Wales Tales: Part Two

If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then you can imagine all the stories that go with the 2,000 PLUS photos I took during my week in Wales, Alaska. It's been a challenge to "unpack" from the trip-- in the sense that I see something different each time I revisit the photos, which has made writing about the trip nearly impossible. But before I forget any more little details, here's a glimpse at more from the edge of Alaska-- where you really can see Russia from your house.

Ms. Fernstrom takes her first and second graders on a class "field trip". They string out behind her like ducklings following their mom.

"When we take our spelling test," Ms. Fernstrom says, "we have to be very quiet."
"Just like when we're in the Bingo Hall!" Naomi quips.


 Lena-- nearly 70-- tells me she loves shoveling. She says it is good exercise. I tell her she lives in the right place for it.

Lena-- nearly 70-- tells me she loves shoveling. She says it is good exercise. I tell her she lives in the right place for it.


Luther stops by the school, carrying his red backpack. He pulls out a manila envelope from the 60's. He shares tales of a school principal-- a "white guy from Utah" -- who revived whaling in the village. We read countless letters from state and federal agencies telling Mr. Christensen to cease and desist. Finally, one says: continue with your plans, but don't tell anyone.

"When I got my whale," Luther says, "I used a lot of Mr. Christensen's research."

Lena sits in her kitchen, wrapped in a trash bag, while Bethany cuts her hair.

Lena's great-grandaughter shows off her Qaspeq.


Parent-teacher conferences roll around while I'm visiting. While some teachers stay at the school and wait for the parents to come to them, Bethany Fernstom visits her 1st & 2nd grader's parents at home. Many have bad memories of their own school days, and Fernstrom has found the home-visits to be much more beneficial. She spoke with all of her students' parents, while those who waited at the school have roughly a 50% success rate.

Bethany Fernstrom sits among drying laundry while talking to one of her students' parents.

All the homes in Wales have Arctic Entryways to cut down on the wind and cold.

A brief break in the wind as we walk to students' homes.

Thomas and Naomi show off their new bunk beds during parent-teacher conferences.


The only running water in the village is in the school and teacher-housing. Residents take showers and wash their clothes at the Washeteria. There are no driers though-- they must haul their clothes back home to dry.

There are only about 30 students in Wales, but with the school's basketball team playing in Unalakleet that number is nearly cut in half. Naomi waits patiently to change into her fancy shoes after taking off all her snow gear.

Every Friday at school is "Qaspeq Friday". Ms. Fernstrom is reviving the art of the Qaspeq in the village, by holding community sewing with elders and students.

Kaylynn brushes her teeth at school. She tells me the frostbite on her cheek doesn't hurt too badly.

Students in Ms. Fernstrom's class brush their teeth twice a day in class.

Marie gives me a tour of the school. In the high school wing, heavy-duty snow boots sit atop the lockers. Marie points out all the photos of the elders and young elders hanging in the school.

The station agent calls the school to say my plane is arriving in about 20 minutes. The girls of the second grade pose for one more picture before my flight.

It doesn't take long to determine which areas of skin are still exposed when you step outside. It's -50 with windchill.
 

The arrivals (and departure gate) at the Wales' Airport.

 Beth and I head to Nome.

Beth and I head to Nome.

 A sign you're in Qaspeq (kuspuk) country-- all the ric rac you could ever need! A shop in Nome.

A sign you're in Qaspeq (kuspuk) country-- all the ric rac you could ever need! A shop in Nome.

 I didn't get to see any mushers finish, but the Burled Arch is enough for now. Bethany is the queen of jumping photos and proves it at the Iditarod Finish Line.

I didn't get to see any mushers finish, but the Burled Arch is enough for now. Bethany is the queen of jumping photos and proves it at the Iditarod Finish Line.

It was a week without cell coverage, radio, TV, and very infrequent internet. It was a week full of amazing people, stories, and landscapes that most people in the modern world will never experience. Thank you to all the gracious people who made it a week to remember!