Sunday, August 30, 2009

"A New River Channel"

"You are today where your thoughts have brought you;
You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you." ~James Allen

If that quote is true then I've been thinking of beef. Last Thursday we (Jim, Steph and myself) were blessed to be invited up to the Dave Duncan and Sons fish camp for their annual end of the year dinner. Albert who is our technology guru by school year and Duncan Sons Fishing Guide by summer (pictured to the left) extended the invitation, then was our curbside pick up and chauffeur the 18 rainy miles up river to the lower camp. I am astounded at the navigational genius required to maneuver a boat up this ever changing river system. Albert who is from Quinhagak informed us that Quinhagak literally translated is "A new river channel." As he pointed out, "Yeah, last week there used to be a channel over there now the river runs this way instead. Its always changing." It made sense I learned something new. So what treat, Duncan's run the fish camp from June to the end of August. This week was their last group of clients and the time they pack up and ship out. We had the unique and humbling opportunity to mingle with the guests and be treated as such. On the menu in the Hanson Corp Dinner Tent (one of the sturdy portable structures that serve as home to the 20 some fishing guides and constant change of clients for 3 months out of the year) was for each person a slab of grade A choice cut prime rib! Colleen the chef was amazing and offered us seconds. Wow was I wishing for a hollow leg. After great conversation with John and Brad the Duncan Brothers who own and run the camp, Darrel, Cutler and a few of the guides , all the guys washed dishes! (pictured left)Steph and I got it on camera and decided it was a great example for all men to follow. It is also proof that these hard core fishermen, way past five o'clock shadows and able to reel in a monster king with their eyes closed, are not only in search of the aquatic prey all summer, theirs is a job that encompasses other important duties (such as the picture reveals) maybe even more so than their 5am trips down river. Albert took us on a full tour around the camp after dinner which included a peek at the FLUSHING toilets in the middle of the tundra! (pictured below) As you can see the port o potties have their own tents and yes that toilet flushes...hum how do we get a hold of one of those maybe they would consider trading us for honey buckets so the clients can experience the Real Alaskan Bush? At any rate, it was a pleasant surprise in the week greatly appreciated. Thanks to you Brad, John and Albert for inviting us in. We had a rainy trip up but the ride back on the Kanektok was beautiful as we seemed to drive into the sunset (pictured below). The next morning, Friday, I hopped the am flight into Bethel for 'reading' training. On the flight I sat next to the last of the fish plant workers heading home for winter. They shut the plant down this week and fortunate for the village, they sell off all the food that they didn't use from serving the workers all summer, for cheap. The whole town was there for the make shift frozen farmer's market. Four wheelers lined up down the road, we bought a ton of frozen veggies, meats, breads etc. Anyway I visited with them on the plane ride, albeit very quietly as I had lost my voice. It happens this way every year, I'm sick the first month of school catching every germ I come into contact with. So the sore throat I had earlier this week took my voice away almost completely Friday morning. Therefore, I was squeaking around at the the training to every one's entertainment. And Friday night (while with my friend Anya, whom I stayed with in Bethel and gave me the grand tour of the Bethel, the proclaimed Paris of the Kuskokwim) my lack of voice made it a challenge to communicate (more than usual). Then Saturday, Joel Williams my spec. edu. itinerant, (who flies in to save the day every so often at Quin and had arranged the whole 'reading' training) ended up carting me around Bethel for a while much to his chagrin as you will see. During one of our conversations he submitted "Yeah, it seems like people come up here for 1 of 2 reasons: they are either running away from something or looking for something and they may not even know what it is yet." I thought that was blog worthy and true. While engrossed in our conversation and doing what I thought was a favor by helping Joel unload garbage from the back of his truck into the dumpster nearby, I inadvertently and unnoticed by both of us, threw the groceries which he had just bought, away. (Anya pictured right) He emailed me tonight, the title read: Dude, You Threw My Groceries in the Trash. I got a good laugh at Joel's expense, quite literally. Sorry again Joel. So tonight Steph and I walked the pack, I'm catching up on my blogging, Ani is asleep on the couch and I think my voice is returning. I hope whatever you are doing makes your heart smile. I miss you all and think of you often. Hope you are enjoying our journey so far. From the village of Quinhagak, Alaska this is Rach saying Good Night and God Bless.
"I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy;
I smack my lips. It's time to shout praises!
If I'm sleepless at midnight, I spend hours in grateful reflection.
Because you've always stood up for me,
I'm free to run and play,
I hold on to you for dear life,
and you hold me steady as a post." Psalm 63:5-8

