|Posted on February 23, 2018 at 1:05 PM|
I stepped off the plane and the air was silent. I leaned over and put my hands on my knees trying to get my barings before I blew chunks all over the runway. I just got off my third flight, each plane got smaller and smaller. I was toting about seventy pounds of glass and equipment with me to teach my class in a small village in Alaska. A town of about 50 only 15 of which ever came out of their homes in the winter. It was spring so things were still a little brown and the air smelled like mud. Before I could stand up straight to get some air I heard the buzz of the plane taking off behind me. Well okay.... I thought... just leave me here in the middle of nowhere. There was a large metal hanger that looked like it had not been opened in months. So I just sat on my bags and waited.... and waited... and waited.... Will I have to drink my own pee? Was my first thought on my mind, if that gives you any idea of my survival instincts. Finally I heard a loud back fire and a four wheel emerged from the trees. A small older man who looked too fragile to be driving a vechile was driving and a large man hung on the back with one hand and one knee, the rest of his appendages flaling around as they hit bump after bumpe. "You the art lady", he yelled out to me in a tired raspy voice. " Yes!", I yelled back, thinking oh dear god I'm saved. The bigger man was silent he walked right past to me as the four wheeler roared to a stop. He grabbed my big totes and exhaled sharply as he realized my tote full of glass sheets was heavier than it looked. He packed all the items on to the back of the four wheeler while me and the older man tried avoid ackward eye contact. " Okay lets go", said the taller man. I was thinking okay how the hell are all three of us getting on that... the answer was not in a comfortable way. Now I sound like a city girl but just keep in mind I just got off a plane that smelled like airplane fuel and slim jims while it bobbed like a rubber ducky through Lake Clark Pass. I jumped on the back of the four wheeler, hanging on with one hand and knee as that was the only space allowed. We took off with a jolt that nearly sent me backwards off the end.
Soon we were out of the woods, after a long and bumpy road, and I got my first view of Pedro Bay. It was really beautiful out here, I would give them that. There was a big lake and around it was freckled with small cabins. The town included a gas pump, not a gas station, a council house, and some other official looking buidlings. In the council house was a nurse who came out to Pedro Bay fifteen years ago and never left. She stood out from the rest of the village as she had pale white skin and round european eyes like mine. A lady in her fifties, she inhabited a small office in the council building where she treated any ailment that did not require flying to town. The gentlemen who loaded me up, loaded me off the four wheeler twice as fast and took off down the road. I was left on the porch holding my things, shivering alittle because the wind was blowing across the surface of the lake and slapping me in the face. Soon another four wheel pulled up and a completely different host arrived. She had sharp pointed features, bright almost white blond hair and stood four foot nothing with a huge glock strapped to her leg. She wore dirty carhart pants and a carhart jacket, which made me feel like an idiot in my wimpy sweater. She took off her dark sun glasses and said in a high pitched voice, " Hey I'm Jesse." I introduced myself and we quickly starting loading my things. The plan was for me to stay in the council building but once I got a look at the cot and the cold hard floor the director who hired me asked;" There is a couple on the edge of town, the wife is alone alot and she said she is willing to let you stay in her cabin." I pretended to think about it to be polite and said " Oh sure, if it's not too much trouble." I was going to be out there for two weeks after all and a bed sounded better on my back than a cot. So that is how Jesse and I ended bunking together. She had a dog named Bruiser.. a husky who ran along side the four wheeler. We took off at light speed down the road, a dirt path that most have rolled over ten hills before we reached their cabin three miles out of town. Once we reached the woods near the cabins I started to see remanents of a life past. Old decaying sheds were sinking into the mossy bumps of the forest floor, old machine parts were a rusty orange standing out from the muddy skag land of low brush, and a bent airplane propeller lay near the entrance of their road.
Jesse and Nolan had moved out here after they got married. He was a small bush pilot who delivered supplies to local villages. Last year his plane had crashed and he had walked away without a scratch, which explained the bent propeller in the yard. His plane did not make it though and it was a miracel there was another plane passing by before he froze to death. This cabin was his parents cabin, elders of the village, who had since passed away. It was a charming place with a road path and a single tall pine tree in the yard. The cabin had a loft and one small bedroom, the wood stove in the basement heated the whole house and the water. I would laugh in the morning as Jesse put on her big girl boots and with all of her four foot might would chop wood in the morning. Nolan had taken a job working on the slope and was there two weeks on and two weeks off six months after they had moved out there. Jesse had lived in Seattle her whole life but she loved the simple life out here in remote Alaska. She said living her was like living inside a high school because gossip would spread quick and it was vicious but other than that they tried to keep to themselves. I was always impressed by her being out here all alone and taking care of herself. In this small community you really had to make the best of it with your neighbors despite what you thought because one day they could save your bacon. You especially didnt want to piss off the guy who had the key to the gas pump in town.
