Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | December 6, 2015

Snow: getting around on it

We’ve had some cold weather and some snow.


Noon on -40 day.


These days most people are getting around on snowmachines. We purchased one from a former teacher, and compared to the little Bravo we had last time, this is a big machine. It’s got a nice, smooth ride with plenty of room for both of us, but you don’t want to get it stuck…  We haven’t used it much yet. You go fast, but you get cold and the smell of exhaust isn’t our favorite thing.



Pull one of these basket sleds behind your snow-go and you can take the whole family along.

On a nice day, it’s hard to decide how to spend time outside….  There are a few working dog teams here and we often see kids going out for a run after school or on the weekends.


During Thanksgiving weekend, we got out for some snowshoeing…


And some skiing.




Today, after we were sure the Seahawks were doing okay, we went out on the fat bikes. It was about 8 degrees below zero, but not much wind. It’s still a challenge for me (Bonnie) to dress with the right kind of clothing: you warm right up while biking, but cool off quickly when you stop. Hans ordered us some bar mitts to go over the handle bars and they are great for keeping our hands warm!




Like our friend, Robert, said, “Snowmachine trails are a fat biker’s best friend.” We pedal along at 5-6 mph, sticking to snowmachine trails that go through the trees, across lakes (a few places with frozen overflow), and over the tundra. Trails with the most traffic are hard-packed and the easiest going, other places where the snow is deeper or punchy is more challenging, but definitely rideable. (We did not attempt to go off trail–that would not be a fat biker’s best friend.)


Riding into the sunset… (sunrise today was at 11:49 am, and sunset was at 2:45 pm for a total of 2 hours and 56 minutes of daylight).


Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | November 8, 2015

The School


When we taught here in the 80’s it was just a one-room school. Three years ago they remodeled the original building, adding three classrooms and a gym. We’re the Kobuk Laugviik: Welcome to the Beach! The Inupiaq name for this place is Laugviik and it means Long Beach. There’s an old story that back when they first had a post office here the mail kept getting mixed up with Long Beach, California so they changed the name to Kobuk.


IMG_2033The gym has a photo mural collage that meshes old and recent photos.



IMG_2037The dedication plaque in the main hall is framed with birch bark artwork made by students with the help of a local elder who is a master birch basket maker.

IMG_2049There’s a big topographic map in the secondary wing with Inupiaq place names. Students and staff reference it regularly.

IMG_2050Every bend of the river, every camp, every hunting/fishing/berry picking place has a specific name. Fine print: “Patiqturuqsiuqtuaq: ‘Bone marrow gets too cold or too painful (from icy water).'”


IMG_2043The secondary hallway features bear tracks.


IMG_2040The elementary hallway features salmon.


IMG_2045We wrote a grant when we were here 30 years ago to have these historical photos enlarged and framed. It was good to see that they made the transition to the new building and were there to greet us.



IMG_2051Views of Bonnie’s classroom (Pre-K and Kindergarten) and artwork.





20151108_173933Views of Hans’ classroom (middle school) and artwork–thanks to Bonnie.






IMG_2046Saturday afternoon we heard on the VHF that a plane was arriving with food for the school. Four sled-loads later, we had it stacked in the main hallway. It’s staggering to contemplate what it took to ship the materials for this building and its contents to this remote area, providing the community with the school it has today.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | November 1, 2015

October — Where did you go?

On October 10 we took a bike ride up the road and explored a trail that goes to Shungnak. The ground was frozen but the tundra was still spongy in places.




Last week there was some new snow, but the river is still open. Unusual for this late in the season.


Thursday evening the community gathered at the school for the annual Fall Festival…

20151029_164220Youth Leaders helped decorate and set up the gym.

20151029_150927A new game this year was “Moose Rack Ring Toss”. It was a big hit with long lines waiting to play.

IMG_2023Set up right next to the moose rack was the “Blast Zone Bouncy House”. Hans dressed up as a cyclist — kids were intrigued with the helmet mirror. Bonnie went as the Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Tree (only her class understood it because they’d heard the story book).

