Friday, December 23, 2011


We FINALLY have internet at home!!!! I have many more things I would like to post to here including pictures but since Christmas is only 2 days away and I am way behind on baking and such, I will have to wait until after the holiday to post more.  Until then, we wish all a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Getting Things You Take For Granted

So living in a town such as Fort Yukon has its advantages and its disadvantages. Most of the advantages revolve around it being both a small town and it being very peaceful and cut off from the world in many ways. These advantages can quickly turn into disadvantages however when you need something that back in the “Lower 48” you could just run to Walmart or Lowes for.

There is a store in town that is run by a company called The Alaska Commercial Company (The AC). This company operates over 20 stores in bush towns in Alaska. These are mostly smaller stores that serve communities in the close to or over 500 people range but some are in smaller towns down to 200 and some are towns of a couple thousand. The problem is that this is a store that reminds me a lot of being in a “general store” in small communities in Pennsylvania. They do have everything you would need in order to survive, but not everything you will ever need.

Eventually you will need something that they just don’t carry. For example in the minor renovations we were helping with on our house before we moved in we were doing some electrical work. Fortunately our landlord is on the ball and had all the supplies we needed to do the work and make it functional so we could move in. One of the things that we did overlook were the plastic cover plates that go over outlets and switches. Not necessary items to function, but preferable to have for safety reasons. So in order to get these in Fort Yukon, I had to contact a building supply company in Fairbanks, get them my order, (I needed a few other things too) then pay for the order with a credit card over the phone, they pick the order, charge a small fee to have the order boxed up and labeled and delivered to the airport cargo terminal.  Then I have to call the airline, let them know that the packages are mine, pay for the air freight for the boxes and then they give me an idea of when they will arrive based on room for freight on the planes. Then I call the terminal to see if the boxes left or if they are still in Fairbanks, find out the did get shipped so then I have to go to the airport here and seek them out so I can finally get them back to my house and install my outlet covers.

This scenario is not limited to building supplies either. Most food and house wares are available at the AC but they do have a limited selection and many items are very expensive. Most of the expense is due to transportation but also contributing to it is the very high cost of energy here, both electrical and fuel, and the limited customer base which leads to a lot of spoilage and loss. So knowing these facts most people try to get many of their needs in Fairbanks when they are there for one reason or another.

So that leads back to the “Alaskan Suitcases” (Rubbermaid bins)  When we go into Fairbanks, we bring several of these empty and stacked together as our luggage on the way into Fairbanks.  We do our shopping, pack our goods into the bins and take them to the post if they are non-perishables and mail them home (this is cheaper then bringing them as freight).  Things that are chill or freeze and things that are oddly shaped we take as our luggage home.  You are only allowed so many pounds on the planes and then you have to pay per pound for anything over (hence why you mail everything you can).
All of this has made us realize how much we took for granted back in PA.  We actually are really enjoying things despite these difficulties (small “price” to pay for the wonderful life we have in Fort Yukon).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Day on the River

So after our tour of the river with the school, we got the chance to go out again.  Here is a bit about that trip (from August 20).

A Day on the river

Today we got our second experience on the mighty Yukon and Porcupine rivers. Some people claim the Mississippi River is the might force in the USA, but I beg to differ. This river is a force to be respected and feared all at the same time; sandbars that change by the day and currents that can flip a boat in a minute.

So on to what we did today. After a wonderful walk around town in the rain, we waited for the weather to clear as we were invited on a trip up the river. We were told we were going to a place that is 8 miles up the Porcupine River. There is a camp area there where there are some cabins that the locals use for hunting and getting away from town.

There were 2 men that are staying there that are visiting Alaska from Switzerland who were amazing hosts. We were treated to a cup of campfire coffee after a wet trip on the boat in the rain. Then later once we were warmed up and dried off a little, we discovered that the guys threw a King Salmon steak on the fire. The etiquette at a wilderness camp is much as you would expect, steak is thrown on a plate when it is done and everyone digs in with their fingers.

Then we did some exploring and I got to see my first Moose tracks in the mud. I also got to see wild cranberries and rose hips growing all over the place. I even tried a cranberry, although it was quite tart as they are not quite ripe yet. A friend of the Jackson's have a cabin at 8 mile that they said to go ahead and use whenever we are out there.  The Swiss guys were using it just for baking bread cause they preferred to "rough it" for sleeping and such.  It's a very beautiful cabin. (Pictures of these adventures will be coming shortly.)

When we got back to camp from exploring the area, there was now a duck on a spit on the fire. As the duck was cooking we were pointed to a couple smoked Northern Pike fillets. So we broke a piece off and threw it on the grate over the fire to warm it up. That Pike was probably the best fish I have eaten in a really long time.

