Quantcast

A look Around Eek

I called Eek home for seven years.

The Yup’ik Eskimo village of Eek is 415 miles west of Anchorage, Alaska, on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The delta is about the size of the state of Louisiana, but within that delta roads are rare and people are few.

The Eek post office in winter

Eek, with a population of 300, is a small village that sits on one bank of the Eek River. That river flows into the Kuskokwim and out to the Bering Sea.     

For seven years I taught in the village school. I left at the end of the 2013-2014 school year to write full time, but the students asked me back for graduation.

While I stood on the play deck in front of the school to make this short video, happiness and sadness mixed together. I was happy to be back and be a part of the graduation, but sad that this would be my last afternoon in the village. My speech was done, the graduation complete. The next morning I would leave for home. A chapter of my life was complete. 

A Visit from Dirk

School is out now in Eek, Alaska, and the staff has departed.

Dirk, a longtime co-worker and friend from Eek, took the slow route home. Along with his dog Katja, he visited Anchorage and Kenai and then traveled north to Delta Junction and across into the Yukon and south to British Columbia. Then he crossed the border into the United States and Washington State.

Dirk Martin and Kyle Pratt with Katja

I made a similar trip down the ALCAN Highway several years ago with my youngest son Robert. If you have an adventurous spirit I recommend it. More than once we had to stop because wildlife, such as moose, bear and buffalo, blocked the road. Dirk is a very adventurous sort and didn’t follow the highway as I did. He weaved his way down several small roads and through tiny Canadian hamlets before returning to the ALCAN.

Dirk took some time to hike, camp and fly fish along the way. We had a soft bed waiting for him when he arrived. Then we did some hiking on my own property. I’m not sure who enjoyed that more, him or Katja.

We had less than a day before Dirk had to head east toward his home, but it was nice to visit with him and catch up on the news from Eek.

Back to Eek School

Back to Eek School

Traveling to Eek School is an adventure.

My return to Eek started early in the morning of May 14th. Robert, my youngest son, drove me to the Seattle-Tacoma airport. Since the Alaska Airlines flight took off at 8:00am, we both got up way too early. The flight to Anchorage, on a regular 737, took about three hours.

A view of Eek, Alaska

The next stop was Bethel, Alaska, and the flight there is where the adventure begins. Bethel is about four hundred miles beyond the road system, so everything has to come in by ship or plane. Most planes to Bethel are combi aircraft. The cabin is partitioned to allow use as both a cargo and passenger plane. Most combi aircraft typically feature an oversized cargo door. I walked out onto the tarmac with other passengers to board the combi plane through the backdoor. In the middle of the cabin is the wall separating the cargo and passenger sections. There is no first-class section to Bethel. The flight aboard the 737-combi took about 50 minutes.

Clouds obscured my view and I worried that the flight might not be able to land. Once before, I had flown out to Bethel only to fly over the city and return to Anchorage without landing. Another time I had waited in Bethel for the plane to arrive. I heard the plane fly over and then away without landing. If the plane land in Bethel, you don’t leave.

This day was overcast, but we landed without trouble. Walking across the tarmac to the small Bethel terminal, a cold, wet, wind hit my face. I was certainly back in Alaska.

Each plane gets smaller as you travel toward Eek, and for the third, and last, leg of the journey, I would ride a Cessna 207 prop plane operated by Renfro’s Alaskan Adventures. As we taxied out to the runway, I asked if anyone would be meeting us when we arrived. The pilot didn’t know. Since I didn’t want to walk a mile in the cold carrying my luggage, and since there was food onboard for the graduation, I asked if he would radio back to his office and have them advise the school that we were inbound. Shortly after takeoff he did. This final flight took about 25 minutes.

On final approach to Eek I spotted Brett, the school principal, towing a trailer with an ATV in route to the dirt landing strip outside of town. Brett looked much as I remembered him, the rugged Alaskan, at home in the bush on an ATV. After arrival and handshakes we all unloaded the plane and I hopped on for a muddy ride back to Eek School. 

The New Cover

A few weeks ago, I received a call from the principal of Eek School.

Eek is a Yup’ik, Eskimo, village 415 miles west of Anchorage, Alaska. Starting in 2007, I taught in the village school for seven years. Because it is a small village of 300 people, I quickly learned the name, and background, of nearly every student.

