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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Posted by: gmelvin | September 14, 2013

Finishing the Musk-Ox

The Mouth Says It All…

            One of my requirements of the subsistence musk-ox hunt in my region states that the lower jawbone and horns be sent to Nome for analysis. The horns were easy to take off, but the jawbone…not quite so. Even when I called Nome ADF&G, it was hard…especially as the new school year placed a huge workload time requirement on my day and weekends. I came down sick for a period one week ago, and the musk-ox head nearby received a few visitors. Maggots. Now, I had never cut the lower jawbone before (it wasn’t required) – so, it was something new. What do I do?

            I did a bit of online research, and found maggots don’t like cleaning chemicals…especially bleach. But how could I bleach Imagesomething as bulky and heavy (but far dirtier) as an old Mac 128K? I thought a few moments, and then remembered the totes I had used to mail stuff up from Oklahoma. I dug one out of conex I share with my neighbors, and filled it up with hot water taken from my bathtub. Once about three quarters full, I added a lot of bleach. I picked up the head of maggots, and dumped it for a good night’s rest.

            The next day smelled quite nice as I dug one of my knives into the head. Another teacher had given me an electric saw, and I used it once I found bone with the blade. It was surprisingly easy. I froze the bone overnight (because it still some flesh on it), and mailed out to Nome the next morning.

More to come…

            I had thought this would be the end of everything musk-ox, but the relief was short lived. I just got word on my travel that Friday for Unalakleet, AK (shorthand UNK). This was our annual SPED teacher training session; so, it should have been an easy week. Nope. My principal came in my classroom that Thursday to talk about the trash container next to teacher housing. You see…when we (speaking of myself and friends) filleted the meat off the musk-ox at my house, the remaining bones got bagged up in black trash sacks and placed in the trash container. Trash is usually picked up quickly. In this case, my principal informed me Imageotherwise, and needed some help. The sacks had maggots.

            The people who regularly pick up trash out of the container, and take it to the dump, were hesitant to do so this time. Thus, you have the reason how our principal was informed. I offered to take it out that Friday – the day I was to fly out into UNK. My flight left at 5:25. School ended at 4:00. I left school at 4:10.

            Problems started when I didn’t have trash sacks to re-bag the rotting musk-ox bags. After a trip to the store, I picked up a trash trailer and started throwing in the old bags. The trip out to the dump took awhile, and I made it back to the house around 5:00. Last night, my dryer started overheating for the first few minutes – so I had to cool it, and restart the dryer during school. I wasn’t even packed. I rushed around quickly, easily forgetting several items. My principal was outside waiting, and we quickly got out to the airport. And waited. And waited. After a call, apparently the flight is an hour delayed. Great.

            Back to the house, waited an hour and tried to clean up more. I walked down to the school, and drove with my principal back to the airport. The plane arrived on time, and there were quite a few people waiting with us. I walked up to the pilot, and he said something, “Sorry, I can’t take you now. I’m going to Shishmaref. I’ll be back in one hour.”

            I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing, and my principal was shocked as well. But good thing – he kept his promise. He was back one hour later, and I was in Unalakleet two hours delayed.

First time for everything…

            Last week, my principal visited me after school and asked, “How friendly are you feeling today?” I smiled, and told her I was fine. I also asked what did she want (jokingly). Then my principal asked something I never thought I would hear in this profession, “Would you mind driving down to the airport to pick up the casket?”

            We have been hearing of an upcoming funeral that week. In our village, and likely a number of others around the state, funerals often occur in the gym. Even if the person who passed away is not from our school, or directly related, we offer the gym as a community service. Our gym is “inside” our school. Several times that week, we planned for the funeral that afternoon and it kept getting pushed back. Big complications in lesson planning. So, it was even a larger surprise that I was asked to pick up the casket today.

            My principal got in touch with some family members to come help me load the casket from the plane. When they arrived, we headed out to the airport and loaded the truck. From there, we drove back to the gym and used the back door to carry the casket up. This incident occurred the same week of transporting the maggot filled trash bags to the dump, and arriving late to UNK for very unusual reasons. Plus, I do not believe many principals in the Lower 48 will ask that question.

