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Thursday, July 20, 2017

End of the earth - Alaka

“No,” I wrote a friend once while living in Alaska, “Hooper Bay is not at the end of the earth.”  I also recommended that he pay us a visit.

Hooper Bay,” I told him, “Is a Yup’ik Eskimo village of about 1200 Native Americans and 20 Gussicks.”  Gussick being the name given by the locals to any outsider.  The villagers say that the term is not derogatory, but the way it is used sometimes makes me wonder.

“Our village,” I continued, “Is 125 air miles and one hour northwest of Bethel and can only be reached by a propeller driven plane piloted by the last of the real flying daredevils, the Bush Pilot.  Bethel is 450 miles and a one hour flight by a modified commercial jet west of Anchorage and Anchorage is a three hour forty minute and a lot of miles from Seattle.

“When you reach Bethel be prepared to spend a night or two just in case the weather does not cooperate and flights to the bush are cancelled.  This happens more than one would like.  However once in the air, seldom does the pilot turn around and more than likely the trip will be uneventful.  Listen to the prerecorded safety instructions closely, just in case.

“About ten minutes out of Hooper Bay the pilot will call me on the local CB channel.
I will pick you up in the school truck, one of the three in the village.  If it is snowing have no fear the school owns a snow-go, one of a couple of hundred in the village, with a nice open air dog sled attached.

“We will only have to travel about a mile down the road if the snow drifts cooperate and if they don’t the snow-go will just cut across the tundra about three quarters of a mile to my place where you can thaw out.

“Don’t worry about bringing food or anything, we have plenty, buying supplies for three to nine months at a time depending on the item.  Don’t bring any alcohol however because it is against the law to drink, posses, or sell such.

“Once you have recuperated from the “trip in,” as we call it we might be able to go to the daily bingo game at the tribal council building.  Don’t plan on winning though, but if you do be prepared to make a donation back to the assembled group.  They don’t like outsiders, especially Gussicks to when ‘our money.’  “There may be a teacher’s potluck going on and later if we are real lucky we might be able to watch TV given a clear signal from an ever weakening satellite signal.

“Perhaps the next morning we can walk to the four stores in the village, via interconnecting boardwalks and let you check out the prices on some of the items.  Right after that we will have to go to the local clinic staffed by health aides and get an infusion of oxygen to help get over the price shock.  From there we can ride of walk, depending on the weather to the beach, stopping by the halibut processing plant which is temporally closed because there were no halibut caught last season.

“While standing on the almost black sand beach, I am sure you will be the first on your block to say you have seen the Bering Sea close up.  Some think the murky looking water and sand is unattractive but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the yellow foam churned up by the waves is not pollution they say.  After visiting we can walk along and between the dunes and head back stopping at the laundry mat and see how many washers and dryers are working.

“The post office is the most modern building in the village and if you want to I am sure they will let you sort packages in the backroom and if you sort and lift the big ones it will be appreciated, it usually is.(note to blog reader: now they have a new school and were preparing to build a new health clinic when I left and there could be more I am not sure.)

“We can then venture to the unkempt graveyard that is adorned by wooden crosses and again depending on the weather, we might find a casket resting above the groud because the tundra was too frozen to dig a suitable grave.  The village dump butts up to the graveyard and if we are real lucky we will see a child discard trash and human waste in black trash bags.

“To get a real feel for the village a short walking tour at this point will be in order regardless of the weather.  We will pass by clothes and fish drying on clothes lines or wooden fish racks.  There will be moose antlers and skulls lying on the ground or sitting on top of the plywood shacks the Eskimos call home.  Snotty nosed little children will follow us and want to be your friend, ask you where you are from, how long you are going to stay and if you have a dollar to give them.  There will be many inoperable snow-goes and four wheelers propped up on drift wood or sunk in the mud in front of many dwelling that you gaze upon.  You might see a half eaten walrus head next to a dog house, the remnants of a butchered seal, or a vertebra of a beluga whale resting near the boardwalk.

