Tag Archives: Alaska

Going upriver to Akiak


loading the boat to go upriver on the Kuskokwim to Akiak

I got to go to Akiak on Wednesday! My first river trip, my first village, and the first time I drove in Bethel! And a quick fyi-I’ll be doing some updating tomorrow, to link the photos to my Flickr account. Done!

The big occasion was to take two musicians to entertain and visit with the villagers in Akiak. Mike Stevens, a world class harmonica player (best in the world. really.), and Raymond McLain were in Fairbanks for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, and Terese Kaptur, the director, had the great idea to share some of the artists with outlying communities. That’s how they got to Bethel. Mike requested a trip to a village, and that’s how I got to go to Akiak.


Sally Russell

My supervisor, Sally Russell, was the head honcho for all the festival activities in Bethel, and when I heard she was taking the musicians to Akiak, I asked if she needed any help. She was happy to have me come along, mostly so I could visit a village and see first-hand some of the difficulties of living there.


Ron Kaiser

Ron Kaiser, the KuC maintenance man, was our guide and boat captain on the way to Akiak. He’s a very experienced boatman and fisherman, and I learned a lot about the river from him. He packed the boat for us and did a great job of guiding. It was a little damp on the way up; the weather was cool and cloudy, and there was occasional mist, but still a good trip. The river is quite a bit different than the Tanana and Chatanika Rivers that I’m familiar with. Sandy muddy beaches with lots of alder and willow. We didn’t see any spruce til we got close to Akiak, and then it was only the occasional tree sticking out above the alders and willows.


Mike Williams

Mike Williams, one of the village leaders, was our contact in Akiak. He picked us up from the boat and hauled all the gear to the community center. He was happy to let me and Todd Paris, the official UAF photographer, take photos of the performance, the audience, and Akiak.


Broken Record, the band that Steve and Raymond played with

I didn’t get the band members’ names, but the group is called Broken Record, a misnomer. They’re excellent musicians, and worked well with Mike and Raymond. I couldn’t tell that they’d never practiced with Mike and Raymond! It was a wonderful concert; I love bluegrass music and it was fantastic to be in the front row listening to these guys!


Simon Goldstein

We were also graced with an accordian player, Simon Goldstein. You can listen to him at Soundcloud. Simon is working at Meyers Farm this summer, and I’m not quite sure how he hooked up with us, but he came along to help with the sound system. He’s a young man with a lot of energy; he’s going to be starting a farm of his own to supply Alaska with fresh vegies.


Dancing in Akiak

I spent most of my time in Akiak listening, and enjoying watching the dancers. Boy, there are some dancers in Akiak! I have never seen a group of people that could dance so well. Even the youngsters could dance. I really wanted to dance, but was a little shy about getting out there on the floor. I don’t step near as nicely as these folks do!


Julie and Friend

The kids in Akiak were a hoot! They were so friendly and polite and loved the cameras. Todd and I both had fun playing with them, taking pictures, and just interacting with them. I was brave enough to let them play with my camera for a little bit, and they took some really good pictures! I’d love to see them get to do some photojournalism, and document village activities and their own lives.


community center parking lot

I also spent a little time walking around Akiak, just to see what it was like. I was very impressed; it’s much cleaner and neater than Bethel. Someone works hard to keep this community in good shape. Seemed like most everyone has a four wheeler instead of a car or pickup, judging by the number of them parked outside the community center. Not too many dogs either; a couple of small village dogs running around, but I didn’t see any sled teams and only a couple of tethered dogs. Pretty late in the season for drying salmon, but there was a rack hanging down by the river.

The afternoon was concluded with a snack of dried salmon and dried hooligan (or smelt), crackers and cookies, and some spaghetti. Mike Williams spoke a little bit about the difficulties of suicide, and then asked several of the elders to give some advice to the young people. Mike Stevens then talked briefly about an experience he had in a village in Labrador, Canada, when he saw some kids sniffing gas. It changed his life, and he started a program to bring musical instruments to the villages. Earlier in the afternoon, Mike Stevens shared harmonicas with the kids in the village. Lastly, we handed out some door prizes.

The door prizes were really fun! I got to be the announcer, because I had my glasses with me and could read the tickets. We had berry buckets, tee shirts, vegies, I donated one of my small quilts, and there was an iPad mini to give out. I really got into it, and was making little silly comments about the prizes. Like the vegies-I expressed the hope that some single guy would get them and he could fix a dinner for his sweetheart.

