Growing up in a middle-class household in the mid-Atlantic, I took quite a few things for granted. The lights will turn on when I flick the switch. Most people have access to some form of wheeled transportation, whether car or bus or bike. Roads exist, are frequently paved, and some have sidewalks. Boats can be for work or for pleasure. You can get quite a few things for free, like borrowing books from the library or going to an arts festival in the park. You have access to things like libraries and parks. Buildings are made of many different materials. Traveling for school sports involves loading all of the kids onto a bus or two (or three or four or five) a couple of hours before the event, driving to the venue, participating in the game or match, and then driving home again the same night.
As with many other people, my worldview has shifted and expanded quite a bit as I’ve grown up. This is especially true in the three years since I began teaching in bush Alaska. Two separate incidences this week reminded me just how lucky I was to grow up where and when I did.
I awoke Thursday when the emergency lights in my apartment kicked on and the system alarms for my building’s sprinkler system began shrieking. Rolling over to look at the clock, I discovered that it was 4:30 AM. Short power outages aren’t uncommon in Nunap, so I merely stuffed my head under the pillow to muffle the noise and light and went back to sleep. When the alarm went off an hour and a half later, I noticed that the emergency lights had shut off, but the alarms still shrieked. When I tried to turn on the dining room lights, the switch merely clicked under my fingers without producing illumination. So I shuffled back in to the bedroom, grabbed my headlamp, and went about my morning routine by its light.
I had hoped that, with the power out, I’d have an even better than normal view of the stars during my walk to school. Sadly, it proved to be overcast and misty. With only my headlamp to light the way, I felt a bit like I’d stumbled into a horror movie. The school fit right in to this motif, as less than half of the emergency lights still shone. After fashioning a doorstop out of cardboard (the electromagnets that normally hold the doors open die when the power goes off), I sat down at my desk and began lesson planning for the coming week. Fortunately, at 7:45, the lights returned.
A teacher’s life includes lots of planning. My usual routine is to sketch a rough outline for the year, then to plan in detail at the beginning of each week. However, when I know I’ll be traveling over the weekend, I try to get a jump on the next week’s plans so that I can still relax a little. Earlier this week, I learned that I would be traveling to the Hub this weekend with one member of our cross-country team for a meet. We’d fly out Friday afternoon once school finished and stay overnight. He’d participate in the race Saturday, and then we’d fly home, returning to Nunap around dinner time.
Friday morning found me walking to school with a packed backpack and duffel bag, as I wouldn’t have time to go back to my apartment before we were scheduled to leave. As the sun rose, I noticed yet more fog, something that has been a frequent occurrence over the past week.The little planes out here won’t fly with visibility under 2 miles, but such fogs can disappear as quickly as they appear, so I wasn’t too concerned. At lunch time, I checked in with Eech, our school tech guy and athletics director, about the status of our flight, because I wasn’t sure if it was on of the regularly scheduled runs or a charter. He called the airline to double check: We had seats on the usual midday flight, but as of that moment no planes had left the Hub yet that day. While the fog had moved on from Nunap by that point, it had settled in around the Hub. Plus, it had started to rain rather hard, and the cloud ceiling was low. Again, I didn’t worry too much, as all of that can change. After school, I snagged Gerry, my runner, and parked him in a classroom while I attended the Friday afternoon staff meeting. As the time for our flight approached, I called the airline: They were still on weather hold. I made sure our names were down for any plane that made it to the village that night before hanging up, and settled in to wait. Well, not really “settled”; I helped get the concession stand set up for a community basketball tournament scheduled for that evening, went to the post office, and got some things put away in my classroom. In the middle of all of this, I spoke with Jenny, who is acting principal while Dan is at the Hub for meetings. She agreed with my decision that if Gerry and I weren’t on a plane by 6, we wouldn’t go. Sure enough, 6 o’ clock came and went, and I was still helping with the basketball tournament. I spoke with Gerry, telling him that 1) we wouldn’t be traveling, and 2) I am incredibly proud of how hard he’s worked this season, then sent him to watch the basketball game. I notified Jenny that we were still here. On her advice, I called Dan, also; he told me that, as of that moment, only one team had made it in to the Hub for the meet. After chatting for a couple of minutes, we hung up, and I returned to helping in the concession stand. (Funnily enough, I got a call from the airline a little later, saying they might have a plane headed our way around 7. I requested that they remove our names from the list; not only would they be spending quite a lot of time clearing out the backlog of stranded passengers from the day, but I also suspected that the weather would shift again and the plane wouldn’t even leave the Hub.)
So instead of sleeping on a classroom floor last night, I slept in my own bed. I unpacked my duffel bag this morning, putting away all of the foul-weather gear and the sleeping bag. As I’m writing this, I look out of the apartment windows and can barely see the school through the fog; hopefully it clears up enough later Dan can get back safely. While I am sorry Gerry didn’t get to run in the meet, that’s just the way things happen out here sometimes.