“We could stop by and visit the two churches, one Catholic one Protestant.  The priest is a Jesuit and pastors several other communities.  The Protestant church is served by a missionary from North Carolina whose wife comes from Mission Kansas.  He, his wife, and five children have been here seven years and don’t plan to leave soon.

“There would be more to see, the Octagon, once used as the community center and now for teen dances, the Village Police building with its one cell and dedicated men wanting to improve and protect their community, the bay where the fishing boats are tied and anchored and men go out daily to catch and then feed their families, but by then the plane will be due to land, depending on the weather of course, and we will have to hurry back to the landing strip.  Besides one day is enough for most visitors and I am sure you, like most outsiders, will be more than ready to leave and can’t wait to tell our friends back home that Hooper Bay may not be at the end of the earth "but you can see it from there.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lutherans - Alaska

For several years a group of laity Lutherans and a couple of ordained ministers came to our village next to the Bering Sea to teach Bible School during the month of July.  It was a mission for them and there was a large Alaskan Lutheran  mission organization that provided logistical support.  Each member of the delegation had to raise at least half the money for the trip, their local church kicked in twenty-five percent, and the rest of the money was raised by bake sales, car washes or what ever kind of event they could come up with.  
One of the pastors was named Ted.  He was about 38 years old, big, tall, and friendly.  He stopped by my lodging several times and we would chat about, television, football, baseball, and other things other than religion.  It was sort of a break for him I guess, I mean one can only be around religious people so long. 
Big Ted, as he called himself lived in Texas but grew up in Minnesota.  I think he might have been a secret Treky because he could not take his eyes of Star Trek while it was playing and sort of timed his visits when it was going to be on.  
I mentioned to him in a weak religious reflection moment that I was sort of friends with the local missionary and although he believed in the six day creation and the earth being no more than 6000 years old he was a nice person, practical in his approach to dealing with potential converts, and had done a lot for the community.  Big Ted shook his head like he was agreeing with me and then would go back to watching Captain Kirk fight off some sort of space alien. 
A couple of nights later Big Ted showed up again and we began talking about religion for some reason.  I guess I needed more weak moments.  He sort of got pleasure in telling me that he too believed in the six day creation and the 6000 year old earth.  Oh well it wasn’t the first time I had stuck my foot in my mouth but I took admonition with ease not being the embarrassed kind.  I am sure that if Ted thought I would have gotten embarrassed he would never have tweaked me that way.  Religious people do have a sense of humor now and then.
Big Ted and his group only stayed a week.  Cynics might say that they did very little but smile and think the native Eskimos were interesting and the kids were cute and thought that having 200 attendees at the events they held, they could go home and tell all the other parishioners what a great thing they had done.  But the cynics are being cynical.
I had a group come to my classroom one day and it turned out to be a very good geography lesson and I even let them witness, but there is no need to tell the ACLU, besides I am sure the statute of limitations has kicked in my now.  Besides it killed a half hour for me in the morning and afternoon classes.
As far as coming into the village and leaving thinking they did a good job, well they did.  I equate them to the story about the guy throwing the star fish back into the ocean (if you don’t know that story let me know and I will relate it one to one.)
I have often thought that it was too bad that I as a teacher and was unable keep up the love and enthusiasm to my students and the villagers I came in contact with daily as did the Lutherans did for that week.  It would have been great if a Big Ted would have come by my dwelling every day or so just to pump me up.  I would have bought the entire three years worth of Star Trek on DVD just for him.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Move and the social life - Alaksa

There were and probably still is four basic reasons people move to Alaska to teach school:  The young just out of college looking for adventure; couples who want to increase their retirement portfolio; those who want to start a fresh life; and those who can’t find a job in the lower 48 and just want one.

The young are divided into two varieties – singles who crave adventure and the married who realize that with the money they make they can pay off their student loans in just one or two years.  They leave debt free and, if they are careful, have a little nest egg to buy a house back in the lower 48.  Some stay longer of course and pay cash for the house when they return which usually coincides with them wanting to start a family.

