Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | May 26, 2012

Ice Goes and So Do We

How lucky were we to experience another break up on the Kobuk! Too bad our little Flip camera wasn’t working or we could have recorded the soft swishing sound of the ice shaving off as angular chunks rubbed against each other and morphed into circles, or the tinkling sound of the ice shards as they clinked together. Lucky for us that we lived in that wonderful spot with the windows to the river. We could pack and keep an eye on the river for movement or listen to the VHF for “Ice go!” and head outside to watch; joining others from town to witness the annual springtime event that never ceases to amaze and call folks together.

Break up begins with water on top of the ice.

Melting from the shore.

Big sheets of ice come down first.

About 2 ft thick.

Ice jams until there’s enough water to push it out.

Watching the ice go.

Big sheets split apart.

As the water rises, boats are continually moved and tied to higher ground.

No caches damaged this year.

Ice jam breaks, flows for a while and jams up again. Repeat for a few days.

Packing and boxing break. Best view in town!

Ice on ice.

Transportation transition from snowgo to boat complete.

We continued to sort and pack both at home and at school, said our emotional good-byes and “see you’s” and flew out on a cold and windy day. When we left this special place in 1986 we didn’t really think we’d ever return. But we did and we hope to again. Good-bye Shungnak, our Alaskan home. 

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | May 18, 2012

Wrapping it Up!

It’s been a busy 10 days starting off on Wednesday with high school graduation. Two girls met all the requirements for getting a high school diploma which include so much more than back in the day when you just needed the necessary number of credits. Congratulations to these two who got the credits, passed all the state tests and turned the basketball court into a wonderfully decorated graduation gathering place!

2012 Graduates and Honored Guests including a former favorite teacher as guest speaker.

Community Singers

Bravo for earning a high school diploma!

On Thursday students chose books to add to their home collections and read over the summer.

Writing names in their very own books.

Thursday evening there was a community potluck followed by an awards ceremony and Kindergarten graduation.

Very kind words for our retirement.

Awards for attendance, hard work…

Inupiaq values and academic achievement.

Kindergarten Graduates

New bikes as graduation gifts from families–woot! woot!

Friday morning was a combination of end-of-the-year wrap-up learning and clean up. Everyone wanted a turn to try out the vacuum (more linoleum than carpet in homes here, so a broom and mop are the regulars, not a vacuum).

After school there was an announcement on the VHF saying there was a grizzly bear right down on the sandbar in front of the village. Someone caught it and it made delicious soup.

Grizzly bear on sand bar. (Photo by Roger)

It was quite a week. It was quite a year!

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | May 6, 2012

Last Week

We’ve had lots of last weeks. Last weeks of school that is. But this is the last last week and just like every other last week, there’s lots to do. Hans is the SYSOP for our school–Systems Operator–which means he’s the guy who keeps all the computers and SMART Boards and iPads going. Literally going. They all need to be shipped back to the district office, which means lots of paperwork and packing.

Some of the boxes of laptops and iPads ready for flying back to the district office.

The last week means graduation. There will be two high school graduates on Wednesday and on Thursday, nine Kindergarten students will have officially completed their first year of school.

Graduation 2012 decorations

Kindergarten Graduation Garb (ironed)

Kindergarten Graduation & Awards Night Program

Other last week tasks: finishing report cards, doing inventory, taking down and wrapping up each student’s artwork and sorting out books to give to families from Gov. Parnell’s wife to encourage summer reading.

Bundles of Artwork

Books for summer reading.

The last last week; the end of one way of life, the beginning of another.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | April 29, 2012

More Signs of Spring

Even though it snowed an inch or two last night and the temperature went back to below freezing, there are signs of spring. It’s light almost 24 hours now, with twilight from about 1 am to 3 am.

View this morning--fresh snow. Good thing we didn't put the sleds away!

Water on top of the ice on the river

Melted hillside with some running water

Possible, but challenging to find enough snow to run a snowmachine

Punchy snow which leads to post-holing as you walk

A few pussy willows!

With the pools and ponds of open water, came the geese. This past week the first pots of spring goose soup were made and consumed. A sure sign of spring!

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | April 22, 2012

Waiting for Some Color

The look outside is changing from white to white and brown, but it’s still pretty monochromatic.

Brown and white

Good thing there’s some art in the halls for our color-starved eyes. (Art by Bonnie’s K-1 Class)

Faces created with blue masking tape.

"On King! On you Huskies!"

Studying light and shadows.

Oil pastel fox

Custom-paint-job snowmachines

Of course, it wouldn’t be art without some self-portraits.

Special thanks to Martha and Anna for art inspiration! Wish you were here to create with us.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | April 15, 2012


It’s springtime! This week there were a lot of activities going on in the village.

The weather was good enough and the snow was good enough to get in some more after-school skiing. A couple years ago the school received grant money to purchase skis. So, a couple weeks ago kids were fitted for boots and skis, practiced working the bindings and spent the past few weeks skiing. Even though they’re cross-country skis, the kids liked going down some hills best.

Thursday was the start of the Kobuk 440 sled dog race. It’s the last major long-distance race of the season, going from Kotzebue to Kobuk and back. This year there were 10 teams in the race including some Iditarod veterans. Given the race route and strategic layovers, mushers quickly check in and out here; just stopping long enough to sign in and draw a kid’s name from a bucket. The lucky name wins an Easter basket.  The first musher this year arrived after midnight and by morning all the teams had passed through. Even though it was dark, there were lots of hopeful kids and community members awaiting each team. (It was late. It was dark. Sorry no photos of race action here but you can find some at the link above or on Facebook Kobuk 440.)

