Sunday, January 29, 2012


The cold weather continues, so our plans to travel on our snowmobile remain on hold.  This winter has been much colder than last winter, but we have less snow.  We do, however, have enough snow for my personal needs and desires.  The snow and ice help flatten out the Tundra and it allows for easy walking.  Our walk to school is shortened significantly by the cold weather because we can walk across the lake instead of going around.  The snow is very dry and compact, making it sound like we’re walking on Styrofoam.  That’s neither a need nor a desire, just a cool byproduct of cold weather.

Students working hard on their projects.
We held our third annual science fair last Friday at school.  I want to state from the beginning: I am all for science fairs.  The problem is I am ill equipped in the organizational aspect of multiple individual projects being submitted to a group event.  In other words, my classroom has been a zoo lately.  And not a peaceful zoo full of docile animals that are easily herded and are in respectful awe of the zookeeper.  It was more like a primate cage full of poop-throwing monkeys.  No, throwing poop was not one of our experiments but it should have been.

When I first started asking kids what kind of experiments they wanted to do, almost all of them wanted to blow something up.  I then asked them what kinds of experiments they wanted to do that do not include the words “explosion, stink, infection, fire, wolverines, dysentery, danger, or adult supervision required”.  Their choices were severely limited after my list.

I have a couple of books with several different kinds of kid friendly experiments.  We used these books to pick out our experiments.  Unfortunately, they were not all teacher friendly.  I would first have to do the experiment to see if it could be done the way it was described in the book.  Then I would have the student execute the experiment with just me.  Finally, they would perform the experiment in front of the class.

Some of the finished projects displayed in the gym.
Our biggest obstacle in doing the science fair, besides the fact they have me as their teacher, is our inability to quickly get supplies.  We don’t have a Wal-Mart where we can grab materials as needed, so we were limited by what we had on hand.  One of the experiments called for clear soda pop, like 7-UP.  We could find only one can in town, so we had to do his experiment as quickly as possible before the carbon dioxide dissipated.  Other experiments couldn’t be tried because of the same issue.  I have already made a note-to-self to fill a plastic tote to send up for next year, filled with sciencey things. 

The science fair was a huge success for the school.  Almost all of the students participated.  We had judges come in to judge the student’s presentations and award certificates and ribbons.  The kids worked real hard on their projects and it showed.  They constructed a tri-fold and then had to defend their experiment in front of the judges.  I am very proud of them.  Four of my students are going to the district science fair in March.  This is a big deal, because they will fly to Mountain Village and spend the night.  Some of my students have not been out of our village since they were born, so the reward is huge.

Battling the cold and battling a cold are now on my priority list since the science fair is over for another year. Monica and I are surrounded by piles of used tissues, making loud sniffing noises with our raw, red noses.  I guess we’ll just have to wait till next year to see if the cure will be found at the science fair.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Some where between Nunam Iqua and Emmonak.

Well, the weather finally cooperated.  It warmed up last weekend to zero and we made our maiden voyage to Emmonak on the snowmobile.  We haven’t named the snow mobile yet, but I’m sure we’ll find one soon.  Monica and I left at the crack of dawn: 10:30 Sunday morning.  We were able to follow the trail that everyone uses to get up there and back.  It took us about 45 minutes to travel the 20 miles one way.  We were able to stay relatively warm despite the cold wind blowing in our faces.  We did learn that minor adjustments in clothing make a huge difference in our comfort.  And, knowing how to turn on the heated handlebars kept my hands fingers warm. 

The main reason we headed up to Emmonak was to become familiar with the trail.  A secondary reason was to get a few groceries. Emmonak has about 800 people living there.  They have services that we don’t, mainly a store.  Actually, they have two stores.  We ended up spending over $200 on the trip.  With gas at $6.70 a gallon, we spent over $60 on gas and a quart of oil.  The oil alone was $20.  Then we bought some groceries.  We didn’t need to buy much because we ordered most of our groceries at the beginning of the school year.  Without listing everything on the $157 order, I’ll give the highlights:  10lbs flour-$15.39, 2 Hillshire Farm sausage ropes- $16.30, and two 2lb bricks of Tillamook cheese- $33.90.  (I love cheese.)  We also bought six cans of Nalley’s chili at $3.59 a can.
Out the back door of the school, looking at the airstrip.

Back at school, I felt pleased enough to tell some of the staff, who are locals, that we made the trip.  I was told of trips where people have gotten lost because they were unfamiliar with the trails.  Even locals have become lost in a storm and have had to hunker down in sub-zero temps to wait out the storm.  My hunkering skills are not what they used to be.  Everyone had warned us not to go alone on our first trip.  But the weather was very cooperative so we felt confident we could make the trip.  But not everybody congratulated me on making the trip alone.

“Are you stupid!”  This was not a question; it was a statement by one of the classroom aides.  Hearing that phrase brought back countless memories of countless people shouting that at me.  I believe that if I ever write a book about my life, that might be the title.  Or, “Hey, Don’t Poop There!  And Other Pearls of Wisdom I Learned from People Shouting at Me.”  I don’t know why, but people seem to want to communicate to me by shouting.  And using profanity.  Anyways, back to my story.  When Gloria shouted that at me, it made me wonder if we made the right decision to ride by ourselves.  But, seeing how we made it back safe and sound, I feel confident we can make it again.  But I do know how easy it is to get lost out on the Tundra.  There are no landmarks to use as points of reference.  No hills, trees, or road signs.  Going in the wrong direction can make for a cold night of hunkering.  Or worse.