The older couples are usually retired school teachers and want to fluff their retirement nest egg.  They claim they are going to stay until vested in the Alaskan state retirement system but usually leave after three or four years.  They begin to miss the life they had near shopping centers and restaurants and their children start to have children and the grandparent things pulls them home.

The person who wants to start fresh and thinks the last frontier is just what is needed usually find that places change and people don’t.  They leave after one year or sometimes at the semester.

The last group of people, and the ones becoming more prevalent, are those just looking for a job.  They are first year teachers who can’t find employment in the lower 48 or those who have been laid off from teaching positions and any job will do.  They really don’t have the desire to go north but a recruiter paints such a rosy picture, that they think why not.  Not a good reason.  They start putting their resumes out the day they get here and as soon as a job in the lower 48 opens, they leave.

One of the bigger problems with education in bush Alaska, or at least it use to be, is the turn over rate.  We always had a huge turnover rate in every school I taught in.  My first year I saw 60% of the teachers leave, the next two years 50% left and one year I went to a school that every teacher there was new.  Try to run a business with turn over like those.

So why you may ask did I go to Alaska, and more importantly why did I stay as long as I did and would under the right circumstances go back again?  Good question, one that I have not satisfactorily been able to answer in my own mind let alone explain to anyone else.

There were days I would have gotten on the next stage out of Dodge but reality would strike and staying was the only logical thing to do.  The money was a draw but it wasn’t enough to go in the first place and not enough to keep me there longer than I was.  There were more kids that irritated me than warmed my heart and if any of my friends from back home would call and I was not at home, my answering machine said “Greetings from the land of nonsense.”  That quote always seemed to sum up about how I felt about the place day-in and day-out and all the idiotic situations that occurred in and around the villages.  Someone said I was odd to go and stay or the phrase I liked best was that I was just one dog short of a team.

The best reason I can come up with as to why I went and why I stayed and would go back was the fact that I had a dazzling social life.  I had plenty of friends back in Independence especially and I knew they would be glad to see me, but after the flurry of get togethers they would manage to ease back into the life they had with out me.  Some how they all would have managed to move fore ward while I was gone.

My social life in Alaska was much more active and stimulating than any other place I ever lived.  It was out of necessity of course to keep from going bonkers but the interaction between and among teachers kept me busy and stimulated.  Other villages were better than some but there was always something going on to keep from getting cabin fever.  Hooper Bay had the best teacher interaction and the village I liked the least. While Noatak had very little teacher to teacher contact on a social basis but the village I liked the most.  There was always something going on and the community made you feel a part of it.  Go figure.

But back to the social life.  In Hooper Bay, and this is as true as I can recall, the following was a typical week:  On Sundays we would go to the Marshall’s for coffee and pastry.  Later that same day a bunch of us would pile onto a four wheeler and sled and go to the beach to hunt clams.  On Monday, those of us who did not eat clams would go back to the beach to see what had washed up the night before, some times a whale would be there if we were lucky, or even a walrus if we were really lucky.  On Tuesdays the Gillans came over for dinner and always had pictures to show us about the previous summer they spent at a youth camp or tell us stories about the last 10 years they had spent in Hooper Bay.  Wednesday we had a Bible Study with the local missionary, which we sacrilegiously called Back to God Night.  Thursday the Krolls would come to dinner and we would watch our favorite TV show (it was such a favorite I can’t remember what it was now) but if the cable was out, which it tended to be now and then we would just gossip about everyone one else.  Which we figured was alright because it was not Wednesday.  Friday was pot luck at Marta’s or Jane’s and Saturday we would usually dine with the Neufeldts.  Life did not get a whole lot better than that. 

I realize that Tom Wolf was correct when he coined the phrase “you can’t go home again” and I don’t want to relive the past I just don’t want to forget it.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hunting and Gathering - Alaska

There is a cycle to hunting and gathering.  Not as much today as in the past because there is always the local Native store that sells everything from fruit to CDs.  But the cycle still exists albeit modified some due to modern technology. 

