Mar 2, 2013 | 0 comments

This week I spent 2 days in Shishmaref, the village I visited last November just before Thanksgiving. The purpose of my trip was essentially the same: to talk to local youth about Serpentine Hot Springs and get their perspectives on the area, but this time the experience was far more successful and fulfilling.
On my way there, I was once again the only one on the flight. There was a seat open in the back, but the rest of the plane was packed with cargo — boxes of milk, orange juice, canned goods, and produce. The pilot asked if I wanted to ride copilot instead: Heck yes!! He even ran inside and got me a headset, and we spent the entire flight talking cameras and aviation. He was pretty excited I had a GoPro and a good Nikon.  
Trying out the GoPro

Beautiful tundra

“Amphitheatre” formation in the Kigs

During the flight, we cut through Mosquito Pass, arguably the most beautiful stretch of the Kigluaik mountain range. The pilot banked around some of the mountain formations so I could get pictures, and gave me his email address so I could send him some.

Stunning mountains

View through Mosquito Pass

Although Shishmaref is the largest village in the area, on the winter landscape it appears as but a speck on a vast and remote abyss. The land and sea are frozen into one.

Shishmaref, a little closer

When I arrived, there was no one there to pick me up, so I hitched a ride on the back of the snowmachine that was bringing the cargo into town. The driver piled a few boxes on the sled in back, and dropped me off at the school on his way to wherever he was going. Once I was there, I found the teacher I was to work with, caught up with my coworkers who were already there doing programs, and got everything sorted out.

I didn’t have to give any programs until the next day, so after school was out, we took a walk around town to take pictures and get some fresh air. Everyone we met along the way was incredibly friendly and of course immediately recognized us as visitors, welcoming us to Shishmaref. The school kids immediately befriended us, and followed us around town a bit before getting distracted and running off.

Shishmaref church, with a dog lot in the foreground
Caribou and moose harvest
The photo above shows an interesting sight we came across — a recent caribou and moose harvest, with a caribou on the sled in back, a caribou hide, and on the right a moose leg standing upright against the shed.

The gas station (about $6.50/gal)

The grocery store
Random conex and fuel tanks

Hazmat sign right behind the school

Sea ice

Cars, boats, and sleds frozen into the sea ice
Ear Mountain at sunset

Dog curled up in the snow
Sunset behind town
The graveyard
That night, we slept in the library at the school, on little mattresses provided to us in between the bookshelves. I was surprised to find the school was busy until about 11pm, with basketball practice, teachers working late into the night, and a few kids still running around. There were also a few other visitors staying in the school as well, doing work in the village. 
The next day I gave 4 high school class programs in a row in the morning. The classes were pretty small because many students had left for a basketball tournament on St. Lawrence Island; one of my classes only had one student! Nonetheless, all of the programs went much better than I expected and it was such an great experience to be able to work with the kids.  
Photo taken by a student
The photo above really touched me. In my last class of the day, one of my students had been a little harder to work with and was goofing off a lot, not listening or taking anything seriously. He finished early and was looking at my camera so I let him take a few pictures with it while the other kids finished up. His teacher seemed kind of annoyed with him when he was running around taking photos down the hall, but when he gave the camera back to me, I found this endearing photo on it of a teacher leading a little first grader by the hand. It might not be a particularly remarkable photo, but I thought it was sweet that this kid who didn’t seem interested in much had an eye for such a touching moment.
After school I spent the afternoon reading in the library, chatting with the kids that came in and out, and watching the basketball game that was streaming on the TV. For a while, about 30 people from town were crammed in the room watching the Shishmaref team, but they all dispersed again after it was over. 
When it was time to go, I had a ride to the airstrip this time from one of the teachers. We pulled onto the runway just as the plane was landing, waiting for them to unload more cargo, and eventually I was able to board. 
Flight home at sunset
Adorable baby on the flight

It was good to get back to Nome, but I had a great time in Shishmaref and I’m glad I got to spend more time there this time around. I feel like I really gained a better understanding of the workings of the village, got to talk to a lot more people, and just experiencing life there for even a few days was well worth it. It’s bittersweet, knowing this was probably my last trip and the last time I may ever be in Shishmaref, but I’m glad I got to go twice and see it during different times of year.

Switching gears now, as I write this I am watching a broadcast of the ceremonial start of the Iditarod. With just 3 weeks to go before I head home, pretty much the rest of my time here will be spent finishing up my internship projects and getting ready for the mushers and influx of visitors to arrive in Nome in about 10 days and onward. 
To give you an idea of the magnitude of people we’re expecting, our usual visitation has been anywhere from 0-5 visitors a day at the office. During Iditarod in a couple weeks, we’re expecting 40-80 visitors a day, with a full schedule of talks, programs, movies, and events. Stress levels are escalating, but it’s so good to be busy again!


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