We went to the council house after I got all settled. I was teaching one class every night for the week. The council was wanting to order equipment so that the locals could come do stained glass together to get them out of the house. The way the teenagers looked at me you would think I was from Oz. They were really friendly, asking me all kinds of questions about "the big city" which made me laugh. It did make me realize how overwelming it must be to visit a city like Anchorage compared to a town of less than 50 just to visit let alone to start a life there, much as I can image it being an adjustment moving to a small community such as thing. The nice thing about this small place was there were very few expectations of how to look or how to dress. There was a lot more freedom to spend the day how you pleased when the work was done. The class was filled with men, women, and teenagers. I walked over to say hello to everyone, one particular student I was warned to approach with caution... no further explanation. I walked up to say hello and he yelled at me " Hey your from the big city huh? Yeah you won't come back here.. they never do," and he turned back around. I did know what to say at that point so I ackwardly turned around and went back to handing out patterns.
It wasn't until later that I learned the story behind that encounter. After the class was over Jesse and I went back to the cabin. It was pitch black at night. There was no light pollution from any street lamps so it was hard to see your hand in front of your face. The bright side was that when you looked up you felt like you were in a snow globe because their were so many stars. When we got in the door we started fixing dinner. Once we were cozied up in blankets and our cordoroy chairs we turned on a movie. There was a small radio in the corner of the room that all the houses in the village used in case of emergency. Half way through the show the radio buzzed to life, " I will burn all your houses down while you sleep." I did a double take and stopped mid chew. Did he just say what I thought he said? I stopped breathing just to hear what came on next. " I don't want these outsiders here," said the voice again. Jesse was so used to it she only realized it the second sentence. She jumped up so fast the springs on her recliner made a twag and it bobbed back and forth like a bobble head. As she ran to the raid the blanket that had dropped to her feet tripped her and she came to the ground with a crash. Use she belly crawled to the radio she slammed the off button.
It was later explained to me that I was not warned about this situation because they feared I would not come to teach class. You are dam right! I thought to myself. The teen boy in the class would regularly get on the radio and threaten the village. No one took his seriously but for two city girls living alone three miles out of town, was that really a risk we could take? Jesse had called the troopers multiple times. They said just to get the clearance to fly out there they needed an hour and it would take at least two to get to the village. It was quickly made clear to me that in order for anything to be done in the village something had to have already occured. We were on our own. She said it did scare her but everyone told her it would be fine. I had mixed feelings. Clearly this guy was reaching out for help and attention. I was told that phychiatrists and dentists only came out once a year and there was no way the family could afford to fly him into town for the help he needed. It was really unfortunate. In class he was smiling and participating but he had an air of sadness about him as well. It made the rest of my stay uneasy but I tried to make the best of it. Jesse offered to have me sleep in the same room as her in the top of the cabin so I did.
Everything went smoothly for the most part for the rest of my class. I taught class the next day as if nothing had happened and I tried to not giving any weird looks though I was uncomfortable. On several occasions the voice I heard every night on the radio would ring out at an uncomfortable distance and I would do my best to help him. I did not want to offend anyone and everyone in the room seemed to except that this was the way it was. It had been going on for some time. I would leave the council house with cards and canned salmon and gifts. For the most part it was a very loving community with some undertones of dramas between its community members. Even though some had issues with each other, which believe me I was filled in on right away with accompaning stories, they all acted civil when it was time to come togther.
Jesse and I would go on long hikes together and talk about her plans out here. Though she lived out here for about a year now she still felt like an outsider. She was excluded from many of the activities because they were paid for by the trive and she was not considered part of the tribe yet. They did not treat her badly but they did make it very clear that she was not part of the tribe and that was the way. I did not necessarily blame them. I talked with one of the older men in the village and got a better understanding.
He was about seventy with a weathered face and long black hair speckled with gray. His hair on his chin was sparse and stubbly. He said he felt that they were losing their heritage and that with every new inovation that came from the city it gave the people of the village more opportunity to sit in their houses. They no longer had to work so hard to survive, which was a positive and a negative. He told me that the youth had lost that sense of accomplishment and hard work. Now he said they were filled with anger, feeling as though they were missing out on something better in the city. The man also talked with me about those who had gone to the city and had not returned. He worried they were homeless or alone as those who went to the city had a hard time cooping with their expectations there. It made alot of sense to me and made me think about it in a whole new way. There was alot of metal illness in this village, some were slightly touched by it but others wore it on their sleeves.
After my last class I decided to leave the village early. The threats on the radio were starting to get to me. I was worried for Jesse too and asked her to come with me. I did not want to leave her out here by herself and worry about something happening to her. She ended up flying out with me, she called a family member of Nolan to fly out to get us. She was going to stay in Anchorage until Nolan was off the slope. When he was home with her the threats on the radio generally stopped. I was relieved she was coming with me.