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Quick Links of Potential Interest

YouTube Video Set of First-Year Teachers – they’re my neighbors!! It’s a good illustration on what it feels like to be a 1st year teacher here

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Shopping Websites Used By Some Teachers

Alaska Bush Shopper

Alaska Mailbox Groceries

Today’s Game – Talisman

            Talisman is a fantasy, role playing type of game that makes the player travel around the game board to gain strength or craft skills, in order to make it through the inner ring of the board (which is quite hard). You have characters with special abilities. Roll the dice, fight the monsters in the card deck, get objects, and get stronger. Seems simple (which it is), but many beginning players shy away because of how many little objects are needed to run the game. Keep in mind this game can also take three to four hours, if not more. Still, if you are willing, it’s a great way to spend an evening with nothing else to do. See the links below:

http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=29

http://www.amazon.com/Talisman-The-Magical-Quest-Game/dp/1589944623

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/27627/talisman-revised-4th-edition

Posted by: gmelvin | September 1, 2013

School’s Started – Along w/ Everything Else

TEACHER TRAINING

 

“Hey, the district plane is here!” I looked out my duplex window, and saw the plane taxing across the runway. “That’s odd,” I thought. We were supposed to take the ERA charter Imageplane to Unalakleet. I quickly called another teacher to clear my confusion, and he informed me that several bags were being dropped off. That’s all. So I got the school truck keys, and headed out to the runway. When I arrived, the plane already took off while leaving the bags on the tarmac. I picked them up, and after looking on their label asked myself, “Who’s Montgomery?”

It’s the time of the year for teacher training. All district villages send their teachers to Unalakleet, AK for 2-3 days of training. Unalakleet is the same village from where Flying Wild Alaska is based. You would stay in school classrooms, or a friend’s house if you were lucky. Showers in the school gym locker rooms. Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner in the MPR, aka “cafeteria.” Meetings with your school staff. Life here is busy most of the day, which is one of the reasons I haven’t posted anything for awhile. However, everything calms down with after-school teacher activities. They provided fishing opportunities, marathon, water boarding on the shore line (while being tied to a 4-wheeler), Zumba and karaoke (I did not attend either), and board games in the MPR. It was in our first staff meeting that I learned we had a brand new teacher, whose bags I picked up that morning.

One day, all district teachers assembled in the gym for morning announcements. We were crowded, but mostly waiting to get onto our workshop sessions. Time lag of some sort going on, so we waited for the admin to arrive. He came in, and put on an awkward face of apology for being late. Our anxiousness settled when he excused his tardiness for talking with Chuck Yeager. Was that a bad joke? Nope, Chuck Yeager then walked into the gym. It was hardly believable for such a popular character to visit in Unalakleet, AK. He smiled and waved to the crowd, and our conversation with him was quite funny. There was a mad rush of teachers as the assembly closed, just to get a hand shake and picture take with him at the last moment.

FYI – check this other blog about our training. It also has a “unique” photo of a caribou standing up in the back of a truck…at the airport…

MUSK OX HUNT

            It was a brilliant Saturday outside, and I decided to find a musk ox before school started. My neighbor went with me on the 4-wheeler (which is named Stormy) to the west side of the village, California Creek. Nothing. Although it was a nice ride, he had to be dropped off when we came back to the village. I decided to go on the east side in search for a herd. It didn’t take too long. Just as I about made a turn to the reindeer camp, a large herd grazed on the grass in plain site. I carefully picked out a male from the herd, and made a shot. He swayed back and forth, but didn’t go down. A few minutes later, I made another shot. He was down in seconds, but something odd happened. Another nearby bull came and started butting the downed musk ox with his horns. The Imageshot bull on the ground looked up at him for a few seconds, as though asking, “Why?” The other bull just continued with his horns. The downed bull made one more glance, and then fell limp.

This was my first time field dressing any hunting game by myself, and it was the toughest act of my life. Physically. I’ve worked together with other teachers several times with killed hunts (including my first kill), and had a basic idea on how to field dress. However, this guy (musk ox) had tons of hair. Plus, he’s big. I eventually got the head and hid off, and was very careful while gutting the bull. A friend helped me the following day in detaching the remaining ribs and backstrap meat in the rain. We sliced off all the meat the following week. We now have meat for the school year, which includes roast, steaks, jerky, and stew meat. Plus, we can make hamburger! I enjoy getting my meat from musk ox and salmon, as it saves me cost in having meat shipped from Anchorage or Nome! There is a chance I’ll find a moose this year.

