BootsnAll Travel Network

Winter on the Kuskokwim Delta


Well, once again, I was out of money, so it was time to head to an Alaskan village and do some more long-term substitute teaching.  I was able to get a Special Ed job at Kasigluk-Akiuk, a Yup’ik Eskimo community in the western part of the state.  The school has about 80 kids from pre-school throught the 12th grade.  There are no roads here, and since I arrived in winter, I have only known this place covered with ice and snow.  For the first month, I lived in the school as there wasn’t any housing available.  The commute was easy, but I really couldn’t relax as there was no privacy – especially because it was basketball season and there were teams from neighboring villages staying at the school every weekend.

There are two other villages very close by and some of the teachers at the sites get together once a week for dinner and again to play basketball.  Carey, a 2nd grade teacher from Nunapichuk, had a 3-bedroom house to herself and invited me to share the place.  It meant a commute of just under 3 miles each way – not so bad it you can drive, but I would have to walk or ski most everyday.  Keep in mind that there are no roads, so I had to set out over the tundra in the dark.  At least a couple of days a week the snow and wind would be so intense, that you couldn’t see where you were going.  On a good day, I could ski the crossing in about 15 minutes, but once I got caught up in ground blizzard and it took me over 2 hours to find my way. From that point on, I carried a compass with me.view.jpg

Winter here is serious.  I’m a person who loves this season in Alaska, but the weather here has been the most brutal I have experienced.  The winds out on the tundra are incessant and it’s been a particularly cold winter and the temps, without any adjustment for the gusts, were commonly -25 F.   Most everyone drives snowmachines and I did have access to the school snowgo on occasion, but when you ride one, you are out in the elements.  No warm and sheltered car to get you where you are going.  Getting dressed to go outdoors took more than a few minutes.  It’s especially important to cover every bit of your face.  I would wear a face mask with a fleece neck gaiter pulled over it and then use snow goggles, a winter hat, and then a wind-proof hooded jacket, a down coat underneath, snow pants, boots and a pair of gloves under down mittens.  Despite the precautions, I still had a some minor frost-bite problems.  The wind just finds its way through.

The school and community here has been a good place to live and work.  Both are functional with mostly good kids, intact families, very competent folks and a very laid-back vibe.  Without being prompted, most all of the kids thank the school cook after breakfast and lunch.  In 25 + years of teaching, I have never seen that before.

The first language here is Yup’ik and you hear it everywhere.  Instruction is in Yup’ik until the kids are about 10, and English is rarely spoken outside of school – even in school, kids and the local staff use their language most of the time when they talk to each other.  I’ve managed to learn to count to 5 and know another dozen or so words.  I have found it a very difficult language to learn.

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