Posted by: gmelvin | December 23, 2013

I’m Back…

It’s been awhile since my last entry, but don’t think I’ve been slacking. My typical schedule as a teacher typically runs nonstop between 4:30am (or 5:00am) to 4:30pm on school days, but don’t think that I’m at school all that time. I’m just an early riser.

Finally in Oklahoma, it’s now the Christmas season. After this blog, I will be finishing up my family Christmas shopping. Top of the weather here is missing that white stuff one finds on the ground ever so often in Alaska – but I will say its nice seeing ice on trees (trees are something which Brevig severely lacks). Since my blog mainly reviews events in Alaska, I guess I better refocus…

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December 2013

Alaskan Ice Storm

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, a friend had text me about ten o’clock in the morning to say, “Look out of the window.” Being a school night, I didn’t quite want to – but I did anyhow. Outside the window was one of the best Aurora displays I’ve ever seen. I never walked out though, primarily because I knew they would be there later.

The Tuesday of that week, we (all Brevig school teachers) flew out to Teller, a village that’s a 5-minutes flight from Brevig. We had Marzano training. The district never like boating us to Teller, partly due to insurance reasons (but it’s not cheaper). It would only be a one-night stay on the cold floors, even with provided mattresses.

As a recap, last week the peninsula had a major storm that didn’t hit Brevig too much. Although, it did some major damage to other villages in the district…shutting down several schools for days. See ALASKA STORM. Now storm #2 was incoming, and it was expected to be worst than the first. That Wednesday, the training was cut short. All flights out of Nome were cancelled, and it was up to the BSSD’s double-engine plane to get us home. The first flight out could not handle all the teachers, so I opted to stay behind with another teacher. There was a chance I would be left behind if the weather got worse. When the plane arrived back for us, another teacher staff – from village of Wales – boarded the plane. The pilot wouldn’t land first at Brevig though, citing too much weight on the plane. Instead, we flew to Wales (at the tip of the Seward Peninsula), and had a very bumpy landing. The wind, however, made it easy for a short takeoff to Brevig. Upon the Brevig approach, a strong light on the runway appeared. It was a bulldozer, and the pilot noticed. We did a quick pass over him (well beneath a hundred feet) and banked sharply to the right. Not knowing what the pilot was doing, I soon realized he was setting up for another quick approach. The bulldozer now moved to the side, we safely landed….then stopped in the middle of the runway. “Looks like you two will have to walk from here,” the pilot stated. I looked out of the window, and saw another intersecting runway not yet plowed by the bulldozer. There was about two feet difference in height between the surface of the intersecting runways, and there was no way a plane could ride over it. We grabbed our bags, and started treading the other runway toward the airport. Thankfully, a truck (waiting to pick us up) drove out of the parking lot and met us halfway down the runway.  This was a first.

The next day, school went as usual…except until I stepped outside, I noticed something very different. The dirt roads were pure ice. Adding rain, the freezing temperatures, and a constant wind speed of 50mph with gusts up to 65mph…the walk home was about to hurt. High school students were taking off their coats, holding them in the air, and using them as a parasail to slide standing on the ice. Everything was ice. “How am I going to get home?” I thought.

A typical walk home requires only 2-3 minutes, and one this took about fifteen. Baby steps, halting during gusts, and catching my balance all made for a fun walk outside. I finally stepped into my house, thankful to make it without a scratch. I then invited my neighbor to a fun 4-wheel ride on the ice. He declined, citing his need to wait for his wife. I then took a quick ride outside, and saw the water at its highest point since I arrived 3½ years ago. Waves easily tipped over 7-8 feet, and already the lagoon was filled to the brim. We have housing, fish camps, and boats on this spit. Villagers were out filming, and trying to save their belongings. When I returned, I noticed my neighbor’s wife standing out on a road corner. She wasn’t moving. I got on my 4-wheeler to help out, and offered her a ride home. She gladly accepted, and I jumped off to give her room. As she got on the ATV on one side (and I was on the other), a gust of wind caught both us and the machine…and together we started moving. We just stared at each other, dumbfounded with what was happening. I quickly hopped on, and rode back safely.

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View from the shoreline

      My neighbor was now ready to see the ocean from the shoreline. We had a fun ride, and I dropped him off and drove back to pick two other teachers. I returned to the shoreline, and everyone got out simply to gaze at the large waves. We could feel bits of ocean water pierce our face as the spray caught the heavy wind.

