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.)

Boardwalk 1

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!