Prior to moving to Alaska, I spent almost every Thanksgiving with my family. Some years, we’d travel to visit relatives in other cities. Other years, we’d host dinner at our place or go to my grandparents’ apartment. The only time I did not celebrate with my family was during my sophomore year of high school, when the marching band traveled to Los Angeles during the long weekend to march in a few parades.

Of course, moving three thousand miles away meant that holidays would be a little different. Thanks to a three-week break at the semester, I’ve been able to make it home for Christmas and New Year’s, but making the same trip for Thanksgiving is just not worth the effort and cost. My first year, my friend Michael invited me to spend Thanksgiving with him in Anchorage. Last year, I returned to Anchorage for the same holiday, this time spending the long weekend with some fellow teachers from my district. When I thought originally thought about this Thanksgiving, I figured I’d be spending it once more in Anchorage, hopefully with D, the girl I met earlier this year. Or I’d see if Michael would host me again.

Of course, life often has a way of changing your plans. Between a new girlfriend for D and roommate drama for Michael, by September a trip to Anchorage sounded a lot less appealing. My mind also chimed in with memories of how each year previously I’ve gotten stuck overnight in the Hub on the way back to Nunap. So I figured, why not just stay in Nunap?

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one with this idea. Lucas and Andy have always spent the holiday in the village. So does Leigh, our second grade teacher. As for all of the new teachers, well, they make their own decisions. Somehow or other, by October it became clear that, with the exception of Jenny, all of us teachers had decided to spend the break in the village. Talk turned to how we’d celebrate the holiday. Lucas and Andy have always invited some of the other staff from our school to their holiday meal, and they wanted to continue this tradition. We all agreed that sounded great, but where could we gather? With teachers, staff, and family members, we were looking at about 25-30 people, too many for most of the teacher apartments. Then somebody suggested using the hallway at the building where Lucas and Andy and I live. We could put tables out there for both food and seating, and Lucas and Andy and I would also open up our apartments.

Thanksgiving morning brought the sounds of moving furniture as the three of us began setting things up. We maneuvered our dining room tables into the hall and added the table that lives out there to create one long surface. The couple of desks that normally sit at the end of the hallway (around here, any place can be used as storage) were pressed into duty as buffet tables. Vacuums ran, stoves and ovens heated up, and it wasn’t long before the whole building began to smell of cooking turkey and other goodies. As the morning went on, other staff members came by to drop off food and drinks, help with setting up, and even make use of oven space.

In all, we had probably close to 40 people at the meal. The buffet held not only things like turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie, but also things like pasta, dried fish, akutaq (sometimes referred to as Eskimo ice cream), and berry pies. Not enough chairs at the table meant some of us had a picnic on the floor, while others ate in Lucas and Andy’s apartment. Conversation flowed easily among most of us present. Topics ranged from the day’s football scores to the various Thanksgiving traditions from our families. (I breathed a quiet sigh of relief when I didn’t hear anyone start in on politics.) I spent quite a bit of time playing games with the kids, as well as visiting with my coworkers. I think one of my favorite memories from the day is when we decided to take a group picture: More than a few of us made goofy faces or put moose antlers on people, resulting in much laughter.

After the main meal was over, most of us headed up to the school to start preparations for the basketball tournament. Hosted as a fundraiser for the senior class, the tournament took place Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons. I spent five or six hours working the concession stand Thursday evening before returning home and collapsing into bed. Friday found me once more at the school, where I spent the morning entering grades and the afternoon and evening once again found me in the concession stand and taking a turn as hall monitor for the basketball tournament.

Saturday was spent reading, writing, and relaxing. Today I’m up at the school for my usual Sunday of writing lesson plans. Then it’s off to Lucas and Andy’s for the weekly pancake brunch. It doesn’t match the Thanksgiving holidays of past years, but I at least had the good fortune to spend it with good people.

In the two weeks since the results of the election were announced, I’ve been trying to put into words just how deeply the results have affected me. It seems only fitting that I find a bit of inspiration from the date. Today, 20 November, is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. This is day that trans communities around the world gather to memorialize those lost in the previous year, often times to hate crimes and suicide. The majority of these victims continue to be transwomen, particularly transwomen of color (TWOC). From January of June to this year alone, 166 trans and gender variant people were murdered, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring project.

I’ve written before how isolated my life can be, what I referred to as the “tundra bubble”. I’m one of a handful of non-Natives living in an Alaska Native village 27 miles from the nearest town. The only ways in or out are by bush plane (year round), boat (spring thaw until freeze up), or river taxi or snowmobile (freeze up until thaw). In addition to the geographic isolation, I am personally isolated further by my status as a transman. It’s a self-imposed isolation: I made the decision when I moved up here to live stealth because I didn’t know how the locals would react if they found out. (Based on my research, First Nations people often times were quite understanding of people like me, but a lot of things changed when the missionaries came, and religion plays a big part in the lives of the villagers.) Since I “pass” as a cisgender man (that is, a person passing me on the street doesn’t think I’ve ever been identified as anything other than a man), no one has ever had reason to question my gender identity. As far as the locals are concerned, I’m Mr. CJ, the third-grade teacher. They don’t see the barrier that exists between us, the tightrope that I walk on a daily basis to make sure that I don’t say or do something to out myself. After all this time, I doubt that there’s anyone here who dislikes me enough to make an issue out of my trans status, but you never know….

This bubble not only keeps things in, it also keeps things out. My students know that they live in Alaska, but are still struggling to grasp the concept that Alaska is only one part of the US. Most of my kids have been to the Hub, that town 27 miles away, and some as far as Anchorage. But beyond that? Nope. As far as they’re concerned, anything outside of Alaska may as well be happening on another planet. Now, I certainly didn’t know all about current events when I was their age. I only vaguely understood the importance of news reports on the TV or stories printed in the newspaper. While I’m sure there are TVs in most of the homes here, I know there isn’t a satellite hook-up in every one. (Cable TV doesn’t exist out here.) With one or two possible exceptions, families don’t have a home Internet connection. There’s only one newspaper, and it focuses predominantly on news and events a little closer to home. Heck, until midway through my first year here, there wasn’t even 3G service for cell phones in the villages!

Through the school, I’m connected to the Internet. Between that and my phone, I have a lifeline to the world beyond the bubble. On a daily basis, I can get in touch with friends and family through Facebook or e-mail. I can call my grandparents to say “hi”. I stay as active as I can in organizations I care about, mostly through signing online petitions and making donations to various groups. When I’m feeling especially isolated for whatever reason, I have a way to remind myself that the world doesn’t end at the horizon. This can be both a blessing and a curse. I make a point of following news from the US and around the world, so of course I see both the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

I followed this year’s election more closely than I ever have, because I knew just how much was at stake for my communities both physical and of the heart. The villages out here on the tundra are feeling the effects of climate change. Higher temperatures means rivers don’t freeze as solidly, or freeze and thaw more frequently, which can cause problems with transportation. It also affects the availability of fish and game, a large part of the still-predominantly subsistence lifestyle by which the locals live.

As for my community of the heart: Half of my family is Jewish. I have a large number of POC friends, and many, many relatives and friends who identify as part of the LGBTQ community. For more than a few of them, legislation like the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage were important steps in their fight to be recognized as human beings. Even with these major steps forward, there continue to be battles that must be fought, notable the wave of anti-transgender legislation (the so-called “bathroom bills”) that has been sweeping through the nation in recent years.

When the results of the election hit the news two weeks ago, I felt sick. And worried. And, for the first time in a long time, scared. The increased reports of hate crimes in the days since haven’t alleviated those feelings, either. I’m relatively safe here in the village, but what about when I travel home for the holidays? Yes, all of my ID has the correct gender marker on it, but just suppose? And what about my friends? Are they safe? How much harder will it be for them to get their ID changed if they haven’t already done so? What about everyone’s mental well-being? Calls to help lines like the Trans Lifeline spiked following the election, because everyone is suddenly that much more afraid.

And what about my students? How will all of this affect them? Thankfully, they’ve been spared the horrendous bullying that I’ve read about, but what about their futures? Will their way of life survive the next four years? Will they? (If that last question seems extreme, look up the suicide statistics for American Indians and Alaska Natives.)

So on this TDoR, I’m not only remembering those that lost their lives this year, but am also pledging to do my part to make sure that there aren’t more in the coming years. I’ve upped the amounts of my monthly donations to organizations like Trans LifeLine and the ACLU. I’m reading up on how to be an ally to anyone who might need my help, and how to do so in a way that will hopefully bring about a (relatively) peaceful resolution. I’m done sitting on the sidelines, done being afraid.

