Tag Archives: Bethel

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!

Fun, fishing and food!

all my fun little smelts

What a fan-frickin’-tastic weekend! Started out with the Alaska Women’s Run, a 5K fun run/walk. Three-fold treats: 1) a pretty blue tee shirt with forget me nots on it; 2) Harpo was tired afterwards; and 3) I found out about smelt fishing!
We walked by the river on the fun run/walk and there were a few people fishing with small dipnets, so I stopped-hey, what was the hurry? I was walking!-and asked what they were fishing for. Smelt! the first fish of the summer. Well, I had to try it and I knew there was a net at the house, left behind by a previous tenant. For a reason, I later discovered.

my biggest one, about 10 inches long
We finished the walk and I put a tired Harpo into her kennel, tied the net and a bucket to my bike (wish I had a picture of that-musta looked pretty funny!), and was off to the river. I soon learned why the net got left behind-it was way too short. I need an extension for it. But luckily for me, the folks I set up next to were done fishing and let me borrow their net. So after about 5 minutes of swinging the net along the bottom (or close to it anyway) of the river, I caught 20 smelt! I whisked them home, cleaned them, and packed most of them up to freeze. I cooked 4; just pan-fried in a little butter, and kinda mushed them up for a dip recipe I found in one of my Alaska cookbooks.

all clean and ready to cook or put in the freezer
By this time it was just about 6 p.m. and I was slated for dinner at a friend’s, so I finished packing up the fish, whipped on over to the grocery store for some cream cheese, brie and crackers, dumped all that on the counter and whizzed through a shower. Made it just in time for the steaks to come off the barby. Lovely dinner of corn, salad, the steaks, and a nice Cabernet, with a movie afterwards.

Sunday I spent the morning baking, and I finished up the smelt dip I’d started the night before. I’ll bring the dip and some crackers into school tomorrow. It’s not very exciting; there’s no strong flavor to the smelt so I think it’ll go over well.

Harpo is very food-motivated. This means I do a lot of her training and positive reinforcement with dog treats. Dog treats are expensive in Bethel-and in Fairbanks. Vaccuuming requires LOTS of dog treats, because we all thought it was soooo funny to tease Harpo with the vaccuum cleaner when she was a puppy and now she’s a rabid vaccuum cleaner killer. I use treats to moderate this behaviour (and eventually end it-I hope). The last time I vaccuumed it took an entire bag of dog treats to clean the rug. And it’s not a very big rug.

ready-to-bake dog treats
So, long story short, what with the price of dog treats and the volume that I need, I was kinda motivated to start baking my own. I’d cooked a sweet potato a couple days before in anticipation of this baking project, and it was all mashed up and ready to go. I followed a recipe I found on Pinterest, with some pretty major modifications-white flour instead of whole wheat, sweet potato instead of canned pumpkin-and mixed up a double batch. No cookie sheets anymore, so I baked them in the little toaster oven. Took me gawd-knows how many hours! to end up with two baggies of cookies for Harpo. She loves them!

smelt and cream cheese dip, puppy treats and homemade bread! Yum!!
I also baked two loaves of bread. I’ve been baking my own bread since I got to Bethel. I like to bake and I was thinking bread might be kinda pricey in B-town. So I packed up a 25 pound bag of flour and added that to a load of freight I shipped to Bethel in April. I still haven’t checked on the price of bread, mostly because I’ve been enjoying my own so much that I didn’t really care whether it was expensive or not. I’ve been pretty good about using it for sandwiches and toast, rather than just eating a hunk of it covered in butter, jam or peanut butter. I’ve been making Irish soda bread, but finally decided I was burning out on it and went back to making yeast bread. Soda bread is quicker, but denser; the yeast bread takes longer but it’s a lighter, fluffier bread. Both taste yummy!

So all-in-all, it was a pretty darned productive weekend! Lots of fun, tired puppy, good food!

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!


Cozy toes!

I finally bought a pair of slippers; I’ve been wanting a pair since forever and never felt like I needed them badly enough. Now that I’m renting, I’m more careful about wearing shoes in the house, and run around in my socks instead of tracking mud and silt all over the place. But the floor is so cold!

Saturday Market is a monthly craft affair at the cultural center, next to the college. I went to my first market this past Saturday, to “see what I could see”. Not as much Native art as I expected, but still a good selection of jewelry and skin sewing. Only one booth with bone and antler carving. The market was probably half Native sellers. Some people were selling homemade breads and sweet rolls, and there was one booth selling fry bread. Another booth was selling chili. There was also a massage chair, which I took advantage of. My very first massage!

I almost didn’t buy my slippers, until I realized that if I didn’t buy them now, it was going to be a whole month before they would be available again. So I went around and around, trying to decide between blue flowers, the butterflies, and an abstract design. I finally decided on the butterflies, and after trying them on, it was an instant sale. I love them! They’re super warm and cozy, and now I go to bed with warm feet!