Everyone from pre-school to high school seniors are in one ten room building. Most of the time, I worked with small groups of students of various ages. However, the first year I taught a class of mostly sixth grade students. I watched them grow over the years from children, to teens and verging on adulthood. This year, in the largest graduation from in memory, eight students would receive their diploma from the school.

That’s why Brett, the principal of Eek School, called me a few weeks ago. Most of the students from my original sixth grade class would be graduating and, they wanted me to be there and speak at the ceremony.

I was excited to be back in the village, see so many friends and, most of all, to see these eight students graduate.  

Back: Shawn Cingliaq Alexie and Evon Apataq White

Third Row: Terrance Cingarkaq Henry and Gerald Putuk Brown

Second Row: Florence Akuqaq Moore

First Row: Timothy Cirunaq Heakin, Christian Angassaq Pleasant and Frank Callaq Carter.

They are the students on the new cover of the website. I wish you all the very best as you begin your adult lives.

I’ll be writing more about Eek, the school and these graduates in the coming days.


North to Alaska

I’m flying north to Alaska on Thursday.

The seven graduating students invited me to give the commencement address at Eek School on Friday, May fifteenth. I taught at the school for seven years and, had most of the seven graduating students in class from the sixth grade through to the eleventh. I wrote about many of my adventures at the school, and the region, here in this blog.  

Although it will be brief, I am pleased and honored to return, talk and share this time with my former students. This is the largest graduating class that I am aware of from this school and, I’m proud to be a part of it. I’ll write more, probably after my return, and post some of the pictures from the event.

In the meantime, enjoy this video I created on the first day of spring while teaching in Eek, Alaska.

A Weird Coincidence

A week ago Loni, the Eek School secretary, said, “I just met someone with your name.”

“My first name, Kyle?”

“No your whole name, Kyle Pratt,” she replied.

Kyle Pratt meets Kyle Pratt at the Eek airfield

She went on to say that he was there as part of the ongoing project to bring running water to the village and had already left. The idea that someone in the village would have the same first and last name was amusing. “If he returns to the village, let me know.”

A few days later, the agent for one of the bush airlines came up to me with a puzzled look. “I have a crate of weatherization materials with your name on it.” I told him about the other Kyle.

Alice, the Eek postmistress told me. “A guy came in and said he was Kyle Pratt. I said ‘No, you’re not.’ But he was.”

The next day I met the other Kyle Pratt just as I was getting breakfast ready for the students and opening the school. We didn’t have long to talk, but I found out he was from Washington state. “The whole thing just got weirder,” I thought.

I didn’t see him for several days and then on Friday it was time for me to leave Eek and this time for good, (More on that later.), I saw him walking from the school as I rode in a trailer behind the school ATV. I was on my way to the village airfield and thought that was the last time I would see him.

Our plane landed on the dirt runway as we grabbed our bags from the trailer. Suddenly Kyle, on another ATV, rounded one of the buildings at the airfield. He came up to me and said, “I just have to ask you a question. The woman at the clinic said we have the same birthday.”

I told him mine.

He shook his head. “That is unreal.” He told me his birthday.

We not only share the same first name and last name,

And we are both from Washington state,

And, that day we were both in the same remote Alaskan village.

We also have the same birth month and day. (But different years.)

I am still shaking my head in puzzlement. What are the odds?

Stamps and More Stamps

When you live in a rural Alaskan village the post office becomes a lifeline.

Eek is hundreds of miles off the Alaska road system. There is only one dirt road in the village. It runs from the airport through the village to an old airport on the other side. It doesn’t connect to any other road. This rough and often muddy lane is used by ATVs, snowmobiles and as a walking path.

There is one general store in the village but, as you can imagine, many things are just not available. But, when the weather is good, the mail plane lands in Eek six days a week. So, my family regularly sends packages. Post office flat rate packages are a godsend here. That is how I came to receive the package pictured here. I asked my wife if she put all those stamps on it. She said, “No, I just paid for it and left.”

I guess they had a few extra stamps they needed to use. Also, notice the five cent postage meter stamp in the corner.    

A Lesson in Irony

One definition of irony is an event that “seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.”

With that in mind I submit this picture. It was taken in the hall of our school here in Eek, Alaska. Posted above the lockers the sign declares both in English and the local Yup’ik Eskimo language, “We put our stuff in our lockers.” This is a small community, doors are often unlocked and theft is rare. Lockers are small and most have no locks. If space is tight things, like shoes, are often left out. That is why the sign was there, to encourage the students to be neater and put their personal items in their locker.

