Friday, July 21, 2017

Books for Teachers in Bush Alaska

Book: The Kids From Nowhere by George Guthridge
Summary: The author, George Guthridge, accepts a teaching job and moves his family to an island in the Bering Sea. The job comes with many issues: racism towards his family, lack of resources in the school, awful/unhelpful coworkers, and a million other little things. Despite all of his issues outside the classroom, Guthridge ends up creating a strong connection with his students. Eventually, he ends up successfully leading his students to win a national education competition.
Why I suggest this book: There aren't a lot of "modern" books that deal with teaching in rural Alaska. This book, while written in the '80's, deals with a lot of current issues that bush teachers face. The island that Guthridge teaches on has some particularly extreme issues, but it is still very relevant. The author also does a good job of speaking about the importance of culture in the school system, and he immerses himself in his communities cultural events, which I believe is important for all teachers in the Bush to do.

Book: Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Summary: This story jumps through the generations of an Inupiaq family who reside on a small island off of the coast of Alaska. The story opens with Nutaaq, a girl living in the early 1900's, and her family as they attend a trade fair in a neighboring village. Nutaaq's sister is married off to a Siberian man and taken back to Russia. Nutaaq remains behind with her family, but soon tragedy strikes when a plague comes to their village. After this, the story jumps forward and follows Blessing, a young female descendant of Nutaaq, who is living in Anchorage in the 1980's. Blessing is taken from her mother and placed in her grandmother's care. Her grandmother lives in the same village that Nutaaq once called home. The story then follows Blessing and her connection to her culture and ancestry.
Why I suggest this book: This book does a beautiful job at addressing the generational changes that have taken place within society. The book deals with issues that are extremely specific to Alaskan villages, and it is written by a woman who has lived her life above the Arctic Circle. The author does a great job of showing the Inupiaq culture in extremely rich detail. This book is beautifully written and I believe is a must-read for all teachers coming into schools in rural Alaska.

Book: 90 Below: Or, What Bush Alaska Taught Me About Drink, Destruction, and Survival by Eric Mack
Summary: This short story was written by an NPR contributor who moved to Alaska to start a career in radio. Mack's story opens with him at the bar and he recalls various events that transpire in his short time living in Galena, Alaska. The author details rough parties, local suicides,  and domestic violence. He also talks about the great friends he makes along the way and the ways that they have aided the direction his life took after leaving Galena.
Why I suggest this book: This book depicts bush living in a frank way, and does not shy away from   what life can be like in isolated places, particularly as an outsider looking in. I also think that it is important to note that Mack didn't stay long in Galena, which is often typical of bush teachers too, so I think that makes it an interesting insight. We often get stories from the successful teachers/people who loved bush life, Mack's story is kind of the opposite.

Book: One Man's Wilderness by Sam Keith
Summary: This book is essentially a compilation of the journals of Richard Proenneke, who built a cabin (by hand!) in Twin Lakes, which is an incredibly isolated wilderness area about a 30 minute flight from Port Alsworth, Alaska (Note: Port Alsworth is the location of one of my district's schools). Proenneke's journals detail his first 16 months off living in his remote cabin, totally isolated except for the rare visits by local pilot Babe Alsworth. Proenneke talks about building the cabin, providing his own food, handling dangerous wildlife situations, and many other unique Alaskan wilderness experiences.
Why I suggest this book: While this book may not seem like an obvious suggestion, it is a fantastic read. In fact, it is one of my favorite books of all time. I also think it gives a cool look at local history, flora, weather, and wildlife in this region of Alaska. Proenneke's descritptions paint a vivid picture of bush living, and also of the intense isolation of living alone in the wilderness.

Books about teaching/living in Alaska that are still on my to-read list:
Winds of the Skilak by Bonnie Rose Ward
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson
Shadows on the Koyukuk by Jim Rearden

Other notable/similar books that I've read and recommend: 
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Your turn...What are some of your favorite books about where you live?
Currently listening to...Wooly Mammoth - Local Natives

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

June Travels

The month of June was hectic and fun for the Middleton family. We arrived back in the lower 48 during the last few days of May, and tried to get a little bit of r&r at my mom's house in Illinois before we started traveling all over. However, the "rest" part of our trip didn't last long, mostly because my mom and I started getting wild ideas to go places about two days after Cody and I landed in the state. We ended up hiking two different state parks in the first week of being there. We first went to Kankakee River State Park, which is only 30ish minutes from my mom's house, so we packed up the dogs and took them on a nice hike around the river. The second state park was a little further, but also super cool. We spent a day hiking at Starved Rock State Park, which I hadn't been to since I was a kid. It was gorgeous!

The next week I drove Cody down to his hometown in southern Illinois and I stayed there to visit for a few days. I actually went to college close to where Cody grew up, so it was a blast to drive around campus and check out some of my old favorite hangouts. It was also really nice to see Cody's family because I hadn't seen them in a year and a half.

From there, I headed back to my mom's for a few days (and finally got some of that much needed r&r) before jetting off to my dad's house in Michigan. I spent Father's Day in Michigan and my grandfather, who is 84, drove up to MI and spent the weekend with us too. It  was so special to get to spend a long weekend with two of my favorite guys. We spent a wonderful weekend living the lake life - floating, swimming, watching sunset from the boat. It was great.

My dad and I took a road trip to Virginia after Father's Day, where he then left me at my sister's house for 10 days. My sister and her family live near DC, and I really love going to visit them. She has three girls (17, 9, and 5), so we had a BLAST playing and hanging out all week. We did a ton of fun stuff, but my two favorite adventures were hiking in Shenandoah National Park and spending a beach day at Lake Anna State Park. The Blue Ridge Mountains were amazing. I fell instantly in love and stood in awe of them as we hiked.  It was a truly incredible trip!

At the end of my 10 days in Virginia I headed back to Illinois, which is where I am now. It's been a crazy, adventure-filled trip, so far. The adventure is far from over though. I still have a trip to Milwaukee for a concert this week, my oldest sister's wedding this weekend, a weekend trip to Beaver Island (where Cody and I used to live) next week, another trip to SW Michigan, and an end-of-summer cookout with my Illinois family. Somehow, I am going to pack all of that in before August 15th. Wish me luck!

Your turn...How is your summer going?
Currently listening to...Hurray for the Riff Raff - Blue Ridge Mountains