So once you got settled in The Village you went out to smaller villages for school. Tell me about your first experience in a smaller village?
Okay, this is a good tale. The first village that I was scheduled to go to was very small, population way below fifty, with no road access. I contacted the village teacher and it was arranged that I would be taking meals at his house and sleeping in the school. On the morning of the arranged date I boarded the mail plane and took off for the village. We touched down on the landing strip and the pilot pointed me in the direction of town. They’d been working on the landing strip all summer and the dust on the road and strip was a good inch or two thick. When I arrived in town it was immediately obvious which house was the teachers house (it was the only one that wasn’t a log cabin) and I knocked on the door. Someone yelled, “com’in.”
I walked in. There were three men laying around in various states of inebriation. The one on the sofa lifted his head, locked his eyes on me, and said “we’re hungry woman, cook.”
I decided to walk around the house and look for the teacher. I found the kitchen, in which every available surface was piled high with dirty dishes and spoiled food. It was not a hard decision to decide not to take my meals there.
I went down to the village store which was also the post office and the place where the only telephone in town was. I called the main office of the school district that I worked for and requested that they send me a plane, now. They said it was too late in the day for any pilot to be willing to fly out, as the landing strip was not lit, and they would get me one the next day. I was going to have to spend the night.
The store was a cabin, about ten by ten. Grocery choices were limited. I got a can of Chef-Boy-ArDee ravioli and I went to the school, which was unlocked, but other than that had not been disturbed the entire summer. School was supposed to have been in session for a week, but I could tell from the quarter inch of airport dust on the floor that no one had been in there. I fired up the MrCoffee thinking to cook the ravioli on the burner, but that wasn’t effective. I swept out the school and rolled out my sleeping bag as night fell. Suddenly, someone banged on the wall of the school, then another wall, then many people were banging on the walls. The door didn’t lock from the inside. I dragged some desks over to block the door. I picked up a polaski (like a pick ax) that was laying on the floor and brought it over to my sleeping bag and began writing a letter. “Dear Mom, if you ever read this letter, you will know about my last few hours…. ” I never sent the letter, obviously.
In the morning the plane came and I left.
The next time I went to serve my students in that village it was as though this incident had never happened.
Any other good teaching stories?
I only worked the one year and flew to a variety of villages, totalling seven, and had the normal bush Alaska experiences of being weathered in when it was too cold for the planes to fly. But other than that it was a pretty routine year.
I realize this is a big jump in time, but will you tell me how you ended up out on trapline?
While I was teaching I had met my husband, a white trapper transplated from New York City. We got married that spring, I resigned my teaching position, and the next fall I went out to live on his remote trapline for the winter.
What was it like your first winter on trapline?
Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. We lived in an extremely small cabin, about eight by ten. Small enough that we both could not stand up and put our parkas on at the same time. Dirt floor, dirt and moss roof, one tiny visqueen window. But the cabin was not the place to be. We had the whole of outdoors.
I spent a lot of time snowshoeing, running bunny lines, cutting wood, melting water, doing laundry by hand. We of course had absolutely no modern facilities. Our cabin was on a mile long lake which was thirty miles (no trail) from the above mentioned village. We were dropped off in mid September by float plane with our eight dog team, our winter supples, and myself stuffed in the back. We didn’t see another plane or person until March.
It was an easy transition for me, because I’d spent the year in The Village, flying around with just a cabin with wood heat back in The Village, so every time I got back I’d have to make a big fire to warm it up completely before settling in for the weekend. Moving around so much was much more challenging that being settled in on trapline. I felt I had finally found my niche in life.
Any stories from that first year?
My husband had a penchant for building really hot fires in the stove. Sometimes it would just glow red. It was a fairly thin guage tin stove, so this always made me nervous. One night the cabin started filling with smoke. We quickly realized that the stovepipe was glowing red and had caught the moss adjacent to it on the roof on fire. This was critical. It was forty below outside and we had no other shelter. We had to get the fire out before it burned the cabin down. The snow was several feet deep on top of the cabin and begining to melt, causing it to rain inside but not causing the fire to go out. I ended up throwing several cupfulls of water into the stove, creating steam, which condensed on the parts of the stovepipe that were outside and ran back down, cooling the portions of pipe that were adjacent to the smothering moss. I was also throwing cups of water up onto the ceiling, hoping to keep the inside of the roof wet, while my husband went up on the roof and pulled the burning moss off, throwing it to the ground. The roof was seriously damaged in that area, so we spent a cold night but were able to repair it the next day using dirt from the cabin floor.