Quantcast

The Trip

(Part One)

The trip from Eek was a like a trip across the river Styx.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. As I’ve mentioned before, there are no roads in the region of Alaska where I work. Travel in winter is by snowmobile, bush plane or dog team. I had chartered a plane for five teachers (including me), the principal, two children and a dog. We planned to fly out of the village on Friday, when school closed for the Christmas holiday, land at Bethel, the regional airport, and go our separate ways. Some would fly out Friday night to Anchorage; others would stay a day or two and then head on. I planned to stay the night and then catch the Saturday Afternoon flight to Anchorage.

However, the village was a strange site on Friday. In the past, Eek has always been a frozen blanket of snow and ice by December, but on Friday the temperature hovered around freezing. Bone chilling water stood on frozen lakes, streams and rivers. Rain mixed with snow and then froze with each dip in temperature. The dirt runway at the edge of the village was an ice rink and the planes couldn’t fly for fear of icing on the wings. We waited, but didn’t go anywhere that day. One teacher missed his flight out of Bethel that night.

My flight was scheduled for 1:30 Saturday afternoon. I awoke Saturday morning around seven. It was still completely dark when I stepped outside and looked around the village. There was no rain and I could see lights at the far end of the village. Those were good signs, but it was windy. At about ten in the morning we had the first hint of sun. It soon became clear that when the wind died down fog rolled in. When the wind picked up it gusted too hard to fly. We talked to several bush airline companies, including one that has a reputation for flying in marginal weather, but soon abandoned all hope of flying out any time soon. As the plane I should have been on boarded in Bethel, I reluctantly phoned Alaska Airlines to reschedule my trip home. The customer service agent was very nice, waived all fees and booked me out of Bethel and gave me the first open seat out of Anchorage—on Christmas Eve. With a sigh I took the new itinerary. At least now I had time for the weather to change.

And change it did, just minutes after the plane that I should have been on departed from Bethel the weather started to clear. Two hours later we got a call from Grant Aviation asking if we were still interested in getting to Bethel.

“Yes!”

Grant had a Cessna 208 turboprop, commonly called a Caravan, coming into Bethel from another village. They would refuel and deice and then fly to Eek for us. Nearly two hours later the phone rang. “The Caravan is fifteen minutes out from Eek,” the woman on the line announced.

We packed last minute items, climbed into the wagon or on the ATV and headed out to the airport. The plane arrived just minutes after we did, but it was full of freight for the village. Before we could board we had to haul the boxes off the plane. Still we were happy to do it, glad to be starting our Christmas break. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking the hardest part would soon be over.

(Part two tomorrow.)

In Good Company

A picture of me along with authors like Shakespeare, Poe and Twain and book covers from Harry Potter and The Hunger Games alongside my book, Final Duty.

Kyle Pratt - in good company

School doesn’t open here in Eek, Alaska, until Wednesday, but we were in the building today preparing our rooms.  Late in the morning I took a break and walked over to Caitlyn James’ classroom.  Just inside the door was a poster of famous authors and popular books and me. 

In the picture you can see a picture of me just above my hand.  Below that is the Final Duty book cover.

Caitlyn, I love what you’ve done with your classroom this year.  Thank you.

Back in Eek

Yesterday I flew back to the Yup’ik Eskimo village of Eek.

Kyle Pratt points to himself

This will be my seventh year teaching in this remote Alaskan village.  Getting to Eek starts with a flight to Anchorage, but that is only the beginning.  From there you catch an Alaskan Airlines flight to Bethel, about 400 miles west of Anchorage on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, one of the largest river deltas in the world. 

This region is about the size of Oregon, but there are few roads in this marshy region and none where I am going.  This time of year, travel is by boat or bush plane.  So, after arriving in Bethel, I headed over to Grant Aviation, with a fellow Eek teacher Caitlyn James, to catch the next plane to the village.

Bush planes fly on a notoriously fickle schedule.  The departure time may be listed as 2:30, but consider that as only a rough estimate.        

Kyle Pratt with most of the staff of Eek School.

