I am sitting here winding down, finishing up the few minor details that encompass the last day of work (my year is slightly shorter than the rest, they are leaving assorted days through this week).
I always feel a little loose at the end of the year, like something isn't complete, or something is missing. It always makes me unsettled.
But I fly tonight back to New Jersey and will be home by tomorrow late afternoon.
I am posting here my writings from the end of my first year in Alaska. I will leave it to say all those things I feel right now as the year ends.
But the quagmire in Bethel began to look alarmingly more troubling as time continued into spring. The ponds became lakes and some of the smaller villages farther north on the Kuskokwim were evacuated due to floods. In Bethel, the flooding became so bad, the sewage pipes were floating and there was a concern of leakage and contamination. The drinking water was compromised. School was closed for a few days until the water receded.
The ice roads were closed and with that, it became impossible to find alternate travel to some of the closer villages. Water taxi’s were replacing them, but they were fewer in number than river taxi’s. Almost anyone was willing to drive you up the Kuskokwim for $40. But traveling by boat was a bit more complicated. And you had to find a way around once you got to your destination, not always an easy thing to do.
As the water receded, it left behind a dry powdery dust that made my eyes itch, burned in my throat and stung my nose. Every time I went out of doors, I coughed so violently my head pounded. I wondered what bacteria might be lurking in the dust, with sewage pipes possibly leaking into water. What on earth might be left behind? I took small comfort in the days being very long and hoping the sunlight might quell any live bacteria.
Going to villages in the springtime made up for the dreadful conditions in Bethel. Heading out towards a coastal village the view was spectacular with the mountains on one side and the vast ocean on the other. The mountains were still snow capped with fog shrouding their bases. Flying in and seeing that sight reminded me of the incredible majesty that can be found only in Alaska.
The students, as spring bloomed, became absent more and more, pursuing hunting and fishing with family. For students who were required to have my services, their absences made this tricky. Calling parents was often futile and frustrating. Comments included, “Oh? Did you need my son in school today?” It took all my strength not to replay, “Every day, we need your son every day.”
But, I was able to complete all required work, finished up paperwork and headed back to Ohio. On the trip returning, I found myself reflecting about the year. It had been a good year, filled with an amazing adventure, sights I’d never before seen, and a new perspective on what it means to be an American. I thought a lot about poverty and what it looks like. I thought about how vast cultures can be in America. I thought about survival and strength. But most of all, I thought about the children and wondered how they would spend their lives. And I hoped I had helped them realize their dreams.