standing all around and evening sitting in the bleacher isles. Thus, offering different sessions allowed those who were shut out or had standing room spots a chance to get a good seat.

I couldn’t believe how many people were lined up waiting for the late session on Saturday. These people started lining up at around 11:00 in the morning for a session that didn’t open until 4:00 P.M. They were lined all the way down the school hallway, and they just sat there and waited all day (as you can see in the video I posted). They were waiting for the late session because the championships were going to be that night, so if you went in for the early session, it was not likely you would get back in for the evening games. The line was there all day so students from Bethel High School were walking up and down the hall with carts to sell pop and snacks. I have never seen anything like it for high school basketball. I am really glad we made it to the tournament so we got the experience of playing in front of that crowd and witnessing the frenzy.

I very much feared returning to school with basketball ending. Basketball served as a great ‘pick me up’ on days that were particularly challenging and frustrating. With basketball gone I was afraid that I might end up getting down about things and not recovering. Hanging out with the older students was great and a much needed break from 7th graders. However, since basketball has ended, I have been doing really well. I have this strange thing called ‘Free time’ (pun intended) that has popped up. Not only that, but I now have more time to put into planning which has resulted in better lessons and better behavior from my students. I am finding it hard to believe that the third quarter just ended and that there is only about two months of school left. Basketball really made this semester fly by.

I have been using my newfound leisure time to have some fun. Last weekend was one of the best times I have had out here. My friends Jonathan and Jason invited me to come play basketball in a men’s tournament in a neighboring village called Eek. We traveled by snow machine across the tundra on a forty-mile trek to Eek. It was relatively warm (20 degrees or so) so I did not have to be too concerned about dressing for the bitter cold, which was nice. Jason came over, I grabbed the school snow machine, and we went to fill up the gas (which cost me 40 bucks at $7.50 a gallon). He then went over a few basic things and we were off.

I’d being lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Heading off into the tundra where there is nothing for miles and with low visibility can be a bit daunting. Especially traveling with seasoned Yupiks who drive a snow machine upwards of 70 mph. I was hoping we’d go a bit slow for my sake, and we did. Parts of the trip were a bit unnerving, like crossing the Kuskokwim river, where there were large patches of water amongst the ice. The person leading us drove out, found a safe path, then gave us the thumbs up to follow. Later I learned that the ice is still about 5 feet thick, and that the only danger is going into a larger puddle and losing you snow machine. There is not chance of falling through the ice. After about 15 minutes of driving I was feeling pretty confident. We probably averaged around 30-35 mph on the trip and peaked around 50. Most of the way was pretty smooth, but there were rough patches and times where visibility was low because of fog. It was incredible to drive along in the middle of nowhere, with nothing around us but white tundra and scattered shrubs, and my friends knew exactly where to go. After about 5 minutes of driving I completely lost all sense of direction. I joked with Jason that I was lucky to have him as my ‘Native Guide’.

Once we arrived we unpacked our stuff and hung out until our game. I can’t remember what I was saying to Jason but I was messing with him about our drive and he replied with, “Shut up, I know you were scarred”. And I thought to myself, “DAMN! How did he know?” We were there until about midnight, then we packed up and drove back home.

The next day we went back again, and we ended up winning the tournament. It took us until about 4 in the morning though! Not to mention I almost got in a fight with a player from the other team. It was the championship game, and we decided to play a triangle and 2 (man/zone) defense with me guarding one of their better players. This guy was getting frustrated because I was playing tough defense on him and he wasn’t scoring so he purposely bounced a ball off my head. I responded instinctively by pushing him, and the refs did not call a foul on either of us. For the rest of the game we were pushing each other around and playing physical, to the point where Mark’s wife Lisa called me over and said, “Jeff, I have been watching you and you need to settle down. You are turning into a native”.

