My time in Colville Lake has come to an end (for now). I would absolutely love to return to this community in the future as a teacher. My class was AMAZING! I won the jackpot for fun students and am so sad that I won't be their teacher next year.
The end of the school year was choppy. There were a lot of unforeseen school closures and I often felt very out of the loop as to what was happening or when school would be in. Going with the flow was a necessity in survival during these weeks. The joys of small town living meant that school closure days turned into community adventure days. I would often wake up to kids knocking on my door wanting me to come out to play. Lots of time was spent at the park, the dock, outside the church, walking around Colville Lake, and going to the Coop.
Two introverts and an extrovert living in a small cabin was becoming a little bit too much for everyone involved. Long story short, I moved to another house across town. The above picture was my new home. My time there was wonderful. Angela came over many nights for dinner and I was able to host some ladies nights with different friends in the community. With the many school closures I ended up using my house to prep and prepare some activities in. The above girls came over and made a birthday cake for their mom and auntie.
The community had a few flee markets at the gym. I came ready to buy lots of yummy food. I wanted to try a little bit of everything and left very full! My favourite nurse also came for a three day clinic. She did vaccinations and a girls health talk at the school. Emma stayed with me at my new house. Emma has become a very dear friend to me while I have been up north. I am so glad that I will be able to visit with her lots while I am in BC as she is also from Langley.
The community drives up to a nearby camp for Sunday cookouts. The cookout happens after mass and prayers. I joined in one Sunday and LOVED all the yummy food. During this picnic I was able to try trout head for the first time. The cheek is so juicy and delicious.
One of my favourite things to hear while walking around Colville was this young woman yell out, "MS. EVANS, WANT TO GO FOR A RIDE?!" Of course, I would always say yes. Kayla is a very safe four wheeler driver and one of the happiest people I have ever met. I will miss our many adventures around town.
This munchkin is standing infront of Colville Lake Church. The church was established by Bern Will Brown, a priest who passed away a few years ago. Bern Will's wife still lives beside the church and is a pillar within the community. Bern Will and his wife had a bunch of cabins built lake front, which were used as accommodations for tourists who came up to fish. The cabins are still there, but it has been many years since they have been rented out.
The picture to the right is in the living room of my neighbour. They are processing moose meat. This is the only form I saw moose in while up north. I had hoped to see many wondering around. Seeing a live moose remains on my bucket list! This year I ate a lot of caribou, moose, and birds. I find moose very similar to caribou; however, I am told that caribou meat is more flavourful. Processing meat comes with a few rules. First, you must not waste any part of the animal. They even use the blood to make soup. Second, you are not supposed to sell meat that comes from the land. The land has gifted it to you and you can share that gift with those around you. Third, females can not step over the meat or any blood from the animal.
In planning for the end of the year I had hoped to have Friday cookouts with my class. I wanted to use the fire pit we used during spring carnival and planned to some nature art projects for us to work on while food cooked. Unfortunately, school was closed a lot and the cookouts never happened. I took those supplies I had bought for our Friday's and had many little camp fires outside my house. My landlord found me a barrel to use and the kids taught me the best way to make a fire.
The ice is almost fully melted and the kids have been playing the water most days. They are braver and stronger than I. They often ask me why I still wear a hat and jacket. They remind me that it is summer now and I should be dressing accordingly. I remind them that we live in the Arctic and summer is cold.
Sibli Gill, from a surrey school, helps with a knitting club at her school. Her knitting club made scarfs for the students of Colville Lake. The scarfs arrived just as the weather started to warm up, but will be used next winter. The students are always so happy to receive letters from other schools around Canada.
The days school was in session were crazy! It was a balance between re-establishing school routine and enjoying our final days together. We were quite short staffed at the end of the year, which meant a lot of juggling of teachers/classes. Martin was moved into the little school and taught grade 1-4. I remained in my own class and Angela taught all high school courses. The change in assignments meant that Angela and I were alone in the big school. We work so well together and were able to collaborate in a lot of activities and outings.
Speaking of Angela, I must say, she is my hero and literally carried Colville Lake School to the end of the year! Angela gives 110% to everything she does and has a huge heart for seeing students succeed in life. Working with Angela helped me develop as an educator and community advocate. As many of you know, my best friend passed away shortly before the school year ended. Angela was my biggest support and is the reason I was able to finish so well with my kids. She is an advocate, cheerleader, administrator, role model, and friend. Angela, if you are reading this, YOU ARE MY HERO!
