20 January 2011


This weekend I will be participating in a time-honored Bethel JV tradition--the Kuskokwim 300 Dogsled Race. The seven of us will be split between two of the check points along the 300-mile route: three in Kalskag and four in Tuluksak. I am part of the Tuluksak crew and am feeling very excited to take my first trip in a small plane (I am guessing it will be a six-seater) and to spend the weekend in the village trying to learn the ropes (perhaps even very literally) of dogsled racing. Our official tasks include marking the time when the mushers arrive and depart the check point, making sure they have all the required gear, verifying that their GPS devises are functioning properly (so that fans can track their progress online), regulating the required breaks, and caring for any sled dogs that the musher or vet determines need to be left behind.

We'll be staying in the school library, although I hear from race organizers and veteran volunteers that not a lot of sleeping is going to happen. I got most of my gear together last night with the key items including: "bunny boots" (the military issue footgear for artic temperatures), handwarmers, a headlamp (a very useful birthday present from a thoughtful sister), and , perhaps most importantly, my travel-size Bodum french press that I found in the Catholic Church's rummage room.

We will have access to the internet, so I will try to provide some updates as time allows. If you are feeling curious, you can check out http://www.k300.org/core/.

19 January 2011

What It Is, Not What It Is Not

I went to Seattle. I took the GRE (the "official" purpose of the trip earns top billing). I saw friends. I saw my parents. I ate lots of spinach. I did not wear wool socks. I drank incredible amounts of coffee. I felt totally at home back in my old neighborhood, but also acutely aware of how in five months time, even Bethel's most extreme and unique features (climate, culture, lifestyle) had also become familiar. While I walked to Trader Joe's on dry sidewalks, I was thinking about my walks to work across the icy, frozen tundra. But when my days in Seattle came to a close, other than straining through a second round of goodbyes, I was genuinely ready to fly back to Bethel--back to my housemates, back to my little "nook" of a bedroom, back to school, back to ice-roads, back to canned vegetables, back to thermal layers, back to Folders coffee in the social hall on Sunday morning--back to it all.

After a few days back in Bethel, I was on the phone with a very insightful (and handsome) temporary-Californian, and he said it sounds like being away in Seattle for a bit allowed me to finally recognize and appreciate this place for "what it is, not what it is not." This does not mean that I will suddenly start to revel in every moment here. This place can still be harsh. It lacks the conveniences and luxuries that I enjoyed in Seattle. But this place feels full of opportunity, full of potential experiences, and full of wind and spirit.

With this in mind, as much as my walk to work this morning in -35 degree windchill (45 mph gusts) was, by most standards, totally miserable--I also felt affirmed and maybe even warmed by the sensation of belonging here. Probably, no, definitely not forever, but at least for now.