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North Slope Trip 2002

Just an example of how a couple of weeks are spent going to the Alaskan villages. School, church and community all are worked into one experience.

Left Lawton on Sunday afternoon and stayed with Bob Bussa. We were at the airport by 6:45. It was spring break weekend and the line for security was about one hour. Good thing that I was there in plenty of time.

The plane was full and I could have made $750 if I had time to be bumped, but I did not. The flight from Salt Lake City was just the opposite. I had the whole row to myself. I could lie down and everything.

Delta debarks at the International Terminal and I had to wait for the shuttle to take me to the main terminal to catch my flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks. There was lots of snow around from a 26’ snowfall the day before. I had one hour between flights and was worried, but I shouldn't have been. I checked in electronically and security was a walk-through event.

I was met in Fairbanks by Ron Bates, a teacher that I had talked with by phone last year. He picked me up and we went to Popeye’s for supper and to visit. He then took me to the top of a hill to overlook the golden valley. He then took me to the Wedgwood resort, quite a place. My room was a living room with large screen TV, kitchen, dining room, bedroom, bath, balcony, none of which was small. Their limo took me to Frontier Flying Services – a small airline on the other side of the airport. Everything locked up and finally a man came by to tell us that the plane left from the main terminal. Good think that I had a spare hour. Checked in and waited for the plane. It is about 20 minutes late; then they said one hour late. Told us to get some breakfast and they would pay for it. Went up and through security and got a donut. Then they said the plane checked out and will be there momentarily. Oops, they took the plane for a test flight. Go get lunch. By then the line at security is so long it is not worth going through. I finally left about 12:30.

I arrived in Barter Island about 1:30. I had missed lunch. Rob Picou, the principal wanted me to meet with a class. I worked with one class and then school was over. Went to the Rec Center and worked with the preschoolers there. They were very bright. They knew their shapes, letters and nursery rhymes. I told them to bring their parents for the evening performance.

Back to the school and hung out until Rob and the district computer person came back and we went to the Waldo Arms for a hamburger. It is a makeshift hotel and restaurant, very makeshift but it has a good hamburger.

I went back for the evening performance. About 80 people were there, a good turnout of adults and elders. The mayor knew the figures Man Carrying a Kayak and Cut Your Fingers. Another older man knew Seal Poke, Fish Net, Sun Dogs, and Two Bears. Some of the others knew the figures two Diamonds, Tied up Hand, and Thread the Needle. I slept in the 3rd grade room, there was a couch there. There was very hot water in the showers. Breakfast consisted of an omelet with toast and coffee. Only one cup, since I was flying later in the morning.

I gave an assembly for the total student body, 90 students. They were very receptive and we had a good time. The teachers were a lot of fun. Finished up and Rob said that the plane would be on the ground in 15 minutes. I packed up and put my things by the front door and waited. Finally I went to the office to see if the plane was late. Ida, the secretary, checked with the driver. He did not have his CB on and didn’t hear the plane. He came rushing over and when we walked out the door, he said he could hear the plane taxiing. He had Ida radio them to wait and we rushed out to the air strip. The plane had returned and was waiting for me.

Flew out to Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse) and dropped most of the ten passengers off. I waited while they refueled the plane, and then flew on to Newexit. One young man was getting off there also and he and his wife gave me a ride to the school. She had an infant in the hood of her jacket while she was driving.

I met with four classes and then went with Pat to their home. We went out for dinner and as an elder, I got to eat free. The elders there eat free for lunch and dinner. The buffet had steak, halibut, fresh mushrooms and all the fixings. This great meal cost Pat and Leonard $20 each. Sundays they serve Prime Rib.

Then, I went on to do an evening performance for about 30 people. There were three older women who were very interested in trying to make the figures I was showing. They knew Man Carrying a Kayak, Two Diamonds, Cut Your Fingers, Little Finger Catch, and Tied up Fingers.

In Barrow, I was met by Cathy Rexford from the school system. She picked up her aunt, Mary Ann, and we went out to eat supper at Arctic Pizza, a restaurant overlooking the sea. Meals there are from $15 up. There is a thin strip of water showing where the ice has moved out.

While we were eating, I spoke about trying to find a youth group to show some of the string tricks to. It turns out that Mary Ann is the Presbyterian pastor. (Must be a God thing) The Presbyterians have been here since 1900. She said that the youth group, Awana was meeting that evening and I would be welcome to work with them.

We went to the church and there were about 40 Jr. and Sr. High youth with their sponsors. I used neon strings – light of the world - and they enjoyed the program. The sponsors were very happy with it. A couple of them were interested in my workshop on storytelling. Afterwards I was taken to my hotel, the Top of the World. It is a simple place, $145 a night. They have a coffee pot and small gift shop. I was overlooking a building but told them next time that I want a room overlooking the water.

Cathy picked me up Friday morning and took me to the Middle school. The schedule they had worked out for me had me meeting with five kids the first hour then one class the other four hours. I suggested it would be better if I could meet with more of the students.  Was there a way to break up the school in smaller units and meet with all the students? Communication – they announced over the speaker that any classes that wanted to see the “String Program” were to meet in the gym as soon as announcements were over. This ended with half of the school, about 200 students and a handheld mike. I told them that the mike would not work and they tried to find the lavaliere mike. Never found it. The program went well and the students were great; quiet, receptive and respectful.