Friday breakfasts continued to be a highlight of the week for many. My students became master smoothie makers and learned many leadership skills as they prepared and served food to the school. The above young lady joined in on our Friday breakfasts and became a dear friend to me. Many classroom visits and chats were had and I will miss her.
Daily trips to the Coop were one of my favourite parts of living in Colville Lake. I would have a following of kids and without fail they would convince me to buy them a treat or snack. My favourite request came from a little boy in grade 3. Pickles. He wanted pickles. How could I say no?
My niece has a shirt that has a taco on it that says, "I don't want to TACO-bout it." I told my students about this shirt and it soon became one of the favourite sayings in our class. So, what better way to end the year than with a taco party! School is over and I don't want to taco-bout it.
Unfortunately, school was closed on the last day of classes, which was when I had planned the taco party for. A few text messages to local friends and I had permission to use the community gym to host my class party. The kids came, played volleyball, cards, and helped cook. I ended up extending the invitation to all community kids and we had a great time. I truly wish I had hosted more meals like this in the gym this year!
The above cabin (with the big black face spray painted on it) is the RCMP housing when they are in town. It is one of the last of its kind in Canada. The cabin has no running water. There are two beds and a small wood fireplace inside. In the winter months they will drive in from Fort Good Hope on the ice highway. In the summer they fly in and use one of the band's trucks to do their rounds.
The above cabin is one of the old fishing lodges. They are located on the path that connects the school to the coop road.
I would like to introduce you to these great sisters! They became very dear friends to me this year. Their dad said he was adopting me into their family, which I suppose makes me their sister also. Georgina, to the left of me, was my classroom support worker this year. She was with me most days from 9am-noon. Georgina is an AMAZING educator. She has connections with the kids that are genuine and real. She gives herself fully to the job and is a big part of the reason many of the kids in my class saw so much growth this year. Natanda, to the right of me, is the mom of one of my students. Natanda and I became quite close this year and I will miss her dearly. She would have me over for meals or coffee often. I believe she is going to do wonderful things in her life and is such a great mother to her kids. I truly hope our paths cross again!
With the ice melt, weekend adventures turned from skidoo to boat. Natanda, Kory, Georgina, and myself went on a midnight boat adventure around the lake. We hoped that we could make it to White Sand beach, but the ice around there had not melted and we were unable to pass through. I also went on truck rides up to the airport looking for Muskox. I was able to see one, but the picture I took did not turn out or give justice to the sheer size of the animal. Majestic and beautiful.
Colville Lake has truly stolen my heart and I look forward to seeing where my relationship with this community takes me in the future. The school year may be over, but I truly feel this is only the beginning of a life long connection to Colville Lake.
Stayed tuned for me updates about Ms. Evans and Colville Lake. This summer three of my students are coming down for a BC trip. They will be attending a summer camp in Kelowna and then adventuring around BC with me on the weekends.
A Life Well Lived...
My time in Colville Lake came to an end a few days early. My dear friend and sister, Christine Tulloch, passed away on June 13, 2019. In order to make it home in time for her Celebration of Life service, I changed my flights and arrived back on June 18th. This blog post has been in the making since I sat in Yellowknife airport on my way home. I have written and erased many times. The honest truth is that no amount of words can convey the depth of loss I feel and the true honour it was to have Christine as my best friend for the past 20+ years.
Christine is the friend that I have had the longest. We have walked through all seasons of life together and were very much soul sisters. From our awkward pre-teen fashion trends and candy binges, to navigating the complexities of adulthood, Christine is the person who got me and loved me fully at all times. Christine was funny, passionate, dedicated, caring, and free-spirited. Life without her has left an irreplaceable void in my heart.
School Closures and Bush Trips
Life in Colville Lake has been strange lately. The septic tank in the school cracked open and flooded the front of the school. School has been closed for close to two weeks now. A new tank was flown in and the soil was tested. School should be open again soon.
Despite the school closures, I have been keeping very busy within the community. The daughter of one of my friends had a birthday and I had the honour or joining in on family dinner and making a cake! The food was delicious and the time spent together was so special. I have been invited to lots of dinners and BBQ's. Less work has meant more time to build relationships and get to know families. I love how at home I feel in each home. Everyone is so hospitable and welcoming.
School closures and increased sunlight means kids are outside ALL day. We have been spending lots of time at the playground, walking to the store for treats, and exploring the land.