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's Been One of 'Those' Days

"No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap." ~Carrie P. Snow

You've had 'em. You know what I'm talking about. (Above Mainstreet Quin) From the get go you feel like you have two left feet, you're two steps behind and the odds are stacked against you. You dismounted on the wrong side of the bed, it is usually a Monday...well, today mine was a Tuesday. I woke up a 8:30 AM!!!! To 2 messages from my principal and 1 from my colleague..."Where are you?" was their inquisition and "Are you Okay?" was their concern..thankfully or not I was fine, more than fine really I had 3 extra hours of sleep under my belt and was already 1/2 hour late to school. Try to hurry, when you have a 1 mile walk... Strike One. When I got to school 1 hour late everyone was snickering...How ya feeling??? Did you get enough sleep? Little late aren't ya? Yah, yah, as I spilled coffee down my shirt missing my mouth, to my defense I am battling a sore throat but nothing to keep me in bed. Strike Two. Anyway later on that same day I lost Bob. That's right. One of my students that I'm supposed to keep 8 eyes on, evaded me. During recess he took off down the road headed for home. Where's Bob???? Everyone was asking??? "What? Where's Bob?" I freaked??? All eyes were on me and mine weren't on Bob. Strike Three. Enough said. Off we went in (Left the neighborhood)search of Bob. We found him happily bopping along 2 blocks from the school, jacket on upside down and merrily on his way home. Back to school we went. From there it seemed like the day was going to make a turn around, okay, aside from the mountains of paperwork and apparently(right the school) my sending too many mass emails asking everyone what I'm doing??? Canceled practice as we had a funeral in the village an elder had passed on. Came home for a bit with 1/2 dozen kids who played all over the house using my living room as a gymnastics mat. In the mist of the three ring circus I had invited into my home... my sweet friend Niki visited bless her heart, our conversation lead to how we ended up here in Quin. It was then that she told me about her experience of arriving to the tundra. (left the playground outside the school and our trusty school suburban)She said it was okay to share her story with you on this blog.

Apparently on her connecting flight from Bethel to Quin the part where it starts to sink in as to where your are headed, when they walk you out onto the tarmac amidst the 'plane parking lot' much like a rental car lot, and lead you to your chariot where you have to mount up helping each other climb and struggle to get situated in the aircraft not much bigger than a Honda Civic. It was then as Niki sat stuffed in the back of a little 6 seater puddle jumper with her 3 year old daughter stashed up in the front by her 10 year old son and husband, when the pilot hollered back, "Buckle Up". Niki, after sometime searching for her safety harness gave up and hollered back that she couldn't find hers. To which he answered nonchalantly, "You have to use the rope." Rope? Oh Dear Lord Help Me she thought, she had wondered what the baling twine tied to her seat was for... welcome to the bush.

So anyway at about a quarter to 7 we ended our reminiscing and I herded the kiddos out the door and headed for church where we (Mac and I) sang "I'll Fly Away" bluegrass style complete with guitar (Mac), electric banjo(John Teddy one of our great Paras) and mandolin(Jim). We were beckoned to the front of the church just after a small black and white village dog zinged in and streaked down the aisles and around the pews trying to out run the young man who wrangled (above Mac, Jim, John practicing in our room)him out the door (reminded me of that Ray Stevens song "When the Squirrel Went Berserk in the 1st Self Righteous Church..." etc...) and a mere 2 hours after various people had been sharing in Yupik about the gentleman who passed away. We were a little concerned as we hadn't realized it was kind of like a memorial service. But John Teddy was related to him and he had arranged the whole thing so we went on with it. It turned out very nice and uplifting I think. The church here reminds me of the old Bethesda Lutheran Church that all my cousins grew up in and I tagged along with them in the summers when we'd get to spend (right the beach high tide)a week tearing around on Gram and Gramp's farm. Also it is like the Off Lake Church up at the lake, which on summer days spent with Gram and Grampa we'd visit if the weather for the boat ride across was fair. And finally it reminds me of The River Church which is the daughter church of Hayward Wesleyan. It amazes me how you can not even know people and places ever existed then suddenly if they know the Lord and you know the Lord you can feel as though you've known them forever. That's how it feels here. Anyway, the day is ending with a walk past the fish plant with Ani and watching the sun set on the Bering Sea. It just seemed like quite the spectrum of experiences in the short time I've been awake and alert, all things considered. Hope you are having an adventurous but not 'One Of Those Days' yourself!
"Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help." Hebrews 4:14-16