After we devoured the piece we broke off and the rest of the 2-foot long fillet was thrown on the fire so that we could all enjoy lots of the wonderful fish. By the time we finished the pike the duck was done cooking. It was not a large duck, but there was enough there for everyone to have some to try. So the duck was cut up and the pieces put on the grate for a few minutes to make sure it was done and to give it a little more flavor. Once we started we couldn’t stop. The duck was so good for having been cooked on a fire for about an hour and not having any seasoning or anything, just the goodness that nature has to offer.

After eating 3 wonderful mini meals at the camp we decided it was time to begin the journey home. This trip was much nicer with no rain to hinder the experience. Traveling back to Fort Yukon on the river, watching the sun slowly set as the colors of the sky met the reflection in the river, made the most beautiful sight I have seen yet. After about 50 minutes on the river, we arrive in Fort Yukon and the trip has come to an end.

Finally, tea and story time with the company of the day and everyone then goes their own ways to get ready for some much needed rest as tomorrow is a work day. Well, for most anyway.

Friday, December 9, 2011

And now for more randomness...

So here is another post that was written some time ago and stumbled upon now that I am trying to get things back up.  This was from one of our adventures in August.  Enjoy!

A Tour of the Rivers.

When we were planning to come here to fort Yukon, we were prepared for the fact that a lot of the diet here consists of fish. And we knew Salmon was a big part of that diet. On Tuesday, August 9th, the district took all of the new staff at the school for a tour of the town and then for a boat ride up the river.  On the boat ride we were introduced to the Yukon and Porcupine rivers and the amazing power that they have. It is unbelievable how much power it takes these small jon boats to simply keep with the current of the rivers let alone to go up river.

We were taken for a ride around the areas of the river close to town and to a camp at a place called 6 mile. Named so because it is 6 miles up the Porcupine River. This small camp is used by many of the towns in the flats as a summer camp for kids. It is a short hike from the river to the camp. I was told you can get there by land, but I am not sure how, so I will not try. We were introduced to what Rose Hips are and to what High Bush Cranberries look like. Both of these things grow wild around here much in the same way that Raspberries and Blackberries grow in Pennsylvania.

Closer to the end of our river journey we were brought to what is called a “Fish Wheel” This is the way that many local people catch their salmon from the rivers. The fish wheel is a wheel with 4 paddles that is just under 20’ in diameter. This is important because the river is 10’ deep in most places, even just a foot or two from shore. The current of the river turns the wheel and 2 of the paddles are shaped like a scoop with netting in them. As the wheel spins these 2 scoops pick up the fish that are swimming up river against the current and they fall onto 2 boards that are close to the axle of the wheel. These 2 boards are separated so that any young immature fish fall though them and safely back into the river. The larger fish then slide to the end of the wheel where they are deposited into a box where they stay till the owner of the wheel takes them (at least once a day). Most people seem to not run their wheels all the time, but rather only when they are able to go out regularly. This amazing piece of rustic machinery has allowed the people of the area to survive on a diet of the wonderful meat of the Red King Salmon and the Silver Salmon.

We ended our boating trip with a Fish feast where we were treated to both smoked and fresh grilled King Salmon and grilled Silver Salmon. These two fish are very different from each other in the way the meat tastes. Personally I enjoy both of them, but I think Joc prefers the King a little more. Having fresh Salmon for the first time over an open fire was amazing. I thought a lot about the fish dinners we used to have in Pennsylvania and how much you would pay for a good Salmon Steak at a restaurant while we were standing here at a fire eating some of the best fish I have had off of paper plates and plastic forks or even just with our fingers. It was an amazing experience that I hope to repeat again and again.

How to spend an anniversary…

This was a post that was written a while ago but since I am just now able to get caught up on our posts, you will have to pretend that I posted it back in September. :)

So time for our anniversary and how did we spend it?  There was a sale in the morning at the dorm for the Voc Ed of all the old beds.  We had planned on getting one of these to use as a sofa.  When we got to the sale, there was already a line of people and it ended up that we were not able to get a bed for ourselves, just the one that we promised someone we would get for them.  It ended up being another one of the interesting adventures.  While we did not get the bed for ourselves, we did stay and help the ladies that we there buying beds that did not have anyone else to help them (the men were all out moose hunting).  We met several of the townspeople doing this and also met one of the elders.  We helped several of them move their furniture to their homes.  People do show a lot of gratitude towards those that help.  It is considered impolite to turn down a gift from someone here, so this was how we ended up with an end table, moose meat, and dried salmon!  (I love the barter system… much more meaningful than a dirty dollar bill.) 

In the end one of our friends told us that she wanted to give us her sofa that has been in her parents’ storage since they moved here.  So after we moved all the beds and dressers for everyone else, we moved a sofa for us! 