This past weekend I was able to join some friends on the land for spring hunt. The trip was AMAZING! My friend, Tracy, called me on Friday evening and asked me if I wanted to go hunt some ducks. She figured we would be back that night or early the next morning. Well, one thing led to another, and we were back Sunday morning at around 2am. Four of us traveled to Fish Pot together. Fish pot is only accessible by skidoo and takes about four hours to get there. We travelled across the lake and in through the forest. Breaking trail is a technical and scary experience (and I wasn't even driving). Tracy is probably the most talented skidoo driver around and not once did I feel unsafe. She weaves in and out of the trees with such grace and talent.
On our way we stopped off at many community camps. I was so amazed at their knowledge of the land and ability to navigate around. I would have been so lost out there without them. Everything looks the same to me. Their knowledge of the landscape and shoreline and abilities in spacial awareness is out of this world.
I quickly learned that a duck hunt does not mean hunting ducks. A duck hunt actually means hunting geese and swans. I have never seen so many geese and swans in one place in my life. Fish Pot is a creek that is starting to thaw and all the birds congregate there. Each year the locals venture out for the spring hunt.
We found the ideal spot on the side of the water and set up camp. I could not believe how comfortable they made it without any camping supplies. They laid out spruce branches on the ground for us to sleep on and created a wall of branches to keep the wind out. We made a fire and roasted a goose for dinner. I must say, I like goose better than ptarmigan and grouse. Goose meat is super tender and juicy. One of my biggest fears in moving the arctic was the idea of sleeping outside close to the wildlife. I am so glad I faced this fear!
On Saturday we ventured over to another camp where other community members had set up their hunting ground. Sheldon had gone out early and set up a tent frame with a wood burning stove in it. I was thankful for the shelter as it started snowing again in the afternoon. While at this camp I was able to learn how to pluck and singe goose and swan.
One of my students was at the camp with his dad. It was his first hunting experience and his first time using his own gun. I had the pleasure of being there to hear about the first goose he shot and witnessed him kill a squirrel.
The ice has been acting strange this year, which means all travel is dependent on the temperature and ice conditions. When the ice is wet it makes the skidoo slide around more. It is best to travel later at night when the temperatures are colder. Our journey back was adventurous. We took our time and went to a few more hunting spots. I love the pace of life here. At one point I said I was starting to get cold. So we stopped, the guys made a fire, and we warmed up and cooked more goose.
In the coming weeks I look forward to getting out and exploring more. The weather is getting warmer and Angela and I have been doing a daily walk to the airport. The school is set to do an On the Land trip. We will hopefully leave sometime in the next few days.
Springtime in Colville Lake
Processing Caribou Legs
Working in the city many teachers receive Starbucks cards or cute mugs from students and their families. Working in the arctic is a little different. Sometimes you are given body parts. The family of one of my students gifted me two caribou legs and rack of caribou ribs. Receiving such a generous gift brought me so much joy!!
I hung both legs from my kitchen ceiling and got to work processing the meat. I portioned the legs into steaks, stewing meat, ground meat, and roasts. The remaining bones are boiled and marrow is saved. Deconstructing the legs was fascinating and a once in a lifetime experience. The key to keeping the meat in well portioned pieces is to follow the creases where the different muscle connect. When you butcher the meat properly it comes apart with ease.
Cooking with Caribou
I am learning all the ways to cook with caribou. I have taken to replacing anything I would use beef with with caribou meat. We have made nachos, burgers, spaghetti, stew, slow cooked steaks, and stir fry. The key to successful caribou cooking is spices. I don't find the meat to be too gamey, but it tastes so much better when it is seasoned well.
I have been studying meats of the land with my class. Together we have learned the many health benefits of caribou. It is way better for you than beef or chicken.
The skating rink has been getting lots of use this spring. The school has hosted a few skating days for the community.
The school purchased a second skate sharpener, which is helping with the maintenance of the many skates. I absolutely love looking out my kitchen window and seeing the kids skating on the rink. Seeing the kids play makes the many man hours so worth it.
Spring Carnival has been by far my favourite week in Colville Lake thus far. In many ways I wish this event happened at the start of the school year. I was able to deepen my understanding of the Dene culture and build even stronger relationships with community members. I was all in for any event that came my way and enjoyed all the laughter that ensued as people watched the "white girl" try to be Dene. By the end of the week it was declared that I becoming a Dene woman.
