Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Where DO we go?!

Okay, so winter break is drawn to a close for us here in Tunt, and we are all back in our classrooms preparing for the inevitable onslaught of students who've been out of classrooms for three weeks and, because of Slavic celebrations, have been eating massive amounts of candy for the last several days. Even still, we're glad to see each other and a brief honeymoon will ensue while we tell about our various adventures..."WHERE DID YOU GO," they will ask us repeatedly, and we will tell them.

Getting away from the cold and dark continues to be important. By the the time the winter solstice slides in, we are all tired and in serious need of a break. We spent part of our time at the house in Kenai, and while it was relaxing, 5 hours of daylight fails to accommodate my tendencies to procrastinate. Even waking up at 8:00 means waiting until 10:00 for useable light, then it will be dark again at 4:30. You will get a spectacular sunrise, riotous sunset, and whatever activity you can do during that 5-hour slot in between. An 8-mile hike without snowshoes was NOT a good choice, but still, a learning experience.
Obligatory riotous sunset over Cook Inlet.

Our vacation is almost excessive, but I will not complain, since I am still on the receiving end of three weeks of uninterrupted absence from school, during which time I try to think about school as little as possible...with at least moderate success.

This year we split our time away from the village. The week from Christmas eve to New Year's Eve, we spent in Kenai. On New Year's Eve we flew to Tucson where desert nights cooled off to about 45 F and days warmed to 65 or so. Short sleeves and shorts weather if you insist, but it's definitely forced. Yes, I did don my cargo shorts and tee-shirts, because I DO insist. Winter is a relative thing.

The Border Fence! We used to collect pretty rocks in he washes along this stretch. Not so much anymore.  
In most other years, we have made our way to Austin for the holidays and while seeing friends and family is great, if central Texas is going to have winter weather, it usually falls right around the winter solstice. This is when Texas highways become hockey arenas, with heavily armored F-150's playing power forward, and Prius's and smart cars standing in as pucks. We are likely to get at least a few nice days, but getting away from winter unscathed is not a sure thing.

Hawaii was our destination last year, with our daughter, Senna, her honey, Matt and my mom included in the solar celebration. We ended up on the "Big Island,"with the whole gang after a week on Kauai by ourselves. I highly recommend this destination as an escape from the cold and dark. Winter didn't have a chance!

The schedule of a teacher gives us that same pattern of work and play that most of us grew up with.  It is not typical in the rest of the working world, I am finding more and more. Nor is it as desirable to everyone going on vacation, since summer is "high season," in many places (like Alaska tourist destinations)  or totally inappropriate "low season," like the Caribbean, anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, or the desert southwest. Austin in the summer was our home base in the summer for several years, but never really a great idea, and as soon as we realized how wonderful Alaskan summers can be, we acknowledged that it is just WRONG to leave Alaska in the summer time and after an epic road trip one year (17000 miles, Alaska to Maine and back again) bought our house in Kenai. Someday, we might actually get to live in it for more than two or three months a year.

Pastoral Stand-off?
Everyone was glad to see us, and were happy to be back in school...for now. We'll see how our energy level is holding up by....the end of...basketball season?

Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Coming and Going

Suffering through the interminable minutes of a staff development session scheduled on the day before a three-week vacation was hard enough. The weather was crap, which is normal for this time of year, and so far, planes were not flying. We weren't worried; we were scheduled to go out the morning of the next day, thinking, we'd have plenty of time to pack, clean up, and leave the house in a condition we wouldn't be too depressed coming back to. We went to bed, woke up bright and early the next morning to...freezing rain and high winds!

We sat around and waited, listening to any chatter on the VHF that might lift our hopes that at some point in the day our plane would fly and we would begin our vacation in a timely manner at our house in Kenai. Scheduled flight time came and went. It was clear we would not make our connection either, but still we were hopeful, ready to go when the plane did arrive. Finally, mid-afternoon, and the skies cleared! The village agent called and said the plane would be coming in 20 minutes. We called for our ride and made our way to the airport with a month's worth of clothes, toys, and gadgets, a dog kennel, cat carrier, and high expectations of a few days to relax and enjoy Christmas vacation on the Kenai Peninsula...alas...this was not to be. With a brief fiasco at the Tuntutuliak airport, which is best left undescribed...for now, We did get to Bethel, where we faced a small airport terminal packed wall-to-wall with travelers trying to go home to their villages or away for a while to distant cities, towns, beaches, and famous mouse empires. None of us were going anywhere that night and so with furrows in our brows we all went off and found places to sleep there in Bethel.

Our only choice, since we had pets and friends already out of town, was the once celebrated, but now less so-hotel in town that would accommodate our pets. We got the "teacher" discount rate, so we only paid about twice what anyone anywhere else would pay for a comparable room, but hey, it's Bethel! Morning came and we proceeded as if we would indeed be leaving Bethel that morning. The cat who is 15 years old and doesn't handle change well, had other plans. He crawled under the bed and then up into the coils of the box spring. This, of course, was about a half hour before we were due at the airport, and so dismantling the bed to retrieve the cat was not the welcome task it might have been, had I more time on my hands. We stuffed him unceremoniously into his carrier.  A bit more exasperated, but still optimistically, and with an actual reservation in hand, along with our menagerie, we made our way back out to the airport and waited patiently for our flight time...which came...and went...with no explanation except, "It's on weather-hold." Oh yeah, and, that morning, I had dropped my iPad on a metal grate outside the hotel. The screen flipped confusedly through the glass that now resembled a spiderweb more than a high-resolution LCD digital display. I turned it off and stuffed it into my back pack, deciding to think about other happier thoughts, like getting the hell out of Bethel before Christmas eve. We were still hopeful that the plane would land and take us away...until...it didn't. Apparently, the runway in Bethel was too slippery and, indeed, no larger planes landed that evening.

Back to the hotel we went for yet another night, with nerves now frayed well past easy tolerance of a minor inconvenience.  Grouchy would be understating our mood at this point, and the animals had had more than enough too. But after three days waiting, we would NOT have to wait a fourth, and, though late by a couple hours, the plane boarded and we were on our way. The rest was actually quite uneventful. We got to Kenai, found the car parked, and with only a little shoveling and scraping uncovered it enough to drive home to our house that would be "ours", for at least a few days. We settled in and enjoyed eggnog, good food, and the prospect of not thinking very seriously about school for most of the next three weeks. Three days bitten out of it did leave us with at least a bit of resentment though.

In the course of the 14 years we have traveled in at out of the Kuskokwim delta region, we have always had impeccably good fortune at Christmas time anyway. This was indeed the first time that we actually got stuck heading out of the village. Anger, frustration, and feelings of being cheated by fate is common but  railing at the forces of nature, or even the airline operations managers does very little to improve ones situation. The sky will clear when it clears, the planes will fly when they fly. Rather like second-guessing a referee's call or a coach's decision, many a frustrated passenger has conjectured that a plane COULD have flown today, because on some OTHER day, (by ones own myopic perception) just LIKE today, the planes flew! It makes us feel smug and superior for a moment, perhaps, but it won't get you coming...or going any faster than just chilling at the airport and enjoying the company of kindred spirits, some even your old friends and former students, who are in the same boat as you and want desperately to get home just as badly as you do...but they are also glad to see you too.

Happy New Year!
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