There was a really bad storm while we were playing our games which meant the trail that we followed to travel to Eek was lost, making our ride home (which, remember, was at 5 in the morning) a bit more challenging. Jonathan led the convoy of over 10 snow machines; Mark was next, then Jason, and then myself. We drove for about 20 minutes until we stopped and Jonathan pulled out a GPS device to try to figure out exactly where we were. Without a trail to follow, they could not be positive that we were heading in the right direction. We continued to drive for a while more, then stopped again to check the GPS. As we stopped I was reflecting about not only how cool the experience was, but also how lucky I am to have made the friends I have made. Of all the people who traveled with us, Jonathan, one of my best friends in Tunt., was the one in front, the one with the most skill and knowledge to lead us home safely. Pretty great that of all the people I could have become close with, I am friends with guy that makes the trail for the rest of us to follow safely home.

My friends here have been the main force pulling me to come back for another year. Leaving means likely never seeing them again, and it seems like a slap in the face, as if their community and their way of life do not have enough to offer me so I pack up and go after only a year. But lately, the kids have been a force in that same direction. And even my job in general. I have been a better teacher since basketball has ended, and my kids have been better students as a result. I am having fun, and I am really starting to find it hard to imagine resigning and leaving this all behind. EVERYONE says your first year teaching is by far the hardest year, and on top of that, I have had to adjust to living in a remote environment, in a different culture, away from my friends and family. So, knowing that next year should be easier, coupled with the fact that I will be teaching grades 7-12 in a nice classroom leaves enough hope that next year will be smoother than this one (yes, that’s right…next year I am supposed to have a real classroom that is attached to the school and everything!!).

The decision to teach here again or resign seems to be much harder than deciding to come here initially because now regret is more likely to be a factor. Coming here, I knew that pretty much no matter what I would have no regrets. I was right about that. I think it was a great decision. However, deciding to come back for another year (or not) can definitely result in a certain degree of doubt as next year rolls along. However, at this point, I am feeling pretty good about where I am and what I’m doing, which is why I am on the verge of signing the dotted line. It’s not an easy decision and not one which I make lightly, but I have given it plenty of thought and I think it is what will ultimately make me the happiest. Time will tell if I am right. But in the mean time, I look forward to returning here in August and instead of arriving to curious stares I will arrive to two seemingly simple words that are loaded with deeper meaning:

“Welcome Home”. 

Yes…I am Alive

“Childhood is the sleep of reason”

-Rousseau 

Greetings all. It’s been too long, and yes, I am alive. Sorry for the lack of blog posts. I am noticing a trend.

I write to you at the tail end of a busy weekend. I went to the village of Kwig this weekend for a basketball trip with the high school boys. This weekend was our league tournament. It consisted of 6 teams, each vying for 2 spots in the district tournament in Bethel 2 weekends from now. We not only earned a spot in Bethel but we won our league tournament, beating the undefeated former league champs that beat us earlier in the year. The games were fairly close and the refs were horrendous (as usual). I haven’t seen too many refs out here that are even decent. We actually had five parents come out on Friday night (including my friend Jonathan who gave me the moose and fish for you all to try). They all drove over by snow mobile in the bitter cold. I think it was around 10 below, and the drive is over an hour long. Dedication. In the village, basketball is king.

For those of you I have not yet informed, athletics out here are much different than back home. First and foremost, we take planes to all of our games each weekend. My team of 11 and I take two 6 seated planes in varying weather conditions. Usually we’ll be picked up by someone from the school by snow mobile (called snow machine here). They pull a sled for all of our luggage and players. We are then put up for the weekend in a classroom. Usually the trip is a one-night stay, with games on Friday and early on Saturday. However, due to unpredictable and changing weather, it is not unusual to get stuck for an extra night (or three as I find out earlier this season). Thanks mom for the air mattress!