During Carnival everyone is outside all the time. The fire is constantly going and people are hanging around. There is no fixed schedule; rather, people gather and start events whenever it feels right. The main fire pit is right outside my house, which meant that I could look out my window and see what was happening. Students were around all the time (so naturally I put them to work splitting my wood).
Spring Carnival spanned from Wednesday to Sunday. Wednesday and Thursday was kids carnival. The day started with big breakfasts at the school and events ran through until close to midnight. All games are for cash prizes.
The kids do all the same games as the adults do on Friday to Sunday. Everyone knows carnival has started each day by the smoke of the fire. Once the fire is going the people show up. People tend to the fire all day and meat is always cooking and free for taking. Everyone shares and pulls apart the meat with their fingers. I felt so welcomed and loved sharing in this tradition. Many families cooked and sold food and treats out of the back of their trucks.
The above picture of caribou heads were used for the caribou head contest. During this event contestants are timed in the skinning and portioning of a caribou head. People are required to split the head into 7 pieces while wasting nothing. The portioned heads are then boiled and eaten.
One of my favourite events to watch was tea boiling. Tea boiling is a timed race. The contestant has to run to his or her designated fire spot and make a fire. Kids were allowed to split wood prior to starting, but adults had to split wood as part of the race. I had originally signed up, but chickened out when I saw how fast the elders could split wood. I stood no chance. You are given a book of matches, some logs, a tea pot, water and a tea bag. The first one to bring the water to a boil and steep their tea over the fire wins. It was so fun to see the kids building fires. It was amazing how safe and regulated they were.
Evening events took place in the gym. Each night there was a Dene food contest. On one night I had the honour of judging the food contest. I gave first place to the boiled caribou head (which I sampled the tongue). Second place went to a white fish dish and third to a chowder.
The caribou head was a total hit. I was told that it is easy to over boil the head, but this pot was perfectly done and the meat was tender and delicious. One little boy came running up to me and held the eye socket up to my face. He yelled, "Ms. Evans, I ate the WHOLE eye!" Later another kid came up and asked me to pluck the hair off the chin so he could get at the meat.
Another highlight for me was target shooting. I entered in the adult category and was close to placing. I was beat in the second round and came in fourth place. I have been working on target practice at the dump with pop cans. It is really fun.
The two little beans pictured below became my shadow over carnival. They are best of friends and love to follow me around. One of them calls me Ms. Heavens and the other calls me teacho. Spending time with the little ones makes me miss being around my own nieces and nephew.
Many events took place on the lake. They had snowshoe races, foot races, log carrying, skidoo races, and much more.
I had the amazing opportunity to join the getting wood contest. In this event there is a man, a woman, a skidoo, a sled, a chainsaw, and an axe. It is a timed race to see how fast you can go across the lake and return with a sled full of 7 foot long logs. If your stack is too short 10 min is added to your time and if your logs are too short another 10 is added. I entered with the father of one of my students, George. It was the most exciting and dangerous experience of my life. We flew across the lake so fast that I couldn't even feel the bumps of the snow under our tracks. Once we hit the forested are we wove through trees at top speed. George used the chainsaw and cut down the trees. I used the axe and limbed the trees. Unfortunately, on our last tree the chain on the chainsaw flew off and George had to use the axe to portion it. This slowed us down considerably. We ended up loosing by one minute.
During the kids games I helped judge, time, and coordinate. The kids had so much fun and were so well behaved. Seeing the kids cooperate and work together changed my perspective of teaching. In the coming weeks I plan to take the kids outside more. I am going to teach around the fire while cooking caribou and fish.
Carnival was so special! I loved how willing everyone was to help me navigate the many new experiences I faced. One afternoon I asked a friend to teach me how to split wood. I was quickly surrounded by many people who all had tips and pointers. With practice I am getting better.
During Carnival we hooked the dogs up to the dog sled. The school has a small harness that hooks up to two dogs. A local elder has a larger harness and took out 8 dogs. It was so neat to see the dogs running together.
I am falling more and more in love with the Dene culture and Colville Lake. This place has impacted me in so many beautiful ways.
Springtime in the arctic is truly beautiful. The sun is out for long hours now and the community is busily tending to all springtime activities.
Spring break was a week of adventures and exploring Colville Lake. Jenn and Louie were both able to go home to visit family. I chose to save some money and stay behind.
