Ben Harper Kind of Day

Front Street runs along the frozen Kotzebue Sound I woke up this morning in Kotzebue and, by God's grace (really!), I made it onto the plane with everything I need for the next three days: testing manuals and protocols, food, sleeping bag, laptop, clothes, etc. Ask my husband, parents, siblings, former housemates--I never leave my house without coming back in once or twice to grab items I've forgotten. Keeping track of all of my luggage is one of the hardest parts of this traveling job!

I was the only passenger on the plane this morning and was looking forward to taking pictures of the landscape and noting the changes since my last visit. However we climbed a few hundred feet, soared through a thick layer of clouds, and popped out on top: the sun above and a terrain of clouds below for the whole trip to Ambler, Alaska. This was a Ben Harper kind of day. I popped in my headphones and listened, first, to "With My Own Two Hands" and imagined what good I might do with my hands today. I ended up using them, mostly, to turn the pages of "The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear." (If you aren't familiar with this story, just know you're missing out on what is, from my perspective, the greatest book ever written.) We used it to make predictions, discuss new vocabulary words, introduce prepositions, generate adjectives, and sequence parts of stories. I felt like it was making good use of my hands.

Another song I heard during my 40 minute flight above the clouds was "Amen Omen." Though I'm not certain of its full meaning, it is obviously a farewell song: "Amen omen, will I see your face again?...Can I find the place within to live my life without you?... I listen to a whisper, slowly drift away. Silence is the loudest parting word you never say...Now a voiceless sympathy is all that remains..." I'd never before listened closely to the lyrics but they came back to me today when there was talk of a village elder who had passed away. The 92 year old woman was flighted to Kotzebue last week and passed away there. A considerable number of children were absent today as the woman was their grandmother. I was told that passing of an elder brings the community together as there is no funeral home nearby. Her body was brought back on this afternoon's flight and her family will build a casket, construct a wooden cross-marker, and prepare her body for burial.

Perspective on death, I imagine, is one of the largest differences between my culture and that of the Inupiaqs here. I purchase individually wrapped chicken breasts from the grocery store while they hunt, kill, and preserve Caribou meat. I work in a hospital and nursing home/rehab center and, though it is not uncommon for me to lose a patient to death, I never lay eyes on them in that state: one day I see them and the next day I don't. However, folks here are intimately connected to end-of-life. It's strange to think we can live so differently within one nation.