The shoes remained beside the sign, and on top of the locker, for days.  

Made My Day

Spring is a hard time for teachers. The students are tired and sense that summer is coming. Teachers are also tired and are counting the days till summer.

Kyle Pratt holds a copy of his book, Through Many Fires, sent to him for an autograph

Yesterday, after a long spring day of inattentive, restless, students the school secretary, Loni, brought me a torn cardboard mailer. It was addressed to my personal mailbox, but delivered to the school. This often happens in the village, but this time I didn’t recognize the return address.

Puzzled, I reached in and tore it the rest of the way open. Out came a copy of my book Through Many Fires. Loni stood there puzzled as I read the letter and a smile grew on my face. I’m still a relatively unknown author and don’t get that much fan mail. “It’s from one of my readers.” I said. “I put instructions on my website for anyone who wants me to autograph their book.” Holding up the paperback I added, “He’s the first.”

Loni took a picture while I was still smiling and then I went home with a better feeling about the whole world.

Thing Two

Good teachers do many crazy stunts to get students interested in learning.

Our school in Eek, Alaska, is blessed with some fine teachers. Every March in conjunction with the Iditarod dog sled race our school does an Iditaread reading competition. The students get points moving them along the Iditarod trail for each page they read.

This year, in support of Dr. Seuss and National Read Across America Day, two of our teachers, Julia Oschwald and Kayla Ashe, decorated the elementary wing of the school in a Cat in the Hat theme.

One of our better young readers is Kristin, the young lady standing next to the Cat in the Hat. The garment she is wearing looks like a dress, but is actually a qaspeq, a traditional Yup’ik Eskimo hooded garment.  

Dirk Martin and Kyle Pratt

As a teacher and an author, I support just about anything that encourages students to read, even if it makes me look silly. In the picture I’m Thing Two and my colleague, Dirk Martin, is Thing One.

The Trip IV

The Trip (Part 4)

(Part Four)

The Bethel sky was clear and the sun shining on Sunday morning as I carefully walked across the ice covered tarmac and up the stairs to the plane.

Normally Alaska Airlines flies Boeing 737-400 combi aircraft to Bethel. These carry freight in the front and passengers in the back. However, this plane was a regular 737 and every seat was filled before we lifted off for the 56 minute flight to Anchorage.

The trip went smoothly and seemed even shorter than normal. The stewards hardly finished serving drinks before they prepared the plane for landing. But that only allowed my mind to stay focused on my next problem—how to get home before Christmas morning.

It was early Sunday afternoon when I stepped off the jet bridge and into Anchorage terminal. On the way to baggage claim I glimpsed the Alaska Airlines customer service lines that wrapped around like a TSA checkpoint at rush hour. I continued on and collected my bag. After walking just a few feet from the carousal I stopped. Where was I going? What was I doing? Did I want to get a hotel room or join the long line I had just passed and see if there is a seat available on a flight, any flight, heading to Seattle tonight? I walked back and forth and then in a circle before I stopped near the center of the large room. With a sigh of determination I turned and joined the lengthy customer service line.

When you are in a slow moving line you can stand silent and alone in your own universe or you can meet people. I got to know a Bering Sea fisherman, half a dozen students from an Alaskan military academy and a several families just trying to get home for Christmas.

An hour later it was my turn to talk to the customer service agent. She leaned forward, one elbow resting on the counter. Her hair was slightly disheveled. I could imagine her day—I was a small part of it. I leaned on the counter with her and said, “I’m not sure where to begin. Maybe with this.” I handed her my scrap paper ticket.

Without blinking an eye she started typing on her keyboard. “How many changes of itinerary have you had?”

“Ah…I’m not sure.”

“Why did they cancel your Christmas Eve flight and put you on this later one?”

“It’s all blurring together at this point.”

She continued to type.

“I’d like to get home sooner if possible.”

“I understand.” For nearly a minute she stared at the screen and punched keys. “I can get you on the 9:40 flight tonight.”

“What?”

“They scheduled a larger plane for that flight,” she said handing me a boarding pass. “You can only check your bag four hours before the flight, so you’ll have to come back in two hours for that.”

“Thank you. Merry Christmas,” I said walking away with my new boarding pass.

I bought a news magazine and ate a burger and fries for supper. At exactly 5:40 I checked my bag and then joined the TSA line. I arrived at the gate long before the flight appeared on the board.

