Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | July 19, 2015

“You Have Arrived”

We’ve been here for a week now. Glad we came early as it allows us to unpack, sort, play our daily game of cribbage, visit with people and walk the riverbank at a leisurely pace.

20150711_061008 - Version 2

The “Anna Plant” boards Alaska Airlines for its third trip to Alaska. (This plant was bought on the day Anna was born in Fairbanks twenty-seven years ago.)

We landed in Kotzebue and had time to walk around and visit old friends who made a delicious moose soup lunch.

Front Street in Kotzebue has had a facelift in the past few years. Kotzebue Sound of the Chukchi Sea in the background.

Front Street in Kotzebue has had a facelift in the past few years and paved streets make for much more pleasant, dust-free walking. Kotzebue Sound of the Chukchi Sea in the background.

Small world: from St. Francis Xavier Basilica in Dyersville, Iowa (Hans' hometown) to St. Francis Xavier in Kotzebue.

Small world: from St. Francis Xavier Basilica in Dyersville, Iowa (Hans’ hometown) to St. Francis Xavier in Kotzebue.

Alaska Airlines allows Club 49 members three free checked bags. The smaller planes that fly out to the villages ask your weight at check-in and allow 100 pounds of free baggage per person. Oh yeah!


A beautiful, clear day allowed us spectacular views of the Kobuk Valley National Park and the Kobuk Sand Dunes.

Kevin met us at the airport with a four wheeler and trailer, gave us the keys to Unit A (our new home) and gave us a guided tour of the school.

Kobuk aerial

The biggest building is the school. The two blue buildings in the lower left were portable classrooms converted/remodeled into teacher housing units (ours is the one on the right).


It's a short 52 step commute from home to school!

It’s a short 52 step commute from home to school!

Looking the other way from the deck is the airport and the foothills of the Brooks Range.

Looking the opposite way from the shared deck between the two teacher housing units. (The tarp covers a snowmachine sled on pallets.)

Deck view

The view from the deck looking north: the airport apron with the foothills of the Brooks Range in the background.

We couldn’t find our fat bikes for the first four days, which may have been a good thing because we wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much unpacking done. The bikes were mostly assembled and arrived in amazingly good shape. It didn’t take much to get them ride ready.

Sheldon Brown would be proud.

Sheldon Brown would be proud.

A gorgeous day for a bike ride–out past Dahl Creek and back. Bonus: a good breeze that kept the mosquitoes and bugs at bay.

The road wasn't this smooth throughout, but the fat tires really absorb the unevenness, make for a smooth ride, and provide a feeling of stability. (In case you're wondering, tires run about 10 psi.)

The road wasn’t this smooth throughout, but the fat tires really absorb the unevenness, make for a smooth ride, and provide a feeling of stability. (In case you’re wondering, tires run about 10 psi.)


Fireweed and Fat Bikes


Great way to end the ride. Every direction you looked was another National Geographic view.


After putting our bikes away…


…we enjoyed our sheefish, roasted potatoes and salad dinner. (Fresh local sheefish provided by former students, salad from Full Circle Farms, potatoes and apples from the local store.)

Hans flies in for administrative in-service in two weeks, flies back for a day, then we both fly in for a week of new teacher orientation and teacher in-service. The first kid day is exactly one month from today. We’re glad we came early because things are about to get busy!


Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | June 28, 2015

North to Alaska

We were really enjoying our retirement, but an opportunity came up that we couldn’t refuse, so now, three months later we’re sorted, packed, shipped and on the road headed back to bush Alaska. We taught in Kobuk 30 years ago and that’s where we’ll be teaching this school year.


Hans C and friends 30 years ago (Hans C in the middle)


We’re on a first name basis with the local postal workers.


Luckily we kept our winter gear: parkas, snow pants, bunny boots, mukluks, fur hats, mittens, etc, and that filled many of the boxes (and they still fit).

In all the sorting and packing Hans found a polar bear which is placed strategically for photo ops on the dash of the camper van; a little mascot for the road trip to Anchorage.


Good-bye Sequim…


Hello Canada!


Milepost 0 of the Alaska Highway. Built in 1942 in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Finished in just nine months.


Camped on the shore of Muncho Lake. Beautiful blue colors.


The “Mrs. B” license plate finds its final resting place in the Sign Post Forest at Watson Lake.


On the way back to the van, Hans found his hometown, Dyersville, Iowa.


Just a sample of the beautiful scenery; mostly without other vehicles.

Hello Alaska!

Hello Alaska!

Our welcoming committee--one of many.

Our welcoming committee–one of many.

*If you want to receive notifications of new posts by email, look at the right hand sidebar for how to subscribe.

(Cue music)

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.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »