Monday, March 31, 2008

Con: Hauling Our Own Garbage

I hope everybody out there is grateful for waste disposal services. Shishmaref offers no waste disposal (except of the anuq variety; see here). Garbage day is something we look back on with fond memories. It was so easy when we only had to haul the trash to the curb...

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Now, we haul our trash to the dump about one mile out of town. This could be a problem because we don't own a vehicle (the main modes of transportation are snow machine and four wheeler). Luckily, the school owns a truck, a four wheeler, and a snow machine, and they trust us to operate all three. The above picture is of Steve proudly posing on the school's four wheeler (commonly called a Honda, regardless of the actual brand). (Note: despite the strange position of Steve's eyelids in this picture, he was not, nor has he ever been, stoned.)


This is the dump in all it's glory. Actually, this is only a very small fraction of the dump. Imagine this picture multiplied by about sixty and surrounding you. Yeah, it's pretty gross. I am glad it is always cold around here, or the smell would knock out small animals and children.


If you are polite, after you dump your trash, you light it on fire. This is a picture of me doing my best to exercise good dump etiquette by lighting our box o' garbage on fire. What this picture doesn't show is the strong wind that was blowing, making extremely difficult to light a match for more that .5 seconds. (Apparently Steve had a lot of experiences lighting matches in his childhood. I, however, was raised in a home where playing with fire was bad.) View From the North can't exactly remember if I got the fire started or not. VFN consulted Steve, but he only shrugged. The task may have been turned over to a more able member of the dump expedition.

(Note to gentle readers: this is the only time I have personally been to the dump. It was almost three years ago. I only went because I thought that it would be a good picture taking opportunity. The rest of our waste disposal has been handled by my very strong and good-looking husband. Thank you.)


Once the garbage catches on fire, you wait long enough to determine that the rubbish will in fact burn and not blow out after a measly thirty seconds. If you are really lucky, you will find a fire that somebody else started, and you can just toss on your trash and go.


We stayed long enough this first time to watch our garbage burn almost completely (the novelty of that wore off real fast). As evidenced by the massive piles of trash behind our small pile of ashes, not everybody makes an effort to burn their trash, which is rude. In their defense, trash like empty pop cans (produced by the thousands in Shishmaref) doesn't burn very well. Also, it can sometimes be hard to start fires in the snow. VFN refuses to judge those who drop and dash without burning.

Steve and I (but mostly Steve) look forward to the day when somebody else will haul our trash away for us. We also look forward to the day when taking out the trash doesn't require snow boots, gloves, and earmuffs.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fun Fact: Church By Phone

Steve and I are members of the Alaska Anchorage Bush District.

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Here is a screenshot of the District Home Page to prove it actually exists. If you can't read the writing on the picture, you can click on it for a larger version or check out the original homepage here. The district is made up of seven branches located across western Alaska. Six of the branches are in "larger" communities: Nome (population 3,000), Kotzebue (population 6,000), Bethel (population 6,000), Naknek (population 678), Dillingham (population 4,000), and Dutch Harbor (population 2,500).

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We are in the seventh branch: the Anchorage Alaska Bush Branch. It encompasses all of the villages in western Alaska that do not have their own branch (again, I am including a screenshot to prove that the branch does, in fact, exist; you can see the original homepage here).

The members of our branch are scattered across hundreds of miles, and most of us have never met face to face. Most of the members are teachers or principals (or married to teachers or principals). Our branch president, his first counselor, and the ward clerk/executive secretary live in Anchorage. The rest of the leadership positions are filled my members living in little villages. Our branch has a conference line which we use to hold all of our meetings (the first year we had to use our calling cards to call it. General Conference weekend killed us financially. The last two years they've switched to a toll-free number. That's been really nice). About thirty five people call in for Sunday meetings.

A typical Sunday schedule looks like this:

7:50 am- I roll out of bed, put on a dress (I usually wear jammie pants underneath my dress because it's cold), grab my Relief Society binder, and position myself on the couch.

8:00 am- Ward Council

8:45 am- I go back to bed, and Steve gets up.