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Everybody Up The River

"Voyage upon life's sea. To yourself be true. And whatever this life maybe, paddle your own canoe." Sarah Bolton

Took this pic tonight when Steph and I walked our pack of dogs...Marley, Bela and Ani down to the beach on the Bering Sea. It is about a mile walk from teacher housing. The tide was out as you can see. This afternoon all of us girls in the neighborhood went for a jog down to the beach too and the tide was in! Water lapping the shore, we don't get to see it very often as it comes rolling in when we are at school. The sunset tonight was beautiful. Today it was hide and seek sunshine, blue sky and clouds so Jim took us "up the river"! Now this is a real treat in Quinhagak. One can only get "up the river" with a boat obviously not everyone has that luxury. Steph and Jim however as a celebration of their 6th year in the bush decided it was time to deservedly invest in a nice jet motor. With our principal and his wife's (Eric and Sherry) gun boat they have an honest to goodness river worthy watercraft! So with Jim manning the ship, we were off, jetting along the ever changing depths, waving at the outfitters busy loading up their newest clientele to haul to the various 'fish camps' along the river, waving at the locals collecting wood for steam houses and fishing. Yes, this afternoon we crossed over, hair blowing in the breeze joining the "up the river" caravan of boats, soaking up the sun on the Kanektok. It's not an easy river to navigate, sandbars change almost daily, places that had water are suddenly beaches and great stop off spots you visited last week no longer exist, submersed. I give anyone who gets in front of a motor and sacrifices them self as captain all the credit in the world. Unfortunately we were skunked in the fish department and managed only to collect a few low bush cranberries that aren't quite ripe yet (which I ate before we even got back to the landing). I thought trip and experience were priceless! The jet wasn't running the way Jim had hoped, he has plans to work out the kinks tomorrow with some of the guys. It has been a nice weekend. After our first week at school and the expected overwhelming sensation that comes along with it, a warm mellow tundra time has been appreciated. Everyone got together Friday night for one of the teacher's daughter's 1st birthday. Fun to have the whole staff together. Reminded me of a family reunion or Christmas or something. I love how everyone here helps each other out and shares life. A good time.
"...I can't tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn't fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren't small, but you're living them in a small way. I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!" 2 Corinthians 6:11-13

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hey Coach...

"Coaching is 90% attitude and 10% technique."
Author Unknown
So to those of you that know me and understand my severe lack of experience in the basketball realm (thanks Bob for the books I'll be sending them back to ya, whew), you've surely been laughing along with or at me (whichever side you are on) since I agreed to make an attempt at coaching the hoop shooting rage Girls B-ball here in Quin. Thankfully we can all breath a sigh of relief, sad though it is for the kids, I've been released from that duty apparently we won't have enough chicas to support a team this year but in it's place I've jumped on the wagon to coach cross country! (above is a pic of one of our 3 roads we can run on)Our first practice was today! 17 runners showed up donning tennis shoes, shorts and smiles to home and back again. 16 boys ages 10 to 17 mostly 4th-8th graders, 6 solid varsity runners and one rock star brave girl!!!! I'm so proud of her and I told all the boys they have to recruit some girl runners, so we'll see how they fare. Anyway I loved it! Sherry is going to help out whenever she can so that will be a fun activity for us to do together. I hope the kids enjoyed it. If we can keep them all on the team we will be looking pretty good and might even need two planes to fly us to our meets! Lol! First day with kids was great, I'm loving being with the little ones, if only the paperwork load was smaller. Alas nothing is perfect. Went fishing after work but didn't even get a bite:(
** Dare Rope Alert #4 Go visit someone somewhere you've never been before far away or right across the street. For example: Come visit me in Quinhagak or go visit the neighbor guy you always talk to over the fence (pop in for coffee).

"So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense." Colossians 3: 12-13

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Experiencing The Sweet Spots In Life

“After you’ve been in a place for awhile everything starts to look.... well, you’re everyday life begins to be familiar, you recognize the faces, which is understandable because they’re the only ones you ever see anymore.” ~Joel Fleishman (Northern Exposure)

Waqaa ya’ll. (above is a pic of my favorite spot in my house) I feel like this is where I have been lately... a sweet spot. Just got home from an evening walk around the village with Animoosh (Ojibwe word meaning 'dog') who has made himself at home in my cozy little abode on Honey Bucket Lane (which aren’t such a big deal after all, actually ‘peeing’ in a bucket has become kind of a novelty) there’s talk in the neighborhood that Eric is going to order us ventilation fans too, with that our bathrooms will be smelling less in no time. (To the left, my honey bucket) Yes, Ani is now so comfortable that he has recently taken the liberty to, as far as I can figure...mark his territory. Apparently, he’s staked his claim on the intersection between the bathroom/bedroom/laundry room. Thankfully I caught him in the act both times and attempted to dog whisper the fact that this is not the place or manner in which to relieve himself. I was hoping last week’s streak of no accidents wasn’t luck but a house trained dog. O well, I think it’ll take our relationship to a new level. He’s a sweet dog and great company once he got over the initial shock of indoor living. He spent the first few days hiding in the corner of the farthest bedroom. (Right, Ani outside my house). Now he follows me around and thanks to dried salmon he is learning to ‘sit’. He freaks out about linoleum and won’t walk on it yet. Tonight Mac (my special education counter part teaching middle/high school and also accomplished musician) and I, took the advice of Pauline (our amazing para) to volunteer at the church to sing! It was Saturday night sing service. We thought, “Why not???” I met Mac at the church and he was recruited right away to join the band (3 other guitars) and an electric piano complete with drum beats. People signed up and sang songs, some in Yupik and some in English. (Left what my house is standing on) What a joy! Mac and I sang Amazing Grace, that’s how I feel lately, amazed by God’s faithful and real amazing grace. His fingerprints are all over this journey. Where do I even begin to share with you. How about I try to recap it so far. 1. Deciding to move to Alaska with or with out a job back in January. 2. That ad in the Sawyer County Record for Teachers in Alaska to perk my interest in March. 3. Finding out about this job by way of my friend Jodi’s husband Matt and a couple from my home church in WI in April. 4. Meeting Carlton (Assistant to superintendent of our Lower Kuskokwim School District) at Perkins in Hayward while he happened to be visiting family (from my home church) who lived 30 minutes from my Hayward back in April. Listening to him tell me about Quinhagak, the students, the school, the teachers, and Eric, now my principal (originally from Ladysmith,WI again 45 minutes from Hayward). 5. Taking the job site unseen. With the support and encouragement from family and friends all along the way. 6. Getting to live with Josh and Sam in Anchorage this summer. Reconnecting with Brandon and Ang and Kathy. Meeting Drew in Anchorage whose dad was the psychologist in Quin and learning about village life. 7. Finding out an email/running friend in Minneapolis had a friend who worked in Quin several years ago and getting in contact with her. 8. Finding out Ann got a job in the district too. And getting to visit with her at the new teacher training. So uplifting to see a familiar face. 9. Arriving via my first bush plane ride with a kind welcome from Cindy who I ironically was already familiar with from letters written to me by the teacher I was replacing. (Left Quinhagak Public Transportation) Being overwhelmed at the lack of trees and vast openness of it all. Threatening God that first night that I was going home. Unpacking only to empty boxes of things I didn’t want to ship back then repacking to send stuff home the next day. 9. Homesick and crying to family and friend’s then receiving their prayers, prayers, prayers. 10. Church that next morning at the (Moravian Church) now 2 weeks ago when I met Fannie who I know God sent to give a hug and reassurance that this is where I belong. 11. The friends I’ve met who love the Lord and have welcomed me open arms (Fannie Style) into their lives are helping me find my place here in this precious little corner of the world. (Answer to many prayers! Thank You all for Praying for me and getting God to keep me here.)12. I’ve met a friend, Jerilyn, from Quin who has been eager to start a bible study, praying about it with another friend of hers for over a year now. Miraculously there are at least 6 more of us that want to join one too so we all plan to start it at the end of August. (Right My Church)13. Going to be running early in the mornings with my friend Sherry (my principal’s wife) 4 times a week on all of our 15 miles of gravel road here in Quinhagak.(Left tundra from the plane) For village living, these are the equivalent of super highways...most places don’t even have anything near the likes of roads and instead they have boardwalks over the muddy tundra. 