Effie Hadley, friend, confidant, and village elder says she can remember how they use to hunt and gather food and can even recall the cycle they use to follow, although she does admit, “It is hard to say for sure, some of it just sort of blends together at my age.”

“When springtime came," Effie continued, “and the snow returned to the earth we use to hunt for eggs and pick berries.  After a long winter it really was a treat to eat something different.  Eventually though it would be time to hunt the beluga and seal and we would walk the riverbank leading to the ocean.  Along the riverbank we would find berry patches, some eggs, and now and then rhubarb.  I liked rhubarb.  I would pick as much as I could find and what I did not eat or give away I would bury.  That would keep it fresh until I returned from the coast.

“There were a lot of seal and the men would have no trouble getting all they wanted or could use.  Every part of the seal was used either for food or clothing.  The bones we would make into needles, the skin of course for clothing, the flippers and sinew for mukluks, and of course the oil.

“It seems like we would work all day and all night,” Effie said with a chuckle.  “The beluga would start to come around and the men had found out that you can run down a beluga with a motor boat pretty easily but some men thought that when they did they did not get as many whale.  They said the noise scared them off.  So depending on things, the men would line up their boasts and stretch them out as far as they could and sit and wait quietly.  As a beluga would come close the men would attack.  After a kill they would light a lantern and that was the signal for the women and children to boat out and drag the kill back to the beach.  We would prepare the beluga, divide it among the families as to need and the men would continue the hunt.”

Apparently nothing of the beluga was wasted either.  Bones, meat, even what Effie called rancid flippers were saved to boil during the winter just in case they ran out of food.

“Even the head was cooked.  We would scrape out the brain, mix it with a local leaf called surra, and fry it in seal oil or its own oil.  It was a real treat to eat it out there on the beach.  It tasted like crispy fried rice.

“You had to be careful however of what combinations you ate.”  Effie said emphatically.  Some things apparently did not go well together and were even lethal.  Effie claims that her people learned a long time ago that you did not eat muktuk (whale meat) and raw salmon berries.  “It would kill you.”  I asked her if she knew anyone who died from eating that combination.  “Yes,” she said, “My sister died from doing that ,  But that was a long time ago before I was born.  I don’t know anyone now that would be so foolish to try it.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Native Youth Olypics - Alaska

The coach here in Hooper Bay is always a native that has returned to the village to teach, which is the goal of all bush school districts.  It gives the rest of us a shelf life but we know that going in.  One of my students asked if I would help her with her speech and after reading it I asked her if she really wanted to give it.  She looked at me sort of puzzled and said she did, like why would I even ask.

I asked her if I could use the speech in this column if I gave her full credit.  She thought that would be great to see her name in print.  What follows is the speech delivered at the district NYO meet this year.

“Hello, my name is Samantha Hill.  I am 14 years old and I come from Hooper BayAlaska.  My speech is about my family.  Long ago I was born to Nancy Ann Hill and Arnold Davis Simon.

“In the year 1989 my mom graduated from Hooper Bay High School.  She wanted to go to college but she couldn’t because that was the year I was born.  My grandparents, Reuben and Kathryn Hill wanted to take me, but my mom wanted to keep me.  So she did.

“As I grew older my sister Paula was born.  Everything was doing well until October 29, 1990.  My dad died seven months after my sister Paula was born.

“The one thing I remember about my dad was the funeral.  Can you imagine a 2 year old remembering something like that?

“A few years passed and we were doing well.  As I grew older I asked my mom how my dad’s funeral looked.  She described it to me and it was exactly how I remember it.  I was really amazed.

“We grew up to be a happy family, just the way I wanted it.  When it came to holidays and birthdays our mom always gave us the most perfect presents any child could have.

“Before our dad died y mom became pregnant again.  So we had a sister.  Her name was Eva.  We had to give her away to Sam and Mary Black because we had too many girls.  After Eva was born my mom had another baby.  My mom called and asked us what we should name the new baby and I suggested Arnoldine Hill.  We decided to keep Arnoldine.  When they came home we were happy.