We all had a great time! Mike and Ray are very personable, very down to earth. They are both world class musicians and we were very lucky that they were willing to essentially donate their talent to the people of Bethel and Akiak. They hove to when we were loading and unloading the boat, and were incredibly friendly and easy to talk to. And oh yes, my first time to drive in Bethel was to take them to lunch a couple of days after our Akiak trip.

Mike Williams took us all back to Bethel, and in contrast to our dampish trip upriver, going home was sunny and warm. We unloaded the boat and headed to the River Cafe for dinner, and then home to bed. Mike and Ray must have an incredible amount of energy; they were so busy in Bethel and Akiak, and never had an afternoon to just hang and rest up. After leaving Bethel, they were both off to more traveling. I don’t know how they do it!


My first qaspeq


My first qaspeq/kuspuk

I made my first kuspuk last weekend! It’s a style I hadn’t seen before; I’d planned to make one with a ruffled skirt, but when I saw it the shop, I had to have this one. It’s more like a winter parka than a kuspuk, which is why I chose this pattern. It’s one that Jeanne devised herself, so I can’t use it to make kuspuks to sell-but I wouldn’t anyway. Production sewing just isn’t my thing.

Kuspuks are a lightweight overshirt that a lot of the Native women, well, everyone really, wears. They can be as fancy or as plain as you like and there are all kinds of styles. The main ingredients are a simple pullover with long sleeves, a pocket, and a hood; after that, it’s fair game. Some of them are just barely waist-length, some have a pleated skirt, some have a ruffled skirt, you can trim them with rickrack or embroidered braid or bias tape or no trim at all. Mary made hers with puffy sleeves and a fairly snug cuff, but you can use elastic in the cuff too. The skirted kuspuks can come almost to your knees or be much shorter; all the styling is up to the maker. Each village has their own basic style, but with variations. Since I’m not a villager, I don’t feel constrained-I can do whatever I want.

Well, I should start at the beginning! I saw the class advertised at Raven Quilts a couple of weeks ago, and my friend Mary said we should take the class together. Sounded like fun to me! So we paid for our class and made plans to head to the shop together. I gathered up some fabric; some horse fabric I’d intended to use for a quilt many years ago. Oh well, nothing like repurposing!

Jeanne Acton taught the class. She is an excellent seamstress and incredibly energetic. She was doing about three things at once the whole time. Teaching the class of five, helping Kate with running the long arm quilter (a quilting machine) and advising the girl running the shop. I learned a lot about cutting and sewing more efficiently. We all made our own patterns, although I didn’t make mine until after I was finished; I used Jeanne’s pattern.

Both Mary and I were thrilled to finish our kuspuks, or qaspeqs is the way its spelled in Bethel. Mary was particularly pleased, as she doesn’t think she’s a very experienced seamstress. You could have fooled me! She did a great job on her kuspuk! I love the way she trimmed it.

I have another pattern that I was going to use, but Jeanne’s pattern is so simple, I’ll probably use it again. There’s only two main pieces, the sleeves and the pocket. Really fast to put together! And I can use it to make a winter parka too. There’s a quilter’s weekend retreat next weekend… maybe I should make another kuspuk… I really like the first one I made; it’s super comfortable!

It’s Breakup, it’s spring!

The ice broke on Tuesday, May 28, late in the afternoon/early evening. Everyone was watching anxiously, either worried about flooding or couldn’t wait to get on the river or go fishing. I looked at the river on Wednesday before work, and breakup was pretty anticlimatic-I couldn’t even tell! The only sign I saw was that the tripod had moved. I didn’t find out til I got to work that the river broke up the night before.

The 29th was the breakup party. About a third of the town was there, listening to a pretty good country/rock band, standing in line for almost an hour waiting for hotdogs and a soda, chatting with their neighbor. I didn’t have the patience to stand in line, so I just took pictures, enjoyed the smells, and kept Harpo from jumping on all the little kids that wanted to pet her.

I kept an eye on the river the next night too, like everyone else. There was still a lot of ice, kind of stuck in front of town, that caused a little bit of flooding. The road to the small boat harbor was closed and the road to Hangar Lake was still closed a couple days later. The boat launch was full of ice; now it’s full of water so everyone’s launching boats down by Brown’s Slough.

It sounds pretty calm now, but while it was happening, waiting for breakup and then waiting for the ice to move out was pretty exciting. I was riding my bike down to Front Street twice a day and then walking Harpo down there after work, just to see what was going on. It’s a relief to finally have it over! Now I can focus on taking pictures of all the flowers that are starting to come out!