IMG_2017The cake walk took more than half an hour….  Hans was a lucky winner and chose an apple pie! Three hours later, most of the prizes were won and the clean up was done. The staff met in the project room and finished up the evening with pie and ice cream.

20151031_140814On Halloween, before the onslaught of trick-or-treaters, Hans went for a bike ride. (No Bonnie on this ride–home with a sore throat and cough.)

20151031_140641Hans likes this photo because it’s just the bike track and the fox track.

20151031_142713The temperature was about five degrees with a brisk breeze. The hard-packed trail made for smooth riding and it would have been a good day to ride to Shungnak if there had been more time. The predicted storm for the evening held off until after Halloween making it much nicer for little ghosts and goblins. The new snow accumulation of 3-6 inches will make the trail much softer for the next few days.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 6.15.45 PMOn October 19 Hans’ mom passed away peacefully in Dyersville, Iowa. We feel fortunate that she was able to make many trips to Alaska and experienced life in each of the villages we lived in, including: our wedding in Shungnak, being right here in Kobuk thirty years ago when Hans C was born, watching the Iditarod go through McGrath, boating, cutting up caribou and riding on dog sleds and snowmachines. Hans was gone a week while Bonnie stayed behind with the remaining staff to keep the school running. The staff really stepped up during his absence and he is appreciative.

20151024_053814Ann Boenish celebrated her 99th birthday in August. Her family was her greatest joy and will be her greatest legacy.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | September 27, 2015

One Fall Day

The most common comment last week was how “normal” our housing looked. While that’s true, here’s a look outside those four walls.

mooseSunday morning greeted us with the news that one of the teachers had gotten a moose, was back to warm up, get something to eat, and was headed back to dress it out. 

IMG_1934A moose is a big project and everyone pitches in. We rode our bikes out to the site (a nice, level spot right next to the road, by the river–couldn’t have been a better place).

20150920_130011On the way, we saw lots of wolf sign just a few miles from town. The photos are from three different locations. 

20150920_131420Scale: tracks from 4.7 inch tires


20150920_132416After four hours, six of us had the moose skinned, quartered and loaded in two trailers and three four-wheelers. Maxed out the weight capacity for sure. Lucky for us, we didn’t need to carry any back on our bikes. Our panniers wouldn’t have been much help.

IMG_1955Luckily the hunt was successful. Fall officially began on Wednesday, but it came to an abrupt end for us on Thursday night. Looks like this snow will be around for quite a while–our view for the next eight months.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | September 20, 2015

Not Exactly Roughing It

For those of you who have been curious about where we live, this blog is for you.

Like many districts, there’s a teacher shortage here, which is becoming more and more apparent. In an effort to attract and retain teachers, many districts have made a concerted effort over the years to make affordable, modern housing available.

Kobuk1An aerial view of Kobuk. It’s never hard to find the school in the villages! Four of our six staff live in the two units at lower left. The other two live in the old clinic building (silver roof, left center, next to satellite dish )


Ashley and Corrine made the beautiful swing on the deck.

Ours is the converted portable on the right. The tall building in the background is the school gym. (Ashley and Corrine made the beautiful swing on the deck)

Before the new addition and gym were built, these two units were portable classrooms, hence their close proximity to the school. Apparently these prefabricated units came up river on barges as intact halves and were assembled on their raised foundations at the marriage line. It would have been interesting to watch these come off the barge and be maneuvered into place.


This unit is split down the middle the long way, making two, narrow, studio/one bedroom apartments. The high school teacher lives on the far side, facing the playground, and the 3rd – 5th  grade teacher lives on this side, facing the mountains.



A view of our kitchen from the dining area table: electric range, fridge (complete with your photos!), kitchen sink with hot and cold running water, “Nash’s Organic Produce” poster – not unlike our Sequim kitchen, minus the dishwasher. No window over the sink, so pictures of Hurricane Ridge, Skagit Valley tulips, and bicycle photos give us something to look at as we do dishes! If you were to look out the window you’d see the airport apron with the mountains in the background. The double-tiered tank by the window is the water filter.



