Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Saved!"

So the rain let up, the airstrip dried out (atleast enough for planes to land; there are still deep ruts in it that need to be graded out; "just use the west side of the runway") and the plane landed. The vbs/knight (see preceeding post) crossed the moat, stormed the castle and saved the damsel fair.

(If you think all that castle stuff is too ridiculous, be thankful I don't write kids books.)

So our vbs team is here and starting their kid's ministry tomorrow. There will be mail at the post office, people will be able to come and go, and life here has returned to "normal"; normal for here, anyway.

Until the next adventure...which is never too far away.

Friday, June 27, 2008

"...to the rescue!"


My goal is always to give people an idea of what it's like to live in a remote northern village. That is the intent of the following.

Now, you're going to have to do your part. You'll need to use your imagination, so sit back, close your eyes and follow along. Well...I guess you can keep your eyes open, or this could get pretty boring and you'd fall asleep.

Our village is remote and isolated. Imagine our village as a lonely castle in a far-off kingdom; isolated, in a wilderness of forests and swamps (which is actually pretty accurate).

You are the damsel in distress, being held captive in the castle (if the idea of you as a damsel, dressed in a flowing gown, makes you uncomfortable, too bad; remember this is all pretend).

You, and the castle, are surrounded by a moat (the River), and the drawbridge (our airstrip) is raised. The only way for you to get out is to swim the moat (take a boat to the next village), which a damsel is not likely to do.

You hope and pray that a brave knight (the scheduled vbs team) will come to the rescue. Will the drawbridge be lowered in time? Will the brave knight be able to storm the castle? Or will he be turned away; forced to wander aimlessly through the wilderness, dejected and alone?

Tune in tommorrow to find out how the story ends.

p.s. I know the castle is in ruins but it's a cool photo.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

6-25-08

Weather is always a factor. Where ever you live, you must contend with the forces of the natural world. Some locations throw a lot more variables at you than others. Alaska is well known to be near the top of the list (if there really was a "list" of places with unpredicable weather.

The result of our recent wet weather is a soggy airstrip. And soggy is not good.

Pilots are known to be picky people; they gripe about everything, from the high price of fuel to the amount of stuff you want to bring with you on the plane. They worry about weather. They worry about having enough fuel to "get there and back". They worry, worry, worry.

Now, in our town, they're worried about the runway. They seem to think the gravel strip needs to be firm. If it's too soft they don't want to land here. I think they're just worrying too much (of course, I don't plan on boarding a plane anytime soon; if I were flying tomorrow I'd probably see things differently)

So, to get to the point...our runway is currently shut down (sorry Shawn). Hopefully the rain will quit and we can get some sun to dry it out. Until that happens there will be no planes, which means no travel, no mail, no fun.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

6-22-08

Here are some updates;

"Archie" did get into a few scraps. Last I heard, he was not picked up by the Troopers, who were busy in our village for a few days. He did mix it up with his brother, among others. It's a shame what people do when they're under the power of booze/drugs.

A few other basketball fans got carried away. One "greenie" was talkin' too much smack and got beat up by a couple of purple and gold boys. How dumb is that?

Today will be the funeral for the man mentioned previously. So sad. I'll miss him, as will many others. I'm praying for his dad, sister and other family members. You could too. Only God can work through pain, grief and suffering; bringing hope for the hopeless, help for the helpless, strength for the weak and sight for the blind. Only Him!

The fish are here. Well, sort of. A small run of kings went by a couple of days ago. The real fishing will probably get under way in a week or so, lasting into July. More on that when it happens.

I need to make a trip to my woodyard to ring some trees. They will dry a few years and be harvested for firewood. For some crazy reason it seems I always do this at the height of mosquito season. You probably can't imagine what I'm going to face unless you've been there. It's like a beekeeper at the hive. I'll be covered head to toe with multiple layers of clothing because they can bite through one, with a head net and gloves. Bug dope sprayed repeatedly over all like frosting on a cake. And I'll still get killed; probably 40-50 bites by the time I get back out of the woods.

Maybe that's why northern people eat so much meat, to replace all the red blood cells that are continually robbed by insects.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bummer!

Life is full of many different experiences; some good, some not so good. Today is definitely a "not so good".

An early phone call prompted me to get moving. Skip the coffee. Skip breakfast. Just get dressed and head out the door.

What would I say? How do I break the news? Just exactly how do I tell my good friend that his son is dead?