As I read my magazine in the nearly empty waiting area a woman approached me. “Is this the gate for the 9:40 flight to Seattle?”

“Yes.”

She sighed and sat down near me.

I’m not sure who spoke first, but we were soon talking. She worked for the Lower Yukon School District, just north of my district, and like many others was trying to get home. She wanted to get to Seattle and then try and catch a flight east to Chicago. We talked off and on until the flight boarded and then were surprised to discover we were seated together. I was in 7C, she was in 7B.

The flight from Anchorage to Seattle is normally just over three hours. As we landed, just before two in the morning, the pilot announced that tailwinds shortened our flight. I wouldn’t have known; I slept most of the trip.

I walked briskly to baggage claim, confident that I was nearly done with airports, at least for a while. My son Robert sat dozing near the carousel. He spotted me as I approached and we embraced. We stood together as the bags tumbled onto the carousel. My luggage has never been one of the first to appear, but it has frequently been one of the last. That morning was no exception. Two lone individuals stood on opposite sides of the carousel as we walked away. 

Kyle Pratt, finally home for Christmas

The drive home from SeaTac Airport takes about an hour and a half. We caught up on family events and the news of the world for most of the way home.

As Robert turned in the driveway I knew that many of my fellow teachers were still struggling to get to their destination, but for me the journey that began with a failed attempt to leave Eek on Friday afternoon was ending. I looked at the dashboard clock. It was 4:10 a.m. on Monday morning. We were home.

The Trip III

(Part Three)

The Bethel runway lights are broken? A moan echoed through the terminal. “Are they kidding?” I asked no one in particular.

They weren’t.

The man on the PA continued. “Alaska Airlines is adding an extra flight tomorrow. All of you will be rolled over onto that plane and your flights rebooked.”

I borrowed a phone from my friend Julia, who looked to be near tears, and informed my family that I would be spending the night in Bethel. “No, at the moment I have no idea when I’ll be home,” I said.

As I strolled to the counter to retrieve my bag a new fear flashed through my mind. A whole plane load of people would now be looking for hotel rooms in a town of 6,000 people.

Quickly, I retrieved my luggage and went to find a taxi. I’m not sure how we did it, but after standing in the freezing cold for about ten minutes I crammed into a cab with four other people.

Fortunately, I was the first one dropped off. I walked into the Long House Hotel and found a line of five families at the check-in counter.

Reaching the front of the line, I said, “I need a room for tonight.”

“Do you have a reservation?”

“No.”

“Were you on the flight that was cancelled tonight?”

“Yes.”

He nodded. “That sure has been a bonus for the hotel tonight.”

“Do you have any rooms available?”

“A few.”

With a look at the line behind me I said, “I’ll take one.”

I woke the next morning, Sunday the 22nd, just after 6:00 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I didn’t have to be at the terminal until 10:00 a.m. so breakfast sounded like a good idea, but the restaurant wouldn’t be open until 8:00 a.m. I climbed out of bed, bathed, shaved, dressed, packed and was standing at the door of the restaurant before they unlocked the door.

When they opened I took a booth all for myself and ordered eggs, pancakes and sausage. Lord knows when or where I’ll be eating next. As I finished my meal I heard someone ask, “Would you like some company, Kyle?”

Looking up, I saw Brett, the Principal of Eek School, with his wife and two young children.

I motioned for him to join me. “So, you didn’t get out of Bethel either.” Brett and his family had been trying to leave town on an Era Airlines turboprop flight to Anchorage.

“No,” he said as he sat down. “When the weather delayed us getting out of Eek, we missed our flight. Era is so backed up….” He let the sentence die with a shake of the head. “We spent the night here and now we’re scheduled to fly out on Christmas Eve.”

We spent the next few minutes sharing travel horror stories and then wished each other luck as I left to pack a few last minute things and head to the airport.

We had been told to return to the Alaska Airlines terminal at 10:00 a.m., but at 9:35 when the taxi dropped me off it was already busy. The line coiled around the waiting room like giant snake, and I was the end.

The line slowly moved forwarded while growing longer. The waiting area got ever more crowded. Over an hour later I stepped up to an agent. She confirmed I was booked on the 11:00 a.m. flight to Anchorage.

I looked at my watch. It read 10:50.

“We’re running behind,” the agent said and handed me a boarding pass.