9:00 am- Priesthood (we only have one young man in the branch, so he meets with the Priesthood and even teaches the lesson one week a month).

9:40 am- Priesthood ends and Steve prepares the Sacrament.

9:59 am- I roll out of bed again and resume my position on the couch.

10:00 am- Sacrament Meeting (they put the conference call on silence mode for about five minutes to allow families to bless the Sacrament in their individual homes). Members of the branch give talks over the phone. Sometimes we have "visiting speakers" from other places. The third Sunday of the month is High Council Sunday, and our High Councilmen call our conference line from wherever they are.

11:00 am- Sunday School. We have two Gospel Doctrine teachers. They alternate teaching responsibilities every week.

11:40am- Relief Society. Steve usually takes a nap or eats something during this time.

There are about eighteen Primary children in the branch. All of their moms have been formally called as Primary teachers, and they hold primary in their homes.

During church, we spend a significant portion of time having conversations like this:

Sunday School President: Sister Smith, can you say the opening prayer?

Sister Smith: (silence)

Sunday School President: Sister Smith, are you there?

Sister Smith: (silence)

Sunday School President: Sister Smith?

Sister Smith: Sorry! I forgot to take the phone off mute!

(This is a very common problem. All families mute their phones so that the branch can't hear crying children, noisy heaters, oven timers, etc. It's really easy to forget to turn off mute before you speak. I once bore my entire testimony before realizing that instead of pushing the mute button, I had hung up.)

Here is another common conversation during Sunday School:

Sunday School Teacher: (Asks any lesson-related questions)

Sister A, Brother B, and Sister C: (answering simultaneously) "I think that... I've noticed... I'll answer..."

Sister A: Oh, hahaha, Brother B. , you go ahead.

Brother B. and Sister C: (answering simultaneously) "As I was saying... I was just going to mention..."

Brother B. and Sister C: (again simultaneously) "You go ahead..."

You get the idea. It's a little tricky to elicit participation when you can't see people raising their hands and call on them individually. This awkwardness is further complicated by the fact that each of us experiences phone delay at a different rate. Sometimes when you ask a question, it's a few seconds before the person on the other end hears it. Then, they take a few seconds to respond, and there's a few second delay before the teacher hears their answer. This can make for some interesting silent pauses, but you get used to it.

Despite the often awkward communication, we've been able to develop some good relationships with members in our branch. After talking to them every week for almost three years, Steve and I consider some of them good friends. The meetings are often very spiritual, and there's a very positive vibe during most meetings.

Fun facts about our branch:
  • our branch is almost seasonal. Almost all of the teachers/principals and their families go downstates for summer break, leaving only a handful of members
  • last summer the entire Relief Society Presidency and Elders Quorum Presidency left for the summer, so other members of the branch had to take over their responsibilities
  • I do most of my visiting teaching by e-mail or handwritten letter. Visiting teachers are assigned according to communication preference (phone talkers are matched with phone talkers, e-mailers are matched with e-mailers, and letter writers are matched with letter writers)
  • I have met the branch president and five sisters from the Relief Society. That's it. I could run into fellow branch members at Wal-Mart, and I would never even know it. (Steve once attended an education conference and was in a several day long session with one of the sisters in our branch and didn't even know it. We found out later when I was talking to her on the phone.)
  • I have exchanged pictures with a handful of sisters in the branch. Most people do not look anything like how I pictured them in my head. The first counselor in the branch presidency, however, matches his voice exactly. I've been told that my face matches my voice too (I hope that's a good thing).
  • I have discovered I have ultrasonic hearing. I can hear things on the conference line that nobody else can. I am regularly clarifying things for the rest of the branch when somebody has a bad connection and can hardly be heard ("President, I think Sister Smith said they have five people with them today, not a hive of people.")
  • I also have discovered that I have an uncanny ability for voice distinction. I can recognize who is speaking and remember where they are from within the first few seconds of their comments.
  • The General Primary President "attended" our branch Primary Presentation last year.
  • The first counselor in the General Young Men's Presidency was a speaker for one of our firesides. He also happens to be Steve's former Mission President, so Steve e-mailed him and asked him if he would speak. President Burgess (super fantabulous guy, by the way) and his wife (equally fantabulous sister) called in from their home in Sandy, Utah.
  • I am the first Relief Society President in the branch to serve from within the branch. In the past they have always called a sister from Anchorage, or another town, to fill the calling. Our last branch president decided he wanted the branch to be self-sustaining, so he called a sister from a village (me) to the position. My entire presidency is also from small villages. We feel like pioneers.
  • I have never met my counselors. I talk to them every week during our Presidency Meetings on our conference line. My secretary teaches in our school district. I see her twice a year at district inservice meetings.

