Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Weekend Explorations

Abandoned buildings dot the tundra throughout our little village.  The beaches are vacant except for the occasional wildlife sighting.  Roads are empty of people, and full of village dogs.  The skies stretch for miles and touch the tops of nearby mountains and volcanoes.

With all of that said, our lives have become full of empty spaces, but definitely not empty experiences. We've enjoyed the solitude and simpleness of our new life, thus far.  Our weekends have been full with experiences and happiness, even though they seem to be much less "full" in the traditional sense.  There's no movie theatre to take in the latest blockbuster, or hip new restaurant to meet friends for drinks. Instead, we've been fishing and berry picking with local families, taking long walks with the students after school, and spending lots of quality time just the two of us. 

Last weekend we took some time for just the two of us, Cody and I. We drove to the end of the road, out near the docks, and took off on foot out into the tundra. The tundra is slowly turning, a sure sign of fall settling in. The color changes have still been subtle.  The deep, dark greens and brightness of the berries has begun to fade.  The tundra is now more brown and light green, with the occasional smattering of orange. The beauty of the tundra is very unique, and I'm enjoying watching it progress through its first seasonal change.

Throughout the course of our walk we explored many interesting places.  We ventured into a couple of abandoned buildings, presumably houses or fishing camps that are long forgotten. It was interesting to look at the household items scattered about and try to imagine who had lived there, once upon a time.

Life has been keeping us busy out here, but we are mindfully trying to take time to explore and take in the experiences that our village and the surrounding wilderness has to offer. Here's to hoping that the mindfulness we've been keeping remains a constant in this new chapter of our lives.

Your turn...What local adventures have you been on lately? 
Currently listening to...Barton Hollow - The Civil Wars 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Subsistence Fishing

Fishing has become an integral part of our lives here in the bush. Fishing, particularly subsistence fishing, is a huge part of village life. Stores are extremely expensive, if they exist at all, so many families still depend on hunting, fishing, and gathering to supplement their diets. Aside from the availability issues, it's also a huge part of their cultural society.

As a life-long vegetarian I knew that my options for eating fresh fruits and veggies would be limited, while fishing would likely be a part of our routine, and that my diet would potentially have to shift. I had come to terms with this ahead of time and decided to fully embrace becoming pescatarian (I'm only eating seafood that we catch, and will still be eating vegetarian/vegan outside of the village). I came to the bush with the intention of embracing the culture and lifestyles of my new community, which includes subsistence activities.

Cody and I have been trying to learn about the culture of subsistence living as much as we can.  Because of that, we've been homemaking more food, picking berries, and fishing 1-2 times per week. Fishing here is much different than fishing back home.  We don't go out with a tackle box and poles. There are no slow, lazy trips around a calm lake. 

Instead, we use a fishing net that is attached to a pulley system on the beach.  At low tide, the net gets pulled out. Then, at high tide you head back down to the beach. The net is lined with bobbers, which jump around in the water as soon as a fish hits the net.  As fish hit the net we reel it in and pick them out of it. As the fish get picked from the net they are then immediately filleted. Sue and Al, our school cook and his wife, have graciously taken us under their wing and been teaching us the right way to catch, fillet, and prepare the fish. We've typically been getting 10-15 fish a day when we go out, and then we take them home to vacuum seal and freeze them.  However, Sue and Al have also been showing us how to smoke and can the fish too.

So far, this has been a great way for us to supplement our giant food costs.  All of our groceries have to be shipped in or purchased at our store (to give an idea - milk is $20/gallon and cookies are $10/package, while fresh options don't even exist) and having something we can get for free has been helpful. We've been enjoying learning different ways to prepare salmon and trout, which are the two kinds of fish we've been catching.

Subsistence fishing is just another adventure in our lives out here in bush Alaska. We came into this experience with the intention of trying new things and generally being "yes" people, and so far I think we've been doing a pretty good job of fulfilling that intention. 