      My neighbor wanted me to take a pic of him in the wind, with the stormy ocean as a backdrop. As I held up the phone, I accidentally locked it. He came over, unlocked it, and I proceeded for another try. This time, I didn’t even take the pic because of the blurry image. He came over again, and said to take the pic anyhow. This time was different. As I held up the camera phone (arms extended), my peripheral vision caught something at the top of my eye. I looked up and saw an immense wave seemingly suspended in mid-air above my head. I had a sinking feeling, and quickly turned my back toward the wave and lowered down. The ocean water completely soaked my back and head (as well as the other teachers), but we never got pulled out. We all kinda laughed at each other, not sure what just happened. The same event repeated itself, but not to the same intensity. It wasn’t until the second or third wave that I realized how this happened. Even though we were a good twenty or thirty feet from the ocean, we were soaked. Now, there was a small boat between us and the shoreline flipped over. Apparently, the curvature of the flipped boat caused any sudden surge or rushing-in water to shoot up like a jet over us. That initial wave that soaked us was just enough to shoot the water over our heads soaking our body – despite the safe distance we were from the ocean.

We soon decided to go home, and four full-grown adults huddled on one four-wheeler and headed back. The mini-outdoor trip was quite fun, and we enjoyed our time in the storm.

Wheels on Ice

     A week ago after Thanksgiving, I was supposed to have a speech therapist fly in to service my students…or rather, provide feedback and observations over the services we’ve been giving. Most therapists in the district are hired by contract to make quarterly visits in the school year. They do not stay all year long. Whenever a therapist doesn’t arrive, there is some cause for concern…especially if you need the therapist for a major referral. It just so happened our speech therapist’s flight got cancelled (bad weather in Nome), and that made an already tight schedule even better. I walked over to the office where her itinerary was posted, and looked it over for possible adjustments. I then saw she was in Teller, another village just six miles out from my village. Only one problem…there is a body of water between us.

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Prepping the sled for the ride back.

      Good news though…the ice just started to freeze. I believe I saw a snow machine on the ice last Thanksgiving. “It should be good,” I thought. Bad news though…it was getting dark. An after-school meeting meandered much longer than planned, and trouble with finding a four-wheeler made it even more fun. Thankfully, my own four-wheeler just started up after a 3-week long hibernation period (thanks to the cold weather). I found a sled, rope-tied it to my four-wheeler, and headed out on a road toward the trash dump. It was my first leg. After passing the dump, I noticed a worn, old log near a ramp pass that I planned to take down to the beach. I initially took no thought of it, thinking the log to be a lost piece from a villager trying to build his fish camp. Nope. A couple of feet down, I immediately braked just short of a 6ft straight drop. Apparently, the storm last week did a lot more damage than anticipated. This is even more disturbing, considering the same brakes failed last winter and caused me to nearly tip completely over. I never got them checked (but they did work earlier). I then backed up, carefully guiding the long sled behind me with extra caution.

      Taking an alternate path, I arrived on the beach only to find about 6ft of water between the coastline and sea ice. While I hadn’t initially planned to get on the sea ice, it was not particularly a welcoming view for my first trip alone on the ice (especially this early in the year).  There was an optional path on fresh water, and this led over near the reindeer camp and eventually into Grantley Harbor. This was my planned route. After talking with a few villagers, I was pointed out to a safe point to approach the ice. “Just follow the trail, and be careful,” he said. See the pic below for the route taken:

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Speech Therapist and myself just before leaving Teller. Suitcases packed and stored.

      After a bit of a nerve wrecking drive, I finally walked into a school building with dark hallways and outgoing basketball players. Practice was over. Someone pointed me out to the sped teacher’s room, and there I found the teacher and speech therapist resting inside. I quickly stated the need to get out as soon as possible, since it was getting dark. The faint trail back would be hard to follow if we delayed any longer. Once packed, we approached the shoreline again. I had a dropping feeling in my gut since this part wasn’t completely frozen, but this appearance was only on the top – not underneath. Overall, the speech therapist enjoyed the ride (literally for the adventure feeling) and we made it back safely. When I touched base with my sped coordinator about the speech therapist’s visit, her final words was, “You’re nuts!”

*As a disclaimer, the whole trip was only daunting since it was my first trip out on the ice. On the way back, I felt much more comfortable. The ice had been traveled before my snowmobiles and ATVs, and as I long as I played it safe with the trails, there actually wasn’t much of any real danger.

Future Summer Trip

     As I possibly posted earlier, I am working on my master’s degree in Library & Information Science (LIS) through Syracuse University in New York. An email arrived in November informing LIS majors of an upcoming course titled Global Librarianship. Six people will be chosen to participate in this 3-week course, and enjoy exclusive library tours and work in Florence, Italy! The first week will be in Syracuse, and the following two weeks will be in Florence. The nice thing about this trip – it’s only $1500. Aside from regular credit fees, that includes airfare, boarding accommodations, breakfast and dinner meals, and exclusive tours in “hard-to-get-into” libraries. This wasn’t something I could easily pass up, so I applied. After completing two essay questions, I just got my acceptance notice last week! This is a unique opportunity. Per one of the course requirements (and simply because I want to), I will be blogging about the Florence, Italy trip on this website.
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