First Freeze

A little before 10am the sun rose behind clouds as if through sheer fabric curtains.  A glaze of ice spread over the river in the night, and this morning the gray light of a northern dawn reflects onto boats along the shore.  Yesterday’s wet tundra has become a hardened, walkable surface.  But it doesn’t feel cold.  The air is still, and I’m warm beneath the same ski jacket I wear on the slopes of Vermont.  My rubber, felt-lined Kamik boots arrived in the mail yesterday, as did Amara’s winter gear.  I scan the cold scene while feeling toasty warm.

Atmau isn’t desolate in winter.  It’s actually more accessible as the river becomes an ice highway and the snow-covered delta becomes a snow-machine playground.  School travel costs for sporting events drops.  Transportation by plane is no longer required.  Coaches drive athletes from village to village, using the fleet of district-owned Suburbans.  One of the teachers says happily, “I can’t wait for winter.  We’ll be able to ride in a warm truck!”

No one in the school is allowed to travel without winter clothing after October 1st.  I’ve heard one person complain about the policy, having traveled when the temperatures were too warm for heavy parkas.  But you never know if the weather will change, so the policy seems like a good idea.  For example, our volleyball team left for a meet by boat Friday afternoon.  Today being Sunday with the school closed, I haven’t heard if they’ve already returned.  If not, they’ll probably have to come back by plane.  [Update:  Good news — the team got back home yesterday.]

Boat owners were caught off guard from the First Freeze.  Temperatures are set to rise into the 40’s this week, long enough for them to get their boats out of the water.  See pics below.

That’s the latest news from Atmau.  : )

 

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The Floating Village

As you may recall, I’ve taken a teaching position in a small village of Southwestern Alaska.  I’ve been incredibly busy since my first day of arrival on August 2nd, almost every weekend occupied with professional training or cross country meets.  One of my athletes made it to the state finals in Anchorage, but we’ll save that story for another day.

I’ve kind of fallen in love with Atmautluak, aka, Atmau.  It’s beautiful and peaceful.  There are plenty of challenges for me to dive into.  My mind is occupied with all of the things a first-year teacher juggles.  But when I look out my very large window, I see a place of wonder and contrast.

Atmau is a Delacroix Island of the North.  It’s a fishing village lying in one of the largest river deltas in the world — larger than the Mississippi Delta itself.  Two of Alaska’s largest rivers — the Yukon and Kuskokwim — form the Y-K Delta with endless swirls and pockets of fresh, muddy water.  Part of the region is protected as the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge alone covers an area three times the State of Vermont.  The total area of the Y-K Delta is roughly the size of Louisiana.  Atmau, like Delacroix Island, lies just above sea level.  Unlike Delacroix, it’s 80 miles from the ocean by navigable water.  Still, Atmau is a buoy in the tidal plain, even this far away from Kuskokwim Bay.  The river flows in both directions, following the ebb and flood of the Bering Sea.  IMG_0624.JPG

The back and forth of the slow, flat river is a metaphor of a village that seems, for outsiders, a place of contrasts.  The landscape is beautiful, but trash litters the boardwalks.  There’s open water everywhere, although municipal water must be filtered and allocated on a daily basis.

Water, mud, and permafrost dictate the layout of infrastructure and day-to-day living.  Homes and buildings are raised on piling foundations hammered down to the permafrost.  Atmau is a floating village.   There are more boats than four-wheelers, and there are no cars.  (Well, there’s this one sinking into the muck.)

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Boardwalks make up the island’s primary road system.  Wide enough for a person to stand aside as a four-wheeler passes, the walks may be flat, wavy, or partially underwater.  One step off the boardwalk and you may be up to your knees in mud.  At best, you’ll be standing on a spongy surface of tundra marsh.

And then there’s the outdoor basketball court.  Basketball is pretty huge in the Lower Kuskokwim School District.  In the summertime, when the school gym is unavailable, this is where kids shoot hoops:

IMG_0248.JPGPretty cool, eh?

That’s all for now.  I’ve heard good things are happening in Northfield.  A good night was had by all at the second annual Night on the Common.  Northfield Falls is now a Designated Village Center, which puts it in the same position as the Common area for development and grant opportunities.  The Promise Community playground concept is evolving.  Keep up the good work, Northfield!

When the plane doesn’t come, take the boat!

I had to travel to Bethel this week for training. The plane never came, so Larry and I traveled by boat. As the plane flies, Atmautluak is only 18 miles from Bethel. But by boat, it’s 48 miles including 32 wandering bends. The weather was fantastic and I manned the helm, a huge smile on my face the whole way.

Here’s a video from my first ride with Larry, (Principal of Atmautluak school).

 

 

 

Grade 4-5 Teacher Needed!

Just a short post to help spread the word that my school in Atmautlak, AK, needs a Grade 4-5 teacher. Please share widely in your network and help spread the word about this great opportunity!