Then I met with a single class, half of whom I had just been with. Next hour was with Steve in the immersion class. He spent half the time showing me and the class what he knew. I did have a chance to see Ptarmigan Tea. They take the crop of the ptarmigan (which has willow tips in it) cut it open, and make tea out of the willow tips. Not bad.

Saturday I had two programs at Tuzzy Library, the public library for Barrow. David, the head librarian met me at the hotel and took me to the library. We had a good group for the storytelling workshop. The instructor for the university class assigned it to her students. We had those five or six and about 13 more. Then we went across the street to the grocery store, AC for lunch. We were back for a story time with about 50 people. The library staff was very pleased with the turnout. They were also pleased with my programs and have asked me to leave time in March 2005 for the State Library Convention that will be held in Barrow. After the program I returned to the Hotel. Cathy took me to meet her aunt who she thought might know some string figures, she didn’t. Mary Ann wasn’t feeling well so we did not go to see any other elders.

Sunday I walked to the Presbyterian Church. I gave the children’s moment. I walked back after church and went to Pepe’s for a lunch of Prime Rib, a $20 special. I was feeling left out as no one from church invited me out. Cathy called me later and said that Mary Ann invited me to come for pizza. We went to the AC and picked up some things and then went to Mary Ann’s house. We ate pizza and played a vicious game derived from solitaire. I did not want to go to the evening church service, it is in Inuit, and so I went back to the hotel.

Cathy picked me up for my flight. I waited in Barrow at Hageland Aviation for a plane to Wainwright. I was there at 7 for an 8:00 flight. I was still there at 11:00. At 12:30 we ordered a hamburger, $8.50. I met the principal from Point Lay, Steve Pile. He had been waiting for two days trying to get out to Point Lay and will wait another day or two. The plane came in and the pilot, Shima Funakoslm, was a young woman who was born in Japan. She showed me a string trick from there.

I made it to Wainwright and was met by the principal, Dorothy Jordan. She was at Manokotak when I was there. Manokotak is the village where I had just started to tell all the kids a story in the gym and she put a paper in my face that said, “All the students need to return to their rooms, NOW!!!” They had just found a man dead that had been missing for three days and was the parent of a couple of the children. She did not want someone coming in to the large group and spilling the beans. She took me to the school and we looked over the schedule. Too late to do anything with the kids in school but they had an after school program for kids in the library and so I did a program for those kids. Two boys were very interested in the string stuff, Cory Mayer and Thomas Akpik. They invented a sled figure – string around the wrists and 1&5 on one hand and 1&5 on the other. Let go of first 1&5.

The Principal took me to dinner. I did an evening performance but no elders showed up, only about 25 kids who each wanted another string. Cory and Thomas were there in the evening also.

Next day I gave two assemblies in the gym. One for K – 6 and the other for 7 – 12. They were great. I finished the assemblies and checked my e-mail. I was about to go to a High School class when they discovered the airline I was scheduled to fly out with, was no longer taking passengers. (I guess they make more with freight.) Point Lay was socked in so I told them to send me to Atqasuk instead. I was not scheduled to go there until Monday, but when you can get to someplace, take it. I was waiting to go to the class when they found me and said the plane for Atqasuk had landed and I needed to be at the air strip NOW! We hurried out and the plane was still on the holding area. I loaded up and flew out. Six caribou were at the end of the landing strip.

Marty met my plane in Atqasuk, also known as Meade River, and took me to his place to drop off my stuff. The itinerant quarters were being used by the Assistant Superintendent. Marty is head of the physical plant. The school is also responsible for taking care of all the Borough’s buildings in the village. We arranged to have two assemblies in the library, K-5 and 6-12. They were great, very responsive. I wish I had a recorder to get the OOOOOOOOHHHH’S and AAAAAAAAHHHHH’S when a string trick caught their attention.

They had teacher pot luck at Principal Brad Allen’s house. We had a good time and then had to leave to go to the school for an evening performance. No elders, about 25 kids and one teacher’s aid. Then one of the teachers, Burt Neimeyer came. He was very interested in the string stuff. I loaned him the Jenness book to look at.

Went to Marty’s place and we visited before bed. He was most helpful. He went to basic training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I woke up feeling hoarse and with a sore throat, so I started a Z-pack. That day I met with all the classes individually, groups of 8 to 10. It was great. They are most receptive and dexterous. I taught Spider, Porcupine, Elastic, Apache Gate, Cross, Owl’s Eyes, Setting Sun, etc. These are more difficult figures!

I flew back on Frontier with Rick. Cathy met the plane and took me to the hotel. I walked the half mile to Arctic Pizza for supper, which is too far without snow pants. I froze. When I got back I had a call from a Royal Rangers leader wanting me to meet with his pack, but it was too late. He called around 10:00 and said that he would see me Saturday.

