Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Long-Awaited Update

I didn't realize how long it had been since a blog update until I got ready to post just now. I can only apologize so much that we've tapered off in our updates. When we started our blog on the trip across America, we certainly intended to make updates every day. The fact of the matter, though, is that Alaska isn't all that different from other places in many ways. Sure, when something uniquely Alaskan happens, we want to post about it. But working here is like working anywhere--not always that interesting.

Since Samara's triumphant return from Anchorage (requiring a few false starts), we've mostly just been working away at our jobs and laying around on the couch in the evenings. The days are getting longer here--lots longer. The sun rises at 6am, and it doesn't set until 11pm. It's only going to get longer, too. Although Dillingham is below the arctic circle and never has 24-hour days, we do have a very short night in the summer. It's so short that after the sun sets, we'll still have twilight for most of the nighttime hours. Our bedroom already has dark, heavy curtains (called blackout curtains around here) on the windows, but our living room just has vertical blinds. That means that if you're relaxing in the living room in the evening, you're never really sure what time it is. Back home, the dwindling daylight would indicate that it was time to wind down and go to bed. Not here.

Samara has been working hard to expand her outreach efforts at SAFE. One of the big develops is Teen Tuesday, which is a program designed to get teens together to talk about things they can't discuss in school. It provides a safe environment for them to discuss whatever is going on in their lives. Samara has been getting help from Saramay on that program. She has also been working with Saramay, who teaches at the high school, on another program that reinforces positive behaviours in kids. This past Friday night, they held a dance at the school. Dances here are pretty easy to put on--there are some high school kids that know how to work the sound and lighting equipment owned by the local tribal council. As long as Samara can pick up the equipment, they set it all up and play the music. Apart from that, all she really has to do is get access to the gym, sell some concessions and make sure there are enough chaperones.

Work at the courthouse has been easier in last few weeks in some respects, and much more frustrating in others. We've converted to a new computer system for tracking court cases, called Courtview. The system is more user-friendly and provides much greater access for the public to view the progress of cases online. On the flip side, it requires the court staff to document every piece of paper that comes in for each case (called "docketing"). The software is also slower because it connects to a server in Anchorage, rather than a local server. What's good for the public isn't necessarily good for the court staff, in other words. We're managing, though, and it's getting easier to use as everyone learns how to do things they're used to doing in the old system.

One saving grace is that our court calendar has been mercifully empty during this conversion to Courtview. We haven't had any felony cases go to trial, and now our felony calendar is clear until August. We can't do jury trials, either civil or criminal, during the fishing season. We just can't get a jury. That means that until August, we won't have to worry about the big production of a large trial. Now that Courtview is running pretty smoothly, that's left me more time to actually do things like legal research. I enjoy doing legal research. So work has been okay lately.

Lest you think we don't ever do anything but work and watch TV, I did do some hiking over the weekend. The weather was good--high 50s and 60s all weekend. I hiked Friday, Saturday and Sunday, actually, and took more or less the same route each time. First, on Friday, while Samara was working at the dance, I took a short, but somewhat ill-fated hike. I started by walking out behind our apartment building and sliding my way down the eroding cliff face to the muddy flat behind the sea wall. Mud is going to be the word for this weekend. All this thawing snow is making lots of mud. I walked along the top of the sea wall to avoid the mud, and made it to the place where Anthony, Erin and I went sledding when there was still snow. Then I worked my way through the brush and walked along where the tundra meets the beach. It's extremely wet, with lots of puddles, but the mud is mixed with reeds, and it creates a soft but firm place to walk. Almost immediately, I stumbled onto a couple rotten, beached boats. They're just falling apart on the shore, but it's pretty neat. Of course I hadn't brought the camera, though.

I kept up a fairly slow pace and just worked my way north along the shoreline. To give you an idea of where I was going, our apartment faces south into the Nushagak Bay. The bay empties to the southwest of our apartment. As I worked my way along the beach to the east, it turns north and the north end of the bay is the mouth of the Wood River. I walked along for a little while, watching the seagulls, which are starting to return to the area. After a while, I checked my watch and it was getting close to 8:30. Still plenty of light, but I didn't want to walk forever. Instead of going back the way I came, I turned inland. I could see the satellites near HUD (it's the area of town where a lot of the poorer people live--I guess not all of it is government housing, but it's still called HUD). I walked up onto the ridge, and smack into a fence. Apparently the water reclaimation plant is next to the road there. And there's a fence around it. Going around the fence would have required me to walk farther north towards HUD, or going up another hill to the south. I chose the hill.

Now here's where things went wet and cold. There was run-off come down at the base of the hill. It was a pretty fast stream, but only about a foot wide. There had obviously been a snowmachine trail going across it and up the hill, and where the trail crossed the water, there was a lot of snow still. The water forked, so that there was grass, then snow, then water, then about 3 feet of snow, then water, then more snow and finally grass going up the hill. I walked over to the edge, tested the snow, and didn't sink in very much. I figured I could hop to the snow pack in the middle, then cross the other bit of water and go up the hill.

I hopped. And then I sunk into the snow up to my thighs. Turns out that the snow was actually just slushy ice and water masquerading as snow. I crawled out the other side, and was very wet and cold from my thighs down. Up the hill I went, and came out behind a house. I had to turn right again to get to the road, but that required going through some trees that still had lots of snow at the base. Unfortunately, that snow was soft as well, and I kept sinking in to my knees or deeper as I slogged through it. I was pretty happy to get out to the road finally. I went home, had a shower and felt much better. Lesson learned: even when it's 60 degrees out, the melting snow makes VERY cold water.

My other two hikes were much better. Saturday, Anthony and I took his dog Sofie out for a walk along the same route. We went a little farther than I had gone on Friday, but we were able to walk on the ice still covering the beach. It was faster walking than jumping from footing to footing among the mud and water on the tundra. This time, Anthony took pictures.

Here's Anthony and Sofie, ready to walk.

And me, ready to go, strapped with a canteen.

We found the rotting boats almost right away.

Sofie was very interested in the boat.

Then we moved out onto the icy beach.

I got warm enough walking to strip down to my t-shirt.

And that's it for pictures.

On Sunday, Saramay, her dog Chaos, Anthony, Erin, their dog Sofie, and I all walked the same route. Samara couldn't go because she was on crisis line back-up at SAFE and had to be near the phone. We walked for about 2 hours and ended up all the way at the mouth of the Wood River, which also happens to be the end of Wood River Road. There's a phone booth at the dock there, so we called Samara and got a ride back home.

That's all the Alaska-related excitement for now. Besides that, we've just been playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo Wii and being generally lazy. I'll try to be better about the updates. I promise.


Erin said...

I had to comment on my dog's name with an 'f.' I dig it.

kieran said...

Bravo Aaron.

Nothing like a teabag into some cold water after a long hike to refresh you :)

Glad to see the snow is melting.