Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Experiences

The other day I mentioned in passing that my squaw was in the homeland. Out in Western Alaska, it's a whole different world. I don't think even if I were to write a thesis on the subject, most folks would get a clear understanding of what life is like out in Bush Alaska. In fact, even writing a thesis would put the reader in the wrong frame of mind to understand the area. To best understand would be to learn in the traditional way of the Yu'pik. An elder would take a young one and show them how to accomplish or learn what needs to be learned. Stories are another way to learn. And just like everyone who tries to learn something, there will always be some who just don't get it.

So Amber was in this village in remote southwestern Alaska. In order to get to said village, she needed to get on a jet plane in Anchorage, travel 400 miles to Bethel, then get on a small propeller plane and take a 15 minute or so flight to the airstrip. The Airstrip is a strip of dirt laid on the tundra (tundra is a mossy biome that is relatively treeless), then she had to walk to the banks of the Johnson River, and get in a boat (usually just a 15 ft. Aluminum boat without a canopy, and a 25-50 horse-powered outboard motor) and travel across the river to the village. The village is also built upon the tundra - which typically sits on top of sand and permafrost. Buildings are typically built on pillars driven into the permafrost so that the house doesn't shift with the landscape. Instead of roads, the village is networked by a grid (sometimes an unorganized grid) of boardwalks. As Amber found out, you really are at the whim of nature. It all depends on your adaptability and knowledge on how to overcome certain situations. Amber was scheduled to come home, after a week long stay (including limited to no running water, and definitely no showers) on a Friday. It seems that all over Alaska it decided to become windy. In Anchorage they were having 80 mph winds, and at the airport the windgusts were providing Stage 5 Turbulent winds. The airport was shut down and flights diverted to Fairbanks. Amber, in the village was experiencing about 30-50 mph winds, and the small plane that she needed to take back to Bethel would most likely not be able to make the flight. It looked like she would be stranded in the village for a few more days.

Luckily, the winds subsided and it was decided that it was safe enough to make the flight to Bethel from the village, so now all Amber needed to do was to get to the airstrip. She got on the four-wheeler ATV and went to the riverbank. It's early October, and there was a film of ice forming on the river, usually during freeze-up the villagers are just stuck in their village until it is safe to cross. Fortunately it was just under an inch or so of ice, so they broke through the ice with the boat. The aluminum boat that isn't meant to be an icebreaker. There was a lady in the boat with Amber, who definitely wasn't from the village and most likely a newbie from the lower 48. When the boat got stopped due to the ice in the river, she immediately stood up and asked: "Is this where we get off?" She's lucky she didn't cause the boat to tip over, and have everyone get dumped into the frigid river. She sat back down, after everyone made it clear that this was not the shore, nor the place to get off.

Well - Amber made it safely to the other side of the river in time to catch the flight back to Bethel. Once back to Bethel, the winds in Anchorage subsided and the airport was re-opened and flights resumed. Amber made it safely home, even if it was an hour after her scheduled arrive time.

1 comment:

DangGina said...

Glad your Squaw made it back safe and sound...and only one hour late, rather than a few days! :)

You'll be happy to hear I got a different version of Bring Him Home on my own blog; and in my defense, I put the first playlist together on my computer...a computer without sound. It's been fixed now. Anyway...this other version still isn't as good as Timothy Warmen did at the Tuacahn, but he's better than Andy Brown's. (It was between this Elton something or other, and Barry Manilow. I think I made the right choice!) :)