The trip to Kotzebue started at noon on Wednesday. 25 students, the music teacher, and me crammed into the school suburban on the way to the Bethel airport. We were scheduled to leave on the 2something flight. We waited for an hour. Our group filled half of the airport's waiting area. We checked our luggage and waited some more. All the other passengers were boarded, the 27 of us were still waiting on boarding passes. Somehow our tickets had been reserved, but never paid for by the school district. Why not? Who knows. This is the way of things when you live in Bethel. Finally, as the last of the regular passengers are boarding, our boarding passes are printed and we get in line at security.
The flight from Bethel to Anchorage is pretty short...a little over an hour. Just long enough for the stewardesses to get out the beverage cart, serve everyone beverages and trail mix, then rush everyone to throw their trash away and return their trays and seats to the upright position. The day was cloudless and sat in my windowseat awestruck by the view of the Last Frontier below me...an immense expanse of white with frozen rivers, hills and mountains, and village scattered here and there. At the Anchorage airport, we have to walk on the tarmac and up those stairs to get in the building. Our layover in Anchorage was about 2 hours. The kids were told what gate to board for our flight to Kotzebue and turned loose to roam the airport. I was at first amazed that the students were given so much freedom, but later realized again that this is just the way of things when you live in Alaska. These kids are used to traveling by air on school sanctioned events, this was nothing new to them, only to me.
The majority of the trip to Kotzebue was also through a cloudless sky and I again stared in wonder at the amazing scenery below. We flew over the interior of Alaska and I got to see the massive Yukon river in all of its glory. Alaska is so massive and covers such a wide range of ecosystems from marshland and tundra to rain forest to the treeless mountain peaks. I could see it all from my perch in the sky. It was glorious. Land and sea are white and the only way sometimes to tell the difference was to see the shore that separates the two.
By the time we neared Kotzebue, I has started speaking to the native man sitting next to me who was a resident of the village. As we landed, he told me that if the plane doesnt stop on time then it runs into the ocean. Of course the ocean is frozen right now, but that is still a nerve racking thought. As we turned the corner at the end of the runway, sure enough, there was the frozen sea a mere 50 feet away!
The hub of the village is always the store. So, after arriving in Kotz, being picked up at the airport in the school van, and settling into the classrooms that would be our homes for the next 5 days, we all took a trip to the local AC. We picked up munchies and drinks enough to last us a couple of days.
That night many of the students surprised me by how serious they were about perfecting the musical performances. Most of the student practiced that night. They kept our music teacher, Mr. Carlson, very busy practicing and perfecting their solos and ensembles for Thursdays judging. The rest of the time was spent by the students getting to know the kids from the other schools that were attending and just "hanging out". The 13 girls and I headed to bed early that first night, but it would be the only night that I made it to bed before midnight. No matter though, as I was bound to see the aurora, I set my alarm for 3am and got up to try to catch a glimpse. Also, as the only place to shower was in the open shower area of the girls locker room, I made it my routine to shower and go aurora hunting in the middle of the night while everyone was asleep. While I would come to treasure these brief nightly interludes of peace, quite, and solace; the aurora was bound keep itself from me.
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