Thursday, October 8, 2009

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

"So what we've decided to do is set you up in Cicely, situated in an area that we Alaskans refer to as The Alaskan Riviera." ~Pete Gilliam on where they were sending Dr. Joel Fleishman
(Northern Exposure)

A friend asked a few questions about Quin so I thought I'd answer them for everybody. Thanks for the prompts Kris:)

A great, recently published article that I highly recommend reading if you are interested in the local issues in this area is called: Rural Alaska: Problems and Solutions. If I were you I would download the PFD so you can also see the pictures. It's quite profound and informative.

What is it like living in the tundra?

It's an adventure of course! Bring your mudboots.
Tundra is a biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term tundra means "uplands, treeless mountain tract."In tundra, the vegetation is composed of dwarf shrubs, sedges and grasses, mosses, and lichens. Scattered trees grow in some tundra.

The word "tundra" usually refers only to the areas where the subsoil is permafrost, or permanently frozen soil. The Arctic tundra is a vast area of stark landscape and is frozen for much of the year. The soil there is frozen from 9.8–35.4 inches down, and it is impossible for trees to grow. Instead, bare and sometimes rocky land can only support low growing plants such as moss, heath, and lichen. There are two main seasons, winter and summer, in the polar tundra areas. During the winter it is very cold and dark, with the average temperature around -18.4-40°F, sometimes dipping as low as -58 - 70°F. During the summer, temperatures rise somewhat, and the top layer of the permafrost melts, leaving the ground very soggy. The tundra is covered in marshes, lakes, bogs and streams during the warm months. Generally daytime temperatures during the summer rise to about 54-80°F but can often drop to 37-60°F or even below freezing.

The tundra is a very windy area, with winds often blowing upwards of 30–60 miles an hour. However, in terms of precipitation, it is desert-like, with only about 6–10 inches falling per year (the summer is typically the season of maximum precipitation). During the summer, the permafrost thaws just enough to let plants grow and reproduce, but because the ground below this is frozen, the water cannot sink any lower, and so the water forms the lakes and marshes found during the summer months. Although precipitation is light, evaporation is also relatively minimal.

Would you share about the homes in Quinagak?

Because of the permafrost (snow melting only a small layer of earth) houses cannot be built on the ground. The heat from the buildings would melt the frozen ground and the buildings would start to sink. Buildings must be on stilts, about a meter off the ground. Building houses is expensive because the materials have to be brought from the south. Homes must be well built to keep out the cold winds. It costs more to heat a home here. Sometimes during a winter storm, houses become covered with snow.

What do they do to keep the roads in shape?

Just today I while I was walking home from school they were grading the gravel road with some pretty serious heavy equipment. I know in the spring they have heavy flooding which causes many roads to wash out and be in need of repair during the summer when the flooding subsides. In Quinhagak we are fortunate to have gravel beds from the Kanektok River only a mile out of town so we can haul gravel to repair road damage. No need to worry about pavement cracking, that's a point for the gravel roads.

How far are the mountains from the village?

The mountains while beautiful when the clouds allow visibility are basically inaccessible unless one has a jet boat, a four wheeler, a 'snow go' or plane and a free weekend. They are 15 miles as the crow flies and only increase mileage, if you go by the streams and waterways winding across tundra. Translation: I can't get to them with out the assistance of someone who has a more evolved form of transportation other than the human feet;)

Shout out to all my friends and family with new baby girls! Lily Anna, Rachel Emily and Lydia Christine:) Congratulations and Sufficient Sleeping Wishes to you all!

Have a great weekend everyone!

"You can't find firm footing in a swamp (tundra;),
but life rooted in God stands firm."

~Proverbs 12:3


  1. Hey Kid Theseasons thet are achanging here in good ole Missouri. We have had so much rain our yard feels like a sponge!! The trees are starting to turn color as God works His magic with His paintbrush!! Great to follow you on your blog!! You are truly blessed and yiu are passing it on!!

    Blessings Always!!!

  2. Hi Rachel! This is Deanna (Lonny's sister). I stumbled across your blog a few weeks ago and I really enjoy reading your posts. I love your writing style and I appreciate everything you're doing there in my home town. We haven't had teachers come to Quinhagak and actually become a part of the community in a LONG time like you and the others have done this year. So thank you. Oh by the way, the mountains are actually only about 15 miles away by snowmachine or along the coast when you don't have to go up the river. :) I'll be home next week for the church singspiration. Hope to see you then!

  3. Thanks for the information. I too enjoy your writing. The sun came out yesterday which was a surprise - everyone else to the south had clouds and rain. Today is once again mostly sunny and the colors are near peak. If you check out the Ladysmith News site, you might see the picture they had on the cover this week of the fall colors along the Flambeau. I am printing off that article you recommended. Keep up the news - it's all good. By the way, where you do access the Internet - at the school? How is cell phone coverage in your area? I know that parts of Alaska got some heavy duty cell towers put in, in the last year or so - when we were in Palmer, we had the best coverage we have ever had. Do you head back to Hayward next summer? God bless - Kris

  4. P.S. - I get to mow lawn today - we have had some frost, but since I mowed over 2 weeks ago, it has grown more than I expected, so one more time for the season. How do flowers do in your area? I know is some parts of the state, they do fabulous - with the cooler temps and plenty of rain. You did say that your area is drier. Do people have green houses to grown produce? I have a cousin over in Copper Center on the east side of the state and she has a green house for things like tomatoes - the cooler crops do well outside in summer - as long as the mosquitoes don't eat her alive.

  5. P.S.S... Deanna who wrote on your blog, said she would be flying home for an event. How costly is it to fly in? I have never asked Eric or his parents that. I know they fly to Anchorage, then to Bethel I believe before flying to Quinhagak. I met a woman last summer from Kotzebue who said it cost her around $1,000 to fly to Anchorage and then she got a ride to the camp we were at.

  6. Deanna! Thanks for reading and for the corrections, I've gotten several responses on how far the mountains are but I see now that wasn't asking the specific question as to which method of travel was being used, now I get it:) My guestimation was slightly off, lol, sorry. I just know they aren't something I can hike too. Though I've found there is a small mountain I can walk up and down by the beach if I use my imagination;) I will definitely see you at the singspiration! Thanks for reading! Rachel

  7. Kris:) Thank you for sharing about the fall colors, I miss them so much. I love taking a jog down the Birkie Trail at peak season. Would you do me a favor and go for a walk in the leaves for me:)! A friend and I were running lots last fall and it was so beautiful. Not that the tundra doesn't have a special beauty of its own but... home you know... As for cell phones..yep its all I have here and they just got the tower last year as I understand it. So it's relatively new technology and the kids just eat it up. We have faster internet at the school but I also have internet at my house. The price of tickets is average round trip from Minneapolis to Quin $1500. From Quin the Anchorage is about $600 or so depending. But I hear that when PFD come out (which was this week for true Alaskans which equals anyone who's been here more than 1 year)the airline prices go down. I'll post more on this later! Shoot your questions at me anytime they are great! Rachel