Village of White Mountain

Aug 3, 2013 | 0 comments

Tuesday morning I found myself seated in the front of a bush plane, cruising due east under a high cloud ceiling, my flat hat sitting primly on my lap. I watched the landscape under me morph from light rolling tundra to the hunter green of dense coniferous forests. I was headed to the Native Village of White Mountain to give a Junior Ranger program to the local youth.
First forest I’ve seen in months!

We landed on a dirt airstrip at the top of a hill overlooking the gorgeous, colorful village. An older man in a rickety red pickup truck with mosquito screens for windows picked us up and somehow all 5 of us from the flight crowded into the cab.

One man who had come in on our flight asked the pressing question: “So where IS the ‘White Mountain’?” The driver laughed. “It’s not actually a mountain. It’s that dirt hill over there. It reflects white when the sun hits it the right way. That’s how the village got it’s name.” In fact, the dirt hill to which he was referring was even smaller than the hill with the landing strip, and looked about as mundane as you can get. He dropped us off at the Tribal Hall, where we were to give our program.

As it turned out, the village had no received our advertisements in time, and so word had not been spread that we were coming. Everyone was very friendly though, and began calling whoever they knew with kids and telling them to come to the Tribal Hall. Although we planned to start at 1:30pm, we were told that most kids would still be sleeping (Alaskan children have strange sleep schedules in the summer).

Nonetheless, eventually a few children filtered in, just 9 in all — much fewer than the usual 30-45 we get for village programs.

Our topic for the day was the Ice Age, a program we’ve been developing over the last few weeks among our staff. It’s a huge challenge to teach a topic like that to children ranging in age from 3-15, most of whom have never even heard of it, or have the same concept of time and history as they might have been taught in the lower-48.

We focused on Ice Age wildlife though, and after some indoor activities, we came outside into the mosquito-laden sunlight for some active outdoor games.

Playing Ice Age twister in the schoolyard

Making fossil crafts

Overall the program went well and the kids seemed to enjoy it, despite having such a small crowd. It was interesting talking to some of them and seeing what a strong influence the Fish River has on their lives. In the summer, they spend all their time with their families out fishing, hunting, or swimming. There looked to be more boats than 4-wheelers, and pretty much no cars at all in the village.

Afterwards, we had about an hour to kill before our plane arrived again, so we took the time to explore the forested village.

Tribal hall

View of town from Tribal Hall, and the Fish River

Main street through town

The Fish River

Inside the Native Store (the only store in town)

Dilapidated building

Cute little church

Fish drying

I found White Mountain to be at least as friendly as Shishmaref. Everyone seemed so happy and welcoming (perhaps also because they might have thought we were State Troopers or cops, as many people do!).

View from top of White Mountain

We found our way to the village’s namesake and climbed up. I could clearly see why the town was named for it — not only did it have abundant white rocks, but you could see all of the land for miles around from its low peak.

View from opposite direction of the village

Yours truly, on top of White Mountain

I don’t like to pick favorites, but I have to say that White Mountain definitely won me over. Maybe I’m just tree-deprived, or was swayed by the warm sunlight that we’ve been lacking in Nome, but this village left a lasting impression on me. It felt like more like the imagined “Alaska” that everyone thinks of when they conceptualize the rural parts of the state, so it was fascinating to see and experience.


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