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More Art

I’ve written before about the apparent fascination the students of Eek School have with drawing me. This last week I was working with this young lady on math when I got a phone call. I answered the call leaving her to finish some problems on the board. When I hung up, she had completed the math work and was busily engaged drawing me.

 

Autographed Copy

The first autographed copy of Through Many Fires is in the hands of a reader.

Loni Hoover with the first copy of Through Many Fires

My wife sent up copies of my latest novel to where I work in Eek, Alaska. They arrived on the mail plane this weekend. Loni Hoover, the school secretary and an avid reader, asked me for a copy. Of course, I’m going to give the most powerful person in the building a copy.

For everyone else, if I promised you an autograph copy of Through Many Fires, your copy is in the mail. 

Loni, I hope you enjoy it!

 

Unboxing and Signing

Through Many Fires has arrived on the Alaskan Tundra!

My wife received the promotional copies of Through Many Fires a few days ago and forwarded some of them to me in Eek, Alaska, for signing. The books arrived today on the mail plane and someone brought it over to the school. I don’t know who because I found the box sitting next to the school office door as school was closing. This is not unusual. As I was walking back to my classroom Ella, a student, asked me what was in the box. I said, “Come with me I need your help.”

Once we were in the classroom I asked her to use my iPod to film me opening the package. At that point it occurred to me the box might be one of the food care packages my wife often sends. If it was, Ella would certainly be confused why I wanted to make a video as I opened it. 

As you can see though, it was the first print copies of Through Many Fires. Thanks for helping out Ella, you did a good job.    

If I promised you an autographed copy of Through Many Fires and you have been wondering when it would arrive, the answer is soon.  I’ll be signing them tonight and mailing them tomorrow.

 

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.

Artistic Students

James during his red period

Unfortunately, art is one of those classes that we don’t often offer at Eek School.

We wish we could offer art more often, but reading, Writing and Math take priority and art teachers willing to come to the bush Alaska are hard to find.  That doesn’t mean that our students are any less artistic.  Art is very much a part of the Yup’ik culture.  I wish the students would do more with traditional themes, but for some reason they often like to draw me.

This first drawing was done just today by James.  We are doing state testing this week and I was helping out in his class.  When James was done with testing for the day he decided that drawing me was a great idea.  Picasso had his blue and red periods so, I’m guessing, James is in a red period.

lena draws Kyle Pratt

I can barely write a legible word using dry erase markers however, earlier this year Elena had just a couple of minutes at the end of class and created this image using them.  She is a very talented student; she won a school emblem design contest and has created a number of detailed drawings.

Over the last few years I have collected a number of different drawings.  After a while I started posting them on the bulletin board beside my desk.  As you can see there are contemporary drawings, others depict me when I was young and in the military, and one student seems to be exploring cubism. 

Students draw Kyle Pratt

Some of the drawings just show up on my desk, others are proudly presented to me.  I’m glad the students like to draw but I find their interest in drawing me a bit bewildering and at the same time very amusing.   

 

 

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.

 

Halloween Follow-up

Halloween was again a big day here in the village. 

Tim & Kyle Pratt "Peace in the Middle East"

I saw most of my students, between the ages of 5 and 18 out trick or treating, and a few people both younger and older, were out collecting candy. 

Unlike many schools in the lower 48, we have fun with the day.  Many, perhaps most, of the children dress in a wide variety of costumes.  This year I went dressed in a traditional Arab outfit.  This is the costume I mentioned in the previous post that Lorraine brought up and wanted me to wear.  Tim is the student with me in the picture.  He wants to be a Marine Corp officer after graduation and is dressed appropriately for that career.  We saw each other early in the morning and, he said later, “We both looked at each other wide-eyed and pointing at each other and laughed out loud. Peace in the middle east.” We both thought it would make a fun picture.

Kyle Pratt and ? - which one is posing?

A couple of days before this the principal had been up in the attic of the school cleaning and found this giant blowup pumpkin decoration. 

We have found many strange things stuffed in corners of the attic over the years.  In addition to old textbooks and novels there are enough old electronics to start a museum.  I’ve found sewing machines, lab equipment, and canned food.  I joke that the next thing stored up there will bring the attic down to the main floor.  Really, how much can you put in an attic?

Anyway, since we were going to a Halloween carnival the next day the principal brought it down and everyone had to have their picture taken with it.

Halloween and Me

It doesn’t matter how cold or snowy it is on that night, Halloween is a big event in the village.

Kyle Pratt - This is my costume

People don’t usually decorate their homes, but every child gets dressed up, even many of the parents.  One of the nice things about living in bush Alaska is that it is safe.  Kids can just be kids, get dressed up and run from house to house getting candy.  When you live in a remote village of 300 people, everyone knows everyone else and they watch out for the little ones.  Older teens find it hard to ignore a crying kid when their older brother or sister is in their class.     

If you need to talk to someone that night don’t go looking for them.  Just wait at home and they will probably come by with their children or grandchildren.

 

I had stopped observing Halloween until I came to Eek, Alaska, as a teacher.  Here it is such a big event that gradually I’m getting more involved.  As this picture from a few years ago shows, I don’t really get dressed up.  I wore this costume three years in a row and then the kids nagged me to change.  I’ll post a picture of my next costume tomorrow.  Lorraine brought costumes for us this year when she came up and has ordered me to wear it.  If anyone can get me to put on a costume, Lorraine can.

Luxuries in Rural Alaska

Running water is a luxury in Eek, and many other villages of bush Alaska. 

          I’ve known many students who have the daily chore of hauling water to their home or taking the honey bucket to the dump.  The first year I taught here I lived in a classroom at the end of the school.  The school is one of the few buildings in the village that has running water.  Unfortunately, to get to the school restroom, I had to go out one door of the building and back in through another door.  I was always afraid I’d walk out some night, forgetting my keys, and freeze to death. 

          On my first Saturday morning in the village I got up very early for a walk.  Image a place with no cars and only simple dirt roads.  The quiet was only broken by the rustle of the breeze or an occasional barking dog.  As I walked through the still sleepy village, an older woman stepped from her home with a bucket and dipped it in a nearby rain barrel.  I felt like I had been transported to a different time.       

          I’m thankful that I now live in an apartment behind the school that has running water, but it is still a luxury for most of the village.  However, cell phones are common and the students are very skilled with computers, ipods and other technology.  Kids will sometimes gather in sheltered spots to connect with the school Wi-Fi.  It may be snowing, but they’re using Skype to talk with friends or updating their Facebook page.

          The embedded video is a recent creation from Tuntutuliak, a village just across the Kuskokwim River from Eek.  The video shows how students are familiar with both technology and, thanks to television, pop culture.  Just today I heard that broadband Internet will be available this week in Eek.  That just seems incredible to me.  Can running water be far behind?

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. 

The Bear

Kyle Pratt - The Bear

As some of you know, this is my sixth year teaching in Eek, a rural Alaskan village.

          School up here starts early, we are already in our third week.  Every student in our small school knows me and I’m pleased to say that I have a good relationship with the students. 

          Earlier this week as I hurried from one class to the next, one of the students, Carlton, was following me saying, “Kyle can I take your picture?  Come on; let me take your picture, okay?” 

 

          At first I said, “Not now.”  However, he persisted, so I spun around intent on giving him a picture he would remember.

          Carlton was ready and took the shot.

          My expression has garnered many laughs around the school.  My fellow teacher, Dirk, titled it, “Kyle – The Bear,” when he sent me a copy.