All I can say is I am thankful for basketball at this point. The frustrations of teaching are subdued by the tangible success that basketball has brought. Unlike teaching, basketball has a fairly clear relationship between the work you put in and the success that comes as a result of that hard work. We work hard in practice, we play well in games, and we’ll win. In the classroom, I have often felt like I am working to the point of exhaustion while not really knowing whether or not students are learning effectively or if what I am offering is worthwhile. A seemingly never ending cycle of planning and teaching for 6 classes (along with other personal and environmental factors) has caused me to sort of forget about my rationale for teaching and has resulted in a certain degree of apathy. My days seem to ebb and flow between emotional highs and lows. There are some good moments, don’t get me wrong, but teaching seventh graders all day wears me out and often leaves me wondering whether or not teaching is the career I want to pursue. I was not prepared for how immature they can be, and how emotionally and physically draining it can be trying to control and entertain them for an entire school day. Sorry kids, but I don’t believe I have the ability at this point to plan and deliver 6 authentically engaging lessons every hour of everyday.

I am always drawn back to an adolescent psychology class I took in college when thinking about my student’s behavior. It helps me accept that it is not their fault that they do not know how to properly behave or reason. The adolescent brain is naturally egocentric and unreasonable. Their amygdala (emotional center of the brain) is fully developed while their prefrontal cortex (the place where reasoning takes place) will not develop fully until their mid twenties. So…my students inability to function in a desirable way is explainable by science, thus relieving me of personal and professional responsibility….right?? Perhaps not, but thinking about this helps me to accept my own shortcomings. Sorry for the impromptu Psych. lesson. It is my nurture.

Although the students can be extremely frustrating, I have to remember that many of these kids have it rough. Many have lost parents, others have absent parents due to drinking or crime, and still others are adopted or living in a small house with little space and plenty of siblings to share the space with. For some, school is a warm, safe place with 2 hot meals a day. If their most basic social and emotional needs aren’t met, I cannot realistically expect too much. However, it is hard to decipher who is just lazy or misbehaved and who isn’t having their basic needs met. Some share things with me, things that would be hard for anyone to deal with, let alone a young kid.

If I decide that I am going to come back next year, they want me to teach half seventh grade and half high school social studies, which would make my life a bit easier in some ways. I would be teaching in my field and I wouldn’t have to deal with the behavior problems as much. However, I would have additional work in terms of planning for new classes I have never taught here before. There is a hell of a lot to consider regarding my return or departure, but I think that the offer to teach some high school next year would weigh unfavorably for those of you wishing for a ‘one and done’ outcome.

My life here in the community is another factor pulling me to stay here. Each day I get closer and closer to my friends here, making it harder to imagine leaving and perhaps never seeing them again. At the same time, I do not imagine I will stay here forever, so another year teaching means another year getting even closer, making it even harder by delaying the inevitable decision to return to Ohio to my family and friends. I foresee another ‘Pro’s and Con’s’ list coming in the near future. Send me your input, whether real or humorous. Seriously.

I have more on my mind and more to share, but right now my empty stomach is weighing on me more than my thoughts. I will use that as my excuse for my most poorly written blog post to date. I hope to write more soon. Topic—village birthday celebrations.

Miss you all,

-Jeff

"Why in the night sky are the lights hung? Why is Earth moving around the sun? Floating in the vacuum, with no purpose, not a one. Why in the night sky are the lights hung?"