Checkpoint banner

Checkpoint chute

Welcome signs by Bonnie's kids

And, if that wasn’t enough excitement for the week, a group of teachers and students from the school district snowmobiled to the hot springs, which are about 50 miles southeast of here. Some of the group were from Kotzebue and they picked up students and chaperones along the way making a total of 40-50 people and 26+ snowmachines. Today they were on their way back home and stopped by here for a break and to get gas.

Line for the gas pump.

It’s light now until after 11 p.m. and starting to lighten up again in the morning by 5 a.m. The temperatures are predicted to be above freezing all week, so we expect there to be some serious melting going on. And with pools of open water, birds will return.

Happy spring!  Happy trails!

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | April 8, 2012

Rabbits and Bunnies and Hares, Oh My!

Last week the Alaska State tests for all students in grades 3-10, and any 11th or 12th graders who still needed to pass the tests for high school graduation took place. Because we had so many grade levels to test and many students who needed accommodations, all the rooms in the school were needed for testing so Bonnie had class with 28 K-2 kids in the gym.

Every afternoon she took them out for a hike. Lucky for Bonnie, lucky for the kids, the Inupiaq instructor accompanied them.

Perfect hiking weather; 15 degrees, plenty of sunshine, no wind, packed trail.

We learned that at this time of the year rabbits are snowblind, which makes for good rabbit hunting or snaring. After observing all the rabbit tracks, we learned about setting snares. Look for the willows rabbits are eating, but don’t put a snare on those. The rabbit could eat through the willow and get away. Put the snare on the drier willows next to it.

Rabbit food.

In addition to learning about rabbits, the Inupiaq instructor pointed out the top of a beaver dam and lodge/igloo. People here shoot and trap beavers but never disturb the igloo. The Elders tell them that a beaver igloo is like their houses with a room for food, a room for the babies and even a bathroom. Each afternoon we hiked to a different location, learning about the local environment and taking some time to play.

Playing "Fox & Geese Tag" aka "Pizza Tag"

Saturday we awoke to -23 degree temperatures and bundled up to drive the snowgo and sled over to Kobuk for their annual community “Breakfast with the Easter Bunny”.

After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausages, juice, coffee, tea, egg/ham biscuits, and applesauce or jello, who should wonderously appear but the Easter Bunny! (EB stayed around long enough for hugs, to hand out Easter baskets and for photo ops.)

Proper attire for the event: not Easter Bonnets, but Bunny Boots!

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | April 1, 2012

Walking for Respect

Thursday was the second annual “Choose Respect” march all over Alaska. Hopefully the activities and discussions leading up to the event will transfer into more respectful actions. Everywhere. Every day.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | March 25, 2012

And the Winners Are…

Bonnie’s class participated in the Alaska Migratory Bird Contest and this year’s theme was “Spectacular Shorebirds”. The winning art and literature/poetry is published in a calendar each year. An educational specialist from the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge flew out and filled us in on the poster and literature contest rules, taught us about shorebirds in Alaska and gave us specific information on the ones that live here during the spring and summer. After she left we looked at Google images of shorebird fine art and then began to plan and sketch our projects. The completed artwork was carefully packaged and mailed off to Kotzebue for the regional judging. Students in our class won all three awards in the K-2 category and will compete in the state competition! Here are our winners (in no particular order):

Caitlin's work

Summer's shorebirds

Sara's art project

Two kids were sick for most of the art project work so we entered them in the literature/poetry division. Kindergarten students can dictate their thoughts, and their stimulus was watching YouTube videos of shorebirds. Here are their winning entries:

Little Birds

Running in the sand.

Eating bugs.

Down, up,

Ten times

His head goes.

Lots of birds run.

by Donovan


Eating bugs.

Beak digs down in the sand.

Keep eating bugs.

Roll that rock.


Head down.

Head up.


Go find more.

by Kyler

Good luck to everybody in the state competition which is only a few weeks away. Bravo on a job well done!  (If you’re on Facebook, check out the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge page. Lots of interesting information and photos there.)

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | March 18, 2012

March in Alaska

It’s March in Alaska and that means so many things. First of all, it’s the start (and finish) of the Iditarod. Who can’t get excited about that? All the mushers (who may not exactly be looking like what you’d expect of world-class athletes), those hardy dogs, the uncertainty of the weather and the trail, and all the stories that unfold each day of the race (so many good stories there at Alaska Dispatch; real them all!). Those news stories will tell you that Dallas Seavey won the race, but really it was the kids in Bonnie’s class who completed 1,168 “miles” (of book reading) first. One book equaled one mile and with the help of Hans’ middle school students, they crossed the finish line about 9 hours faster than Dallas. Woot-woot!

Winning the Idita-read!

Not only were there dogs and mushers, and kid readers racing from Anchorage to Nome, that same trail hosts people-powered racers in the Iditarod Invitational race. That is: people walking, skiing, snowshoeing or biking on the trail. Where else would you find such a thing in March? This year the beginning of the trail had so much snow that the bikers were pushing or carrying their bikes for miles and miles.

March also means the start of spring. Don’t be thinking green now, be thinking sunshine. Lots and lots of sunshine. Don’t forget your sunglasses! The sunshine is deceiving however, the night-time temperatures here this past week were -37 and it only warmed up to -8 during the day.

Bright sunshine, but nothing's melting.

We haven’t had snow for a long time, and the tundra is wind-swept. Some new snow would be nice for skiing.

Not much snow.

This March has also been good for seeing wildlife. Right out the window, every day, at all times of the day, we see foxes. One day one was prancing a little fancier as it passed by with a ptarmigan in its mouth. There’s been a scrawny, pumpkin colored cat slinking by, too. But we get a little more excited when the big moose walks right past the window.

Better than TV.

March–it’s been quite a month already and it’s only half gone.

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