RECENT CALIFORNIA CREEK TRIP

            One of my favorite past times is taking other teachers and friends out for a ride in the tundra for their first time. Many are surprised on what’s actually “out” there. Even more, they are surprised at what a 4-wheeler can actually do. Steep inclines, treading rocky terrain, navigating deep ends of a large stream, mud and snow – not much what a good machine can’t handle. I went out with such a group just yesterday, and below are some pictures. Several show an ugly ditch we often get stuck in, and how we got the 4-wheeler out. For some, this is “old-hat.” For others, it’s a fun outing!

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Tying both 4-wheelers together

 Pulling out of ditch via rope

Group shot of everyone on top, several miles north on California Creek

Group shot of everyone on top, several miles north on California Creek

On the way back, we searched and found a large batch of salmonberries and blue berries. I don't like them, but maybe my family in Oklahoma will

On the way back, we searched and found a large batch of salmonberries and blue berries. I don’t like them, but maybe my family in Oklahoma will

*I didn’t mention any games that we’ve played this week due to this lengthy post. If I have time, I’ll post some extra smaller blogs this week…if I have time.

Posted by: gmelvin | August 12, 2013

Busy Times

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” – Old Zen adage

First off, I am no Zen believer. The Lord Jesus is the only one man worth following in this world, and any other. Please don’t side his mercy. I post this quote for the following reason: it’s good. It’s useful. Rest is needed; otherwise, the Lord wouldn’t have established the Sabbath. Life’s been busy here. I do apologize for being late in blog posting, but I hope to post more this week.

WRESTLING REINDEER

“Oooh…look at that reindeer.” Two young children from the village had balanced themselves on a wooden beam that overlooked the corral. They were on a fence support of some kind…about seven or eight feet high in the air. I had perched myself on one those beams, hanging my backpack on a rusted nail to grab my iPad for photo shots. The day had come when the villagers would wrestle reindeer to the ground, and clip their antlers. These antlers would then be sold…to the Koreans. Surprisingly. Santa’s not going to be pleased. Then, the herd beneath me quickly took off and ran in circles within the corral. Several approaching kids from behind – making a bit of noise with small talk – spooked the herd just enough to startle (unintentionally).Image

Several hours later, one of our new teachers arrived into the village for the first time. This would be a great village introduction. After finding what time the wrestling match would take place, I took our new teacher out to the reindeer camp. This was my first time seeing the match, and it was well worth the trip. They started, and the first reindeer that came out of the shoot met a villager who went directly for his horns. This man swiftly twisted the reindeer’s head into a backwards, upright stance which knocked off the animal’s balance. Once on the ground – and still struggling – the villager kept hold of the reindeer’s awkward neck bend while crossing over onto the reindeer’s back. Another villager called out the reindeer’s owner name and gender, which was echoed by a lady writing it down. Then someone with a large set of clippers (the kind you clip tree branches) came after the antlers, and snapped off the antlers just six or seven inches above the head. These antlers still had blood oozing out. Next, the villager directed the reindeer’s head a bit in the direction he desired, and quickly got off.Image

“And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.”

– Clement Clarke Moore

This would have been the sound I would have heard, if I didn’t get out of the way. Or some other villager.  Grandma almost got ran over by a reindeer. They bolted out of the group as if their own tail was on fire, and most of the time toward the crowd or wire fence. If the latter, you had an easy laugh with the other villagers (it looked funny) as the reindeer busted into the fence, only to get their antlers tripped and feet knocked out up in front of them. Other times, the reindeer would trip over their feet and fall down headfirst! This went on for some hours. Several large reindeer were called, “butcher!” and killed on the spot for food reasons. Others got lucky, and escaped. One reindeer received a special collar for herd tracking. Understandable. But how they get the reindeer from the tundra is beyond me. Tundra is very rough, and most spots would tear up your four-wheeler.

HOUSE CALLS

I’ve been busy trying to keep the house clean, so I stayed up late to finish some work. Lately, I’ve been hearing loud ripping sounds coming from my floors. It’s the carpet popping out of its seams. This summer, our duplex was re-leveled. One end of the house was raised nearly a foot high…having settled that much over the past several years. I’ve been told the house wasn’t built foundationally correct, and we’ve been having problems ever since. Other teachers have it worse. Every year on my end, a problem occurs with the middle partition, which separates the kitchen from the living room. Completely around the top portion of that partition, winter comes and separates the wall from the ceiling at least an inch. I also have several large cracks, and now the carpet is making noises. Last year (I believe), my neighbors on the other side of the duplex had a shattered window in the middle of winter. That room never got above fifty for the majority of the season.