A quick walk to his house. He's out on the porch, talking on the phone. I know the look on my face will clearly tell him something is seriously wrong in his world.

Our eyes meet. The guy on the phone has told him something, how much I don't know, but my presence tells him much more. He's still holding the phone to his ear but now his attention is focused on me.

"They say there's something wrong with my boy"

"That's what I heard."

"He's been shot?"

"I'm not sure."

"Is he dead???"

"Yeah, that's what I heard."

And that's exactly what he did not want to hear; confirmation that the son he's known for decades is gone.

The words were few, but words are often the lesser part of important communication. And rarely is communication more important than this. Sometimes our eyes, our faces, even our presence can say more than words.

Now a man, a family, a village, even an entire region will suffer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

6-17-08 (well...6-18, actually)

Sometimes I have trouble sleeping. Tonight I was lying there next to my wife, listening to her breathe. As she relaxes and begins to drift off, her breathing becomes slower, deeper, more regular. That is the time I really enjoy, I guess because I feel I'm kind of sleeping too, vicariously, as it were.

This pleasant moment is suddenly interrupted, like so many similar moments before it, by loud cursing somewhere in the area. I think I recognize the voice, and I know what he's hollering about.

The Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this evening, winning the NBA championship. Why this is cause for anything other than mourning, I don't know, but a certain young man (who is a recent Celtic convert, as are so many these days) is "celebrating" (I actually misspelled it "celebating", which could be a better way for him to spend his time).

His so-called celebration is really just another excuse for intoxication, with the ever present violence. His idea of a good time is basically to get drunk and fight with somebody. Anybody will usually do. Enemies are preferred, but friends, even family members are welcome to a scrap.

Being a Laker fan myself, I'm resisting the many disparaging remarks that want to get into this post, comparing Celtics fans with their celtic counterparts, complete with stereotypes about drinking and fighting. Hey, I'm Irish, so I can do it.

But I'll skip it. It's enough for me to take comfort in the thought of next year's Laker team, complete with a promising young center who would have drastically changed the outcome of tonight's game.

Immediately following the game I was working in the garden, listening to the over-zealous fan previously mentioned making his way around town, working himself into a frenzy (he is otherwise a good guy, but alcohol gets the better of him, as it can everyone). As he curses the Lakers and spews Celtic praises, he issues a challenge similar to a bull moose in the rut. Both want to talk their way into a fight and exert their dominance over a weaker opponent.

While I'm pulling weeds, a couple of teens speeding by on a 4-wheeler (atv) stop to talk. They, too, are overnight Celtics fans, enjoying their new found euphoria. We talk about the game and I tell them it's a good thing they like Boston. "Why is that?" they ask, so I tell them about "Archie", the inebriated, aggressive fan looking to butt heads with anyone who would dare to defy his Celtic fanhood.

Moments later, when one of the boys asks to borrow $1.25, so he can buy a can of soda pop, I frown and shake my head no. Then I smile with an idea. "I tell you what. You go tell Archie that the Celtics are junk and L.A. is the greatest, then come back. If you don't have any bruises, I'll buy you a pop". Wisely he shakes his head no. He knows, as I do, that Archie can be a tough customer when he's been drinkin'. But it's all in fun and we chuckle.

Some people get way to serious about sports. Frequently my wife would include me in that group, but I'm learning. Hopefully Archie will get through this night OK.

It's after midnight, so I should sign off. All is quiet outdoors. Maybe Archie went to bed. All I hear is a neighbor cutting his grass with a weed wacker / trimmer, which is not uncommon in a village in summer, even this late. The sun won't set for about another hour and it won't really get dark for atleast another month, so there's plenty of time to get your work done.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gas...is an option?


The essential ingredient to all western society (yes, this is part of "western society"; about as far west as you can get) is certainly gasoline. Some might disagree and say that $$$ is the essential ingredient, because with enough money you can get gas. In light of soaring oil prices, I'd say that theory is backwards. It appears with gas (oil) you can get the $$$. Petroleum is a limited resource, making it the dominant player. The dollar will follow where oil leads. Atleast those are my thoughts.

We all need gas to continue our way of life (who would argue?). The difference between life here in the remote north and life in the more civilized south is found in the available options, or lack of. In "real America" you generally have many options; variety that brings that proverbial "spice of life". Choices about where you go, the route you choose to get there, what means you choose to make the journey, what you will get when you are there. etc. Choices, choices, choices.

