On the Post Office in Bush Alaskan life

The US Post Office holds a special place in the heart of anyone living in a remote Alaskan village. Like the bush plane, the Post Office is a major link to the outside world. (In fact, those are our two real, tangible and somewhat timely ways to get physical things in and out of the village.)

So, with this inadequate explanation (you really can’t understand it until you’ve lived it) you might understand why the fact that our post office has been closed and locked for several days because the workers left town. (Actually only two federal business days, but that follows a Monday holiday.) I don’t even have the worst of the lot by far: one teacher needs to mail her taxes in and I’ve heard of a few people who need money orders so their power doesn’t get shut off – there’s not other place to get a money order in town.

Luckily, someone showed up to open the post office on the 4:30pm flight today and they’ll be in late tonight going through the backlog. Here’s hoping that something more exciting than bills awaits me.

Heating an apartment – Bush Alaska style

It’s officially winter; the snow is falling, the air is crisp and clear and it’s edging toward cold – holding at around 20 degrees now for the past few days. It’s a beautiful time of year, one of my favorites in fact. This year it’s still delightful, but not as much so; you see, usually I have working heat. For some unfathomable reason (and one that has been unexplainable to me by my maintenance man) the radiators in my apartment aren’t working properly. The rest of the school has heat, just not my apartment.

Sadly, Friday ended and he left without getting the heat turned on, leaving me slightly chilly. No worries though! In true Bush fashion, I’ve found a solution that makes it advantageous to live in a small apartment like mine. My oven functions as a space heater when turned on at 550 degrees Fahrenheit! A rather moisture sucking space heater, but an effective one nonetheless.

I’ve been told that he might be able to get it working on Monday. If not though, hey, it’s the Bush and one simply has to accept that heating one’s home can turn into an adventure. (At least I’m not putting a burn barrel by the window and hauling driftwood in to heat the place… yet.)

Heating the bush apartment

(Edit: After my principal got phone calls from the Coordinator of Ed Support and the District Superintendent, I feel like I should clarify. Things aren’t that bad for me. I live above the school, so I get a lot of radiant heat – meaning that while a little chilly at times, I’m in no danger of freezing and the problem is being worked on.)

Bush teacher or Marine recruit? You decide.

One of the things you have to get used to while living in the bush is the lack of certain things you’ve taken for granted all your life. For example, there are no restaurants, no paved roads and no barber shops (we have phones, lights and motor cars though). So, like many other things in the village, you’ve got to learn to do for yourself. It’s been over 2 months since my last haircut and I was definitely overdue.

Unfortunately for me, my last shipment from drugstore.com which contained my clippers, toilet paper, paper towels and Kleenex took a month to arrive. When it came today, I was determined that tonight was the night to give myself my very first haircut. There was no sheet whirled around me by a barber, no hot foam on the back of the neck for use with a straight razor and no wraparound mirror. Instead, there was just me, a pair of clippers, a bathroom floor and small mirror.

Needless to say, it isn’t the most glamourous looking haircut – in fact, my first thought after getting it even was, “Did I just pass out and join the Marines?” But, it’s definitely not long and unmanageable anymore; in fact – I fit in with my students pretty well.

Bush Haircut

Nome, AK

A little over a week ago, I got the opportunity to travel to Nome, AK for the district’s Tech Liaison training. It was my first visit to Nome, which is odd since Nome is the largest “city” in the region (population – approx. 3,600). Most of the time was spent in the NACTEC house(Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center), where students from around the region come to learn technical and career skills during the school year and where we set up camp for 2 days in order to learn about the tools we use to keep technology in our schools up and running. I’m not going to write about the training except to mention that it is already making my life easier, instead, I’m going to write about Nome itself.

The first thing to know about Nome is that it is the only “wet” town in the region. Alaska has what is called a “Local Option” law which allows bush villages to decide to what degree alcohol is allowed into the village. Many towns (including Shaktoolik) choose not to allow the possession of alcohol (dry); others like Unalakleet allow the importation of alcohol but not its sale (damp). It doesn’t take long very long after landing in Nome to recognize the effect this has had on the town. Let’s simply say that drunks are not an uncommon sight and leave it at that…

Nome also has a reputation as a mining town and for those of you familiar with active mining towns in very remote locations, you already know what this means. For the rest of you… Nome is dirty. Nome is dingy and one could even call parts of it ramshackle. There’s a feeling of age, but also of haste; mining booms don’t leave much time for planning, zoning laws and strict oversight.

Underlying it all is the history of the town though. Everyone knows about the, Iditarod the annual dogsled race that commemorates the delivery of diphtheria serum from Anchorage via dogsled. Fewer people know that at one point, Nome was the largest town in Alaska; that the US Postal Service refused to allow the town to change it’s name to Anvil City in 1899 or that few of the original gold rush structures have survived numerous fires and violent storms. The history is what draws me to the town, it is what makes me want to visit it again sometime. It isn’t a place I’d like to live, but a place that would be interesting to study and learn about first-hand.

Note to readers: I spent less than 48 hours in Nome, most of that holed up inside a building training. I only spent 3-4 hours exploring the town (and that was spent on Front St.), this is what my viewpoint is based upon and is therefore reflective of a short-term visitor and not someone who lives there.

First snow!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted an update… it’s not that I don’t have things to post – I’ve been up to quite a bit the last two weeks – I just haven’t had time. I’ll follow up with a couple longer posts when things quiet down a little bit (this evening or tomorrow when I return home from Unalakleet). I just wanted to share a picture for now though:

Unalakleet snow

I’m told it’s not snowing 40 miles away in Shaktoolik, just windy and cold, which is apparently what winter looks like there. Until later!