Thursday, February 21, 2013

Throwback Thursday --- Old School (Warning! Graphic Photo)

Learning how to skin a seal. Photo by one of my folks.
I don't really have the standard memories of elementary school. You know, eating paste and singing "Wheels on the bus." Sure, I might have consumed my fair share of paste, like everyone else, and when I lived in Montana road the bus about an hour each way (and had to walk to the bus stop a mile away -- all up hill of course), but thankfully I never had to sing that horrible song. My best school memories stem from the activities we did that weren't your typical school lessons. In 2nd grade in the village of Akiak, Alaska, my mom as principal and principal teacher, always had us doing cultural activities. Whether we were learning how to build survival fires with just one match (that's right, elementary kids learning how to build fires!) or learning how to butcher a seal, well that was school. And really, that is what school should be. Interesting. Informative. Enriching. Meaningful. Somewhere along the way we've lost that in our education system. We no longer learn things that are useful or meaningful to our lives. Instead we have children memorizing dates and formulas, taking tests, and practicing drills for active school shooters.
That fair skinned boy on the right is me. I'm in second grade in the photo, actively participating in the skinning and cutting of a seal. For some this may be too graphic, too horrible to imagine, but for me it was a special moment. A moment in my memory and my education that rises above the memorizing of times tables and trying to learn the difference between a verb and an adverb. To me this was real learning. This was biology and history and language and culture class all in one, not to mention culinary and art class, as every last fiber of this seal that shared its life with the people would find a purpose, if not a place within someone's stomach.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Giant Ice Hole...

 I snapped this photo while exploring the west coast of Alaska last fall with my buddy Seth Kantner, author of Ordinary Wolves and Shopping for Porcupine. The photo doesn't do justice to the size of the cascade of ice and the hole, approximately ten feet deep and five feet across. The frozen bubbles, the size of softballs were unlike anything I've ever seen.
This is the magic of Alaska and the power of cold.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Throwback Thursday -- My 1st "Sno-Go"

Brother and sister on the Kuskokwim, near Akiak, AK
You know how every once and while you encounter a photo from when you were a child that brings back a rush of memories? Just tonight I found myself flipping mindlessly through a few old photos, looking for something to share with you and I found this. The year was 1983. I was in 2nd grade and lived in the village of Akiak. A small Yup'ik community on the Kuskokwim River. The shiny new Ski-Doo Elan was my dad's but I drove that "sno-go," as we called them then and still often do, everyday after school.  I loved that machine, a simple 250cc engine, with bogey wheels. I had free reign of the area, so long as I didn't venture too far away, but did take a trip on it to Bethel, the big city. The windchill that day had dipped to sub-fifty below and I begged him to take me. Round trip it's about fifty miles, but a slow fifty on a small single banger like the Elan, and on the return at night, my little feet were nearly frozen. I don't remember much of all that happened, but I do recall  having to stop and my dad warming my toes with his bare hands and sticking my feet down into the Sno-Go's cowling and placing them near the warm engine block.  I'm pretty sure I learned my lesson after that trip and when I asked to go along, on the rare occasion when he said I didn't couldn't go, I definitely didn't beg.
The days of the Elan have passed, but a few folks in Alaska still drive them. They are gas sippers compared to the 1000 cc monster engines of today, but those changes in horsepower don't compare to the bigger changes that have come to that area, with even bigger changes on the horizon in terms of  resource development racing that direction as fast as any sled.

The big statewide Iron Dog race form Anchorage to Nome and then back to Fairbanks starts this week and it will have men and machines barreling across Alaska on the fastest Sno-gos around. A couple thousand miles in just a few days. The brutal pace, with winning racers averaging 90mph is unimaginable to me. That's right. NINETY. Something else unimaginable to me is the sponsorship for the Iron Dog. For one, you are sponsoring it. Well the National Guard is, so really that is both of us right? The race is also sponsored by one of those resource development companies racing to mine for gold on the Kuskowkim River. The same river you see pictured here. If their permit goes through, and Alaska has yet to deny a permit to a mining company, Donlin Gold will be extracting a projected million ounces of gold each year from the region.  That's right. 1,000,000,000 OUNCES. A YEAR. For thirty years. That's enough to buy a whole lot of races. And minds.

Me? I skate ski now. I'm slower than the old sno-go, and I can't pull my sister behind me, like I was in this photo. Sadly, I also can't say I'm as carefree as I was back then, riding across the tundra without a worry or thought of what might would be down the trail. But now such thoughts fill my mind and I can't help but see an old photo from my past and reminisce on the golden memories and think about what the future holds for my old home on the Kuskokwim now that outsiders have discovered a different sort of gold.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paradise Found

Flipping through some old photos and this caught my eye. Instantly transporting me back to a place that is quite literally paradise.
I snapped this on the beach on Kalalau Beach, at the end of the Napali Coast Trail on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.
You can only get to this beach by hiking a rugged 11 mile trail, but the effort is worth the sweat. Pristine beaches. Fruit trees. Crystal clear streams. And about as close as you can get in the US to a tropical paradise without the trappings of civilization. No cars. No electricity. No computers. Just you, your thoughts, the sunshine, and your footprints that will be washed away, along with your stress and your feelings that you can't live without all those gadgets and so-called necessities that really aren't.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

How to Write a Novel AND be a Parent.

You want to write good books. You want to be a good parent. But how do you do both?
I have found the solution. It is unbelievably simple. Outsourcing. Not the parenting, though that is a great idea, but the writing. The best part is you don't even have to look outside your home let alone the country.
Just make your child do the writing for you. Sure, it may not be great, and it may not even make sense, but hey, if Snooki can write a novel, well I'm sure your toddler can too.