Here’s the skinny:

  • $52,000 starting salary for teachers with a BA and 0 years experience.  Pretty good, eh?
  • $3,000 signing bonus for a 2-year commitment.  $1,000 bonus for a 1-year commitment.
  • 100% cost of rent is tax deductible.  Rent is deducted from your paycheck.
  • Up to $12,000 in loan forgiveness after 5 years
  • 3-year Principal Endorsement Program if you want to pursue an Admin position.
  • Small classes.  K-12 enrollment is ~150.
  • Excellent stepping stone if you want to pursue International Teaching or LKSD Administration.

Anyone interested can contact me or LKSD.org to learn more!

This has been a challenging year for new teachers in Vermont to land a job.  Positions are fewer and competition is high.  Atmautlak’s recent loss of an elementary teacher can be a your opportunity!

And, wow, a $52,000 starting pay with a $3,000 bonus — that must put a ring in somebody’s ears!  Excellent salary schedule for those with more experience!

Joanne A Alexie Memorial School logo

 

Alaska in range for North Korea attack

Among well-wishers upon my move to Alaska, several people have suggested it would be great to read posts from afar on NatesUpdates.   Oddly, I received one note from a not-so-well-wisher, “…no wonder you’re fleeing to Alaska.”  North Korea News agency photo of missile

That’s just one person, but it gave me pause to think, “Who would ever ‘flee’ to Alaska?”  It can be a cold, dark, harsh, and kind of lonely place in the winter.  And as of today, there’s yet another reason Alaska would be even less of a destination for cowards:  North Korea.  

Today, North Korea launched a missile which has the range to hit the nation’s largest state.  The Las Vegas Review Journal reports “US says missile was North Korea ICBM that could hit Alaska.”

If you haven’t noticed the news, North Korea is quickly becoming an existential threat as the world’s newest member of the nuclear club.  Folks in Alaska have been paying attention because, while not prime strategic targets, they are geographically closer to Kim Jong Un than Los Angeles, New York, or DC.

Mainstream newspapers have covered the Alaska connection since the July 4th missile test, but Alaskans have been reading about it since at least last March.  Here’s a sampling of articles from the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN) documenting the increasing threat:

Senator Dan Sullivan missile defenseEarlier this year, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan introduced a bill in Congress to add 14 missiles to Fairbanks’ Fort Greely aresenal.  He’s been pushing the bill with increasing urgency.  Just the other day he made a speech at the Heritage Foundation, “What a North Korean Ballistic Missile threat Means for the US Missile Defense System.”

But is Alaska really a potential target?  ADN columnist Dermot Cole is skeptical in his post, “North Korea poses an urgent challenge, but don’t kiss Alaska goodbye just yet.”  Cole suggests Sullivan’s  “America’s Missile Defense Act” is more about politics and war profiteering than strategic military interest.  He quotes David Wright, an expert on nuclear weapons policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists as follows:

I suppose if there were a military attack on North Korea, it might decide to fire something at Alaska as a way of responding against US Territory if that’s all it could hit,” he said.  “But even in that case, it’s more likely to launch against US troops in South Korea and Japan.”

Who else is skeptical?  Apparently Alaskans aren’t in a panic.  Alaska Public Media published “Alaskans greet DPRK missile test with a shrug not a shriek” one day after Kim Jong Un’s July 4th test launch.  But the same article acknowledged that Alaskans are more interested in fishing than talking politics during the summer months.

Alaska July 4th parade

“I was at the 4th of July parade in Seldovia,” ADN columnist Charles Wolforth said by phone from Kachemak Bay Wednesday. “Somebody said ‘Hey I heard that Korea tested this ICBM,’ and the conversation didn’t really go any further because everybody’s out in the sunshine and watching the fish toss.”

Anchorage_on_an_April_evening

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz expressed faith in the US military for Alaskans’ lack of heightened concern.  “We have complete confidence in the military to defend us, and we have the assurance that no matter what happens to us here in Alaska we’ll be able to take care of ourselves,” Berkowitz said.

Across the whole, I think most Americans are generally confident that even Kim Jong Un isn’t crazy enough to make a pre-emptive strike against the US.  It’s probably not likely that he’ll lob a nuke at US troops in South Korea, either.  But still, it’s important for Congress and the President to come up with new strategies in response to North Korea as a nuclear power.  Give up the One Korea policy?  Sanctions against China and Russia?  Increasing our missile defense system?  Whatever it takes, quite frankly.  Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley summed it up yesterday in a speech before the National Press Club:

“War in the Korean peninsula would be terrible, however a nuclear weapon detonating in Los Angeles would be [even more] terrible,” Milley said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, about America’s security threats.  “North Korea is the single, most-dangerous threat facing the international community and the U.S. today”

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Credit:  Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Water Street Park update: Photo Essay.

Just a quick post to show the latest developments for the Water Street Park with some pictures.

It’s easy to see how big the park is going to be now that the construction fencing is up.

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Here are the two utility poles which will be removed from their current locations.  They will be relocated across the river.  The building in the background with the blower on the rooftop will be razed to make room for the poles.

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The next two images show the large, man-made berm which was built to keep the Dog in a narrow channel.  The purpose in removing the berm is to open the width of the river, allowing it to flow in a more natural path.  This, in turn, reduces erosion and the intensity of river flow during rainy periods

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Five years before Tropical Storm Irene devastated the Water Street Neighborhood,  Vermont’s River Management Program published a white paper,  “Alternatives for River Corridor Management”. The report discussed the conflicts between land use and healthy rivers.