ABOUT THAT GILL NET…

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been busy…even missed an assignment’s due date. Thankfully, my professor gave an extension.  Now, we had a teacher’s parents visit this week, and they were quite pleasant to have around as company. Along with the teacher and her family, we toured the tundra, visiting various sites. Got stuck of course. Four-wheeler clogged up with water. But most importantly – they helped set the gill net.

Now for some reason, it takes over a week and a half for a single letter to get from Nome to Brevig Mission (even though we’re only 80-90 miles apart). This letter had to fly south to Anchorage, get processed, fly north BACK to Nome, and then to Brevig. It was my subsistence fishing permit, and it arrived Monday.boatnet

I wanted the gill net out. While a friend strongly advised against it that evening, citing strong winds, hardly any nets in the water, and possibly “youthful” ambition, we did so nevertheless. I took the chance with several teachers and our visitors’ help, due to wind direction and relatively good water. I don’t care if we came in around midnight, it was fun. Keep in mind this is what’s minimally required to get the net out. Here’s how the process works:

  1. Fill the inflatable raft and check for holes (we had some due to halibut)
  2. Unroll and untangle the net (took some time)
  3. Clean the net and lay flat across the beach
  4. Prepare the buoy and anchor. Use the inflatable raft and oar. Since I did not have an oar, I used a small blue shovel – just needed to be careful, and not puncture the boat.
  5. Connect a rope from the inflatable to the shore. This way, you can have someone pull you in after you dropped the anchor and buoy.
  6. Once the anchor and buoy is properly dropped, tie another rope to the buoy and have a person pull you in shore (make sure it’s a friend).
  7. Hold the net and pull yourself using the rope attached to the buoy. Once next to the buoy, connect the net.
  8. Pull yourself back in using the net.
  9. Attach the other side of the net to some fixture on shore.
  10. Check the gill net several hours later for salmon

An interesting event occurred one day. First, remember the oar was missing. So, I grabbed a small blue shovel – and it became my new oar. Second, my boat got a new hole…or two. Air was seeping out a bit faster than preferred. After a gratuitous amount of duct tape and cement glue, problem solved. I placed the anchor and buoy in the backside of the inflatable, and gave the rope I had previously rolled up to a teacher. Remember, it connected my boat to the shore, so I could be pulled back in. I sat down in the backside of the boat, and got about 50ft from shore when he yelled, “Greg!!” I looked back. “I think you’re missing some rope.” Confused, I pulled up my line and discovered only three feet remaining. I yelled out the teacher’s name in disbelief. I needed to get back to shore. Immediately. I turned the boat and paddled with my shovel…careful not to puncture the boat. It was no use. I wasn’t getting anywhere with this paddling. Normally, it would have been sufficient…but this case did not seem likely. After five or ten minutes (can’t remember), I gave up and began to drift a bit more back to sea. Then a thought occurred, “What if this anchor was in the front side of the boat…not with me?” I quickly tied the shovel handle to my small piece of rope, and tossed it overboard. I needed it out, in case the shovel punctured the raft with what I was about to do. I then began rolling the anchor bag to the front part of the boat. I kept it gentle, since I had a small leak behind me. Then with the anchor in front, I turned the boat back toward shore and began paddling. I felt much more resistance and initially a slower start, which was good. I began paddling against the anchor weight, which in return caused the boat not to turn around as much and…push forward. After a minute or so, I made “record time” to the shore.

salmonnetThe following day, we had a salmon return of 20 total – a record for us! However, the joy got spent quickly. The following hour after cleaning the salmon, I was pumping up the boat with a friend’s help, and the needle-sized whole turned into a six-inch rip. I done what I could to repair the boat, but now I’m sitting down in a Unalakleet school classroom for teacher training tomorrow. Next opportunity to test out the repairs will be this Wednesday or Thursday.

