This weekend, Eva and I had a chance to travel to Teller, north and west of Nome on the Seward Peninsula. Here’s a map:
Is there anywhere else in the country where you can say, seriously, “I’ve been on all the roads”? I can’t think of one, other than Hawaii and other islands – but even some islands have roads leading to the mainland (clearly, not Hawaii this time). The road to Teller is amazingly beautiful, with mountains in the distance capped with snow, and the brown tundra nearby looking lovely in the light of the sunrise. Occasionally, we’d see Ptarmigan or Ravens fly by – the Ptarmigan are turning white, and the ravens are, of course, black – giving a spooky contrast of flying and grounded creatures.
Once in Teller, that spooky feeling kept up. There were few people outside when I made my rounds around the town – considering that there are only 250 people in Teller, that shouldn’t be very surprising, especially as there was a Volleyball tournament going on at the school. But the feeling of being alone in the midst of a town squeezed on two sides by sea meant that some of my shivering had nothing to do with the 20 degree temps and steady wind. Also, Eva and I decided that, after parking at the school, our first stop should be the graveyard. (OK, it happened to be on a hill, and we could see the town from there. But still – creeeeeeeeepy vibes, ok?)
After checking out the graveyard, and surveying the town from its hilltop heights, Eva went to get her Elder Voices interviews setup, and I wandered about the town for a few hours, taking breaks at the warm school building when necessary. The school is really nice – built in 2004, it stands out as the community gathering place as well as the place for students to learn. Also, there are wonderful murals and images inside and outside, highlighting the history of Teller and Alaska. My favorite? The zeppelin landing. Yes, the Norge, an airship from Norway (and Italy and America), landed in Teller in 1926 after landing at the North Pole. Imagine what that must have looked like – it was not a planned landing spot, so to the people living in Teller, a giant UFO slowly floats down and lands. Not surprisingly, it left a mark.
But we weren’t in Teller to take pictures of Zeppelins that no longer exist – instead, we were there for a Pancake Dinner in support of the Bering Sea Women’s Group and Teller author Claire Kennon. Or rather, Claire was presenting at the Pancake dinner, the proceeds of which went to the BSWG. And the presentation was powerful – a walk through Claire’s books, presenting the internal view of a child in a dysfunctional family. That child, Norah, develops Anorexia, and barely survives her attempts to fool her doctor and her family. Later in life, she spirals out of control, making poor choices that lead to being trapped in an abusive marriage. Alaska unfortunately leads the nation in intimate partner violence, and is near the last in the nation for people seeking help.
Claire’s main point of the message was that the cycle of power and control can be overcome, by making the choice to move into a cycle of empowerment. She pointed out that, no matter what has happened, we always have a chance to choose to live, rather than simply suffer through life. Incredible messages of hope to an audience in great need of them. A filling message – with a filling meal. By the end of the pancake dinner, the Teller Youth Group was getting creative with their pancake making: