Skip navigation

Category Archives: the Village

ugly-girlChantel Snyder, my local nemesis. She was one of the first children to speak to and interact with me. I remember like it was yesterday… only a day or two after I arrived in the village, she and her band of ruffians had been cruising the board walk on their bikes. They kept their distance, measuring me up from afar. Finally, leaving her minions stationed, probably for swift retreat or as some diversion, hoping I would remain fixed on the larger party, she approached deliberately and directly on that little, pink bike. Only feet from where I was standing, minding my own business, taking photos of the geography, she suddenly veered, tires screeching. “Hello,” I’m sure I offered. She gave me one hard look then screamed, “Ugly boy!” I recall distant laughter and this girl, her name unbeknownst to me, turning her head back and jutting her tongue out at me, as she rode back toward her chortling cohorts .      More recent encounters begin with side glances and restrained grins, then a stream of vicious barbs, all started by her, of course. “Ugly fat head!” – “Ha! I’ve seen gnomes with more prominent noses!”,  “Ears like a moose!” –  “I was never as short as you.”,  “Icky breath!” – “Insults from those with such an affinity for pastels weigh nothing!”, “Stingy!” – “Ha! You don’t even know what that means!” – “Means you don’t share!” – “Touche Chantel, touche.” Smiles are exchanged, and like two noble samurai on a single path, we part ways, silhouettes fading into the fog…only to surely meet again, in a similar and equally ridiculous competition.


Wishing you all a happy holiday from Kwigillingok. We’ve had -30 something temperatures for the last couple of weeks – many thanks to the consistent 40-50mph winds.

Rumors, coupled with the dark cloud looming on the horizon, suggests an approaching weather system…a.k.a blizzard. I’m suddenly feeling more optimistic about grading all the papers I collected before the break.

Here’s a tidbit about the Alaskan tundra…it’s freakin’ freezing…yet beautiful…

So, on Decem…my mistake, on Novemb…oh, right, on October 9th, 2008, we here in Kwigillingok experienced our first snow of the season. Having lived in Washington state, I have witnessed some early snow falls, but I’m certain I have rarely, if ever, noted snow before late October/early November. Even then the snow was a fluke and lasted no more than a day or two before melting away into obscurity. The snow that fell, back on October 9th, yeah, it’s still here. In fact, the 4 or 5 inches that fell is frozen solid and every few days or so we get a fresh dusting.

Forgive the dark photo, it was almost 9 a.m.

Forgive the dark photo, it was almost 9 a.m.

How cold could it be? That was your question, right? Around the first snow we recorded 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Since then, the consistent temperature hovers (not to imply hot air has to do with anything) around 20 F. We have had a few days with a wind chill of 3 F. I’m sure not to mention this too often, or else the natives guffaw and remind me the wind doesn’t count. Sure, tell that to my hypothermic digits – I had to take my hands out of my pockets to unlock my door – foolish,  thin blooded me. 

   I had a bona fide tundra experience yesterday; actually, I should say i experienced the tundra. I joined two students in “buktoqing” – I don’t know if that’s the actual spelling, but that’s how it sounds. Ultimately, we went bird hunting. However, in order to do this, in the tundra, which at this point in the year is a million little lakes and streams with patches of land in between, is buktoqing. The most efficient way to travel over such terrain is to haul a canoe over the land then, when you come to a waterway, throw the canoe down and row until you hit another patch of land.

I had the fortune of going with a couple of adventurers and they set out to cover as much territory as we could in the ten hours the daylight allowed us. At one point, they consulted a map, looked at me, back to the map, then out over the horizon. Finally I asked, “are we off the map?” Ken replied, “we are very much, “off the map”.” It was my first time hunting, so that was, enlightening. I did shoot one Canadian goose, even fetched it myself. My catch was also to be my payment to my host, for transport, ammo, etc. His mother had a warm meal waiting for us upon our return. She personally thanked me, in Yup’ik (quyana), for the goose – which is a blessing for the family, since most still practice subsistence living; but a chore for her since cleaning the catch is a woman’s responsibility. I learned this last fact after inquiring with my hunting host on how to clean the birds. He went into great detail the process, then when i asked if he would instruct me he promptly explained his mother cleans the catch and in such a tone i understood the discussion on that topic was over.

I have already been invited to next week’s hunt – i am undecided. 

Since the village is amidst the tundra, which turns to marsh in the warmer months, boardwalks connect every building and niche to the other. This circulatory system of wooden paths has only a few main walks, just wide enough to allow two passing four-wheelers. All other peripherals are as wide to permit one four-wheeler. Most students and children get around by-cycle. <–Huh? Ahh, yes. (fist pump)

about Kwig is, like any of the tundra villages, everything: food, lumber, supplies of any kind, must be brought in by bush-plane (Cessna), this is most stock (food, mail, etc.) or via barge or water vessel (large items, i.e. furniture, construction materials, etc). Due to the distance and specialty of the transport, shipping costs are considerable. This causes two effects. First, you can pay upwards of $9.85 for a box of Cheez-Its, albeit a large box (20 oz. or so) but surely you must understand the plight of anyone, such as myself, struck with any kind of sweet or processed oriented craving. The second result of exorbitant shipping costs is no one wants to pay for flying or shipping anything out – even if it’s lost utility or becomes irreparable. This has led to mounds, even entire hills of junk. 

I am not sure if it is this monetary wary mentality that has bred an inconsideration for trash containment, but parts of the villages, those accruing major traffic, suffer from litter. 

next to b-ball court

next to b-ball court

 One elder used the term “spoiled” to describe the youth in reference to the litter, which can be seen just off the boardwalk anywhere in the village.

Strange skies for two nights in a row – Checkout the pictures. I finished washing my dishes at the school and noticed the sky on my way to the cabin; it was about dusk and it just got stranger.

I thought it was the reckoning, but prettier, I’m guessing.

More shots of Kwigillingok. Hey, Suburbia, Kwigillingok.

Berry picking is a tradition in Kwig. Salmon berries, unique to the tundra, grow all over the ground, somewhat like strawberries. The residents dedicate  much time to foraging, much like the men do during hunting season (fowl, seal and walrus). The Yup’ik make a dessert with mashed berries, Crisco and sugar. It’s, ah, really sweet. But you can eat it frozen or tepid.