Tonight I had the awesome opportunity to go ice-fishing for the first time. One of my student’s fathers who I have gotten to know through men’s open gym asked me to go with him. He picked me up on his four-wheeler around 7:00 p.m. I was all geared up because I knew we would be gone for a while and the temperature was in the teens (this included a pair of gloves and a large pair of mittens that are designed to go over a pair of gloves for extra warmth). We drove out on the river about a mile or so from the village, which by now has a heavy coat of ice that is very safe to drive or walk on. This was the first time I have really ventured away from the lights of the village, which, dim as they are compared to home, still cause some light pollution. The night sky was completely clear and the stars were overwhelming. It was as if there were more stars than sky. You could even see satellites every few minutes slowly making their way across the sky. Pretty amazing, and, after my recent hardships, definitely a welcomed mindfuck and reminder of my undeniably small place in the universe. 
Once parked on the river, Roland took a large ice pick and worked on a few old holes that had already started to freeze over again. Once he had them reopened, we baited our lines with live blackfish, which are small fish about 4-6 inches in length. We used a small, sturdy wooden pole and string to fish with, and mine had a lure that glowed in the dark. Roland instructed me to release my line bit by bit until I felt it hit the bottom. Then, you continuously pull the string up and down a few inches, waiting for the lush fish to bite. Lush resemble white fish in appearance (though I am not sure about taste because I have yet to eat one). One of the highlights of the experience was when Roland went to fix my bait after I pulled it out of the water. He said it was too big so he simply took it off the hook, stuck it in his mouth and bit the small, live fish right in half. Some might say disgusting, I say BAD ASS.  If that is not cultural immersion I am not sure what is. By the time we finished, we had a poor night by Roland’s standards with me catching two fish and him catching one. I was starting to get cold even with all my gear on so I was not too upset when he said we should start to pack up. 
Our ride back to the village was bitterly cold, and my unkept beard started to get some ice build up. By the time we got back I had put my hands over my face and continuously exhale warm air to defrost it (no joke). Waiting for us at the house was some leftover pork and rice, along with some moose jerky and some tea. All were delicious and quite welcomed after a few hours out in the cold. On top of everything he had already done, Roland gave the three fish to me to bring home. He also offered to take me caribou hunting this winter if I can borrow the school snow machine (aka snow mobile…by the way, nobody here calls it that…it is a snow machine or snow-go). In the mean time, I am planning on inviting him and others over on Sunday for good food and teaching Roland some Italian cooking (per his request) in return for his kindness.

"Why in the night sky are the lights hung? Why is Earth moving around the sun? Floating in the vacuum, with no purpose, not a one. Why in the night sky are the lights hung?"

Tonight I had the awesome opportunity to go ice-fishing for the first time. One of my student’s fathers who I have gotten to know through men’s open gym asked me to go with him. He picked me up on his four-wheeler around 7:00 p.m. I was all geared up because I knew we would be gone for a while and the temperature was in the teens (this included a pair of gloves and a large pair of mittens that are designed to go over a pair of gloves for extra warmth). We drove out on the river about a mile or so from the village, which by now has a heavy coat of ice that is very safe to drive or walk on. This was the first time I have really ventured away from the lights of the village, which, dim as they are compared to home, still cause some light pollution. The night sky was completely clear and the stars were overwhelming. It was as if there were more stars than sky. You could even see satellites every few minutes slowly making their way across the sky. Pretty amazing, and, after my recent hardships, definitely a welcomed mindfuck and reminder of my undeniably small place in the universe. 

Once parked on the river, Roland took a large ice pick and worked on a few old holes that had already started to freeze over again. Once he had them reopened, we baited our lines with live blackfish, which are small fish about 4-6 inches in length. We used a small, sturdy wooden pole and string to fish with, and mine had a lure that glowed in the dark. Roland instructed me to release my line bit by bit until I felt it hit the bottom. Then, you continuously pull the string up and down a few inches, waiting for the lush fish to bite. Lush resemble white fish in appearance (though I am not sure about taste because I have yet to eat one). One of the highlights of the experience was when Roland went to fix my bait after I pulled it out of the water. He said it was too big so he simply took it off the hook, stuck it in his mouth and bit the small, live fish right in half. Some might say disgusting, I say BAD ASS.  If that is not cultural immersion I am not sure what is. By the time we finished, we had a poor night by Roland’s standards with me catching two fish and him catching one. I was starting to get cold even with all my gear on so I was not too upset when he said we should start to pack up. 

Our ride back to the village was bitterly cold, and my unkept beard started to get some ice build up. By the time we got back I had put my hands over my face and continuously exhale warm air to defrost it (no joke). Waiting for us at the house was some leftover pork and rice, along with some moose jerky and some tea. All were delicious and quite welcomed after a few hours out in the cold. On top of everything he had already done, Roland gave the three fish to me to bring home. He also offered to take me caribou hunting this winter if I can borrow the school snow machine (aka snow mobile…by the way, nobody here calls it that…it is a snow machine or snow-go). In the mean time, I am planning on inviting him and others over on Sunday for good food and teaching Roland some Italian cooking (per his request) in return for his kindness.

Cutting fresh fish..a newly learned and vital skill