Nunap has no roads. That doesn’t mean that people don’t have to commute. About two-thirds of our students live “across”, that is, across the river from the school. Nunap also doesn’t have a bridge. From late spring through early autumn, anyone wishing to cross must use a boat. Once the river freezes, people can walk or drive either their four-wheeler or snow machine (also referred to as a snowgo or snowmobile) across.
One day last winter, the school received a frantic call from some parents. “Our children are missing! The snowgo is gone! Have you seen them?” The children in question, TJ and Helen, were in second grade.
Ted, our principal, calmed the parents down and said that he would check to see if the kids had come to school. Sure enough, he poked his head into the classrooms and discovered both children sitting in their seats, doing their work. He asked that both kids come to his office for a minute. “Your parents just called. They have no idea you’re at school. How did you get here?”
TJ and Helen are both in my class this year, so I can easily imagine this scene. Helen is slim and tall, taller than TJ, who is actually a year older. TJ is also the first child I’ve ever met who could be described as “bandy-legged”, which led to the first grade teacher granting him the nickname of “Sheriff”. The point is, TJ is NOT the largest child in the room. He weighs maybe 45 pounds soaking wet. So, in my head, I can just picture the look of incredulity on Ted’s face when TJ matter-of-factly replied, “I drove the snowgo.”
For those of you that don’t know, many snowmobiles require a good yank on a ripcord to start the engine. I know that, as a teen, I struggled with the ripcord on the family lawnmower; living in Nunap I’ve watched grown adults struggle to start their own snow machines. The image of TJ trying to start the family snowgo in such a manner is simply mind-boggling. “How did you start the snowgo?” Ted asked.
“My uncle started it for me.”
Apparently, TJ got frustrated that morning by the fact that none of the adults in his house were awake to take him to school. So he got his uncle, who lives next door, to start the snow machine, and drove himself and Helen to school. After hearing this story, Ted admitted later, he had to stop himself from laughing out loud in delight. Ted did call the parents to let them know that their kids and snowgo were safe and to arrange a meeting with them. As a result of that meeting, TJ has his parents’ permission to continue to drive the snowgo and bring himself and his sister and any of his older siblings that feel so inclined to school. I was outside the other day when he drove up, and couldn’t help but smile. It’s like the quote says, “If you’re determined to learn, no one can stop you.”