Angela and Martin also stayed in Colville. Angela is our new Program Support Teacher and is such a great addition to our team. During spring break Martin, Angela, and I went out for wood 3 times. We stocked up enough wood for the rest of the year and got a few loads for the church also.
Martin and I went out on a skidoo adventure to neighbouring lakes. We also got to visit Laura's camp. Laura is a local elder who has a camp close to town that the students can go and visit. Laura's camp is only accessible by skidoo.
Spring break was restful and I am thankful for the many adventures I was able to go on. I love being on the land and spending time with community members who have become dear friends to me.
Before the break the rope on the fishnet was accidentally cut and the whole net had to be pulled out. Martin, Angela and I went out and tried the new jigger out. We were able to reset the net and get it back up and running.
The new jigger works great! Martin fed it through our original hole and Angela and followed the clicking out as he slowing fed it across the bottom of the ice. Deciphering where to chisel the second hole was more difficult this time round because of how thick the ice was.
We were able to reset the net and have been going out to get the fish regularly. With temperatures rising we are find that more of the fish are alive and good for eating, which unfortunately means less food for the dogs. Martin has taken to checking the net on Sunday's and bringing the fish to the church for people to take.
I was able to use the break to catch up on a lot of household chores and tasks. I cleaned out our porch from the winter, rebuilt the cabinet under our sink, problem solved a broken water pump, and made a long list of repairs that need to happen. A representative from the district came in and looked at our house. Our sewage had completely frozen over and the water had stopped working. They had to dig out the land in front of our house and thaw the sewage. The first hot shower after 5 days of no water was heaven!
Coming out of the darkness..
We are coming out of the darkest months of the year and for that I am extremely thankful! The dark months were hard. I don't think I realized just how hard the darkness was until it was nearly over. Getting out and enjoying the Arctic was more difficult without daylight. On some of our shortest days the sunrise and sunset would both occur within our lunch hour.
A few weeks back on a Friday night I tripped on a slipper and took a tumble down the stairs. My foot immediately swelled up and I was unable to weight bear. Luckily a community health nurse was scheduled to be in town that following Monday and I was able to get into see her. She suspected a fracture and wanted an X-ray done. I was very discouraged. A fractured foot would have meant a stop to a lot of my outdoor adventures. I was medivacced out that afternoon and had an X-ray the following day. I was super relieved to find that there was no fracture and that is was merely tissue damage. The doctor said I could use my foot as I wanted as long as it didn't hurt too bad. Over the coming week I found that I was able to walk more and more with less and less pain. I am SO thankful that I have full use of my foot. As of now it just feels like a big bruise and I am so thankful for that!
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights have been out more and more these days and I LOVE it! Pictures do not do justice to the beauty that they are. I feel so fortunate to be here and to have the experience of living a life that involves a scenery like this. The pictures above and below were taken right outside my front door. The light from the school porch threw off the picture quality. Unfortunately, we were unable to go any further away from artificial light sources because the skidoo was broken. We fixed it this week and plan to venture out to photograph the Northern Lights again.
My students love art and hands-on activities. The weather has been warmer and the days have been getting longer, which means I can take my class out to explore more often. In the past few weeks we have been playing around with the rule of thirds and perspective in picture taking. I am in no way an expert in photography and have loved learning alongside them.
With the skidoo being broken we have had to get creative in checking the fishnet. Sleds are now a key tool in transporting the many fish back to town. This past week the rope holding the net in the water broke, which meant we had to pull the whole net out and will have to set it again in the coming week. We are all excited for this task because we just bought a new jigger and it is bigger (6 ft long) and more efficient than the last one we used.
Martin has been in contact with a school that is located right on the Arctic Ocean. He has arranged for a trade of dry fish for dry whale. I am so excited to experience whale meat!
Going for Wood
Jenn and I are very determined to pay down as much debt as we can while we are up here. We are both nearing the 40K mark in the amount we have been able to pay on our loans so far!! In order to make this happen we have had to cut corners in a lot of ways. One way that we are trying to save money is by going out to collect our own wood. Each load of wood we collect saves us about $200. It is HARD work though. We drive down the winter road looking for dry wood. If it is not the right type of wood it will clog your chimney and possibly lead to a chimney fire. Once we find a good spot, we park the truck and venture into the forest with a chainsaw. The snow is hip deep and hard to navigate. Martin takes the lead and breaks trail with Jenn and I following behind. Martin cuts down trees. Jenn and I use axes to cut off the branches and then haul the logs out to the road.