As a child, my parents made a point of taking me with them to the polls on Election Day. In the lobby of an empty school, three or four gigantic voting machines would be set up. Mom or Dad would greet the person working the front table, sign the book, and receive a piece of paper in return. The person at the table would always ask if I’d be accompanying them into the voting booth and remind them that I had to stand on their right side and not touch anything. Sometimes we’d have to wait for a booth to be available. Other times, we’d be led right away to an open booth. One of the volunteers would pull the curtain (I always thought those curtains were silly because they only went halfway to the floor) around us, and Mom or Dad would begin to vote. They’d look at the list, then reach up and pull one of the many little levers that covered the top half of the voting booth. Each lever made a distinctive mechanical click, which I thought sounded a bit like a typewriter. After double-checking their responses, they reach to their left and push the big button on that side (in my mind, I remember it as red, but I don’t know if that’s accurate). The whole machine would then make a series of clicks and then a much louder clunk, and that was it. Mom or Dad would pull back the curtain and pass their sheet of paper back to the person at the front table as we left.

As I got older, I stopped accompanying my parents to the polls. They still voted of course, and made a point of talking to my sister and I about the importance of this duty. It wasn’t until I was in high school, when George W. Bush was running for a second term, that their words began to really make sense. Yes, I was in high school, but I knew a lot of people who hoped Bush would not be successful in his campaign.

I voted for the first time via absentee ballot. I was a freshman at college, two hours away from home. Since it wasn’t a presidential election year, I didn’t do a whole lot of research prior to filling out the ballot. But fill it out I did, sitting in the campus center lobby so that I could mail it as soon as I finished.

Absentee voting continued to be a feature of my college years, both for the primaries and the main event. I remember filling out the ballots for the primaries and the election in 2008, and feeling amazed and proud when Obama was elected. I helped do that!

The first time I voted after college was a bit of a shock. I’d moved back home, but the old school that I remembered from my childhood was gone. Instead, the polls had moved to a local community building. Not only that, but the old mechanical voting booths had been replaced by sleek, small electronic voting machines. I was a little nervous that first time, because I’d only recently had my name changed, and my driver’s license still said “F”, and what if someone decided to cause problems for me? Fortunately, my fears proved unfounded.

About this time, I also made a concerted effort to become more politically aware. The legal hoops I’d begun jumping through as part of my Transition had opened my eyes in a big way to just how much the laws and policies of my community, state, and country affected me, and I finally fully grasped the lesson my parents had first started teaching me so long ago: You have a say in those laws and policies because you elect the people that make them.

Two years ago, I moved to Alaska, to a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. I voted by absentee ballot that first year, as I hadn’t yet succeeded in changing my registration. Since my second year, I’ve voted in person. Currently, the community uses the bingo hall as the polling place. I can literally walk there in about two minutes, as opposed to driving somewhere. In contrast to voting machines (electronic or mechanical), here we use paper ballots. No booths, just cardboard dividers set up on folding tables to offer a modicum of privacy. When you’re done, the ballot gets folded up and put in a cardboard box. I haven’t ever needed my ID because by the time I started voting here folks already knew me. As for voting while trans? None of the locals know my background, and all of my paperwork now reads “M”. No issues.

I’ve tried to continue my efforts to be a well-informed voter, but I do get lulled by the sense of isolation into thinking that things don’t affect me as much. Case in point: This year, I discovered the day before said events that Alaska uses caucuses to nominate Presidential candidates. These events take place in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. Here’s the catch: I live 400 miles WEST of Anchorage, and the only way to get there from here is via plane. If I’d known about things far enough in advance, I’d’ve made plans for a sub, bought my ticket, and been on my way. Sadly, this was not the case.

Woken up by that misstep, I worked extra hard in the run up to Election Day to remain informed on the candidates. Fortunately, in big election years such as this, all Alaska-registered voters get a booklet in the mail with information on most of the candidates running for the various offices, particularly their platforms. I studied the booklet, looked up information on-line, and knew exactly who I’d vote for when I went to the polls yesterday afternoon. Five minutes later, I was back outside with a shiny new “I Voted” sticker.

Two weeks ago I found an envelope in my school mail box from a 3rd grade class in Massachusetts. Inside was a letter from a student in that class, a questionnaire with information about Massachusetts in general and the class in particular, a blank questionnaire, and an invitation to participate in something called The Great Mail Race. The idea behind the race is for third grade students to learn about the 50 states by communicating with their peers around the country. After turning the idea over in my mind for a few days, I asked my students if they wanted to participate. They voted yes. The envelopes aren’t supposed to contain anything from the teachers aside from the instruction letters, but this is what I want to say to each classroom we communicate with.

Dear New Friends,

Greetings from Nunap, AK! Did you know that there are places in the USA with no roads? Well, our little village is one of them. The only ways in or out are by plane, boat, or snowmobile. Within the village, we walk on boardwalks. Some people drive four-wheelers, and many people use bicycles. We are surrounded by lakes, ponds, and rivers. In fact, one river cuts right through our village. In the warmer months, many students need to ride a boat to come to school. In the winter, they just walk on the ice.

