Sunday, March 13, 2011



 The Arctic in his soul
Like a chill from Arctic cold
Holds memories of Arctic places
And dark hair Arctic faces
That haunt his dreams and memories
Now that he’s grown old

How do you explain a place
That’s lost in time and space
Where the sun begins to set
Though it hasn’t risen yet
And the brief light of merging days
Creates a dreamlike eerie pace

Where snow you know is white
Drabs grey in Arctic light
And spruce that should be green
Define black the Arctic scene
A skeletal world of dark and light
That spawns apparitions in Arctic twilight.

Where the wind on dark nights moan
Driving chills down through you bones
And the northern lights aglow
Reflect unearthly on the snow
The frozen scene where reality bends
And visions haunt you when alone.

And the Arctic in his soul
Like a chill from Arctic cold
Holds memories of Arctic places
And dark hair Arctic faces
That no one wants to hear
Now that he’s grown old.

My wife and I taught school in the remote Indian and Eskimo villages of bush Alaska for eleven years. In the Arctic we would get up in the dark, go to school in the dark, come home in the dark and go to bed in the dark. We lived as invaders in a third world culture and were sometimes looked on with disdain.

Writing Poetry (of sorts) became an outlet for me.
I plan to share some Poems over the lifetime of this Blog.

In 1985 my wife and I graduated from college and immediately headed to Alaska for teaching jobs.  We made the trip of almost 6ooo miles in ten days.  

Shortly after arrival we were hired to teach in an Athabascan Indian village about 130 miles north of Fairbanks. 

The village was on the road system, though the trip was arduous.   The road was kept open most of the year, but especially in the winter the trip could be a dangerous so we only make the trek out three or four times a year.

Haul Road

road to the village

The village was one hundred and thirty miles north of Fairbanks: seventy-five miles up the gravel “Haul Road” to Prudhoe Bay and then fifty-five miles on a one lane dirt road into the village. The trip to Fairbanks took between four and five hours when the roads were passable. We would usually travel to Fairbanks on food or medical runs and occasionally on school holidays to touch base with our own culture.  


The road gets long going into Fairbanks,

As November winds swirl and howl and blow up drifts;

And darkness settles in early at the Pass.

The road to the village at fifty below zero.

When we arrived in the village for our first teaching job the village Chief came over to indoctrinate us. Among other things he said that the village had two wells we could draw water from. One was at the generator shed but it was polluted so we should use the one at the lodge (community building.) A few weeks later he came and told us that the well at the lodge was polluted so we should use the one at the generator shed. A few weeks later he came and told us the one at the generator shed was polluted so we should use the one at the lodge – this continued in some form for the rest of the year (We went into Fairbanks and bought a water distiller.)

The next year the state put in a new well at the fuel farm – and guess what… they struck fuel oil in the water.

Snow melt water
The third year the government paid for a new well but it was placed in a low swampy are and in the spring time the swamp flooded and polluted the well.

When we came in for our fifth year a new well had been drilled but half way through the winter the well went dry. We melted snow for bathing and dishes, and on the weekends traveled to the nearest village at the end of the road, fifty miles further down, to do our wash and bring back water.


It’s winter in Alaska

And it’s forty below.

The wind it’s howling

And it is starting to snow

One new well’s polluted

Another’s run dry.

The one drilled this winter

Doesn’t work – don’t ask why.

Five wells in five years

And you’re still afraid to drink.

For the water looks like coffee

And has a god-awful stink.

Winter road to the nearest village
to wash clothes and get drinking water.

So come this weekend

We’ll risk winter slaughter.

Driving a hundred miles

For ten lousy gallons of water

They also had a Road House
we could get a hamburger and beer
Our village was dry.

Death is not an unusual occurrence in the village. People die from old age, from fights over women and from alcohol and drug related incidences.  Many of the villages are only accessible by air and air crashes are fairly common.  

The Stick Dance to communicate with the dead.

In 1990 a young principal in our school district in an arctic village died in a plane crash.  He was married to a native and had three young girls and an infant son.  He was traveling with his girls into Fairbanks when the bush plane crashed on takeoff.  He was thrown clear but went back into the burning plane for his daughters.  His wife and infant son were not traveling with them. 

A good man dies an agonizing death
Only after finding his children dead

The woman who yesterday had a family, laughing, talking, dancing
Today is all alone-

The past wiped out in one unbelievable moment.

There is no god that would allow this.

In 1990 we had been teaching in the same village for five years (most teachers only last two or three years in the bush.) We liked teaching Native children and felt we were good at it. Our gold was to remain bush teachers until we could vest in a retirement and truly retire.


I would like to see a time
When I can sit with pen and rhyme
No obligations to a job
No firm commitment time to rob
With days to do as I should please
To walk the woods and smell the breeze
And sit beside a roaring fire
And gloat because I am retired.

We stayed in Alaska for eight years.  When we left we moved around, did some travel and finally returned to Maine.   In 2004 we returned to Alaska for three years where I was principal in two southwestern villages.  More on that at sometime in the future. 

A link to a web page for Alaska teachers and visitors:   Alaska Web Sights

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