The conflict goes like this:  A hundred or more years ago, settlers began to farm and live in flood plains.  Then they built berms to protect their homes and farms.  It’s a human vs. nature thing.  Moving into a flood plain and having to deal with floods is kind of like moving into bear country, then having to deal with bears.

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Well, it turns out, berms don’t really work.  This berm clearly didn’t make a difference in August 2011 or back in 1972, when the Water Street neighborhood was flooded due to an ice jam.  Removing the berm is a good idea.  An added bonus is that it will give easy access to the river for fishing, skipping stones, or to just appreciate the lull of flowing water.

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Last Fall, access to the river last fall looked like this:

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But when we got through the mess, the river looked quite lovely:

 

 

As you may know, the Class of 1957 has raised thousands of dollars to build a pavilion or gazebo.  They’re encouraging other graduating classes to join them.

To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t an official design for the project.  Here’s a design proposal based on our community’s new (unofficial) logo.

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(If anyone knows of a current design, send me a note.  I’ll make the update and post the pictures on NatesUpdates.com.)  picnic shelter_01apicnic shelter_01bpicnic shelter_01d

Maybe by this time next year, someone will be making river cairn art at the Water Street Park.  Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the new river park.  : )

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A New Chapter for NCDN!

Some folks have been asking, “What will happen with NCDN now that you’re leaving for Alaska?  

It will go on, just like the founding directors had planned from the beginning!

NCDN logo small

NCDN is lead by an incredibly talented team of highly-qualified professionals who meet twice a month, all year long, driven by a vision of economic prosperity and community development.  See the folks in the picture at the top of the page?  They are the driving force behind NCDN.

Tuesday night NCDN will present its work to the Selectboard at the Brown Public Library Community Room.  This will be the last meeting I attend — as a member of the audience — and I hope you join me.  : )

Here’s the team!

Lindsay Cahill Lord, is Projects & Production Manager at Norwich University and serves as Communications Director for Vermont Young Professionals.   Lindsay’s leadership skills are evident as soon as you meet her.

 Annee Giard and Jason Endres make up NCDN’s graphic design team.  Annee is a Graphic Designer at Norwich University.  Jason works for a firm in Manhattan, telecommuting from his home here in Northfield.

Kahwa Douoguih is co-founder of Access.Mobile and Assistant Professor of Economics at Norwich University.  She’s much more than that, but she won’t let me brag about her.

Kaitlyn Keating is an Associate Attorney at Caffry Law in Waterbury.  She graduated cum laude with a J.D. from Vermont Law School and specializes in children’s needs planning.

David Feinauer is Assistant Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering at Norwich University.  David teaches entrepreneurship on his own time, having hosted startup business pitch events at least two years in a row.

Carolyn Stevens, a recently retired CPA from her accounting and consulting services firm, is NCDN’s treasurer.  Carolyn was NCDN’s lead in become recognized as an IRS tax-exempt non-profit organization.  She’s developing NCDN’s capacity to act as a fundraising fiscal-agent for local groups and organizations.

What I like the most about NCDN’s team is that they are very methodical and purposeful when embarking on new initiatives.  They reach out to our community and listen to feedback.  And most importantly, they are willing to do the bland, time-consuming, behind-the-scenes work to create a platform for future activity.  dsc04585

No one gets a pat on the back for culling through the 2011 Town Report, or 2014 V-DAT report, or the 2016 Area Wide Plan.  But these people do the homework and base their work on prior planning.  They know this type of work sets the stage for tangible outcomes which takes a few years to realize.

To speed things up, this team needs the support of a professional economic development director.  The NCDN team brings excellent soft services and technical expertise to economic development, but lacking a professional executive director, they are limited in how much they can accomplish.  The reason for this is simple:  If you don’t have staff, you can’t close deals, you can’t apply for construction loans — you’re not in the game.  

I brought up the idea of a non-profit economic development corporation at an Economic Development Committee meeting in 2015.  The response at the time was favorable, and this is one of the many reasons NCDN was created.  NCDN’s business model is specifically designed to partner with a municipality, state agencies, and private businesses for community and economic development purposes.

Now, the NCDN team isn’t ready to ask the Town to hire an economic development director — but as a community, we need to start thinking about when that might happen.  Northfield is woefully behind other communities in Central Vermont simply because we haven’t invested in economic development staff yet.

If Northfield chooses to support it, NCDN can become a financially sustainable, job-creating non-profit business.  It can help Northfield grow its tax base by focusing on property development — the #1 driver to grow the Grand List.  It can bring more people to live in our lovely town, increasing foot traffic for local businesses.  NCDN is ready to go.  It just needs tangible support from a community that wants to prosper and succeed.

As I depart for my teaching job in Alaska, I ask all Northfield residents and taxpayers to consider NCDN as the Town’s economic development partner and its vehicle for prosperity.  NCDN was never about me.  It’s about making Northfield better for all of us.

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