River Grass

16-river-grassThis will be my sixth and final year in Fort Yukon. I have become a hunter gatherer of sorts. I picked raspberries this fall and I have gathered zucchini, salmon and fresh moose from my neighbors. I haven’t a garden, and I have neither a rifle nor a fishing rod, but that’s okay because everybody else does. My freezer is stuffed, just enough room left for ice cream.

When I made the Arctic my home six years ago, I immediately fell in love with the land. But when I leave, it will be my students and the friends I have made that will fill my memories. It is so much harder to love people than to love a place, but so much more rewarding in the long run. So this year, my goal will be to introduce you to some of the people who have enriched my life in this great land on the edge of nowhere.

I woke this morning to a frosty 19˚F. Already there is an inch of ice on the slough a short walk through the woods behind the school. The geese have flown south now, but the ravens are here (they never leave), and the hares are thick again. Finally!

The hare population is cyclical. It was quite low during my first four years here but then last year their numbers exploded. Some moved into the wood beside my cabin. New neighbors! Every morning about 7 a.m. Mrs. Snowshoe hops out into my front yard and gleans a few microscopic remnants of something I can’t even see. I have no idea what’s worth her nibbling, but she seems content.

She’s sporting quite a fashionable outfit, too – brown fur coat (a little worn but still attractive), white ear muffs and lovely white shoes. Breakfast over, she hops across the street into the wood on the far side or our street to begin her daily rounds, wherever they may lead her. Hares are creatures of habit and will follow their trails over and over again. Silly Wabbit! Don’t you know you’ll get caught? The boys in my neighborhood haven’t dispatched my little friend yet and I’m glad.

Before I head to school, I spend a few minutes in my yard and peer into the tunnels that Mrs. S has made through the drooping wild roses that grow beneath the spruce beside my cabin. I don’t disturb her trails. She works hard to make them and if I get too close she might decide to move on to some other wood. She is a good neighbor. Well, maybe she’s a he, I’m not up on rabbit anatomy.

Thank you for visiting. This is my first post in a long, long time. Best wishes!

Tell Me a Story

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Once, Fort Yukon boasted a hospital, hotels and stores; they are all gone now. But we do have abandoned cabins, lots of them. I like old things. I must get that from Dad. Old homesteads intrigued him, and he would always muse, “I wonder what stories those walls could tell?”

This winter there seems to be no end to the rosy hues the sun casts over our village. You can see it in the pictures above. I’m an almost die-hard realist when it comes to my photography and usually take a less-is-more approach to editing, especially when it comes to color and contrast. I tend to fudge more on brightness levels.

Dad was a realist with his photography, too. He often told me so. I’ll never forget the time he was walking around an old abandoned homestead when he found a patch of lantana, a pretty flowering plant native to much of Texas. He took a few pictures of it, but this twig from some tree was right in the middle of his composition. It really bothered him, so he reached in there, removed it, and took his last and best picture of that plant. A few days later, that hand broke out in the most awful, itchy rash. We looked at the picture together and I started to laugh. Not only was there a twig messing up his composition, there was poison ivy in it, too, only he hadn’t recognized it. “I’ll never mess with a picture again,” said Dad. That one never made his favorites list.

Bough Breaker

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What a bough breaker of a winter this has been. Snow, snow, frost and more snow. I think I’m living in a postcard! Well that is an insult to the beauty all around us right now. I dreamed of living in a world like this when I was a child. How fortunate I am!

Somehow the spruce trees hold up under all the weight – I wonder how? I wish my limbs were as supple as theirs.

Art

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Each year we purchase 500 coho salmon eggs and raise them in our class. Silver salmon are indigenous to Alaskan waters and are a staple of the Athabascan diet. King salmon are more prized but also in short supply, so we were not allowed to catch them this year. When kings are abundant, silvers may be fed to the dogs, but this year they are on the dinner table.

Lots of science and art projects hatch from those eggs. This drawing of a baby salmon in the “alevin” stage is a favorite of mine. You can see its lateral line (a sensory organ that helps the salmon “hear”) and its yolk sac that we affectionately call the lunch bag. Alevin can’t swim so they wiggle around on the gravel bed where they can hide.

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Rochelle drew the gray wolf with black pastels and I wish you could see the wonderfully smooth shading of her original. It is estimated that there are about 160 gray wolves on the Yukon Flats, an area of some 10,000 square miles (6.5 million sq km). That is low, maybe because the moose upon which they prey are also in decline.

Moose are a vital part of the Athabascan diet and hunters have no intention of sharing their meal with the wolves. You can guess what that means for the wolf.

Rochelle no longer attends our school, much to our loss.

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Allison drew her wonderful impression of a hypothesis as part of our study on the scientific method. All that detailed shading in the background took her many, many student hours to complete. Allison is pictured on my last post. I am a big fan of her art.

We haven’t any art classes. We haven’t any art teachers. So we incorporate art into all our classes and do our amateurish best to turn our kids into famous illustrators. Sometimes they teach us! How are they doing?