Gathering wood always means looking for bunnies and ptarmigan. I don't have my hunting license yet (its on my to-do list) so I am the spotter. Last time we went out Martin was able to get 3 ptarmigan. We let them age in the fridge for a week and then cooked them on the rotisserie.
Last week we ventured down to the big city of Edmonton for the Greater Edmonton Teachers Conference. It was a needed break for everyone. Teaching in Colville Lake can feel isolating and lonely. It is easy to forget that I am part of a profession that is made up of many many people. Sitting in sessions with teachers from around Edmonton and Sahtu was refreshing.
We are in the Double Digits
The count down is on. There is officially 99 days until the last day of school. Time is flying. The days are getting longer now. The sun is up early and doesn't set until around 8pm. By the time we leave it will be up for nearly 24 hours a day. More daylight will mean more adventures, but it will also mean way less rest. From what I am told, no one in town sleeps when the sun is up. The kids will be zooming around on their 4 wheelers all night and the ravens will be scratching at our roof all night long. The next 99 days will be interesting, exciting, and challenging.
A New Year...
Christmas in BC was a lot of fun. I was able to rest and was happy to return to Colville Lake. Jenn and I were fortunate to be able to travel back to Colville Lake together. Jenn spent her Christmas with her boyfriend, Calvin, in California. She had a few hours back in Vancouver before meeting me at the airport to complete the journey back home to Colville. We met Martin in Yellowknife and all spent the night there before catching our North Wright flight into Colville. We were all so thankful for our rest and were feeling refreshed and ready to jump back into teaching.
Our first week back was crazy. We had 3 school closure days due to extreme weather warnings. School is closed as soon as the weather drops to fifty below. I have never experienced cold to that extent before. At that point any skin exposure physically hurts. Both Jenn and I have noted our change in perspective when we check the weather now. Negative 20C now feels like a warm day.
When I was home I was able to invest in some better layers and clothing. The original parka I bought was warm enough, but didn't provide enough protection from the wind. I bought one that is more durable and holds up against the arctic winds we face here.
Jenn, Martin, and I have jumped right back into checking fishnets and delivering fish to local community members. This task has proved to be more difficult with the colder weather. I have learned some very valuable lessons about layers. Apparently too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing. As in, too many socks can actually work against your warmth. I learned this the hard way while out at the net one day. I had four layers of wool socks on, which unfortunately cut the circulation off to my feet, which in turn caused the blood flow to slow, which lead to a very painful freezing of the feet. The thawing out process of my toes was one of the most painful experiences I have been through.
Cold weather has lead to some new experiences for me. Our pipes freeze on a weekly basis now. I had to rip the shelving out from under our sink after the pipe burst. On average our toilet flushes properly one day week because the majority of our septic is frozen solid. When the sewage truck comes to pump the septic it only clears a small amount of space. Thankfully we live really close to the school and are able to go over there if things get really bad with our plumbing (we tough it out as long as we can at home ... because, really, who likes to venture out into arctic winds to use the bathroom?!).
We are also learning the ins and outs of the remote northern pace of life. For instance, we had noticed that our oil heater stopped functioning properly. We later found out that the oil hadn't been delivered because our driveway wasn't cleared. I didn't even know we had a drive way?! Fascinating really. The fan in the heater also broke. The solution: a butter knife stuck through the vent to push the fan every time it slows down. Not the most efficient, but certainly effective. These things would never happen in the city, but here they are normal and expected and I am growing very comfortable with them.
Hunting! I am hoping to get my gun licence. There is a licensing officer coming to FGH and I am hoping to go there and get certified. I have been looking at a .410 that I hope to buy in Edmonton next month. For now I am just a wild life spotter while Martin hunts. The pictures below are of a ptarmigan that Martin shot on our way out to fishnets. I would like to point out that I am the one who spotted this bird. I consider it a hunting assist? If that is even a thing... haha!
Martin has also bought a new gun. It is a double barrel and will be perfect for shooting bunnies and birds.
Martin has been taking students out to the fishnets on field trips. The kids LOVE going out with him. They play an active role in each step of checking the net. We are gearing up for spring carnival and plan on entering the chiselling contest.
We have slowly been getting the ice-rink back to working order. There have been a few big snow storms and the shovelling jobs have been quite hard! The school hired a few kids to help last weekend and will probably have to hire a few more this week. A new skate sharpener came in the mail this week too. Some fun community skating days are in the works for February.