View from the dining room area into the living room. Left: “Anna Plant”, flat-screen TV, Bonnie’s fat bike on the rug. The doorway leads to the “guest room”. There’s a hallway to the right of the sofa leading to the laundry room (yes, washer/dryer), our bedroom, and the bathroom. Marla’s wall hangings add beauty and color, calendar keeps us connected with family. (Note programmable thermostat above sofa and baseboard heaters, lower left. Wifi router – though intermittent – hanging from cabinet). Though we definitely have the most space and nicest of the four apartments, as you can see, the facilities and maintenance people did a pretty amazing job transforming these classrooms into living space!


Master bedroom showcasing Anna's

Master bedroom showcasing Anna’s “Pi Quilt” (her first quilt ever!) – our Christmas present in Shungnak in 2011.


All the conveniences: running water, flush toilet, full bath and shower.

All the conveniences: running water, flush toilet, full bath and shower.


photo 5(1)A far cry from the 16′ x 20′ cabin in Shungnak! No chopping wood, no packing water, no wrestling with fuel oil drums, no trips to the outhouse; but alas, also no howling dogs, no Northern Lights surprises, no crackling wood in the woodstove, no smell of cooking dog pot, no hanging harnesses. (Painting by Spence Guerin)

Something gained, something lost….


Steps leading up to our apartment. Everything is up on stilts/risers to avoid the flooding during break-up. All the utilities run through the utilidor system under the buildings. Thanks to Ashley and Dan for the cool gate!

It’s nice to be next to the airport, especially on days like Saturday when the cross-country runners needed to get on an airplane to Kiana early in the morning and return that afternoon. In some villages the runways are several miles out of town, sometimes requiring long waits in all types of weather.


It is a bit disconcerting, however, when the Douglas DC4 pulls up just feet from the wall to off-load fuel oil and gas for the community, especially the first time!


When those four engines fire up the walls shake!

When those four engines fire up, the walls shake!


Never tire of the view from the deck...

Never tire of the view from the deck…

* Closing aside: This Wednesday marks the fall equinox. As we watch the sun diminishing in this hemisphere, we’ll be celebrating for Hans C’s first (and only) sunrise in six months. “Good morning, Hans C.!”

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | September 6, 2015

“All that glitters…”

Labor Day Weekend!

With a promising forecast of temperatures in the low 60’s, we got an early start on Saturday, with the intent of biking up to Bornite, a copper mine founded in the late 1950’s located in the mountains approximately fifteen miles north of Kobuk.





With the discovery of copper in 1957, Kennecott Resources bought up the rights. This exploration shaft, built in 1964, extends 1,075 feet below the surface. It eventually flooded causing Kennecott to look elsewhere. Thirty-some years ago, we used to travel there by dogteam or snowmachine, where we’d visit and have tea with Homer, Sr., the winter caretaker. 

In 2012, NovaCopper, in a joint venture with the NANA Corporation, explored deeper and discovered a vast and richer, high-grade ore deposit at 1,500 feet. Projections are that over 9 billion pounds of copper may be extracted from the site, so Bornite is a bustling, active, little boomtown during the summer months. The last workers wrapped it up and left this past week leaving just the winter supervisor, so there was no traffic on the road. Here’s a look at the temporary ghost town:



The cookhouse and mess hall.

A little patchwork where the bears tried to get in...

Note the patchwork where the bears tried to get in…

...resulting in the necessity of putting down

…resulting in the necessity of putting down “bear boards” as a deterrent.

Down at the old site, they’ve done a nice job of preserving and displaying some of the old machinery. If this stuff could talk…






Check out these ore cars...

Check out these ore cars…

from the Coeur d' Alenes Company in Wallace, Idaho. Small world.

…from the Coeur d’ Alenes Company in Wallace, Idaho.
Small world.

Hans thought this Briggs and Stratton motor looked pretty good after a fifteen mile climb. Bonnie liked the seat.

Hans thought this Briggs and Stratton motor looked pretty good after a fifteen mile climb. Bonnie liked the seat.

20150905_122626After a nice picnic lunch, we said good-bye to Bornite and started the long, lovely descent to the Kobuk Valley, with a few stops to take in the beautiful view and fall colors.