Cathy picked me up at 7:15 to take me to KBRW the NPR station at Barrow. I had an interview there with Earl. He had a nice sign up welcoming us and a pin for each of us. We had a nice live interview. Then I went to Impalook Elementary School where I had a full day of storytelling. I gave eight sessions there, with two or three classes in each session. They were grouped together by grade so it was easy. I had a room off the library. I was able to teach a number of things. Good response by teachers and aids too. (Note: the lunchroom had two sides and it appeared that the natives ate on one side and the whites on the other, too bad.)

Cathy picked me up and we stopped at the AC for chapstick - things are so dry here. She picked me up for the evening program at the elementary at 6:15. Deb Perkins was trying to get me to her church for the evening but it didn’t work out. She invited me for dinner and church on Friday instead.

I gave an evening performance at the Elementary school at 6:30. Thirty people attended including two elderly ladies, one of whom is a storyteller and quite a cutup. We did some stories and some string things. Earl and his wife were there along with a number of other adults. Two middle school boys, nephews of Cathy, were there and wanted to learn everything I could teach them. They were willing to work for it. After the program the principal stated that they wanted me to return. He said, “The kids love you.” He said it in the most respectful way.

Deborah and Leo Peterson picked me up at the hotel to take me out to dinner. We went to the Northern Lights Restaurant on the other side of town. I had the Mongolian Beef and it was wonderful. We sat and visited for a long time. He is Special Ed teacher at the High School.

Saturday I slept late and enjoyed it, then took a taxi to the AC for lunch. Across from it is the library. I gave a 1:00 program on string figures. At 10 minutes to 1:00 there were no people for the program. By 1:00 there were four or five. By the end of the program David, the librarian, had counted over 60 people. (They run on Barrow time.) We all had a good time and some stayed to learn the Porcupine and the Heart. I then went to Sam and Lee’s Chinese restaurant and tried their Mongolian Beef. Wow, was it hot.

Easter Sunday I went to the Presbyterian Church for the morning service. What a packed house. About 25 people were baptized and their whole family was there. It is interesting to see the freedom that the children have to roam and are not made to sit still. It is good and bad.

At 4:00 Tara and Eric picked me up and we walked to an apartment near the hotel. They were invited to a potluck and called and the invitation was extended to me also. It was very nice. All the attorneys from Barrow except one were there. The meal was roast leg of lamb and ham with wine to top it off. It was a great time. I did some string things. When we were walking home Eric said, “Didn’t you have snow pants on when you went?” I had to go back and get them.

Monday at 8:00, I was at Cape Smythe Air to go to Port Lay. I met an elder at the airfield that knew the Finger Catch figure. I taught some of the help there some string tricks. I also taught a fireman the Skin House and the story to go with it. The plane took off at 9:00 and stopped in Wainwright for an unscheduled stop to pick up the librarian’s bag that had been left there by mistake. Then on to Point Lay. Arrived at 10:29 and had a class scheduled at 10:30. The principal, Steve apologized and said he would bring coffee to the room if I would start. I met in small groups with all the kids and was finished in time to catch the 2:30 flight back to Barrow. When Danny took me to the air strip, the weather was very marginal. FAA says that it needs to be a 500 ft ceiling and one mile visibility. Blowing snow and low clouds made it much less than that, but they buzzed the field and then landed. Thank heaven, as I did not plan to stay there overnight and it really would have messed up my schedule. Of course, that is what bush Alaska is all about.

I stopped by to see Bertha Levett but she was not home. Found out later that the woman that got on the bus from the house across the street was her. We were at the wrong house. I went back and packed up to check out of the Top of the World hotel the next morning. I went to Northern Lights again to have Mongolian Beef. Then I went to Impalook Elementary for the Barrow Eskimo Dancers. It was a great show. I danced a couple of the invitational dances with them. It was in honor of Senator McClusky. He is for opening ANWAR.

Cathy picked me up to take me to the high school. What a building; pool, running track, weight room, shop, superb auditorium, etc. I taught in the room of the Spanish/English teacher. I also had another English class and a Special Ed. One of them, Leo, took me out to dinner. I met about 2/3 of the student body. Many of the students chose to come in twice instead of going to the library for the second program.

I hung around after school at the A/C store then went to the college for a tour. I went to Mary Anne’s house and called Bertha Levett again, not home. For a 90 year old woman she sure does get out a lot. Then, I went to Alaska Air for the flight to Fairbanks. Saw a couple that teach in Wainwright and the guy told me that his students put on a play and incorporated 15 string figures into the play. He thanked me profusely for the experience.

Ron Bates picked me up at the airport and took me to his home for his birthday dinner of lasagna and black forest torte. Good visit with the principal of the high school and his wife, who were also there. Ron’s son Alex was there also. Ron took me to the Wedgwood Resort where I spent a short night and was taken to Wright Airline for my trip to Anaktuvak Pass. Good flight of about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The pass is just on the Slope side of the Brooks Range. One hour of flying over and through mountains. I was met at the airstrip and taken to the itinerant quarters to drop off my stuff and then went to the school where I did small groups. I had a great time and spent the night in the library. Back to Fairbanks and on to Anchorage the next day.