“Three months went by and I was holding Arnoldine over my head and she puked all over me.  She got sick when she was held in the air.  The one thing I wanted most was to have a baby brother.

“Arnoldine grew older and when she was about 6 we finally got a new baby brother, his name was Jon Raymond Louis Koby Hill.  My mom named him after out baby sitter, Koby Joe.  I was glad when mom came home with a baby brother.  He was the first boy we had gotten.  He has grown up to be a funny brother and every time I am sad he cheers me up.

“Everything changed on April 23, 1999.  The time was   My mom told me not to come home because her boyfriend Balingo was drunk.  At , David Hill came to pick me up, but I didn’t want to go home, but knew I had to.  When I entered the house every body was crying.  I asked what had happened.  They told me that my mom was gone.  I started to cry.  I asked again and they explained that Balingo had shot her.  I cried even harder.

“They took her to Bethel and then to Anchorage.  When she got there she was still alive.  They called later and told us she had suffocated.

“When the body came back to Hooper Bay everybody went down to the airport.

“They brought her to our grandparent’s house, we had the body and everyone came by to visit.

“The day of the funeral we sang songs and then had the ceremony.  We gathered around her body and before we could go to the cemetery my auntie Romaon cried and yelled out my mom’s name.   Thank you for listening.”

Samantha won second place in the eighth grade division.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Water Buckets - Alaska

Teachers are such a spoiled lot when you come right down to it.  Little things like not having enough pencils or paper, a broken electric pencil sharpener, or having to walk an extra 20 feet to your classroom when the temperature drops a little, can put them over the edge.  So when the most serious crisis to ever hit our village occurred one day a few years back I wondered how we would manage.
At our Friday night potluck dinners there was always a central topic of discussion.  Venting now and then was a basic necessity and always felt good to everyone.  The discussions were never really planned; they just sort of arose out of the ashes of burning complaints.  The week’s topic in question that potluck, over the aromas of sliced smoked turkey, barbecued caribou, moose stew, and pumpkin pie, was water – or the lack thereof.  The running water for the school, thus teacher housing, had gone out the previous day.
The well either had a bad pump or clogged filter, or was caved in or ran dry, no one seemed to know for certain.  In any case there was no drinking, washing, (dishes, clothes, or bodies,) or flushing water availale.  Gee, I thought at the time, just like the rest of the village.
I informed my friends in the lower 48 not to worry about me, however; because I was rather a resourceful person and there were other items at my disposal, albeit inconvenient.
First there were two watering points that tapped into different wells in the village.  One can walk to those points without much trouble and bring back a five gallon bucket of water.  We called that packing water.  The nearest watering point was only a quarter of a mile away and packing water a couple of times a day built character.
I suggested to my wife that she could make extra money packing water for the teachers but she showed little interest in doing so.  She only reminded me that one of the criteria she established before coming up here was that running water be available and that I would have to do the running.
We teachers had been warned that the main pump could go out and that we needed to store drinking water, we never seemed to store enough.  The acquisition of several five-gallon buckets was highly recommended so one did not have to resort to using honey buckets.  Most of the teachers spent the first day of the debacle scampering around looking for containers to store drinking water but for some reason the place my wife and I lived had 15 gallons of water standing by when we arrived and enough five gallon buckets filled so we did not have to resort to that honey bucket thing.
I chided my peers that Friday evening for being such wimps and told them we should be thankful that we had running water at all.  I told them I was aghast to hear them moan and groan.  Look at the bright side I told them, “By our contract if water is out for 10 consecutive days our rent is cut in half, school is out at one o’clock each day until the crisis is over, and the hauling of water is good exercise.”  The village watering point that week had some unfamiliar faces.
It was amusing to see teachers hauling water back to their dwellings.  There was snow on the ground, the temp was in the teens, and the boardwalks more slippery then ever.  My friends could not understand why I was not upset.
Secondly, they never understood that just a common ol’ pioneer type like me from Independence could take that sort of thing in stride, that my days in the army had prepared me for such things, my growing up in Fairmount made me tough because of all the guys I hung with from Sugar Creek, and working for the State Emergency Management Agency caused me to see real suffering and disaster.  What was happening was not a disaster.  Besides I had a secret.
My dwelling rested lower than the school and the other teacher housing.  I was not a hydrology expert, but I did remember from a Van Horn science class that water runs downhill.  I had also learned during my travels that you always made friends with the maintenance men.  They have keys to where you might want to go, respond quicker to your problems if they like you, and know where the valves are.
What little amount of pumping left in our worn out system did not create enough pressure to send water to the school or any of the housing save mine.  I received only a trickle but enough of a trickle for the necessities.  The pressure was enough to supply the engine room though.  Instead of going down to the village watering hole after work, when I determined that a trickle was not enough I just went out my back door, down the hall into the pump room, turned on the spigot, filled my buckets, and stealthily retuned to my abode.
I loved my fellow teachers but some things are better left unsaid.  I kept this bit of information to myself.  The last time this had happened was two years ago I was told and given the 80% turnover in personnel since then, no one knew about my source except Dennis, the maintenance man.  Cookies and a free lunch once a week bought his silence.
If anyone had gotten into real distress I would not have let them go with out naturally.  Distress and inconvenience are two different animals and comedic entertainment was hard to come by.
They had to set priorities as to what was important for them, ie, bathing, toileting, dish washing, or drinking water.    
It seems to me if I remember correctly they passed on bathing everyday in exchange for not having to use honey buckets.  I thought at the time that if the situation continued for more than a couple of weeks the aroma arising from the Friday night potlucks would not only yield smoked turkey, barbecued caribou, moose stew, and pumpkin pie.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Christmas Travel - Alaska