20150905_140905 Hope this finds you without labor for the weekend and meaningful labor when it ends.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | August 31, 2015

As the Tundra Turns

The view from the deck on Sunday morning invited us to go for a bike ride.


With temperatures in the upper 30s, we headed north to the mountains.


Wesley Creek Bridge


High water from all the rain last week.


On the road up to Bornite.


Headed back down.


Nice and smooth after this summer’s road work.


Colors come on fast and leave even more quickly.

Today’s ride allowed us to see what’s on the other side of the mountains.

Sunday night’s view from the deck…



The last days of August–a glimpse of snow on the mountain tops: termination dust.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | August 9, 2015

Missing Out

When you live this far away, you miss out. We really noticed it this week.

On Wednesday, Hans C. had his 30th birthday at the South Pole. 

Happy Birthday from us in the Arctic to you in Antarctica!

Happy Birthday from us in the Arctic to you in Antarctica!

On Saturday, our niece Emily got married to Beau in Aspen, CO. 

Congratulations to you both! It looks like it was a wonderful day and we're sad we missed it. Welcome to the family, Beau.

Congratulations to you both! It looks like it was a wonderful day and we’re sad we missed it. Welcome to the family, Beau.

And on the same day, Hans’ mom, Ann Boenish, turned 99! 

Many of the Boenish family gathered to celebrate her birthday. Happy birthday, Ann!

Many of the Boenish family gathered to celebrate her birthday. Happy birthday, Mom!

We’re glad to be here, but this was one week when we felt like were missing out.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | August 2, 2015

The Gathering Place

There’s always something going on down by the river. After a regional board meeting, everyone was invited to seine with two elders–and it all happened on the beach right in front of the village. Although the images were recorded by many on Smartphones, the activity and materials used are timeless.


With both ends of the seine net now on shore, the net is carefully pulled in.



More than 10 tubs of mostly whitefish with a few grayling and salmon, too.

In this one seine, more than 10 tubs of mostly whitefish with a few grayling and salmon, too.

The home-made net is checked for sticks and debris and then laid out to dry.

The home-made net is first checked for, and cleaned of, sticks and debris and then will be stretched out to dry.

Scaling is done by many hands. Even the youngest can help with this task.

Scaling is a group event. Even the youngest can help with this task using a butter knife or a bone scraper.

Skilled hands use an ulu to cut the fish for hanging and drying.

Skilled hands use an ulu to cut the fish for hanging and drying.



Under the river…. a fish freeway.

Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | July 26, 2015

Settling In

We’re settling in to Teacher Housing Unit A, the school and the community. Most days you’d find us at school, emptying drawers and cupboards, sorting and organizing our classrooms.


“Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.”

It’s been HOT! At the end of the day, after dinner, around 9 pm when it’s cooling off, we take a walk around town.

Kids and even adults going for a swim in the Kobuk (10:15 pm).

10:15 pm – Kids and even adults going for a swim in the Kobuk.

Little kids throwing rocks and looking at bugs by First Lake.

Little kids throwing rocks and looking at bugs by First Lake.

Check out this home-made kneeboard. Village ingenuity…






More entertaining than anything on TV. Plus there’s always something to see and somebody who’s always glad to see you.

We think this pup should be named Smiley.

We think this pup should be named Smiley.

Sunday mornings have been our traditional, group bike rides. Today was such a beautiful morning it invited us out. After our last ride, people in town said, ” You need to take a gun along.” Not quite like the typical Sunday morning ride, but we were prepared.

Counterclockwise: Yellow bear bell, Garmin, pepper spray, revolver.

Counterclockwise: Yellow bear bell, Garmin, pepper spray, revolver.

Rode to the dump to drop off some garbage and take a few practice shots.




Bonnie, incidentally, had the best shot of the series.


We rode a little further up the road and explored a few side trails.




RAGBRAI (the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) ended yesterday. Traditionally, riders dip their back wheel in the Missouri, ride across the state, and dip their front wheel in the Mississippi. In solidarity with our RAGBRAI friends, we did a commemorative dip in the Kobuk River. 


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