Saturday was a busy day for me. I rode up to the post office to check the mailbox, and the package Christine shipped to me has arrived. But, I didn’t have any bungee cords to hook it to my bike, so I’ll pick it up on Monday when I can catch a ride in a vehicle. After Saturday Market, Harpo and I went on a fun run/walk for suicide prevention. I got a tee shirt out of the deal, but all Harpo got was some exercise and quite a bit of attention.

Lucky for us it was a bright sunny day and not too cold. Windy of course, but not too bad. That kept us from getting too hot (yeah, I wish!). Harpo is so anxious to be outside; lots of times when we come home from walking she wants to stay outside. The previous tenant left a dog tether, so I’ll hook her up to that and leave her out. She usually wants to come in within 5-10 minutes, as it’s too chilly to lounge around in the sun. Poor little girl! She misses our big yard in Fairbanks! When we find a place to buy, it will have a yard for her!

Bethel – the first week

Well, here we are, in beautiful downtown Bethel! Um, not sure I’m living downtown… don’t really think there is a “downtown” to Bethel. Stores and restaurants are scattered in between houses, mostly in the oldest part of Bethel, and all along Chief Eddy Hoffman Highway, the main road. I am ridiculously close to KuC (Kuskokwim Campus); about a 5 minute walk or bike ride. By the time I unlock/lock the bike, it’s the same amount of time to walk.

Select photo to see more of Bethel.
Harpo and I are living in a small two bedroom house that’s probably twice the size of my cabin. She is loving the room for tossing toys to chase! I am enjoying the freedom from hauling water, or at least I’ll enjoy it until I get the water bill! Harpo loves jumping in and out of the bathtub, filled with water or not. I had thought I’d get a roommate, until I got here and saw the mound of boxes that I’d shipped. Somehow it looked like a lot less stuff when it was in the cabin!
I haven’t gotten the sewing room organized, but the kitchen, bedroom, living room, and bath are all set. It’s wonderful to have so much space! Even though I’ve already crammed the house with what I brought from Fairbanks.
I’m listening to public radio as I write this; KYUK 640 AM. Pretty much like KUAC, from what I’ve heard so far. There are two FM stations, but they only play music and I quickly got bored with them. There’s a public tv station too, but since I have no tv, I can’t tell you much about that.


Select photo to see more of Bethel.
I got a ride up to Meyer’s Farm on Saturday, to go vegie shopping. I didn’t get to see the farm, just the store. It’s a really small little place, jammed with people and vegetables. The big draw is the freshness and the fact that everything is organic. I didn’t feel like prices were too out of line compared to what I’d pay in Fairbanks; higher but of course there’s shipping to account for too. The grocery store-AC Value Center-is much more expensive! I don’t plan on doing much shopping there. There is also Sammy’s, another grocery store that carries more exotic foods according to one of the women at school. I haven’t had a chance to go in yet.
Harpo and I have been doing lots of walking. She has to be on the leash all the time; there are too many cars and too much cool yucky stuff to get into. People drive surprisingly slow; mostly because of the gravel roads. The highway and one or two other streets are paved, and parking lots are rarely paved as well. The occasional taxi speeds down a street, and four wheelers are almost always going too fast, but other than that I don’t feel like I’m taking mmy life in my hands to ride or walk in Bethel.
Pinky’s Park isn’t far from my house; we go up there almost every day. There’s a baseball field, a hockey rink (well, I think there is; the ice is mostly melted and just the goal cages are there), and a small building that seems to be some sort of rec center. There’s also a whole system of boardwalks that Harpo loves. If there’s no one around I’ll turn her loose to run. The first day we did that she was so happy to be loose! She’s been a really good girl on the leash, but she loves running loose and she missed it more than I realized.
It’s been pretty chilly this past week, so Harpo wears her snowsuit when we go out. We get a lot of looks and “Isn’t she cute” from people who pass by us. Most people have been super friendly, although on today’s walk a woman asked if Harpo would attack her. Harpo? she might lick you to death!
My first week at work has been pretty easy. Graduation was on Friday, May 3, so everyone else has been finishing up the semester and getting ready for the ceremony. I reviewed my notes from iTeach and explored some of the tools we learned about. I also helped with decorating the stage for graduation. The ceremony on Friday was lovely; so small and intimate. It was the nicest graduation I’ve ever attended! Afterwards there was a party for faculty and staff, hosted by one of the retiring staff at her bed and breakfast. Vicky does it every year, and Mary (Pete, the director of KuC) wouldn’t accept her resignation until Vicky agreed to keep doing the party.
So I think you can tell I’m enjoying Bethel! I like the small town atmosphere, the friendliness, and how relaxed everyone seems to be. I like everyone at school; they’ve all been very helpful while I settled in.