In all the years I spent in Alaska I only decided to return to the lower 48 for Christmas once.  My kids were a little up set, more for me than for them I suspect.  They had visions of me sitting in my little basement dwelling, watching television all alone with a little TV dinner while I cried into my eggnog.  That was not the case due to nice people that always seemed to take pity on a single person around Christmas time.  I always had a Christmas dinner and a New Year happening to go to.  The reason I did not return more than once had a lot to do about not spending the $1000 the trip would have cost and the hassle it involved.

The coming and going from the village over Christmas vacation was always a real mental and physical hardship let alone a financial drain.  Leaving from bush Alaska is not an easy task under the best of circumstances let alone over a busy holiday period.

The year I did return, my first year there, it went something like this -
Around the 20th of December the teachers who were leaving congregated in the school office.  They waited for the fifteen minute warning call from a plane that would carry them off.  When the call was received all the bags were thrown into a sled attached to a snow-go and we piled on top of them and sped towards the landing strip.  We hoped our timing was right so as not to miss the plane or worse yet get to the strip to early and wait in the freezing cold longer than necessary.  The plane only held nine people plus baggage and it takes two and sometimes three trips in an out of the village to the regional airport, about an hour away, to get everyone on their way.

Once arriving at the regional airport, in this particular case Bethel, it is easy to transfer to a regular jet liner, seating about 50, for the trip to Anchorage.  We got into Anchorage around  and the flight to the lower 48 took off at .  Going to a motel seems ludicrous so it is customary to find a soft metal bench or an even a softer portion of some indoor outdoor carpet and try and sleep. 

The flight I was on was going to Seattle first where you may or not spend the night.  Sometimes the flight goes to Chicago or even Houston non stop but not this time.  From Seattle we went to Denver then to Chicago, my final destination that year. 

After visiting that year the return trip I thought would be more relaxing due mostly to the fact I didn’t care if I got back on time or not.  However it turned out to be far more taxing.

