Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 2 in Kotzebue!

Weeks have gone by and a couple of people emailed to ask "What happened next?" I've been busy working on a commission, going back and forth to the chiropractor to deal with the aftermath of the rear ender that happened on May 1. But back to Kotzebue........

My roommate and I awoke to no hot water in the hotel. It was 18 degrees outside. I was bound and determined to proceed as normal, just in case we got to go to a village, just in case we were to get stuck, just in case I didn't know where the next shower would be-or if there would be one. So in remembrance of my one summer of commercial fishing at a set net site in Kodiak, I took a deep breath and took the plunge. Whew! Then I dressed in all the layers I could find to get warm again.

Our intrepid Captain Crabtree picked us up in the school bus and we headed for the Armory for breakfast. The cooks were serving grits- a favorite of mine- and so life was good. We spent some time photographing the eye exams and went to the section where eyeglasses were being made. They had brought in totes and totes of lenses and frames along with portable lens grinding equipment so that glasses could be made on the spot. Nearsightedness and farsightedness are big problems, and it was fascinating to see the machines go to work so that people could get their glasses made without having to wait weeks for prescriptions to be filled.

We got the news that we were to fly out to the village of Kiana, so we hustled back to the hotel to pick up our overnight gear and off we went to the airport to meet the helicopter. The people who had been trying to get out to Point Hope finally had a good weather day, and the National Guard brought in a Sherpa C23 to transport them and their gear. We caught a glimpse of the boxy aircraft as we drove by. A workhorse to be sure!

Our trip to Kiana, about a half hour away, was smooth and the weather was sunny. Instead of a study in values as was the day before, the landscape was bright with glistening snow and shadows. The Kobuk River Valley was picturesque. Traveling with us were Rick & Mick Vignuelle, a Christian ministry team from Alabama. Check out their website- They are fun loving guys who have a musical ministry designed to reach young people. While in Kiana, we learned about MREs- Meals Ready to Eat. MSgt Kiel was our personal chef, helping us to first get the packages open, add water, and wait for them to heat up. I had a vegetable cheese omelet which had an interesting texture, but was actually quite good. We had a short time to visit with the dental and veterinary teams before the helicopter arrived to pick us up. The commuter flight- a Bering Air Cessna Caravan-was sitting on the runway when we arrived at the Kiana airstrip, and snow machines began arriving from the village to deliver people for their flights to Kotzebue and beyond as well as pick up arriving passengers. We arrived in Kotzebue in time for dinner at the Armory. From there we went to the hotel to get packed up for our early flights home.

I've been putting together a montage of images for a painting of as many scenes as I can remember which I hope to have available in print later this summer. As soon as I finish the commission, I can get back to work on my Air Force pieces. The memories of the trip as well as the interaction with all the people we met are ones I hope to retain. Time seems to fade these memories away, and I'm so glad to be able to remain in contact with several of the people on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Village of Noorvik

After several days of having the computer in the shop, one would think I would have taken the time to organize my thoughts so as to be ready to write again. Well, stuff happens and this is the first I have been able to return.

My companion artist, Shiho Nakaza, and I made a quick trip to the hotel to grab our overnight gear, complete with sleeping bag "just in case" we might "get stuck." As a long time Alaskan, getting stuck out- or in- is a relative term. One could get stuck out at a fish or hunting camp, get stuck in Anchorage, or get stuck in town unable to get OUT. Weather is usually the issue. I have been stuck out due to fog, wind, snow, and even an erupting volcano. So the prospect, while intriguing, was not out of the realm of possibility. Given the experiences of the people who had been waiting to to to Point Hope, it's best to be ready.

But the weather, and the mechanical capabilities of the helicopter, cooperated and we were taken to the airport in Kotz, loaded up and lifted off over a snow covered land that appeared, to an artist, to be a study of values- lights and darks. Frozen ribbons of rivers wound their way through the plains that made up the landscape. After about a half hour ride, we were there. We were dropped off, a group from Noorvik was to be taken to Selawik further up the river, and we would be picked up in a couple of hours.

The Inupiat village of Noorvik is situated on the Kobuk River with a population of a little over 600. There is a nicely appointed clinic and high school/elementary school. The school district website describes Noorvik as a place where students hunt "caribou and moose, fish the rivers and lakes, ski, play basketball and surf the net...Travel is by snow machine, plane or boat." They study literature, art and math as part of daily life and "where an ancient culture is moving toward a promising future." It is indeed promising for youngsters in these remote parts of Alaska to have the connection with the outside world as well as with their heritage.

We visited the clinic where we met with Major Emily Cerreta as she was just finishing an examination with a toddler. Her interaction with the little boy as well as his young mother was endearing and we were able to see the child have enough confidence to be curious about the stethoscope and hold it in place over his own heart as Major Cerreta listened.

All too soon we were on our way to the airport where the helicopter arrived in the usual cloud of snow and wind. Back to Kotzebue and ready for more interesting events.

The drawing shown is of Ssgt Croxon photographing people loading the helicopter in Noorvik. This will be transferred to canvas today so that the painting can begin.