Saturday, February 5, 2011

Eleven Years Now

Late summer sunset from the porch in Tunt.

We've landed, and settled into this village on small river about a mile and a half from its confluence with the "mighty Kuskokwim". Our house is on lake-front property. People in other places far away from here pay a lot for a view like this. Here, everyone has it. Many take it for granted and just want to go see something different. But often, when they do leave, they're drawn back for lot of reasons but mostly because it's home. For now, it's home for us too. This is our fourth "home" in Alaska, fifth if we count the bio-hazard site we were living in last school year.

Coming home after Volleyball regionals in December
Only one, the house in Kenai is really "ours", or at last ours and the bank's, but we only get to spend a few months there in the summer and a few days here and there during the school year. It is a beautiful place, comfortable to just c"chill"  and a comfortable distance from some of my favorite places in Alaska: Homer, Seward, and Whittier, or at least Prince William Sound, since Whittier is pretty much a dump, with an incredible view. I can fish and dig for clams and do the things that make me feel like I could take care of myself if I had to. This is an absolute illusion, of course, because we rely pretty heavily still on COSTCO and its ilk.
My yard?! No! Their yard! For about two hours, actually.

Even still, it is a place I'm never bored, either by the adventures I have had, or the potential for them, even if I haven't lifted a finger toward those endeavors...yet. One reason I'm writing this blog is to publicly proclaim my intentions. I'm actually trying to shame myself into doing what I say I'll be doing. This strategy, of course, is reliant on the presumption that anyone actually reads this thing. Let me know if there's anyone out there besides crickets.

Here in the village, the potential for adventure is more problematic. During the spring, summer, and fall, after break-up and before freeze-up, if one steps off the boardwalks around here, count on wet feet...or knees...or hips. The substrate upon which the village was built  is shifting silt so we're sitting on land that is pretty tentative in its resolve to remain land and would just as soon become river bed or even suspended particulate in the ocean.
Morning fog in Tunt
The Tuntutuliak Fun Run, as school year winds down.
This means getting anywhere requires at least waders and more likely a boat to go anywhere that's not so much like here. There's virtually no relief, as in geographic, and I feel the need to climb a tree to look around and see what's up the river, down the river, or across the tundra. The problem is there are no trees that would support my weight, or even that of our well-fed Siamese, who refuses to go outside anyway. The folding kayak plan, if it ever launches, may provide me some relief...from lack of relief.

Winter travel would call for a snow machine, which I'm thinking about, but my upbringing has conditioned me to put the words: "God damn" in front of the word "snowmobile". I do have cross-country skis, which, when the snow is deep and powdery, is fun to get out on, but still, I'm not up to a winter journey of any length greater than around the village or an hour or so up or down the river. Foster, the Australian Shepherd, is NOT a sled dog. He knows his "GEE" from his "HAW" but "ON-BY" is really hard for him. He's pretty easily distracted by his environment, be it another dog or an interesting smell. He's very strong and can pull me hard and fast, but he also is a herd dog so he finds the need to check on my progress and wants me to have the opportunity to "help" us in our progress, so the line tends to be a bit slack for much of our excursion. When we were in Toksook, on Nelson Island, this was not as much of an issue since we usually had lots of snow, when it wasn't being redistributed by 40 knot winds that were, though not constant, certainly frequent. We also had "The Hill" which allowed us the pay-off of a fast down-hill run after puffing and panting our way up the hill. Mekoryuk on Nunivak had potential, but we were only there a year.
Jeordyn on the roof of the Kenai Peninsula, Harding Ice Field 

Skiing on the flats requires a different mindset and feels more running on a treadmill; we see where we're going and it's pretty much just like where we are, and where we came from... keep going.  The tundra and the delta from the air is a unique sight. I know when I first came out, landed in Bethel then on to Toksook, back in August of 2000, I shot about 2 rolls (remember rolls?) during the hour-and-a-half-long flight over to Nelson Island, by way of Nunivak. The color of the tundra was almost emerald green, with all those lakes and tributaries scattered and meandering across this strange landscape. The flight to Toksook involved stops in at least two other villages, depending on the routing. Our runway was short and very close to town. It, however, did not have runway lights (due to the youthful indiscretions of one who will remain anonymous on these pages) so any flights that came in had to happen after sunrise, as late as 11 am, or before sunset, as early as 4:30 pm. This  meant, if we left in the afternoon, we'd have stops in Tununak and then Mekoryuk, since they had to pick us up before dark. In the morning, flying out from Bethel, We landed in Toksook last, in order to give the sun a chance to rise. It's was a milk run and if you had to pee before you got on the plane, you REALLY had to by the time you got to Toksook. If the plane turned around due to weather or runway conditions, you'd have a VERY uncomfortable ride back to Bethel.
They came to visit in Toksook, right before the Airport was built

We got our new airport in 2002, less convenient, now a mile out of town, instead of 100 yards from our door, longer, safer, with runway lights this time, and better for the community of course.

Snow in Toksook. Just pretend we don't have steps for now.
After eight years in Toksook, We decided to relocate. We looked around and decided that Mekoryuk, even FURTHER from Walmart, might be a place to see and be. We'd been there before for when the ball teams needed chaperones, and we liked it. When we got there, we found a village in decline. It is a beautiful place. Miles of volcanic sand beaches circle the island. The muskox herd gave us something to look for as we flew in or out, reindeer grazed near the village at times, there were mountains in the distance that gave me something to think about that would satisfy my "hunter" tendencies. We were only there for a year. The school had about 38 kids when we got there. There were only 29 by the end of the year. Numbers are everything in the education game, so we were offered our choice of positions in a village that needed teachers more than Mekoryuk did. The kids were great, the staff was wonderful. We still miss them. Administration was another thing, about which I will decline comment at this time.

"Road trip" with the volleyball a place where there are no roads
Me and you-know-who. She was very... nice.
We have had a few visitors. When we first came, we pictured our friends coming and going with ease and enthusiasm. My mom came for Senna's Graduation as did Ann and her sister, Lynn. I'm sure it was a memorable trip for them, but one that does take an effort that most casual travelers will likely forgo, given the opportunity. This is not that jaw-droppingly gorgeous part of Alaska that the airline magazine and the cruiseline brochures show. Coming here was the most deliberate thing I have ever done in my life. We uprooted our life in Austin after twenty years, had the mother of all garage sales, and figured out ways to mothball the things we left behind. To say I have no regrets is just silly. After eleven years, I still think about Austin as "home", and one that I will always miss. Connections here are still strong there, so we still make our annual sojourns and probably will for the foreseeable future.Hopefully, our friends haven't given up on us. I CAN retire in 6 years, but when I wrote in "2017" that still seems like a long time.

These pictures I included with this entry have no real order or significance. They are just images of some of our experiences that we never could have  imagined unless we'd made the decisions we made back in July of 2000.

Senna and Me at Exit Glacier.

Foster by the Kenai River.

Early in the Morning on the AK Highway

"Got anything to eat in that backpack?"


David said...

One Cricket checking in...!
Interesting read! There must be some common thread that has made you stick it out there for 11 years! Granted, your decision was deliberate, but from my point of view, I see no regrets. We miss Austin as well, and for some of the same reason. But like you, we love it here in Tennessee, because of the people, and the fact that we have 4 seasons instead of one. It is very beautiful here, and allot of adventures to be had. You and Annette found a place of contentment. For that, I am very proud and happy.

susan said...

Very interesting and I love the pictures! I also have a spirit of adventure, but never had the right person to share it with. I admire you and your wife for taking the plunge and living "outside the box"!

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