TODAY’S GAME

Today’s game is a spaghetti, western card game called Bang. You have several varieties of jobs, based on the number of players in the game. You could be a sheriff, deputy sheriff, outlaw, or renegade – each with its own objective to win the game. Then you pick your character, whose names often play parody off real life characters. Of course, any western game would not be complete without shooting one another – which you play a “bang” card to do so. If you get low on life, pick up a “beer” or “tequila” card to get some back. These links will take you to more detailed descriptions of the game: Bang Review & Boardgamegeek.com.

Greg

Posted by: gmelvin | July 30, 2013

Back to business…

Last night, I reached the point of adulthood. I stayed up past midnight.

(yes, I’ve done that before)

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My internet bandwidth cap goes away between 12:00-6:00a.m., and I had wanted to see how a 45-min. tv show played at the house. While downloads are slow here, they’ve gradually increased in the past few years. We can get Netflix and Amazon Prime on occasion. It finished in an hour!

One of the hobbies I’ve enjoyed up here is cooking. It’s kinda needed, unless you can live totally off canned or frozen food. I prefer getting my meat from musk ox or salmon, but it’s always useful to get some hot dogs, sausage, or chicken from another ‘vendor.’ Last year, I had to make a meat order because I missed the lottery permit for musk ox, and I wasn’t able to find a moose on my hunts. The price for meat was the same for shipping – around $500. Here’s the company that I had placed my order – Mike’s Quality Meats.

I typically get jibed at for my taste buds. Nobody can quite figure out how Thanksgiving is my hardest meal of the year. Casserole dishes, cranberries, most vegetables, sweet potatoes, pies, nuts – I hate them. Rather eat rocks. Filled with minerals. But speaking of health, I cooked up the breakfast of champions – the chocolate chip cookie. See the website for the recipe.

And before anyone else comments on my habits – please check out this article over picky eaters. I saw it on my flight back from Oklahoma, and I felt right at home.

ImageOne of the first items on my to-do list was to call the Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) to see what lands were open for recreational panning. Gold panning. My neighbor wishes to get out more, and he’s curious to see if a ‘profit’ can be made. I told him I would do so, but the first task was to find out what lands are legal to do so. DNR has a map database – Alaska Mapper – that describes which areas are state and native owned. After an hour or so of phone talk with DNR, we located some areas that are state-owned around the village. I took my 4-wheeler out today to find how I might get there w/o riding purely on the tundra, and was mostly successful. My main hope was whether or not Brevig Mission connected to Wales via a trail along the seacoast. If I found this trail, I might be able to hit a creek that led north into the mountains. I was successful in finding the trail along the coast, along with several creeks and a small herd of musk ox. I reached Don River, and drove a bit north along the creek. However, I soon turned back due to time constraints (it was a long ride). I’ll be back later – with pics!

Finally, I’ll close this post with a note on our past times. Thanks to one of our teachers, I’ve learned more about board games than whatever you’ll find at Wal-Mart. He has several, floor-ceiling shelves filled with games of all sorts. You may have heard of some, but I plan to provide links/descriptions to at least one game. Today’s game is Carcassonne – a tile, city-building game that can accommodate 2-5 players. Check it out if you can – the iPad version is quite good too! You’ll find it in a board game primed store, or Amazon.

I’ll be posting pictures soon for those that have made requests.

Greg

Posted by: gmelvin | July 23, 2013

How I Enjoyed Delta Cargo…

To Whom It May Concern,

To Delta Flight 1867 to Atlanta @ 6:00a.m., date of 07/23/13:

 

This is a letter of apology for any distressed passenger who either missed connections or frantically outpaced the casual walking traveler to make a connection in Hartsfield-Jackson Int’l Airport. Your flight was held up by a cat.

We had promptly arrived at Tulsa Int’l Airport as the Delta cargo agent on the phone courteously instructed – 4:00a.m. in the morning. Traffic in the city around 3:30a.m. is unbelievably calm, so we did not have to beat the morning rush. This can be a pain for those waking up early. Once at the terminal, we had plenty of seating room. The cargo counter was empty. We sat back and relaxed while watching dragged suitcases pulled by pleasurable company. They are fascinating!! But good times must come to an end. We were the first in line for cargo assistance by 5:20. The cargo agent worked hard to make our cat ready on time for the 6:00 flight.

It was then we realized I needed a reference number, as prompted by the cargo agent. He could not find it. I did not have it. And the Glados voice on the other end of the Delta Cargo phone line (I needed the reference number) kindly stated she would call me back in 20-30min. Now, this allowed for the lady behind me with the vocal parakeets to sign on her pets. I next had the pleasure of thought that I might keep the cat here for the winter. Then, everything changed.