I’m sorry if these letters are a little hard to read. All of the students in our class are English-language learners. At home, many of them speak Yup’ik, the language of their tribe. If you got a photocopied letter, please don’t be offended. I wish you could have seen how hard they worked to write just one letter by hand. In a larger class, each student would only need to write one or two letters. When there are only ten students in the entire third grade, however, everyone has to do a lot more work.

Actually, we only had 6 students this week, because the river is freezing up. This doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it can take many days. In the beginning, boats can still break through the ice, but it reaches a point where it’s too thick for that but not yet safe to walk on. When this happens, many students stay home from school. In fact, we sometimes have river days instead of snow days, because it’s not safe for anyone to cross.

But even with these differences, our class are third graders, just like you. They love to play outside. Most days, I can see several of them riding their bikes along the boardwalk. They enjoy playing basketball at recess. One of their favorite parts of the school day is when we take time to read, either by ourselves or with partners. When I suggested this project to them, I warned them that it would be a lot of work. They still said yes, because they love the idea of learning about other kids their own age.

Thanks for taking the time to be a part of this project. We hope to hear from you soon.

Your Friend,

Mr. CJ

A few days ago, an article popped up on my Facebook news feed: a group called the Binding Health Project just published the first study on chest binding to be carried by a medical journal (Culture, Health, and Society).  As I read through the article (which can be found here), I found myself immersed in memories of my own experiences.

As a youngling, my body didn’t offer too much in the way of dysphoric triggers. In my experience, society as a whole and my family in particular were more lax in what kids got to wear and how they acted. Several photos exist of me running around the family lake house as a toddler with the top of my one piece bathing suit pushed down around my waist, and I have strong memories of sitting by fires on the beach there in just shorts or pants.

Initially, I was in denial about the changes puberty brought to my body. I saw myself as a boy, and the idea that my body may be developing in a different way intensified the feelings of discomfort I was already experiencing. When I couldn’t deny the changes to my body any longer, I insisted on only buying sports bras. Through high school, my dysphoria and body image issues only continued to grow. The sports bras became both a blessing and a curse: Underneath my preferred t-shirt and vests or hoodies, the undergarments provided enough camouflage that I felt comfortable moving through the world, but at the same time the very name of the things reminded me that society saw me as a girl. I only wore a “regular” bra a handful of times, and never outside a dressing room or my own bedroom. To this day, even the memories of those few experiences bring an overwhelming feeling of disconnect between the mental and the physical, a dizziness that only increased when I’d contemplate wearing the things out in public.

College brought the opportunity to explore my identity and begin living authentically. No longer happy with the sports bras, I researched other means of binding my chest. For the immediate future, buying commercial binders was out of the question. Instead, I settled on using Ace bandages. Each morning I’d wrap the elasticized cloth around my torso, pinning the end in place with my arm as I secured the little clips. This method had its drawbacks: The bandages would roll around the edges, leading to an oddly lumpy silhouette. And while I joked that it forced me to breathe from the diaphragm, I would sometimes feel short of breath when exercising or playing trombone. I never had trouble following the so-called “eight hour rule”; by the time my classes had ended for the day, I was more than happy to return to my dorm room and ditch the bandages while lounging in a baggy t-shirt.

In the middle of my junior year, I finally bought several binders from Underworks, one of several companies that sells these items. After the constriction of the bandages, the binders brought a new feeling of freedom, both physical and psychological. Instead of a tight band around the center of my chest, the binders spread the compression out over my entire torso, which meant no more unsightly bulges. Even better, the garments looked like an undershirt, which meant I no longer had to worry about what would happen if someone caught a glimpse of one. Best of all, I no longer wore a bra, which marked me as a girl, or a bandage, which implied I was damaged in some way.

I wore binders for four years. While never as uncomfortable as the bras and bandages, I still had to deal with a near-constant feeling of over-heating, particularly in summer. After I started hormones and my body began changing, the binders gradually became even less amenable. Testosterone combined with my workout habits to begin reshaping my chest even without surgery, which lead to chafing around my armpits and shoulders. I also had the fun of learning how it feels when hair grows in underneath such tight garments. Not binding was never an option: I couldn’t bear the sight of my naked chest for more than a few moments at a time, and hated the weight that hung off my body without support. However, the idea of wearing binders for the rest of my life never held much appeal, either. Like so many others, I sought a more permanent solution in the form of top surgery.

