June

Don This might be a bit shorter than usual because when I went into my computer to add some pictures to the words I had written a week ago I could not find the file. Having once drug the thoughts out of my mind and put them down on electronic paper I find my memory banks somewhat devoid of data but here goes anyways.
That was short lived. Since I couldn’t remember any of what I wrote and it’s the 26th of June I’ve transitioned to a June newsletter. Besides more has gone on in June than all of March through May. I will say, though, that the first two weeks of May were just gorgeous – with sunny cloud free days, temperatures up to 70 degrees and NO mosquitoes. Also we have our daughter, Cheramie, here who is a wonderful author – if you don’t have time to read all the letter jump down to “Henry's Place by Cheramie” and read Cheramie’s description of her visit with the Oyoumicks.
The flying has picked up in June, as it normally does, and despite being behind the eight ball scheduling-wise again this year, both Mark and I have been flying. My first mission was to fly in Senior High School campers for the first Covenant Bible Camp at Unalakleet for 2009. We started at 9 AM with 4 youth from Soldotna and flew to Anchorage to pick up 4 more then on to Unalakleet. From there we flew a Yukon-Kuskokwin (YK) Delta loop stopping in Hooper Bay to pick up one youth, Mekoryuk to drop off two and pick up one, to Bethel to refuel and pick up one and finally back to Unalakleet to drop off three. This was about 600 miles and took three and a half hours flying time with about an hour and a half on the ground for a total of 5 hours.

It’s about 4 PM as we refuel and start out on the Norton Sound - Nana loop. This involved flying to Nome where we picked up 4 Senior High campers, to Kotzebue (yes that's ice in the water between us and the runway - the village is to the left of the runway) to pick up 2 campers, to Noorvik to pick up three campers then back to Unalakleet to drop off nine campers.

Click on picture to see it larger ........................................Kotzebue in June

This took just under three hours flight time and four hours total. Now it’s 8:30 PM and after refueling boarded three staff members for Anchorage and one for Soldotna. We dropped the Anchorage folks off 2 hours later and made it home by 11:30 PM. What was neat was that as we flew to Soldotna the sun was still well above the horizon. I was surprised that I didn’t feel tired but I sure felt it the next day – this getting old is for the birds.
My second set of missions was to fly work team of four volunteers and their equipment from Anchorage to Tanana where they were to catch a boat for the three-hour trip to Kochrine Hills Bible Camp, a somewhat remote camp I may have mentioned before. With only scattered clouds we were able to give them a $500 view of Denali Mountain. On the return trip we flew a group of four people, including the couple who founded the camp, to Nenana. We thought we had enough fuel to get home but about half way we realized that we needed gas so we stopped in Talkeetna. When we contacted the fuel company on the radio they directed us to the helicopter pad since that is 95% of his refueling customers. We’ll know better to inform him we are not a helicopter next time. Two days later I flew to Tanana again this time with local volunteers from Soldotna. Both these works teams were completing final construction and wiring before this summers camp.

Last Saturday I flew my last mission for the month another Covenant Camp mission. As it happened I was able to take Cheramie, our daughter who is up for the summer, to Unalakleet for the day. We left at 8:30 AM for Anchorage to pick up 2 staff members dropping them in Unalakleet at 11 AM. Cheramie was picked up by Sarah, the wife of the Covenant pastor’s son, using village transportation and taken off for her day of investigation described below.

Click on picture to see more photos ....Don & Cheramie
Click on picture to see it larger ....Cheramie & Sarah on village transport

This time we were taking middle school kids home and picking up elementary school kids. We started with the Norton Sound loop taking four middle school campers each to White Mountain and Nome. While dropping them off we picked up two elementary school campers from White Mountain, 3 campers and two staff from Nome and brought them to Unalakleet. This took about an hour and a half flying time and 2 hours total. After refueling we took off at 2 PM for the YK Delta loop. We took eight campers and two staff to Bethel where we refueled. We proceeded to Mekoryuk to pick up 2 campers, Hooper Bay to pick up one camper, Scammon Bay to pick up 3 campers, Mountain Village to pick up 2 campers and a staff member dropping all nine in Unalakleet about 7:30 PM. After a final refueling we loaded five camp staff members plus Cheramie and took the staff to Anchorage dropping them off about 10 PM. A short 15 minute hop to Soldotna ended another productive day safely. Once again the sun was still up.
My last mission of the month was a Samaritan’s Purse (SP) mission to fly an SP Vice President of Projects, Kenny, and an SP Project Manager, Luther, to Marshall and Hooper Bay. Also on board were Holly, Luther’s daughter, Caroline, Kenny’s wife and Angie an SP financial person. We left at 8 AM and flew the hour and a half to Marshall. On approach we saw a layer of low clouds strung between the two hills that form the valley Marshall sits in. Seeing a clear area to the west through which we could see the Yukon River we decided to abandon the instrument approach, flying along the river under the 500’ clouds to the village. Kenny and Luther spent a couple of hours talking to George Landlord, the lay pastor, and his wife Eunice about the proposed SP project for next year to build a smaller version of the Hooper Bay church/activity center. At the end of the meeting four people from SEND, a church-planting ministry, arrived to talk to George. They were also on their way to Hooper Bay. We took off about noon and flew 40 minutes to Hooper Bay. The visit was primarily to give Kenny an understanding of what the church/activity center looked like and how it was being used. Unfortunately a project to bring running water to all the homes in Hooper Bay has been stalled since last fall when the village ran out of money to continue the project. A good portion of the above ground conduit is installed but no homes have been hooked up yet. This means that the activity center, which was serving food, had to shut down it’s food service following a state health department inspection because they had no running water for bathrooms and hand washing. We visited one of the families who had received one of the homes SP had built following the fire two years ago. Then we visited the pastor’s house, also built by SP and left just as SEND was arriving. A hour to Bethel for fuel and two hours to Soldotna had us home by 6:30 PM – and early day. . We flew right by Mt Redoubt that was sending a cloud of steam up to about 16,000 ‘ or 3000’ above us.

