Jury Duty (part 1)

Jury duty in bush Alaska means traveling by plane—if weather permits.

I was supposed to report for jury duty on Tuesday of last week. I packed a bag with three days of clothes because travel at this time of year is always iffy. I might fly into Bethel and get stuck there, so it’s smart to pack extra underwear and socks. However, wind and freezing rain meant that no bush planes could fly, so that day I did my regular job of teaching.

Kyle Pratt waiting beside the plane

The next day the rain had stopped and the wind died down. I thought we would be flying in, but as the first rays of sun hit the village I couldn’t see the runway on the edge of the village. Experience has taught me that if I can’t see it, planes won’t be landing. As the morning ticked on, the fog waxed and waned, but I never saw the runway. Again, I taught in our village school.

On Thursday the sky was clear and the winds were calm. Planes began arriving early. In the village you can go out to the airport and catch a flight, but it is just a dirt field, you wait in the weather, so most people wait for a call from the local agent. They tell you a plane is coming and there is probably a space for you. No one called me. When my friend Loni, who also had jury duty, phoned the agent, she was told passengers were backed up and waiting. We would have to wait. I started teaching.

By 11:00am I figured we were not going in for jury duty. I even phoned the courthouse in Bethel to tell them I couldn’t get in. Of course that is when Loni phoned to say that the plane was nine minutes out from the village.

“What?” I said into the phone, but she had already hung up. I told the students I had at that time to go to their other class, pulled on my boots and parka and headed out to find Ferdinand, one of the local school workers, and hope he could drive me up to the airport on the school ATV.

(Part two tomorrow)