“So, I’m only booked to Anchorage?”

She sighed. “The only available seats are on Christmas morning.”

It was my turn to sigh. “If that is all you have book me on it.”

The Christmas Morning Ticket

The agent typed on the computer for a minute and then wrote my connecting flight information on a scrap of paper, tore it from the sheet, and handed it to me.

I stared at it for a second. “This is my ticket,” I asked waving the bit of paper.

“It’s more of an itinerary than a ticket. Show it to the agent in Anchorage when you pick up your luggage.”

Feeling not a bit confident, I walked over to the growing TSA line.

(Part Four tomorrow)

The Trip II

(Part Two)

After removing the freight from the plane loading our luggage was easy and quick.

Just before takeoff the pilot turned in his seat and gave the usual speech about seatbelts and, in case of a crash, where the emergency transponder was located, then he said, “If we get to Bethel and I start circling it’s because the visibility has gone down over the airport.”

At that moment visions of us flying around and around over Bethel, but ultimately returning to Eek darkened the already cloudy day for me. The pilot went on to say, “It has been doing that all day.” However, he seems confident we would land in Bethel.

 I had planned to take video as we bumped down Eek’s icy dirt runway and get a shot of the village as we lifted in the air, but instead I was scraping frost off the inside of the window. When the window was clear I did took the video of frozen tundra which you see here.

The Caravan that you see in the video is much bigger than the Cessna 207s that normally service the village. This is fast luxury flying from the for us.

The weather stayed clear and we were soon on the ground in Bethel. It was now about four in the afternoon of December 21st. As I walked from the plane toward Grant Aviation terminal in Bethel I considered my options. I had no hotel reservation. My travel itinerary had me arriving home, with Santa, late on Christmas Eve. I decided to head over to the Alaska Airline terminal and try and get on the evening flight to Anchorage. I knew that it was very unlikely that I would get a seat, but I saw no reason not to try.

The Alaska Airlines terminal in Bethel, consists mostly of a waiting room with three ticket counters, a TSA checkpoint, baggage carousel, and bathrooms around the edges. By modern airport standards its small and drab. The clerk behind the counter shook his head slowly. “Every seat is taken, but I can take your name down in case something opens up.”

I thanked him and sat down with my friends Dirk and Julia in the waiting area. Dirk had missed his flight on Friday, but had managed to get rebook earlier and get a seat on the night flight. Julia was even luckier; she had originally booked herself on the upcoming flight. I sat between them wondering just how long I would be in Bethel.

Three hours later, as I chatted with my friends, a voice came over the waiting area. “Kyle Pratt, please report to the ticket counter.”

I nearly ran.

Going up to the same clerk he said, “I’ve got you a seat on the flight tonight and as he typed my information in he added, “a seat has opened up on the red eye flight to Seattle. Do you want it?”

“Yes!”

For over an hour I relaxed in the glow of knowing I would be home by morning. Then I again heard the crackle of the PA system. “Attention in the terminal, the runway lights here in Bethel are broken, they won’t turn on, and consequently the 9:30 flight to Anchorage has been cancelled.”

(Part Three tomorrow)

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.)

Winter has returned

Winter has returned to western Alaska with a vengeance.

For several weeks the temperatures in and around the village of Eek have been extraordinarily mild with temperatures hovering in the mid to upper thirties. 

Eek School, early December 2013

As you can see in this picture, taken last week, the snow had almost entirely melted. I walked to the village store that day with just a jacket on. I didn’t need gloves, snow pants or a hat.  A dozen or more children were playing in and around the area that day.

My wife, Lorraine, commented that the temperature at our home near Chehalis, in Washington State were much colder with freezing weather and snow on the ground.

Today in this part of Alaska the weather has returned to a much more normal state. The sky may be blue, but the current temperature is 5 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of – 12. I won’t be going to the store today and, I suspect, most children will be playing inside.

The Pledge of Allegiance

As regular readers of this blog know, I teach in the Yup’ik Eskimo village of Eek, Alaska.

Every morning the students of our small school gather in the gym for announcements and to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. On Tuesday’s and Thursday’s this is done in English, but on the other days it is done in their native language of Yup’ik. I usually try to follow along reading a poster of the pledge written in Yup’ik. I can do okay until the end where the words get longer and harder to pronounce.

The one minute video embedded here shows the principal asking the students to stand and everyone saying the pledge in a way most people will never hear.