The Dacha


I got the roof on my dacha finally! It’s taken me two summers to get it finished enough to use when it rains, and I absolutely love it!

I started the dacha, my little summer cabin, last year when a neighbor offered a pile of 2×6 planks to me. The floor was easy to figure out, but was a lot of hard work. I used cinder blocks as a foundation and I leveled them all before putting the floor frame on them. I forgot to square the four planks I used as the basis for the floor though. Oops!

After cleaning up the planks-I had to remove some hardware and nails from the ends-I screwed the planks to the frame that was on the cinder blocks. I put the screen tent up and then decided I wanted a more permanent structure. I have this old Atco on my place (the last remnant from the last boyfriend), so I started tearing it apart. I couldn’t sell the damned thing, couldn’t even give it away!
I framed the walls in the now air-conditioned Atco, then added visqueen and mosquito netting before moving them to the floor and screwing them down. That was as far as I got before the summer was over, because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for a roof.

This summer I decided to rearrange the walls before starting on the roof. Once that was taken care of, I bought some vinyl window material for the roof. It’s perfectly clear and would make an awesome cloud-watching cover! The roof isn’t the greatest; it’s not going to hold up under much of a snow load, but it’s adequate for rain and leaves. The clear vinyl didn’t work out; it’s too stiff and difficult to work with by myself. So the roof is visqueen over 2×4’s and 1×4’s, held down with lath lightly tacked down with big-headed roofing nails. I’m anticipating needing to replace the roof next year with corrugated plastic roofing that’s used on greenhouses.

I still have some finish work to do on the dacha; I’m using more lath to firmly tack down the visqueen and mosquito netting walls, and the door is pretty awkward. It’s a piece of mosquito netting that flies around in the wind and doesn’t do a very good job of keeping mosquitoes and other flying insects out. And sometimes Harpo can’t figure out how to get in! I also have to cover the triangles on the wall that support the roof and the header boards that support the roof above the door. But I can sleep out here and enjoy watching clouds, tree shadows, and rain!

DIY Postcard Swap

My first postcard swap! I joined iHanna’s DIY Postcard Swap 2011 this year, and I am finally getting around to posting about it.

I sent my postcards at the last minute of course, even though they were finished, labeled and ready to mail by April 2. One of these days I will be better about getting things done early…

Anyway-my postcards are pretty simple. I collected and pressed flowers from several trips up the Haul Road (Dalton and Elliott Highways, near Fairbanks, Alaska) in 2008. The pressed flowers are laid on the Peltex, with organza over the top. Iron carefully; if the iron is too hot, it will “cook” the flowers. White cotton sheeting is ironed onto the back, and then I machine stitch around the edge of the postcard to prevent excessive raveling.

I love going up the Haul Road; there is so much to see, and tons of places to stop and hike and take photos. And collect flowers of course! I haven’t been up there for a couple of years, so I am ready for a road trip. I think this will be the year I do the Tolovana trail…

Here are the postcards I’ve received:

from Karyn in Walla Walla, Washington:

20110412-084423.jpg   20110412-084529.jpg

from Patricia in Cleveland, Texas (with a polar bear stamp on the front-too perfect!):


from Robin in Altadena, California:

and inside was this:
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and the address side of the postcard:


from Sam in Hampton, New Hampshire (she put an awesome Carmen Miranda stamp on the front!):

from Tina in Silver Spring, Maryland, with a good suggestion-“Find your sense of wonder”:

from Maudy in Voorschoten, the Netherlands’ with another great suggestion-“It’s all about the journey!”:


from Kimber in Albany, Oregon, with wonderful colors!:


And these are the postcards I sent:

Sent to Debbie Igram in Orange, California

Sent to Pia Wellmann in Berlin, Germany

Sent to Lynn Garbett in Chasetown, Staffordshire, England

Sent to Julie Kosolofski in Tamshui, Taipei County, Taiwant

Sent to Margaret Walters in Castlereagh, New South Wales, Australia
Sent to David Frank in Waite Park, Minnesota

Sent to Meaghan Vallee in Chateauguay, PC Canada
Sent to Monika Knapp in Diofa, Hungary

Sent to Tequitia Andrews in Petersburg, Virginia
Sent to Yvonne Andersson in Sodertalje, Sweden

Chilly Alaska

Well, my thermometer says 20° below zero (Fahrenheit; that’s about -29° Celsius), but the radio insists that it’s -33° F (about -36° C). As you can see from the photo on the left, Gizmo doesn’t care! He is all about his Frisbee. So we played outside for about a half hour, garbed in dog booties (Giz), Carhartts head to toe, Sorels, and polar fleece (me). And that’s what happens to a Frisbee when it’s cold; he doesn’t tear it up on purpose, it just breaks.