Jenn and I have both taken our classes out cross-country skiing. Sunset is happening early afternoon these days and makes for a beautiful sky to ski under. I am slow. Very slow. I was proud of the kids. They kindly waited for me as I struggled along. By the end of the season I am determined to keep up with them.
January has felt long. Very long. It has been an exhausting transition back to school for both myself and the kids. Martin had a few principal trips to make and for other various reasons we were short staffed this past week. I ended up taking my class down to the high school and taught the two groups together. I loved working with the high school students. It was fun to get to know them better and to walk alongside them in their learning. I am looking forward to getting back into routine in my own classroom though. Having the extra students and grade levels added a big dynamic to my week and I am tired.
February will be another exciting month in Colville Lake. This weekend the boys are heading to Tulita to participate in the Hand Games tournament. It is an exciting time for the kids. They have the opportunity to win a lot of money. Later in the month many of my students are taking off to Norman Wells to participate in the Traditional Games. They have been diligently practicing these past few weeks and 4 girls and 4 boys will be chosen to represent our community. I look forward to seeing the kids in action.
Reflections on December...
December has been an exciting month in Colville Lake! My classroom is full and excitement has been high. The students who were living on the land returned with many stories of their adventures. They all had great success in trapping and hunting. Last week the Game Warden was in town and bought all the furs off of the trappers. My students brought their furs to sell as well.
December has been an interesting month. Having 5 students return after a few months of absence combined with the excitement and preparations for the the Christmas concert has resulted in a slower pace in our academics. I was proud of the students who were away as they all worked hard on practicing their reading and writing. They have quickly adjusted back to the routine of going to school each day and are adding a fun dynamic into the classroom.
Our school Christmas concert was a huge success. We were worried that all the presents wouldn't arrive in time, but were fortunate that enough came in time for each student to have something to open. A month ago a very kind donation came in of backpacks for the students. I have been adding school supplies and winter gear to these backpacks over the past few weeks and was able to give them out at the concert.
Colville Lake School hosts a feast along with the Christmas concert each year. The school provides all the food and community members spend the day cooking and preparing. The food was delicious and the kids did a great job preforming thier songs!
Louie ordered in hats for all the children and worked hard to decorate the gym with her students. Grades pre-k through to grade 4 did a song and dance. The middle school preformed The 12 Days of Colville Lake Christmas.
As a last minute decision I decided to travel to Surrey for our Christmas break. However, because I decided so late in the game I wasn't able to get a seat on the flight with the other teachers and ended up traveling alone at a later time.
I have being keeping things low key and more quiet while being in town. As much as I would love to see everyone, I have recognized the importance of really resting during this time.
This Christmas I am so thankful for the love and support I have received over these past few months. Despite being physically isolated, I have felt overwhelmingly surrounded and carried.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Fishnets Take Two
Last week Martin and I had to go out and re-set the fishnets. The first time the fishnet was set it was in a location where the water was too shallow. We are only in the beginning stages of winter and the ice is going to get a lot thicker in the coming weeks. The water at our original location was only 8 feet deep. Ideally, the net should be set at a location that is about 25 feet deep. You want the net to sit at the bottom of the lake with plenty of room between the top of the net and the bottom of the ice. Keeping the net away from the bottom of the ice helps the process of checking because if the net is too close to the ice it will freeze solid.
Jenn and Martin went and pulled the net out of the first location and it had 25 fish in it!! They were able to go deliver those around town. Re-setting the net was a lot of fun. We borrowed a jigger from a local elder and set out for the middle of the lake. On the way Martin cut down two spruce trees. The branches are used to insulate the holes and the trunk is used to hold the string of the net out of the water.
I find setting and checking nets to be quite fascinating. A hole is drilled into the ice and the jigger is inserted and attached to the bottom of the ice. I sat at the end that the jigger was inserted and slowly pulled on the blue rope. With each tug on the rope the jigger moved further along the bottom of the ice. The net is 24 feet long. Once it the jigger stopped moving we had the task of finding where the jigger ended up and then drilling another hole. This process was harder than i expected. We measured 24 feet in the direction that we sent the jigger and then laid on the ice and listened for its clicking. The echoes of the ice can really throw you off.
Once we located the jigger, we drilled a second hole and threaded the net under the ice. My first guess was about 10 feet off.