Jury Duty (part 2)

Traveling by bush plane is nothing like a regular airline.

As you may have guessed from the picture in part one, I did find Ferdinand and, with him driving, I rode to the airstrip sitting on the side of the ATV. Like the airfield the road to it is dirt, but with hundreds of pot holes, mud, water, ice and gravel. I’m always glad when these trips are over—my butt is sore and my pant legs are splashed with mud.

The pilot of an eight seat Cessna 207, like the one in this earlier picture, was heading back to Bethel so we climbed on board. The plane is cramped and all the seats were full, but the flight was only 20 minutes long.

Upon arrival in Bethel I walked up to the Grant Aviation ticket counter and gave the lady my name and said, “I’m here for jury duty.”

She asked for my juror number and then thanked me. While no paperwork or money changed hands at that time I’m sure the taxpayers of Alaska got the bill. Still, one of the things I like about Alaska is the casual informality.

After checking in at the courthouse I did a fair amount of reading, waiting and talking to a couple of other people from Eek. My friend Loni was one of them, but she was excused that afternoon. I’ve got to ask here how she did that.

Hours later as the northern sun was dipping low in the sky the Judge said we were all excused for the day and to come back tomorrow at eleven.

Really? Eleven? Most people go to lunch at that time, I thought.

After a good night’s sleep and a large breakfast, all paid for with tax dollars, I reported back to the courthouse and waited and read and waited. I filled out a questionnaire, answered questions from both the prosecutor and defense attorney, but eventually I was excused.

In Eek there is only one tiny general store so, I took the opportunity to shop for groceries at a full size store in Bethel. I walked from the courthouse to the store and, after shopping, caught a taxi to the Grant Aviation terminal at the airport. I walked up to the ticket counter and without showing paperwork or ID said, “I had jury duty, but I need to head home to Eek now.”

The lady said, “Sure thing.”  

Again I smiled at the casualness of bush Alaska. Five people, all excused jurors, ended up on a Cessna headed back to Eek that night. As the tiny plane lifted into the night sky I think we were all thinking the same thing, it was good to be going home.

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)

Only in Alaska

I stepped out the door of my apartment this morning and there was the principal with two rifles.

I live just across the hall from Brett, the principal here in Eek. Today he was just ahead of me in the hall wearing hip waders with one rifle slung over his shoulder and the other in his hand.

“Are you going hunting?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I’m going up river to check for beaver and places to set traps, but if I see a caribou I might take a shot.”

Brett skinning a beaver

Actually, it’s a good idea to be armed when you leave Eek. From the highest point at the edge of the village all you can see is the vast Alaskan wilderness. In this place an unarmed human is not at the top of the food chain.

Herds of Caribou have migrated within sight of the village. Wolves and bears have wandered to its edge and into the nearby dump.

I didn’t get a picture of Brett as he prepared to leave today, but this is a recent one of him skinning a beaver on the back deck of the school.

Just another day in Alaska.

 

The Delta Discovery

About ten days ago several of our students here in Eek excitedly told me there was an article about me in The Delta Discovery.

The Delta Discovery is the weekly newspaper in our region of Alaska. I had sent them a press release about the book and later someone from the paper had asked me a few questions so, of course, I wanted to read the article.

Between classes I went to the school office where copies are usually available. There were copies from the previous week, but not the current, August 28, issue that I was supposedly in. Later, a co-worker went to the village store promising to bring me a copy but, when she returned, said all the copies were gone.

Monday evening I flew into Bethel on school business. There, in the regional transportation and business hub, and home of The Delta Discovery, I was confident I would find a copy.

There was none at my hotel. Tuesday, after meetings and training, I stopped by the school district office, but didn’t find any copies. That evening I went grocery shopping (an important thing to do when you get to the big city), but both Swanson’s and AC store, were already selling the next issue. At that point I gave up.

Kyle Pratt finally has his copy!

I was in Bethel until the end of the week. Every day at least two people would ask me if I’d seen the article about me in the Delta Discovery. I’d smile and say, “No, but I’ve heard about it.”

I returned paperless to Eek Friday evening. Saturday morning I went to the school to write lesson plans and prepare for Monday. As I walked in I stopped by the office. There on the floor, literally in the first place I had gone looking, was a bound stack of the August 28th issue of The Delta Discovery. I sat in the secretary’s chair and read the article.

The next day the article about me was posted online. Click here if you want to read it.