I wanted to work on organizing the storage shed with all my sewing gear, but it’s just too cold to handle boxes. The cold goes right through two layers of polar fleece mittens and my fingers hurt too bad. So I measured for shelves, and stared at what could be. Soon…

Update 12/31/2008: And today the news is: Colder!! It’s supposed to get down to – 60° F. Good thing I could put some fuel in the oil tank last month. I was just putting in five gallons at a time, til lower prices collided with some extra money and I could afford to put 100 gallons in the tank.

And since I live up in the hills around Fairbanks, I have been enjoying warmer temps than at the airport, but the article I read said that colder temps will “…the growing cold will begin spreading into higher-elevation areas in the borough later this week.” So my warmer-than-town weather is over, dang. It’s about -30° F, or it was around 4:30 p.m., and Giz was happy to get out, but me? Hey, I was running down the road dragging the dog, trying to hurry him up!

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen these kind of temperatures; I think the last time was 1990, when we had 3 or 4 weeks of -40 temps. And the last time I’ve seen -60° was the year before that. I’m guessing that’s why it feels so cold to me; other than not liking to drive in those low temps (it’s really hard on cars), it’s never really bothered me before. You just dress up and go. Oh, well, just dress up and go!

Playing catch up…

My sewing room

My sewing room

That I haven’t posted much this summer is kind of an understatement. I was busy in June with the NICOP field trip, and in July it rained and rained and rained. August was the fair, and then it dried up, and it’s been too nice to be inside. Those could be my excuses, but the real reason I haven’t posted is that I have been wrestling with what to do about the cabin?

I live in a less-than-400 square foot dry cabin. It is Too Small. I have Too Much Stuff. So should I build a sewing room? And should it be an addition to the cabin, or a separate building? Or should I buy another house? And rent the cabin out? Or sell it? Will I be able to sell it, since it needs a new foundation and it’s seven miles from town? Can I get a loan? Or should I fix up the cabin, keep it until the gas pipeline gets going, and then sell it during the boom years? What do I do? Who can I trust to predict the future for me?

I looked at cabin after cabin. Too small, too close to the neighbors, the yard’s too small, it’s too dark, it’s too expensive. I finally found a cabin I really liked; it was only four miles to work, on five acres, double the square footage of my current cabin. But the taxes were double what I pay now, and the heating bill made me choke. And the house payment… no more sewing goodies for me if I bought that cabin! And what if I can’t sell mine, or I can’t keep it rented? How do I make the house payment? Could I even get a loan?

So I sweated and wrestled with the numbers, and decided against that cabin. I started looking again. Talked to a realtor. Put the cabin up for sale. Changed my mind. And finally came to the conclusion that I just did not want to spend the money or assume the risk of buying another cabin right now. To the library for books on storage solutions. Lots of ideas, little drawings, measure, measure, measure. Paint; gotta paint before I put up new bookshelves.

I’ve emptied out the cabin and put almost all my sewing stuff into the shed. There are several paint splotches on the wall so I can choose between pale green and pale pink. And I like the empty cabin! It’s much more peaceful, so I am back to my original thought of a separate building for my sewing stuff, at least for the coming winter. And I can get by with the shelf units I already have, and build shelves in the shed instead. Less expensive. Easier.

My garden in four foot square boxes

My garden in four foot square boxes

Now it’s time to move things around, wash a wall, let it dry, paint it. Play tiddlywinks with the stuff pushed to one side and start all over again. I’ll do a few more things to make the cabin liveable for one more winter, and keep thinking about the different options. I would like to move closer to work, shorten the commute, depend less on the car, and spend less money on transportation. But I have a beautiful big yard with lots of room for Mr. Dog to run after tennis balls and frisbees. Neighbors that stop by and say hi when I’m in the yard. Plenty of room outdoors for painting/dyeing/printing on fabric and playing with the woodburning tool and all kinds of art projects. My own little bit of woods out back, and places to walk without a leash.

Lots of reasons to stay, and I will still think about moving. Someday.