While waiting at the terminal Caitlyn said, “There’s a photo with you in it over there on the wall.”  Of course, I had to go check that out.  The picture is from about two years ago and shows most of the Eek School staff, including me, at the village airport with a Grant plane in the background.  It's weird to see a photo of me hanging in a random location.

We left not long afterwards on a Cessna 207 and arrived in Eek ahead of schedule.  I’ll be in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region until Christmas vacation.

Spring Break

Friday was Spring Break here in Eek, Alaska!

Okay, actually we had Friday and the weekend off for a grand total of three days! 

We don’t celebrate many of the holidays, like Veteran’s or President’s Day, in the village schools so three days off is actually nice. 

While that just a short time off from the regular school routine, I still wanted to celebrate.  I asked one of my students, Tim Heakin, to help me create this two minute video showing some of our spring break activities.  Two minutes was all the time we needed to show our celebration. I hope you enjoy it.

Merry Christmas

The temperature was -20 as we waited for the plane to arrive in Eek.

That was last Thursday.  The plane arrived on time, thankfully, for the flight to Bethel, Alaska.  I stayed the night in Bethel and then caught the morning flight to Anchorage and another plane to Seattle.  My youngest son was at the airport to pick me up for the hour and a half drive home.  It was a long trip, but thankfully, I arrived home safely late on Friday.

Connie and Caitlyn waiting for the plane in Eek.  Dirk in Background.

It is Christmas morning now and looking out the window beside me I see a few of the many evergreen trees near the house.  A light snow has fallen and the temperature is hovering around freezing, but blades of green grass still poke up through the snow.  It might be a good day for a warm fire.

I may be down in Washington State, but I still think of my other home up in Alaska.  Thinking of Christmas in Alaska led me to recall the Hallelujah Chorus video that the nearby village of Quinhagak made and uploaded just before Christmas of 2010.  It has gone viral with over a 1,555,000 views.  I hope you enjoy it.  Merry Christmas.

 

Bear Aware

 Living out in bush Alaska it's important to be aware of bears, wolves and other animals that might see you as a meal.

            Last year my wife and I were preparing to haul trash out to the village dump when one of our friends said they had seen bear tracks at the dump.  So warned, we drove the ATV out to the dump with a trailer full of trash keeping our eyes open for any movement.  Only ravens greeted us as we piled trash on the burning heap that is the village dump. 

          Today as I spoke with Caitlyn, a first year teacher at our school, I noticed this poster on the cabinet behind her.  It warns, “Don’t attract bears to your home,” and goes on to say people should close and lock all doors and windows that bears could climb through.  It also warns to protect smokehouses, beehives and chicken coops. 

          These are things that the vast majority of Americans never think about, but bear awareness is just part of life in rural Alaska.

A Trip to Bethel

Ready for boarding

Eek, the village where I teach, is out on the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta of Alaska. 

          The village sits on a bluff just above the river Eek.  There are so many lakes, streams and ponds in this region that most are unnamed.  Where there is land it is often marshy.  Even in the village the ground can be spongy this time of year.  That is why there are no roads that leave the village.  The ground just isn’t firm enough to support a road and the vehicles that would travel on it.  The one dirt road that goes the length of the village is has numerous bumps, dips and pools of water.  Until freeze up, when all the rivers and streams are well frozen over, if you travel out of the village it will probably be by boat or air.

yle Pratt in the van with Julia and Joylene

                  Last week all the teachers in the Lower Kuskokwim School District were called into Bethel for training.  For most that meant flying by bush plane.  Eight of us from Eek crammed into one small bush plane for the trip.  The picture above was taken on the tarmac in Bethel as we were about to return to Eek.  The scene would be typical of anywhere in the delta region, except the village runways are dirt.

Caitlyn drew the short straw

                Once in Bethel the school district sent a van to pick us up.  Traveling in this region means learning to wait and becoming accustomed to cramped, cold conditions both in the planes and sometimes on the ground.  When the luggage was loaded on the district van there was not enough room for all the people, but no one wanted to wait for the next trip.  No problem, we kept squeezing. We’re all friends.  That is me in the brown coat. 

You know that space between a van seat and the wall of the vehicle, you can fit someone there, and I have photographic proof.  It does take a special kind of teacher to work out here, but we all arrived at the district training in one piece and in good humor.