Catz Corner:
I hate to admit it, but the beginning of the month saw me behaving like a lunatic in a very public place. Our youngest daughter Cheramie has come from California for a few months to visit and give Don a break in taking care of me. She flew into the Kenai airport which is quite small, so most of the other people waiting noticed that I started dancing on my tippi-toes when I saw her get off the plane. My eyes were glued on her as she crossed the tarmac, so it took a few minutes for me to notice that Don had discreetly moved away from me and was waiting quite properly for her to come through the passenger door. I must say that I thought it completely unfair that he got the first hug! She brought Northern California winter weather with her, overcast and a bit chilly. So far this summer we’ve had three days of nice weather, not counting the times the sun is out at 8:00 PM. Yesterday it hailed! Even the old-timers agreed that hail was more out of the ordinary than regular Alaska weather which is odd enough as it is. Some days we go through gloomy overcast to chilly wind to beautiful sunny, almost shorts weather, and finish with a rain shower. We are prepared for this type of weird Alaska weather, but HAIL?
As a bonus, Cheramie was able to go with Don on a flight to Unalakleet. She is focusing on the study of folklore, so this was a terrific opportunity for her. I will let her tell her own story and sign off. Many thanks to all of you who are helping to bring the Light to the people. It’s working!

Henry's Place by Cheramie
Almost the first thing that happens when I walk in the front door is, Betty offers me sourdough pancakes and sausage. In the entryway, the skin of a beaver that her grandson hunted is stretched across and tacked to a board. On the coat rack above it two hats are hanging, the sort of funny kind with the big ear flaps, that you've seen Abercrombie and Fitch try to imitate. They're beautiful, really, shiny seal skin and some kind of sleek animal fur and Betty handmade them from the leftovers of other hunting trips. It's hard to image that the beaver hide, stiff and rough like the back of a carpet, will wind up looking like one of these hats. The sourdough starter, she made from scratch over thirty years ago.

Henry isn't there -- "He wants to know if you're okay with going out on the boat with him," she says, "he's fishing." Immediately, what comes to mind is the one page "Native Lessons" handout the missionaries gave me to read before I boarded the plane. White man will talk to you before he will go fishing with you; a native will fish with you before he will talk to you. As a matter of fact, several sayings from the handout echo throughout my head for most of the day, like White man talks too much and It's okay to be silent. "Sure," I say.

When we get to the river, Henry is already pulled up and waiting at the shore. As I step onto the small boat, the wind wraps around me and tugs at my parka and my hair with a sort of an attitude -- heiffy, I think -- and a raindrop lands directly in my eye. So I'm squinting as I shake his hand.

Almost immediately, I realize that he's not going to tell me any of the kinds of stories I met with him to hear, and that I'm not particularly interested in asking him to. "I hope you don't mind that we're fishing," he says, "I didn't want to waste time just talking to you. I wanted to get something done."

"I'm just happy to be out on the water," I say.

I am, even as the darker clouds move in closer and the rain starts to drive into our faces more aggressively. Thunder storms are rare in the village, but about two minutes after we anchor and cast the nets the clouds begin growling. "I just saw lightning behind you," he says.

Henry trains his eyes on a fixed point further away and sings me a song in the native tongue. And I learn good things, like Unalakleet means two things, the South part of the river or where the East wind blows and Oyoumick, his own last name is "when you look out at the edge of the mountains, and it's a really hot day, and you see that sort of a haze that is Oyoumick."

Every few minutes, in between summaries of village history and analyses of Bible stories, he'll say "Cheramie Johnson -- that is your name, Cheramie? Cheramie, I'm not doing too well with my fishing. If you're cold, just tell me and I'll take you back."

And I am cold. The rain slicker that Betty lent me was draped over my legs for awhile, but I eventually had to pull it up over my shoulders and my head so that my jeans are beginning to soak through. The sleeves of my parka were already wet when I put the slicker over them and I can feel the damp against my wrists. My hair is completely saturated, and rain is sliding off my face like I just pulled my head out of the water. I am cold.

But there's something incredibly cozy and restful out here on the boat, as if the cold is just a dream that I'm having, snuggled down into a warm bed early in the morning, telling myself that I'll get up in just a few minutes. Somehow I don't want to break the spell; I don't want to go in.

And that's an illogical simile at best, and I've no excuse for it. There's a warm dry bed in your house in the morning, and then there's me and Henry, rocking all alone in the boat in the rain, not catching any fish.