Maybe next weekend we’ll try it again.  The weather forecast doesn’t look too promising, but we’ll see.  It’s like they say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minute.  Over there.  Wait over there. And stop talking!!!!”  I don’t know why they say that, but they do.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Another quarter of school finished and another set of report cards to complete.  The kids are happy to be back at school even though they may complain when I hand them an assignment. Me: “Here, I’d like for you to complete this moderately complex set of tasks that you have been adequately prepared to accomplish by me.  Just follow the simple instructions and work quietly until you are finished.  Thank you for being compliant and courteous to other students.”   Students:“ WE WANT TO WATCH SHREK!!!!”  We seem to have different views some days on what we should be doing in the classroom.  But the students and I agree that the funniest part of Shrek is when he farts in his mud bath.  Classic Hollywood.  

The kids are happy for the most part to be back at school.  Since it has been so cold, they had been cooped up inside for the Christmas break.  Now they are able to have more room to play.  And yell.  Apparently they didn’t get their daily yelling needs met during break and are now making up for it.  They also are catching up on their need to run from point A to point B.  Even if it is only from their desk to the pencil sharpener.  Maybe they just want to hurry and get back to completing their assignment.  I doubt that part, but it is nice to hear and see them happy.
Hoar frost that formed on the net, rim, and backboard.

The other day, Monica looked out our window and pointed at the power line, which runs between our house and our neighbor’s, and said “Hoar frost.”  Since I had not heard of that term before, I was somewhat curious about what the power line had done to anger my wife.  I thought she was over reacting and considered it a bit inappropriate.  I remembered back to a similar comment I had made to an erratic driver and I was chastised for using such language.  It turns out hoar frost (notice the spelling) is a phenomenon that occurs when objects become cooler than the surrounding air.  Ice crystals form on the objects in abundance and make it look kind of cool.  It now makes sense when Monica points at an object and makes that declaration.  But, as it turns out, she doesn’t like when I say it.  Or how I say it.

With school back in full swing, it means that we are in the backside countdown to summer.  And with that, it means that a 10-minute walk outside will not require 10 minutes just to get dressed.  We have not seen the temperature above -10 in almost a month.  We are looking forward to spending some time outside worrying about sunburn, not frostbite.  It is suppose to get above zero soon, so we’ll spend time out on the snowmobile.  We planned on heading upriver to Emmonak to get groceries but I want to wait until it warms up more.  My fingers are still feeling the effects from my last trip. 

My focus now is to get the kids back into the swing of school.  We are gearing up for our annual science fair at our school, with the winners traveling to another school for the district science fair.  Some are excited while others couldn’t care less.  One of the problems of doing these experiments is that it is difficult to get even the simplest of materials needed.  Like eggs or candles or food coloring.  I’ll need to prepare now for next year’s science fair so we can do more and exciting experiments.  Maybe we can use the ‘air bubbles in the water’ experiment from Shrek as an experiment.  I know I would have several volunteers for that one.  

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Those who know me think I can be kind of whiney.  I’ve complained about it to them several times but it doesn’t seem to change their biased opinion.  I think the problem is that they are just unconcerned about my circumstances.  The harder I try to explain how miserable my situation is, the more they seem to become disinterested.  And sometimes irritated.  And a few have become violent. 

All of that leads to this:  it’s cold.  It is not the “I think I’ll need a jacket this morning” kind of cold.  More like “I think my liver is frostbitten, and not in a good way” kind of cold.   For the past three weeks we’ve been living in the underside of zero.  We have not been warmer than -20 for the past two weeks.  The coldest so far this year for us has been -40.  Luckily for us, most of this time has been during our winter break, so we have not been required to be outside.  But I did have to venture out to get our snowmobile.

Monica on her first drive.
We ordered our snowmobile last fall, but it had to be ordered from the factory so its journey took awhile.  In fact, it arrived just after Christmas.  They flew it in on a freight plane to Emmonak, which is about 20 miles away.  The only way for me to get to Emmonak was to walk (nope), fly (too expensive), or hitch a ride with someone else on another snowmobile.  I chose the latter because I am lazy and cheap. 

I rode on the back of Joe Strongheart’s snowmobile to Emmo.  The trail is mostly on top of the Yukon River, even but winding.   The temperature was -20, making the ride brutal.  I am lucky I invested in quality cold weather gear.  The only part of me that got really cold was my face.  I had a fleece balaclava that covered my face, but it didn’t really keep the wind out.  I had to keep my head down most of the way to keep from getting frostbite.  This was not going to work on the way back when I had to drive, so I bought a neoprene facemask for the trip back home.  I didn’t have any frostbite on my face after I got home so I know it worked.

My fingers and hands did get cold.  I was following Joe on the way back and was scared of losing him if I didn’t keep up.  Being out on the tundra, there are no landmarks to use for references.  Just follow the trail.  Or in my case, follow Joe’s taillight.  I didn’t want to fall behind for another reason.  Joe is Yu’pik and has lived here his entire life.  I did not want to look like a wuss by stopping because my fingers were cold, so I pushed on.  Well, we made it back and my fingers were not injured permanently.  The next day, I was complaining (I get it) to Joe’s wife about my sore fingers from the cold the day before.  She looked at my snow mobile and showed me where the switch for the hand-grip warmer was located.  So, we both learned something that day: I learned how to keep my hands warm while riding and she learned I was an idiot.  I think she was leaning toward that direction to begin with. 

Some people I know will think I’m complaining about the cold.  I think I am just stating the facts as they are, in an unemotional manner.  Sort of like a snowmobile operator’s manual.  It’s -38 and I don’t want to walk to the post office.  We have to walk because it is too cold for the snow mobile to start today.  Now that is whining.  But I don’t care because it’s cold.