Its strange how memory works, but about fifteen minutes later, I realized the Delta cargo agent (from the phone) sent me an itinerary for a cat’s travel. Find the iPad. Wow!! It had a reference number!

So, all’s well that ends well for the cat. He made it on the plane with three minutes to spare. It’s relieving to here that I did not hold up the plane too long. We know how passengers feel like when being held up by a cat. Especially the domestic variety. I do understand some stress for the Tulsa-Atlanta passengers, but a cat’s priority must come first…whenever the agent* arrives for his duties.

The cat’s name is Pete.

 

Greg

*In a serious tone, the cargo agent that arrived in the counter worked quite well with us. As I’ve learned, this was not the original person slated for the shift. I’m not aware on how or why the original cargo agent did not show up for work. Secondly, I was not previously aware of a needed reference number. Finally, I appreciate the person with the pet birds behind me for wishing us luck in getting the cat out to Atlanta. And no…I have yet to receive the return call from Delta.

Posted by: gmelvin | July 19, 2013

It’s Been Awhile – Now to Update

“Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.” – Unknown Author

Wow – $1.75 for a bottle of water. And I thought Alaska was expensive!

I’m now at the Syracuse University Library – and no, I’m not moving. However, I am working on a career shift. I’m not sure what direction it will lead me, but now it’s the right step for me. I’ve been quite blessed in my journey over here, and it’s been an interesting ride. I’m now beginning my master’s program in Library and Information Science, with a likely focus in Digital Libraries.

Many people think, “Oh, you’re in Library & Information Science – so you want to be a librarian?” Not exactly. Check out this cool link from the Syracuse website: 61 Non-Librarian Jobs for LIS Grads. That’s what I’m looking out for. Perhaps, if I’m called back down into the states, I’ll be using this degree. I do not believe I’ll adjust well (as well as I did up here in Brevig Mission, Alaska) in the the school system down there. I’ll likely not teacher. Maybe…maybe not. We’ll see how the Lord leads me.

My initial trip up here was a thorn. The night before my flight left Syracuse, I got a call from Delta Airlines stating my flight out of Tulsa got cancelled. The lady was so nice (can you think Glados??), that she promptly ended the message before I got to “thank” her for the information. Gotta love computers. I called back, and to make another story short – got placed on a flight with American Airlines (didn’t help when that flight delayed me in Chicago for nearly two hours).

Syracuse University is quite busy in the summer. At least, for my time seeing it. It has a strong, impoverished side of town which I never saw. The campus is mostly situated on a hill, and the faculty I was under were great! Mostly around the 90s, it took me a bit to get used to the lengthy walking. Now, I’ll be flying out soon. It was fun while it lasted, but in a couple of days – back to Brevig Mission, AK.

Syracuse

Look @ Downtown Syr

 

Syracuse University

Usual walk to class

 

Syrcause Downtown

Early in the Morning

 

 

Posted by: gmelvin | August 10, 2010

ALASKA At Last

Hello,

I just got settled in at my trailer in Brevig Mission, and thought that I might make a post about what we did in Anchorage. “Moving in” has been a big deal, and I only can imagine what the “living it” will be like. The city of Anchorage is quite spread out, yet an outlandish mountain range in the background. It was the first time I spent a night without seeing a black sky, a light in that horizon that never seems to disappear.

Sight Just Before Landing

Glacier After Glacier - Both Beginning And End

Once checked in, “YES” I did ask myself, “What am I doing here?” That was just for the first day only. Don’t fret.

Early next morning, after a quick “Save that Lower 48” stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, we started hunting out our food…at Sam’s Warehouse. Barnabas (roommate) and myself started with one buggy cart, and ended up with two. When we checked out at the register, the cashier needed three. “Go figure” that you math teachers!

Think we have enough?

BUMPER CARTS!

"Are you sure this can fit?"

The next day wasn’t so hectic; however, it was long. We picked up another teacher who’s based at Brevig, did some final shopping for meat products at Sam’s again, and then finished it off with a dinner at the Sourdough’s restaurant. But before we ate, we checked out the world’s largest chocolate fall in America – hey, everything is big in Alaska…Texas is second rate.

Can't I just...please...take a sip?