Even though it’s been over four years since I last bound my chest, I still think about how that experience shaped me, both psychically and physically. I worry that the Ace bandages in particular re-shaped my ribs in some way, and wonder what the consequences of that will be further down the line. I also worry about my trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming siblings who resort to even more dangerous methods of binding themselves. I sincerely hope that the Binding Health Project continues their good work, and that that work influences how the medical community helps others like me.

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.

The middle of August has arrived, and I find myself immersed once more in the Tundra Bubble.

The Bubble is relatively large, incorporating not only Nunap but also the Hub and rest of the school district where I work. This gives the Bubble an area approximately the size of Ohio. I have yet to explore all of this space; the reality of travel in this place combined with a limited amount of things to do in each village means that I’m usually content to stay in Nunap and the surrounding environs. Those that love to hunt, trap, and fish have more reason to travel from place to place, as different game can be found on the coast as opposed to inland. Likewise, the locals who grew up in a different village will frequently travel to visit their families. Neither of these descriptions apply to me, however. I typically travel only when chaperoning school sports teams or for required in-service meetings at the Hub. Sometimes I go up river to visit friends at the school in the next village. For the most part, though, once school starts my world effectively shrinks to a radius of about thirty miles.

Back in the mid-Atlantic states, thirty miles can have quite a lot to do, especially if it includes a major city like the one where I grew up. There’s the zoo, at least seven different museums, opportunities to see live theatre productions, malls, stores, restaurants, movies, libraries, and numerous other opportunities. And transportation isn’t too complicated: If I want to get somewhere, I have my car. When I lived in the city, my apartment sat near at least eight bus routes that could take me just about anywhere in the city if I didn’t feel like driving or didn’t want to bother with parking. I could also walk to a variety of places.

Thirty miles in the Tundra Bubble, however, is quite different. With transportation limited to plane, boat, four-wheeler, or snowmobile, getting someplace can be a challenge. Then there’s the fact that most of these villages started as seasonal gathering places for Alaska Natives; even today, many families in Nunap head for their traditional fish camps from May through August. The Hub, being an actual town, has roads, cars, a few restaurants, several stores, even a small museum and nature center. But most of the villages are lucky to have one general store and a post office.

During the school year, I’ve found that the world beyond the Bubble takes on a sort of dream-like quality. I’m still aware of what’s going on, thanks to the Internet, letters from home, and phone calls. But the distance lends a softness, I guess you could call it, to things that don’t happen right here.

This distance makes for some interesting, and in some situations startling, observations. One of the first things I noticed when I moved up here is that, while Alaska is technically part of the US, many times it get treated like a separate entity. Nowhere is this more apparent than when shopping online from a retailer like Amazon. While Amazon itself has no problem shipping things to Nunap, quite a large number of third-party sellers on the site throw Alaska under the heading of “international shipping”, which means that they either won’t ship or will charge an arm and a leg.

Something else I quickly learned is that when most people hear the word “Alaska” they think of Anchorage and its surrounding area: someplace not all that different from smaller metropolitan areas in the Lower 48, aside from the occasional moose wandering through and the extreme daylight differences. They picture the mountains, and a cooler temperature, and scenic lakes and rivers and wildlife, and roads. You know, where services like UPS and FedEx can quickly reach you. I’ve had more than a few phone conversations with customer service reps about why it’s really easier for me if they ship care of the USPS (while we do get UPS and FedEx in Nunap, it can take two or three times longer than the post office), and when I explain that there aren’t any roads where I live you can almost hear their minds screeching to a halt.

This lack of awareness goes both directions. While I can’t pinpoint exactly when I truly comprehended just how big the U.S. is, I do know that by the time I entered third grade I understood that Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut were all part of the same country. In contrast, I can only think of two kids in my current class for whom the names of other states aren’t some near-mythical place, and that my stories of traveling during the summer aren’t just a fantasy. Given that many of the kids in our school rarely travel beyond other villages or the Hub, I can’t say that I’m too surprised.

The Tundra Bubble also resides in my mind, in that I don’t really expect much to change when I’m gone for the holidays or for summer break. I know that I’ll still see many familiar faces when I go to the store or the post office, no matter the time of year. I can count on certain kids tagging around after me anytime I’m outside. Even the new faces at the school each fall are to be expected, as is the feeling of hiding a part of me until I know them better. This mental bubble can be pierced, as when I returned this fall and noticed that the one church (which sits between my apartment and the school) had collapsed. But for the most part it’s the lens through which I view life here. Life in the Tundra Bubble is separate from life outside, and for the next few months, I’m back on the inside.