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Luck has not been our friend this trip. Yesterday was the last day we could have made it to Telida and had enough time to do our field work, and it was pouring rain. This morning I woke up, and the sun was shining cheerfully like it had never left.

Sunny day in Nikolai
Is this a sick joke?

I’m trying not to think too hard about it. Telida wasn’t in the cards for me, but what can you do? I keep telling everybody I talk to that I’m coming back, so I guess now I have to figure out how and when to do it. In the meantime, it was a stunner of a day in Nikolai, and I had a lot of free time to just wander around soaking up the sights. I started the morning with Sasha and Santosh, who needed to wrap up work at a few sites around the village. At one point we heard howling and were like “it’s unlikely, but that sounds like wolves!” Later Stephanie told us no, those are her cousin’s dogs. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Permafrost research in Nikolai
Sasha finishing up site visits.

Deciduous trees in Nikolai
I got distracted and started taking pictures of trees. Fun fact: where there are deciduous trees, there usually isn't permafrost. This site surprised Santosh and Sasha, because there is.

Church in Nikolai
Walking past the church.

We heard a plane come in, and since we figured it was Barney and I wanted to see the plane I was supposed to have flown on, I peeled off and headed to the runway while the scientists finished up their science. Oline Ticknor and Talia were there; Talia saw me walking up, and as always, stole the picture.

Bush plane in Nikolai
It would have been so fun to ride in this airplane.

I chatted with people for a while until the plane left for another run. (Barney brought in two belated loads today for John Runkle, who you met on Day 3.) After that, I kind of just wandered around. In case you’re curious, here’s where I was spending most of my time while it was raining:

Lodge in Nikolai
Our lodge.

Nikolai tribal office
The tribal office.

I went back to the fish wheel because it’s fun to watch, and took some better pictures.

Fish wheel in Nikolai
Looks better in the sunshine.

Fish wheel in Nikolai
Turnin'.

Fish caught by fish wheel
There's a fish in there!

Then I walked all the way to the other side of town towards Stephanie and Vicki’s houses. Steven Nikolai Jr. (photo of Junior is on Day 4) caught up with me on a bicycle and we walked together most of the way. Yesterday he’d come over for coffee and we had chatted about his firefighting, which was interesting. I was complaining about getting weathered in, and he said that once while fighting fires in Alaska, he got stuck on top of a mountain for a week and a half because the weather was too bad for helicopters to land. Kind of put things in perspective. Junior also loves his family but lives away from them a lot of the year and doesn’t call them often enough, so we commiserated over that (hi Mom. I love you and think about you all the time, even when you don't hear from me).

Junior separated to go to his dad's place, and I walked for a little bit and sat down next to some trees. There were lowbush cranberries at my feet, so I ate a few and congratulated myself on being able to identify them. You know when you have the feeling that you’re experiencing a moment that you’re going to remember, when all the others around it have gotten fuzzy? I had that feeling then. The wind was blowing lightly through the trees, I had tart cranberries to savor, and it felt good to be walking around.

Then I started thinking about the bear that was hanging around the other side of the runway, and decided I wanted to be closer to the center of town. There was a great snowmachine on my way:

Snowmachine in Nikolai
Alaskans call snowmobiles snowmachines. I don’t know why it’s different.

Next I stopped by the church, because I’d heard that it’s always unlocked and I hadn’t visited it yet. Nikolai and Telida are Russian Orthodox, which is a result of Russian fur trappers’ influence starting in the 1830s (this is why there are so many Russian names).

Church in Nikolai
Nikolai's church.

Russian Orthodox calendar
Calendar in our lodge.

When I opened the doors to the church, I literally gasped. It is beautiful in there. I can imagine in the winter that it would be a burst of warmth and color.

Church in Nikolai
Your view when you enter.

Inside church in Nikolai
Inside the church.

Russian Orthodox church window
Church window.

Later that afternoon, the community was holding a potlatch to celebrate the first day of school, so Santosh, Sasha, and I hung posters and pictures to show some visuals about our respective permafrost projects. The food was definitely more interesting than we were, though. Oline Ticknor’s smoked salmon was something to behold. Teresa and I were both eyeing the table hoping nemaje would show up, but no luck on that front.

Potlatch in Nikolai
Full bellies.

After plates were cleared and the school gymnasium was cleaned up, Sam, Teresa, Sasha and I brought s’mores over to roast at Stephanie’s house. We used the fire pit in her smokehouse...smoked mallows!

Smokehouse in Nikolai
Sasha, predictably, is doing something handy with kindling.

S'mores in Nikolai
Our s'more spread.

We didn’t stay very long this time—Teresa was itching to get down to the river, because the guys who were waiting for us in Telida were due to arrive in their boats, and she has been missing them. The river was high from all the rain, and it was a clear day, so they had made great time. The trip that would have taken us two days they made by 7 pm.

Boats on the Upper Kuskokwim
Meeting boats on the Upper Kuskokwim.

Saying hello, and watching the easy camaraderie they have with Teresa, I lost a bit of my composure over missing out on Telida. I would very much have liked to spend three days riding around to field sites with all these people. “I want to see Telida,” I said to a fellow named Ed. “I’m coming back some day.”

"I like Telida a lot," he told me.


Read Day 9

Read about permafrost

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Weather Summary
Gorgeous. Sunny.

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