It’s neat to see the difference in attitudes towards neighbors here compared to the “Lower 48.”  It’s all about helping each other survive.  People  don’t throw things away but rather they pass them along to another person who needs it.  You help each other when things get tough and make sure that those around you have what they need to survive.  I am asked many times a week if the house we live in is keeping us warm and if we have everything we need.  It makes a person feel a lot safer about living in such a harsh place.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Catching Up

My how the year has flown! Who would have thought this time last year that we would be 3500 miles from home within the year! It really has been quite an adventure so far. So while I am at a school where I have internet, let me get you all up to date on the happenings of our lives…

We finally got moved into our house in the middle of August! It still needs to have many things completed (like, I still don’t have a shower at this point but at least we have a bath!) but it is quite nice despite this. The house was purple when we moved in but we have since painted it… now it’s sea foam green! (I preferred the purple to this strange shade of green but the landlord wanted it painted, so paint we did… hey it’s the paint HE chose…lol.) So then there was the adventure of finding furniture for the house. Luckily we had found a bed rather easily but other furniture was a little more difficult (that is a story for another entry so stay tuned…). The end of August had me taking my first trip to a village (Arctic Village) to handle a crisis situation.

That brings us nicely to September. Andrew got a job at the store in town (lovingly called the AC – for Alaskan Commercial that is). He is now a manager there and works many crazy hours but it definitely keeps him from getting bored. We spent our anniversary in yet another unique way, but that is for a later time. We had our first viewing of the northern lights. They really are something that is almost impossible to describe. (Hopefully I will have the chance to do some photography of them soon and then I will write more about them when I have pictures to show somewhat of what I am talking about). Then it was time for inservice. Andrew came in for a day beforehand with me so that we could buy our winter gear. There is so much more that is needed here for the winter (ok well that was an obvious statement). After a whirlwind shopping trip for him, he heads back to the Fort and I stay for inservice. I spent my evenings shopping for things that we needed for the house as well as food items that we seriously underestimated the amount we would need. And then began my traveling counselor duties… First stop, Venetie. Next up, back to Arctic Village.

October I started by going to Anchorage for a weekend for training with the union. I didn’t really get a chance to see much of the city at that point cause the trainings were exhausting. Next stop – Chalkyitsik! I spent a couple of days in this village then back to the Fort. At this point Andrew came to Voc Ed to fill in as secretary until a permanent one could be found… nothing like working in a building full of men, literally I was the only female staff member! The end of October brought the Career Pathways trip to Anchorage. This was an entire week with juniors and seniors touring various schools. I did get to spend time in the city this time and I can’t tell you how excited I was to return to the village! But there were quite a few hilarious moments while in the city (unfortunately you had to be there to understand the hilarity).

With the end of October came winter. Yes you read that right, WINTER!!!!! It started with snow, snow and more snow (just like back in PA, several storms of annoying amounts, you know, 3 inches here, 4 there…). And then the temperatures DROPPED! Apparently it has been colder than normal this year but I wouldn’t know. Now, when I say dropped, I mean dropped. We went from 30 about to 40 BELOW! The funniest thing about this was that while it was -40 here, it was 100 degrees warmer in PA! (that would be a sultry 60 degrees for those of you who don’t want to do the math). By the middle of November, we had accumulated quite a bit of snow and that means the snow machines are out in force.

Speaking of November, it flew in out of no where! (ok well we knew it was coming but it sure did come awfully quick) November started with me taking all of the Voc Ed teacher’s classes while he was at a conference. So I spent the week teaching math and career planning (I liked the first part but the career planning part was no where near as much fun, serious!) I was to go to Beaver after this, but this trip was postponed. I went to Circle for a few days and on my way back took a day off in Fairbanks. And the next week was Thanksgiving! This week I have spent in Venetie and Arctic again (those two villages are always done together as they are on the same flight schedule).

So there, in a nutshell (more like a coconut shell…) is the story so far. There have been many things that we have encountered along the way that we will tell you more about in the upcoming posts but I don’t want to take your entire day reading about us ;) So on that note (I think it might be C#), I bid your farewell from the frozen north.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


No we have not been swallowed by polar bears (we haven't even seen a grizzly thankfully). No we didn't fall in the river. No we didn't move to another village. Technology has just eluded us till now...

Maybe just maybe, we will have internet soon. It has been an interesting process trying to get this luxury in the bush of Alaska. We took for granted that back in PA dial-up was basically a thing of the past. Well, step back in time 10 years and there you have bush Alaska. Dial-up is basically all that is available. We have been working to get satellite internet through a grant program here called Open Skies Alaska. We will be the first ones in our village with this internet service so the process has been anything but easy. My hope is that by the time Christmas break rolls around (in just 2 short weeks) that we will finally have that mystic thing called internet again so that I can update all you lovely people on the adventures we have had so far. Thanks for bearing with us.