Next we attached either end of the net to the tree trucks and covered the holes with spruce bows. The net will stay in the water until the ice thaws in the spring.
You cover the spruce bows with snow to keep them from blowing away in the crazy arctic winds.
We have checked the nets 4 times since setting them last week. Each time that it has been checked there has been 15-20 fish in it (and once there was 40). The dead fish are stored away for dog food and the live fish are distributed to the community.
Today Martin took two of my students with him to check the nets. They loved their field trip and were each able to bring 3 fish home to their families! The skills and experience that the students will gain from this net is so valuable!
November has flown by! The weather is colder and the days are shorter now, but we are still managing to get out and enjoy all that the Arctic has to offer. The skating rink is fully up and running now and I have enjoyed making use of it during my P.E. block. We have not yet introduced hockey into the mix because we are focusing on building up skating skills. We have enough helmets and skates for the kids, but don't have enough safety gear for hockey yet.
The kids look forward to skating days. We load up the skidoo with chairs, helmets, skates, and shovels and head down to the rink. We end our adventure with hot chocolate back at the school.
This month three of my students were chosen to take part in the Sahtu District Science Fair, which was help in Fort Good Hope on November 28th. The girls worked for weeks on their projects and the result was amazing. I was so proud of their effort, determination, and drive to do their best work. Unfortunately, the weather got in the way of us actually participating in the event. We were scheduled to fly out the morning of the 28th and to return the next day, but all flights were cancelled due to bad weather. The girls were devastated.
Setting Fish Nets
Ice fishing in the this part of the world is much different than I expected. Before embarking on this adventure I pictured myself sitting with a fishing rod beside a hole in the ice waiting for a fish to bite. The water is actually too cold here for that type of ice fishing. Instead, the people here set fish nets that remain in the water and are checked every few days. The school has a fish net that Martin and I set and will check in the coming days. On average, people get 15 - 20 white fish every time they check it. The fish is used to feed the dogs, make dry fish, and cook into delicious meals. We have a few families at the school who do not have nets set and we will be giving fish out to them as we collect.
Setting a net is a multi-step process. We loaded up the skidoo with all the needed tools and headed out into the middle of the lake (where the ice is not as thick yet). On the way we cut down two trees. Once there we cleared the ice and began making hole about 2.5 feet wide. I took all the branches off the trees to use as insolation over the hole so it would not freeze back over. The long remaining stick was used to hold the net in the water.
Martin headed out to finish setting the nets today with the needed tool. The tool holds the net and shoots it out under the ice. Once the end of the net is found he will dig another hole to hold that end of the net. The net will remain in the water during the coming months and we will venture out to check it regularly.
Living Off the Land
This month we have learned more and more about the preparation of different meat from the land. Martin shot to ptarmigan and a friend of ours, Laura, taught us how to properly prepare the meat. Families have been returning from bush with the various animals they hunted and trapped. Pictured above is a caribou meat that a local elder was preparing in her house. She set out a tent and has been making dry meat.
I was also gifted some moose meat from one of my students. I made baked moose meat spaghetti and look forward to experimenting more with it.
I have been loving my weekends. The daylight hours are getting less and less, which has really forced me to be purposeful with getting outside. Jenn and Louie have been enjoying their weekends inside away from the cold. Jenn has been perfecting the art of playing ukulele and has been exercising everyday. Louie is the master baker and has been exploring all new types of decorating and creating. I find that I go stir crazy and need to get out, so the rink has been the perfect adventure. Martin bought a new tool to clean the ice and it worked perfectly. Our evenings are spent by the fire playing games, eating, and listening to Jenn and Martin play ukulele.
One of my students returned from the bush. I am so happy to have her back in the classroom and to hear about all the adventures she had. Living in the bush is hard work and she developed such valuable skills while away. She spent her time setting traps, hunting, and maintaining the camp.
While away she successfully trapped 6 marten. She almost caught a 7th, but a wolf beat her to the trap and ate the majority of it, leaving the fur too damaged to sell. I had the opportunity to join her in the the skinning of her martens. Each fur will bring her $65. The Game Warden will come into town later in December and will buy all the fur that has been trapped. If fur is ruined or has not been properly skinned he will not purchase it, which made me feel very nervous when skinning it. Luckily, I did not make any mistakes and she will be able to sell the marten I skinned.
Gearing up for Christmas
Adventures in the Arctic:
I invite you to journey with me as I embark on an adventure of a lifetime!