14. We are blessed here to have roads to tear around on our four wheelers (the main mode of transportation). These total of 15 miles of roads take us to the most amazing places...if you head north you’ll find yourself at the old airport runway along the Kanektok River home of some of the best salmon and trout fishing in North America and fishermen pay the price to the tune of $5000 or so for this weeklong trip of a lifetime. Taking our roads to the south you’ll see a backdrop of the picturesque Ahklun Mountain Range breathtakingly beautiful but unreachable at a mere 50 miles away across nearly impassable rolling tundra unless you are lucky enough to have a jet boat. To the east is some of the best blueberry picking in town on the banks of the Arolik River just past the GCI cell phone tower!!! Steph and I discovered this today when Anna cruised by on her four wheeler and tipped us off, a gallon each later we were happily wheeling home. And to the west is the expansive Bering Sea, a waterway that hosts commercial fishing boats which unload here in Quin at the fish plants during the summer months, rumored to be ending next week due to low fish counts. The Bering Sea provides a great beach accessible for runs, walks and mushing. All this nestled within the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. (Above what every Alaskan needs in their tool kit-The Berry Picker!)It’s stunning and there is so much air to breath and to think I was opposite of claustrophobic when I stepped off the plane for lack of trees. 15. Days here have been full, meeting wonderful people, paying way too high prices for food and anything I need to buy, picking blue berries, salmon berries, black berries, crow berries, fishing for silvers, feeding and trying to train Ani, rearranging my classroom (to the very skeptical observations of my colleagues), adjusting to my caseload, my books which turn out to be much like what I used at LCO and watching reruns of Northern Exposure with my dog! (Left Steph and I with our catch) I’m turning into a fixture at Steph and Jim’s though they assure me that they’ll tell me when I’ve outstayed my welcome...(they’re lying, they are way too sweet). Again smack dab in the middle of the tundra Alaska I’m meeting the greatest of friends. Steph cracks me up and keeps me sane. Jim took us fishing last night and we hammered the silvers, he could be a guide around here during his off season. (Above Steph and Jim my friends, yes, I pay them) We kept him busy filleting fish and detaching them from our lines. 16. This morning after making my coffee in the percolating pot thankfully left behind by some kind soul, I proceeded to switch out my refrigerators, my kitchen fridge kicked the bucket so I moved the arctic entry fridge in. I definitely had that feeling of accomplishment, those were stinking heavy pieces of equipment to be dragging around. To reward myself I served up a tasty bowl of kraft mac and cheese then quickly spilled it all over the floor, lamented its loss and the fact that Ani was not around to help clean it up as he was on solitary confinement (outside) for the morning’s earlier territory marking episode. Then had Steph over for coffee. 17. Tim another stellar teacher and neighbor was checking to see if I had enough water. We have tanks in our houses that need to be filled weekly. Unfortunately, the water truck ’62 Ford had a flat tire so they’ve been hauling water with four wheelers in big plastic barrel garbage cans. So Tim stopping, in combination with my making milk in my Nalgene bottle out of the dried milk for the mac & cheese I shipped up from Anchorage, reminded me of life on the farm. (Left Tim and Jim) Back in the days of the cistern incapable of hosting our family of 5 resulting in it habitually running dry thus forcing the entire household to go on emergency water lock down... the whole.... 'if its yellow let it mellow', boiling snow to create enough water to flush the toilet, showering at Gramma’s and for some odd reason using dry milk to make milk??? That last one didn’t fit...what was the deal Mom? Why did you make us make milk in the pitcher with that dry milk mix??? Why didn’t we just go to town and buy milk? How did that work? Hum, anyway I now find myself mixing milk again. 18. It seems like many events in life up to this point have oddly enough prepared me to feel quite at ease in the bush. Spending summers up at the lake where outhouses i.e. the Pee Tree were the norm, hot water in the shower didn’t last long enough, and electricity going out wasn’t abnormal. ‘Running to the store’ meant a boat ride across the lake and you would surely pay plenty for any items purchased. (Above Jim demonstrating how to use an ATV.) I remember Mom using the ringer washer and would be lying if I told you I didn’t bath in the lake all summer. Little moments like those make Quinhagak feel luxurious and familiar, it makes me smile. (Left a house in the village with a steam house in the front) 19. So we spent the evening praising God for such a time as this. After the service we visited with friends and met more new people becoming acquainted with the faces we see often. 20. I know I won’t always feel content like this but right now, tonight with 5 minutes less of daylight than yesterday and the sound of four wheelers (‘hondas’ as they refer to them here) rumbling by I am happy to be here, at home, in Quinhagak, Alaska.

“What can I possibly say in the face of all this? You know me, Master God, just as I am. You’ve done all this not because of who I am but because of who you are-out of your very heart! But you’ve let me in on it.” 2 Samuel 7:20-21

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wanna Take a Walk Through Quinhagak?

"Sometimes a picture's worth a thousand words." ~ Visual Learner

God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening. Their words aren't heard, their voices aren't recorded, But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere. Psalm 19:1-4