Your turn...What are some new things you've said "yes" to lately? 
Currently listening to... Fire at the Pageant - The Felice Brothers

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Running in Bush Alaska

Prior to moving to Pilot Point, I had many predictions for how life would be this year. One thing I knew that I wanted to keep the same was my ability to exercise outdoors regularly.  Getting outside, preferably with the dogs, after work each night has always been my decompression time.  When we landed in Pilot Point I was excited to see that the town has decent gravel roads (2+ miles of which run in a perfect loop right outside my house). I've been happily getting outside after work most nights and taking advantage of the beauty and tranquility of walking around my little corner of Alaska.

While I've been happily going on these after-work outings alone, I was thrilled to get a call last week from Bristol Bay Health Corporation asking if our school would like to host a community color run/walk in Pilot Point. The run would take place on a Wednesday afternoon, following a health fair and raffle in the school gym. I quickly accepted, jumping at the chance to bring such a fun activity to the school.

The weather the day of the run was fairly crummy.  High winds and torrential downpours happened for the duration of the school day.  I was feeling disappointed that the run might get cancelled, and the kids were feeling it too. Luckily, right as the school day was ending, the weather cleared and the sun came out. The temperature hovered in the mid-50's and the breeze blew lightly. We ended up with a perfectly crisp fall day for the run.

Pilot Point is a tiny community, so we weren't sure how big of a turnout we would get, but we were pleasantly surprised.  All of the students and their families showed up, in addition to a handful of other residents. We probably ended up with 30 people total, which is a lot in a community of less than 70. We also had a handful of the village dogs tagalong with us.  All of the pups managed to get covered with colored powder, making for some funny animal sightings in the days following the race.

Participating in an organized color run was definitely not something that I ever would have predicted would be a part of our first month in bush Alaska.  I suppose you just never know what is going to happen out here though, and everyday is a new adventure.

Your turn...Have you ever participated in an organized race?
Currently listening to...All the Young Dudes - Mott the Hopple 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Berry Picking on the Tundra

Living in Alaska often feels like one long string of adventures, mishmashed together with common, everyday moments.  It's always been one of my favorite things about life in Alaska. I absolutely love that my normal classroom routine in Juneau involved learning Tlingit language, or that walking the dogs meant carrying bear spray.  It's these little adventures that make living in Alaska such an experience.

One such experience that I had recently was berry picking.  Last Saturday, Melissa (the other teacher) and myself went out picking with a local woman, Sue.  Sue drove us down a bumpy, two-track that led out to the summer fishing camp (all the houses at camp were boarded up for the season). From there, we went on a hunt for berries and tundra plants.  As usual, I was amazed at the beauty and openness of the tundra landscape of my new home.

For my part, I've long been a berry picker, and I grew up in an agricultural hotspot. There's something just so different about berry picking here in the Alaskan Bush though.  It's sharply contrasting to the U-Pick farms in Michigan, or even to the groomed trails with their abundant berries in the mountains outside of Juneau.

Here, in Pilot Point, there are no berry bushes.  The berries grow in thick little clusters, scattered across the tundra.  This means that all berry picking is done in a sitting or squatting position.  Blueberries are much smaller than those in the lower 48 and SE Alaska.  They taste quite similar though and require handpicking and much care.  Comparatively, blackberries and cranberries are quite hardy and can be picked with a "picker."  These pickers are magical, and allowed me to collect a ridiculous amount of blackberries.  I did collect a few cranberries too, but mostly I am saving my picking of those until after the first frost (they are supposed to be much better after that).

The tundra itself makes berry picking in Pilot Point unique too.  If you've never been on the tundra, imagine it as a plush mattress or trampoline. The ground is so squishy that you sink several inches with every step.  It also holds an incredible amount of moisture, which will quickly soak the knees of your pants as you kneel to pick berries.  I learned my lesson about the wetness of the tundra quickly after kneeling to handpick a few blueberries.

After only a couple of hours I had over 1/2 gallon of berries to show for my hard work.  I was hot, sweaty, and feeling incredibly happy and content.  This feeling of happiness was only added to by the sheer vastness of the tundra, the great company of my new friends, and the delicious berries that I took home to pack away for winter.

Your turn...What are some of your favorite everyday adventures? 
Currently listening to...Alaska - Maggie Rogers