It was a direct shot to Anchorage from Chicago.  What could go wrong?  Well, as we were going down the runway and were just about ready to lift off for our seven hour flight the engines suddenly unwound, setting the nose back on the tarmac and the plane started heading back towards the terminal.  The captain came over the intercom and explained that there was nothing serious but a light had come on indicating a pressure door was malfunctioning.  It needed to be checked out.  It took two hours to check the situation out and naturally we were not allowed to deplane. 

We tried the takeoff again and this time met with success.  The seven hour flight went smooth enough but every time we hit an air pocket I had visions of one of the doors blowing off.

Our landing in Anchorage was as smooth a landing as I had ever experienced.  We parked by our gate but then it took another two hours to get the door opened.  I guess they did a good job of closing it in Chicago.

By this time it was  and our plane to Bethel was leaving at .  So I found another soft metal bench and some softer indoor outdoor carpeting close to the ticket gate and settled in.

I had planned on being first in line that morning but so did everyone else and I was number 29.  By the time I was number 10 an airline employee made an announcement indicating I was in the wrong line.  I informed whoever would listen that I was in the line I was told to be in.  I was then informed by a very polite soft spoken lady representing the airline that I was now being told to do something else and that I need not yell.

I am ashamed to say that I must have made quite a scene going to another line because two airline ticket agents came out from behind the counter and gave me special attention.  I was calming down and things were going well when it was discovered that the computer did not have me listed on the flight to Bethel and there were no seats left for over twenty-four hours.  Another scene arose.  As I was shouting out my confirmation number a phone call was made and security guards started congregating in the area.  The problem was soon rectified and I thanked the ticket agent the best I could through my hyperventilating and went off to my gate.

We took off without door problems or lights coming on and an hour later we landed in Bethel amidst a blizzard.  I took a $12, three block cab ride to the air carrier that would take me to Hooper Bay in about an hour.  I was informed that the flight had been delayed due to weather.  Ten hours later the flight was canceled.  I was put on a stand by list for the following morning.

In the mean time more teachers had arrived trying to catch a flight to the bush. They were more experienced than I about such things so I just sat back and listened to what they had to say.  The terminal was closing down and the authorities would not allow anyone to stay in the terminal over night.  To bad I thought because the metal benches seemed sort of comfortable.  The travel pros had made tentative reservations at one of the several motels and by the time I started calling around there were no rooms at the inn.  I pictured myself standing out in the cold all night when a teacher suggested I call the police to see if they had room.  I was a little perplexed until he informed me that sometimes the police let stranded passengers sleep in one of the cells if one was available.  I had no choice.

I made the call to the local constabulary and was told to come on over.  Twenty minutes and $15 later I was placed in a cell with two other transients for the night.  It was the first and only time up till now that I have ever been incarcerated as such.

The next morning I caught a taxi back to the airport, this time costing $20 and got ready for my supposedly  flight.  Nine AM came and went and around 10:00 AM I began to hear rumors that weather was still bad in Hooper Bay and that we would be in Bethel another night.  It was then that the luck of the Irish placed its charms around me.

 As I was leaning against the counter listening to the pros talk about what to do next, an employee came out of the back room from behind the counter and told the Eskimo ticket agent to get nine people on a manifest to Hooper Bay and he did not care which nine they were.  So much for a stand by list.  I immediately turned around and said, “Give me a ticket.”  The teachers began jostling and shoving their way to the counter and I got out of the way for fear of life and limb.  The plane took off about an hour later.

When we landed in Hooper Bay it was 10 below and the wind chill brought the temperature down to minus 42.  There was no time to delay.  We hurriedly through our bags on the sled trip to school, jumped on top and off we went towards the school about a mile away.  We zoomed across the tundra at 35 mph which was fast but not fast enough into the wind and a teacher later told me that he calculated the temperature was -75 degrees with the wind chill.

The following years I made no special attempt to go home fro Christmas.  It was too much of a hassle.  I had a choice and was fine each year I stayed in Alaska over the holidays.  I told my family and friends not to worry about me but to instead concern themselves with those young men and women that are really spending Christmas far away from home and really have no choice.  They are not teachers, I think the term used is "being in the military."