Up here the choices are much more limited; often limited to just one, take it or leave it. There likely is no other option (which, by the way, is why I have paid obscene prices locally for a steak on my wife's birthday; prices I would never consider in Anchorage or California). If she wants a steak for her birthday dinner, I just pay up and don't think about it.

We have two "stores" in our village, but only one is open at a time, limiting your options. We have, well, we don't have much else. In fact life here could be described more by what we don't have than what we do, especially by a visitor. No restaurants, no Home Depot, no Starbucks (boo hoo), no doctors or dentists, no cell phone service, no texting, etc. Around here, "blackberries" are eaten, "malls" are for splitting firewood, the "bank" is along the river and "clubbing" is done with a stick (ouch!).

Now consider gas. Where you live, you undoubtably need gas. Gas and transportation go hand in hand. You need it to get to work, go to church, go shopping, etc. No arguement there. But what are your options? You probably have some form of public transportation; perhaps several. You may live close enough to a store (any store) to walk. If not, you probably could ride a bike. If not, you probably could share a ride with someone. Get the idea? You have a lot of options, many of them you've never even considered. And these only relate to transportation

Not so up here. Our choices are basically "gas" and "non-gas". "Gas" means you buy it and you burn it. "Non-gas" essentially means you walk, paddle, snowshoe or mush a dog team (incidentally, I never use the term "mush", but you know what it means).

Walking to the store down where you live is one thing; up here it's different. Store hours are limited, store inventory is much more limited; no milk (ever), fresh produce is very rare and extremely limited, usually no ice cream or chips, sometimes no soda-pop (I don't drink it, but people here do, like water. When the store runs out of pop it's a real crisis) and prices are very high.

In your life, you purchase nearly everything you need to live. Here, we are involved on a more elemental level. We have to go out and get things from the wild. Most villagers get a large portion of their diet from harvesting wild fish, game and berries...and this takes gas. Gas for the boat to fish (with nets, not rods and reels), gas for the boat to get to the berry picking areas, gas for the boat to go moose hunting, gas, gas, gas. Which, by the way, gives you an idea of the utilitarian nature of our boats. We use them for work. In the more civilized world, boats (and snowmachines and atv/4-wheelers) are toys for recreation; up here they're tools.

And gas fuels the tools. When we start fishing for salmon later this month, a lot of gas will be used. Families must catch their entire year's supply of fish in a 3-4 week period. To do that you need a boat. To run the boat you need gas. The same applies for all "subsistence activities", such as getting firewood (which I've been doing lately), harvesting waterfowl, picking berries, harvesting moose meat, etc. Each has a season (see Ecclesiastes) and all require transportation and gas.

And gas, by the way, is currently $6 a gallon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

6-3-08

Another nice morning.

Last night was spent in pleasant, restful sleep. The bedroom window was open, made possible by the intermittent rain showers. Rain waters the road, which in turn keeps the dust down (we only have dirt roads here). So rain means the late night truck and atv traffic are powerless in their attempts to fill my house with dust. The noise is still a factor, but then you can't have everything in this world. Oh yeah; none of my neighbors were burning trash either; another factor that permitted the open window.

So the window was open. I drifted euphorically in and out of blissful slumber, breathing the clean, fresh air and listening to the birds singing. At this time of the year two things are evident.

#1; we actually have songbirds (the rest of the year they are somewhere south) and,

#2; they sing all night long. Since it's light all night, it's never really night, so the birds are broadcasting their marriage proposals 24-7. It's simply delicious, snoozing along listening to a romantic robin serenading his intended. When do they sleep? I have no idea. I just enjoy the music.

This idyllic scene was disturbed only 5 or 6 times, by the vulgar sounds of intoxicated people fighting somewhere in the vicinity. Oh...if only they would "stop to smell the roses" and enjoy life's journey. They, too, could enjoy the nightly concert featuring the feathered Pavarotti! But no, alas!

O.K. Enough silly talk.

Good news! One grant proposal was funded, which means our village gets a new road grader. Yipppeee! Still waiting to hear about another one, and still working on a proposal to fix our dump. Wowzer, is that place ever a nasty mess!

I'll leave you with one final thought, last night's dinner; Alaskan style tacos. My wife enjoyed the moose variety while I got down on the whitefish. Fish tacos are excellent and northern whitefish makes for really good ones. I believe only halibut can beat it. Topped off with fresh salsa made with cilantro growing in our garden. Ummm hmmmm!