The biggest expense to our time was packing. It is literally a day’s work of shopping and shipping. When all is “said and done,” between the two of us, we had EIGHT 18-gallon tubs and several “others” to ship. Remember that pic showing the food going inside the van? When we got to the post office, we virtually dumped everything on the parking lot and started packaging the grocery items in tubs and boxes. Down below, several other new teachers shipped along with us – separate checks, of course!

"Ask not for whom the belly totes, it totes for thee." Hey wait, that's my dinner!

That night, if you call it night, we went to pick up another teacher on a 9:45 flight. We didn’t leave the airport until 1:10 in the morning. After a horrible experience with weight limits and food packaging at the ticket claim much later that morning (my shampoo got confiscated, and I’m checking out), we finally got off toward Nome.

Nothing much happened, other than my roommate’s flight carrier didn’t book him on the village flight he paid for. It’s casual, and the lady didn’t seem to mind the problem at all. He settled on the flight with me to Brevig, after a several hour turnover in the carrier’s upstair’s coffee shop, Landons. I have never seen such a small airport where you can land a Boeing 737 than in Nome.

Take A Little Sip

Then we took off in the Grand Caravan. My dad would not be able to do this; but for me, this is the next best.

I Walk The Line

This flight proved the most thrilling experience of all time for me. Looking strait out the window with tundra at eye-level, getting a strange sense of vertigo at times, wooden floor inside, unique-looking pilot, this is True Alaska!

Posted by: gmelvin | July 30, 2010

Only A Couple More Days and…

Alright…well, I didn’t get those pics I mentioned earlier up on the blog. I figured it might be easier to do it once I got to my village.

The date is Friday, July 30, 2010. Everything that needed shipping is long gone in my village. I’ll be leaving OKC next Monday for a flight to Houston, then a direct 7-hour flight to Anchorage. I love flying, so this shouldn’t bother me one bit. Hopefully, I can finally get my private pilot’s license while in Alaska. It would be nice.

In Anchorage, I’ll take care of getting my supplies and hopefully make a few, small scenic trips. I’ve been looking at my future students online, and I can’t wait to meet them. Am I nervous about moving? Well, not exactly. However, it is beginning to settle in that I’m actually leaving my family and friends to move to a “country” far remote not just in physical placement, but from common everyday knowledge. Hey, it is still the “Last Frontier.” Whenever I answer somebody’s question of “Where I’ll be at?” they say, “Where?” And you know what, I think it’s still a “Where” in most cases. Odd.

One difference I find in my case, is that no one has ever asked me if I feel I’m ready to teach! I’m a first year. Although I’ve had some experience as  a long-term sub in a rough urban school (“regular” class), special ed feels like walking in a room without light, trusting in only what someone has told you.

I think I like it better that way, for it gives me more opportunity and desire to focus on how the Lord wants me to walk. Sometimes, you need to lose just about (if not) everything before you realize what you have.

Hopefully, I haven’t bored anyone and I’ll give better details on what Alaska is like. Time to go…

Greg Melvin

Posted by: gmelvin | May 10, 2010

Unique to Alaska Bush (esp. Brevig Mission)

Here are a few unique qualities about Brevig Mission and bush Alaska:

  • Food is bought in bulk in Anchorage or Fairbanks, and flown to your village. I’ve heard most teachers buy their food online, and you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get fresh milk. Most teachers go powdered in this case.
  • Prices are outrageous. Check this link out to one of our forum pages: http://bssdonline.org/mod/forum/search.php?search=food&id=1&perpage=10&page=2
  • Thankfully, most of our villages have water.
  • Bering Strait School District (BSSD) has no grade levels (1st, 2nd, etc.) Instead, they go by standards that rely not on the student’s age level, but their academic progress. Their are nine standards. Check this link for additional info: http://wiki.bssd.org/index.php/Stuff_for_new_hires_about_the_model
  • Brevig Mission is a village of 300, with 100 being students. The school is the major and “virtually” the only employer.
  • Brevig Mission is a subsistence village
  • Brevig Mission has about 4 hours daylight (or night) during the most extreme parts of the year. Each day has a nine minute change in sunset and sunrise
  • From what I can tell, the sea is frozen most of the year. In addition, you can only get there by boat or plane (weather permitting)
  • One-of-a-kind adventure

Seriously, I’ll try to get some pictures here later

Greg

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