I have many more humorous and interesting church anecdotes, but this post is already amazingly long. Look for more information in View From the North's next installment of Fun Fact: Church By Phone.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fun Fact: Eskimo Food

Living in Shishmaref has exposed us to all sorts of culinary delights. I have eaten things I never dreamed existed. Steve, however, has been a little more cautious (he always brags about all the crazy stuff he ate on his mission in Brazil, but he can't handle a few marine mammals. Weakling). I thought I would introduce you to a few of the common Shishmaref delicacies.

Walrus. (Thank you U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for sharing this picture on Wikipedia here.)

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This is what walrus meat looks like when the walrus is no longer alive. The walrus fat is called koq (pronounced "coke"; my Inupiaq spelling is pretty poor, f.y.i.).

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These are walrus flippers. They usually bury the flippers until they ferment. I've never actually eaten fermented walrus flippers, but I have eaten fermented seal flippers. They are really chewy. I chewed each bite for about twenty minutes. :) It had a strong flavor, but it wasn't bad. The knives around the flippers are called ulus. Ulu means woman's knife. It is the traditional knife for butchering and scraping. We have an ulu. It is the best knife ever. I use it to cut all of our meat, chop vegetables, and as a pizza slicer.


Seals. (Thank you to Wordless Symbol who shared this great underwater picture with the greater online community at Wikipedia here.) This is a common seal. The people of Shishmaref also use bearded seals (ugruk) and spotted seals.

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This is a seal before being butchered. If it looks a little stiff it's because it's frozen. And also dead.

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This is what the inside of a seal looks like as the skin is being pulled away. Notice the paw in the bottom left corner. It looks kind of cute except for the claws. They're long. And sharp.


This is seal without the skin. The dark part is the meat, and the white part is the blubber. The meat is baked or dried (dried meat dipped in seal oil is called pinaluq (remember what I said about my Inupiaq spelling...)). Seal meat is interesting... It has a texture like beef, but it tastes like fish. My tongue is confused whenever I eat it. :) My favorite way to eat seal is baked with barbecue sauce. (I'm serious, I actually eat it with barbecue sauce.)

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After the meat is removed, the blubber is scraped off. Then the skin is dried, tanned, and ready to be sewn.


Caribou. (Shout out to Dean Biggins of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who was cool enough to allow use of his picture at Wikipedia here.)

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This is raw caribou meat. It can be butchered into roasts, steaks, ribs, and pretty much any other cut of meat.

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These are caribou ribs. Some of my students butchered them during Inupiaq days our first year here. Caribou is awesome! It tastes a lot like beef. Great flavor. Steve thinks it's a little greasy, but I don't mind it.

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Caribou is often made into stew. Caribou stew is served at all village potlucks. This bowl is from the Thanksgiving feast. (I apologize for the insanely blurry picture. It was taken in the days before I had a decent camera.) The stew often includes corn on the cob, stewed tomatoes, and spaghetti noodles.

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This is maktak. (I actually looked up how to spell this word. I thought it was muqtuq or muktuk, but I guess I was wrong. Or the website is wrong. I don't really know.) Maktak (muqtuq, muktuk) is whale skin and whale blubber cut into little slices. We don't see this very often because we're not a whaling village, but it is occasionally flown in from other villages. I haven't actually tried this, but I want to. Maybe I'll offer to trade somebody some muktuk (muqtuq, muktuk) for some funeral potatoes or something (that's the closest thing I can think of to an exotic food from Idaho)...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pro: Beautiful Sunsets

Flames of Sunset on a Passionate Blue

I love Shishmaref Sunsets. There's something about a northern sky aflame with colors that's absolutely gorgeous. I took this picture a few nights ago. Steve was out, and he came in to tell me about the sunset (he knows I love them and love to take pictures of them; what a nice guy). He was even a good enough sport to pose in the picture for me so I could have a dramatic silhouette.


My favorite sunsets are the ones that happen over water. Unfortunately for me, those sunsets only happen a few months a year. When we get to Shishmaref in August, the weather is warm (by warm, I mean fifty degrees). One of my favorite things to do is sit on the rocks by the water and watch the sunset.


Another neat thing about sunsets and sunrises in Shishmaref is that they happen at funny times. During the winter we only get a few hours of light a day. Sometimes the sun rises at about noon and sets a few hours later, so it's possible to see both the sunset and the sunrise in the same day from my classroom windows.

Who could ask for anything more?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reptiles Invade Shishmaref

Because we're so isolated, kids don't often have a chance to go on typical field trips. Luckily, our principal is pretty good about arranging for groups and organizations to come to the school. We had one of those "Reverse Field Trips" today.

The Anchorage Imaginarium brought an assortment of reptiles. Steve and I were placing bets on how many cold-blooded animals would die on their way up here, but they all survived (fortunate for the reptiles but unfortunate for Steve and I who both wagered otherwise*...). I guess the cages have heaters in them (that seems like cheating).


They brought a snake. They told us what kind of snake it was, but I don't remember. I guess I was a little more interested in taking picture than I was in listening. Oops. Mr. Snake (I guess it could have been Mrs. Snake or Ms. Snake; I wasn't that close) was a little freaked out, so he only wrapped itself around the arm of its Imaginarium friend. Even when they put him on the floor he stayed all curled up.


They also brought a lizard. Or an iguana. Or..... (Hmmmm... I'll have to remember how hard it is to pay attention next time I'm scolding kids for not listening to me.) (Formatting note: I made the above picture small because blogger keeps cutting off the right side of the horizontal pictures. If any of my professional blogging friends know how to fix this, please let me know. Thank you.)


They let the lizard crawl around on the gym floor. I was lying on the ground taking pictures, and the lizard got close enough to me that the kids started shrieking. (For the record, I was only mildly concerned about the proximity.)


This little turtle was pretty cute. The Imaginarium guys tried to get him to eat some lettuce, but he was uninterested.


Mr. Turtle might not have been interested in lettuce, but he was very interested in the yummy worms. He ate the entire worm in about a minute. It was funny.


One of the best parts of the day was watching the kids watch the animals. They loved it. It was probably the first time most of them had ever seen reptiles.


The Imaginarium guys were great with the kids and the community. They let the kids have plenty of time with the animals. All in all, it was a successful event. No reptiles froze, no little kids ran away screaming, and everybody had a lot of fun.

*No members of the Alston family actually placed bets.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How To Survive: Shop a Year at a Time

Here's introducing another new series here at View From the North: How to Survive. In this series, I will describe the things Steve and I have learned that help us survive here in the frozen north. I will start with one of the most important things we've learned: shop a year at a time.

Before we first came up to Shishmaref, Steve and I were fortunate enough to get a letter from Shishmaref veteran teacher Linda Beyer (one of my teaching heroes). She explained that one of the secrets to success was stopping in Anchorage on our way up to Shishmaref, buying groceries at a (more) reasonable price, and mailing them up to the village at the government subsidized shipping rates.

I am so grateful Linda gave us that advice. We never would have survived. Part of our journey back to Alaska includes a couple of days at Sam's Club and Wal-Mart stocking up on necessities.

Our Sam's Club Purchases

You can see from the picture above that "necessities" means pop-tarts, spaghetti sauce, salsa, and toilet paper. This is our load of purchases from our last trip to Sam's Club.

Macho Man

(Sometimes Steve gets a little excited about spaghetti sauce.)

There's Nothing Like Spending $800 in One Grocery Shopping Trip...

This kind of shopping is a little bit expensive up front, but we don't even bat our eyes anymore. Keep in mind that this was only our first trip of the day to Sam's Club (before we bought all our meat and perishables) and didn't include our trip to Wal-Mart (where we bought such necessities as ninety tubes of chapstick, canned mandarin oranges, and multiple boxes of Nyquil and DayQuil).

My Fruit

After purchasing our groceries, empty boxes, packing tape, and sharpies, we head to the 24-hour post office. We pack boxes in the post office parking lot (making sure they don't go over 70 lbs, or they make you pack them over...), and mail them to our Shishmaref address. (The above is a portion of my annual supply of mandarin oranges. Sometimes they're the only thing standing between me and scurvy...)


After three years we have almost perfected our shopping and packing routine The first year we seriously overestimated the amount of canned chicken and cream of chicken soup we use in a year and ended up sick of eating the same things for dinner. We've learned to add a little variety to our shopping (and plenty of snacks).

We will never again have as good of a year's supply as we do now. We are totally prepped for any major disaster. If we are ever stranded in Shishmaref, not only will be be able to eat well, we will be able to feed the entire village with cream of mushroom canned chicken green bean casserole.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Con: Lack of Plumbing

One of the biggest cons about living in Shishmaref is the lack of indoor plumbing. Yes that's right, Shishmaref has no central sewer system. The school has flush toilets and running water, but the houses don't. We are lucky enough that our little house is close enough to the school that our sink and shower are hooked into the pipes. Our toilet, however, is not.


This was our first toilet, the Incinolet. It had a little oven at the bottom. We lined the top compartment with a paper liner. The little black foot petal on the bottom right would drop the liner, and any accompanying waste, into the oven, where it would be burned to ashes.

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This picture is blurry, but it's a closeup of the Incinolet logo. It's an outhouse being struck by a bolt of lightning. Nice. If that doesn't make you want to own one, I don't know what will... We didn't really like the incinolet for the following reasons:

  • it burned a really nasty smoke
  • the smoke left our bathroom via a chimney, alerting the entire village every time we used the restroom
  • Steve hated cleaning the ashtray out

After a few months, we switched to the preferred toilet model around Shishmaref: the honey bucket.


This is a honey bucket cover. Yes, it is a plywood box with a toilet seat attached. Underneath is the actual honey bucket (in order to preserve this blog's G-rating, I chose not to post pictures of the honey bucket). It is literally a five gallon bucket lined with a black garbage bag. (If you look in the upper right hand portion of the above picture, you can see the step-aerobic steps and weights I never use...)

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When the honey bucket is full, Steve takes it to a dumping container much like the one pictured above. The garbage bag full of waste is deposited in the big metal container. When the container is full, somebody calls the city. The city sends the Anuq Men (anuq is Inupiaq for poo). They come with a big vacuum contraption that gets rid of the waste. I have no idea where it goes from there.

Most people are absolutely disgusted and shocked when they hear about our plumbing situation. It's actually not that bad for the following reasons:

  • Our bathroom is not heated. That makes for some very fast late night visits, but it also prevents any smell normally associated with waste disposal
  • Steve always takes the honey bucket out. I've only done it once, and it was to prove to him that I could do it if I wanted to. (I simply don't. Steve doesn't want to do the taxes. I think it's a fair trade.)
Our plumbing situation definitely took some getting used to, but I rarely think about it anymore. At worst, it is mildly annoying.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Thoughts and The Saga of Grandma Plant

Happy Easter!!!!! Here is my picture in honor of this holiday:


I originally named this picture "Ixuvik," which is Inupiaq for grave, but Steve said this picture reminds him of the morning of the Resurrection. So, that's it's honorary title. This is a picture of the Shishmaref Cemetery. I took it last month when I was out with my ski team. I liked it because, although it's obviously a picture of a graveyard, the picture still looks happy. There's a peace and serenity in the picture, and that's how we should feel when we think of death, thanks to Christ's marvelous Atonement. The sun and light in this picture also remind me of the glory of the resurrection.

Easter is the perfect day to share with my gentle readers the Saga of Grandma Plant... My dad's mother passed away in 2004. I miss her very much, and it really bothers me that she never had a chance to meet Steve. I was blessed enough to get to be with her right before her death, but Steve didn't make that trip with me (we weren't married yet).

After Grandma died, my dad adopted her houseplants. He keeps them in his office, and they've really thrived under his care. At a family reunion last summer, Dad made cuttings available for anyone who wanted to raise Grandma Plants of their own. I was thrilled at the idea of having a living connection to the woman that I miss so dearly, so I took one.

I took care of my Grandma Plant very diligently the rest of the summer. I watered it, and put it in our window to get the most sun possible. I even talked to it (I heard that's supposed to be good for plants...). It felt really good to have something of Grandma's to take care of. It was like I was continuing what she started.

On our way back to Alaska in August, amid juggling stuffed suitcases and as many carry-ons as possible, I left Grandma Plant in my mother-in-law's car. She told me later that my father-in-law wandered around the Seattle airport for thirty minutes trying to find me and give me the plant.

I cried when I realized I left it, but my mother-in-law promised she would take good care of it. She kept her promise. Grandma Plant had a place of honor on her window sill, and she called it by name and sang to it. (Lest you think that Alston women are crazy because they talk and sing to plants, I want you to check out MythBusters episode #23 here that proves that it is entirely plausible that talking to plants helps them grow. Besides, if Alston women are in fact "crazy," it has nothing to do with the plants they talk to and everything to do with the men they married. Thank you.)

Steve and I were in Seattle for New Year's Day and, I brought the Grandma Plant to Alaska. The Nome "Airport" is kind of a misnomer. It's really a building next to a runway. They push a big staircase up next to the plane, and you walk down, across the runway and into the "airport." It was bitterly cold and super windy when we stepped off the plane. I sheltered the plant the best I could with my gloved hand, but it wasn't enough. The leaves were drooping as soon as I got into the airport.

We had to do the same walk-from-a-building-onto-the-plane-while-being-completely-exposed-
to-the-elements thing when we got on the bush plane to come to Shishmaref. I went so far as to stuff Grandma Plant under my coat, but the damage was done. Grandma Plant arrived in its new home with blackened leaves.

I was really disappointed that my connection to my grandmother was dying. I tried to nurse the plant back to health, but the leaves still withered more and more. I called my dad to see what he suggested. He told me that I could just get another cutting when I visited in the summer. I didn't want ANOTHER cutting, I wanted THIS cutting. I refused to give up. I watered it diligently and left the lights on each day so it didn't have to sit in the dark. When the sun came out again, I put it in the window for a while every day.

Finally, a new leaf sprouted! A beautiful, perfect, healthy, green shiny leaf. I rejoiced. I hugged Steve. I was grateful I hadn't thrown the plant out. The leaf is almost healthy enough to be transplanted out of the red beverage cup it came in and into the new planter I bought for it back in August.

Life came out of what was once a forsaken plant. This is a picture of the new leaf:

Grandma Plant

I think it is a perfect image to celebrate Easter. Life triumphs over death. The Grandma Plant sprouts a new leaf, and Grandma will live again.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Introduction to Shishmaref


Shishmaref is a village on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea off of the Seward Peninsula. (Thank you Linda Beyer for: taking this awesome picture, sharing this awesome picture, being an awesome person and teacher, and providing me with a model to emulate in my classroom and my life.) You may not be able to tell from the above picture that the village is on an island because everything, including the surrounding water, is covered in snow, but, trust me, it is definitely an island. The reason the houses and buildings are all close together in a teeny tiny strip is because that's about the size of the teeny tiny sandbar they're built upon. Sarichef Island is a barrier island. I've heard measurements for our island are about 2.5 miles by .5 miles, but I haven't actually used an odometer to verify those measurements.

This is a Satellite Image from Google Maps to prove that Shishmaref is, in fact, on an island:

View Larger Map

This satellite image shows how far we are from the mainland:

View Larger Map

This map shows the approximate location of Shishmaref:


(Many thanks to Seth Ilys for creating this map and posting it here on Wikimedia Commons for all the world to legally share and appreciate.) As you can see, Shishmaref is very far away from better known locations in Alaska like "Anchorage," "Juneau," and "Fairbanks." There are no roads that lead to Shishmaref. You can only get to Shishmaref by snowmachine (in the winter), boat (in the summer), or airplane (preferred option for Steve and me).

Bush Airplane

This is a typical bush airplane used for travel between villages in our region. There is one airline that flies between Shishmaref and Nome (our thriving Metropolis hub) three times every weekday, twice on Saturdays, and once on Sundays. The flights carry passengers, freight, and mail (on our first flight into Shishmaref, Steve and I sat next to cases of top ramen and chips).

Census 2000 Information indicates that there are 562 people in Shishmaref. I'd say a more accurate estimation now is about 600-650 (we have huge (for here) lower elementary classes and lots of babies). There are about 180 kids in our K-12 school. Most of the older grades have about ten students in each graduating class (some bigger, some smaller). The upcoming classes are about twice as big.

You may be wondering how Steve and I ended up on this island, but that's a story for another post... :)

Fun Fact: Dead Animals

I decided to start a new series of posts here at VFN. This one is completely original and not a cheap imitation of Jaz's American Dresdner. :) The title of this series is "Fun Facts." It will be a collection of interesting (and fun) facts about Shishmaref that do not necessarily fit into the "Pro" or "Con" category.

The first fun fact is that there are lots of dead animal skins in various places around our village. Most of the people here hunt. A lot. They eat traditional foods and use the skins to make traditional clothing (more on traditional clothing in an upcoming post....I bet you're excited...). As such, there are frequently dead animal remains in prominent places.

This was shocking to me at first. I might have grown up in Idaho, but my none of my immediate family members were hunters (I do remember that one year my parents let one of their friends hang a deer in our garage, the thought of it still creeps me out to this day). So, I've pretty much avoided dead animals in any form other than pre- butchered, wrapped in cellophane, and sold at Albertson's.

It took a little adjusting to be able to walk around the village and not gawk or gag at the sight of various carcasses and/or remains. But, it's become so commonplace that I rarely even notice anymore. In fact, this musk ox skin was just across the street from us for days before I noticed:


This musk ox was shot by our neighbor the shop teacher. Wanting to provide my readers with the most accurate and in depth coverage as possible, I not only walked outside of my house to take this picture, but I held up the skin so I could get a picture of the underside:


If anybody ever asks, frozen musk ox hides are kind of heavy, especially if you're only using one hand because your other hand is holding a camera. I also wanted to show my gentle readers how crazy long musk ox hair is:


If anybody ever accuses me of being a prissy pansy princess, I want you to e-mail them this picture of me touching musk ox fur. (You might be inclined to point out that I wasn't actually touching the fur/hair because I had my gloves on, but I promise that had more to do with the subzero temperatures than being afraid to touch the long, coarse, nasty hair. Thank you.) I actually have quite an appreciation for dead musk oxen because they are YUMMY.

Musk Ox.jpg

Our friend Dennis (big tough Eskimo hunter who can legally kill animals without a hunting license) hooks us up with meat sometimes. The above picture is a gigantic steak he brought over several weeks ago. One time Dennis BBQ'd musk ox ribs over hickory, and it was one of the best things I've ever eaten. (Those of you knew me before I met Steve might remember that I didn't use to eat a lot of meat, especially red meat. Those days are long gone. My honey and the Alaskan wilderness have won me over.)

Here are some examples of other dead animals regularly seen around Shishmaref:


This is a polar bear skin. They may be considered "threatened," but their skins hanging on racks outside of town don't even turn heads around here. (If this picture is showing up with most of the polar bear skin cut off, click on it, and you can go to a bigger non-cut-off version.)


These are uugaq, or tomcod. These fish are only caught in the winter. You catch uugaq when you go ice fishing. I had this picture posted on Flickr for hours before my brother-in-law and his wife pointed out the prominence of the dangling fish guts. I hadn't even noticed...


This is a caribou skin. Steve and I have caribou stew sometimes. It tastes pretty much life beef. It has a really mild flavor, not gamey at all.


In case you didn't get TMI about the caribou, above is a closeup of the hooves.

Being in Shishmaref has exposed us to more dead animals than we've ever seen before. I'm mostly okay with that.