The two inches of fresh snow outside the window at ALO today is a deceptive reminder of the precarious winter weather that has dominated the past several weeks. The plague of warm temperatures and rain that increasingly visits much of western Alaska during the winter struck again, and raised havoc with winter travel including dog racing. The Kuskokwim River had countless open holes in January, and for the first time ever the Kuskokwim 300 had to abandon its upriver route, instead opting for two 140 mile laps from Bethel to Bogus Creek. That route change made national news. The race itself was mainly run on ice, which poses a challenge for all teams but especially those teams that rarely train on ice. Today's snow, which isn't likely to last long, comes after a day of rain which virtually eliminated the snow around Bethel. And why is there thin ice??
But racing goes on, and already the Kuskokwim 300 has staged five races with total purses of about $240,000 during this race season, and there are three more planned to push the total to about $300,000. This is a phenomenal amount of money for a small town in the middle of nowhere. It is the second highest amount of any dog organization in the world, and is not that far from the world famous Iditarod which will pay out $500,000 this year. And that amount is paid out by a primarily volunteer organization, managed by a part time employee who is also a full time school teacher, Madi Reichard. She has one part time helper, her Mom, Debra.
No wonder Bethel makes the Anchorage paper. This article catches the gist of Bethel living, written by a lady who spent three years here soaking up local life. Of course, full disclosure requires noting that the online article has a video of Andy playing the guitar at an outdoor gathering, and the reference to Sarah and Ben in the article is in fact Sarah and Ben. The article doesn't sugar coat the realities of Bethel living, but it shows there is so much more, and the "more" is so different from most places in America.
That last fact was noted by a couple of celebrity visitors recently. Long time hunting buddy and former Bethel guy Don Lehmann is head of the Sitka music festival. That group brings in a group of world famous musicians each summer to perform in Sitka. Their musical director is Zuill Bailey, a Grammy award winning cellist. Zuill asked London based pianist Piers Lane to travel with him to Bethel for a series of free concerts recently. Don knows his way around ALO from his annual visits and decided it would be a good staging area for the travelers. He even suggested a few oldtime stories would be appropriate.
By any fair measure, these musicians are stars, and of course should be entitled to VIP treatment wherever they go. Here's how that worked for Zuill when he discovered four people and a couple of large instruments don't quite fit in a Subaru. Zuill had a VIP car and driver, but no seat. Piers spent hours practicing on the out of tune Angstman piano, and was stopped cold when Jack the dog walked under his legs while working on a Beethoven number. In addition to a SRO concert at the Bethel cultural center, the pair did concerts in Kwethluk and Mekoryuk. To reach those villages, there was a trip on the river ice road, and a bush airplane flight. Two Bethel schools hosted concerts, and this response at the elementary school in Bethel might be the best thing you see today. This from kids who have likely never attended a live musical performance and have no concept of a standing ovation. Look up these guys on the internet. They have played everywhere and with everyone. They are without a doubt the top musicians ever to play in the Bethel area. They had such a good time they are talking about coming back. The trip was documented by two separate films crews, so stay tuned for follow-up. Zuill Bailey wasn't the only Grammy award link to Bethel. At this year's Grammy awards, the group Portugal. The Man won a Grammy and gave a shout out to Bethel and rural Alaska.
Seth Kantner is a Kotzebue area author and has been featured on this page before. His recent article in the Anchorage paper created a lot of discussion. Not all Alaskans agree with Seth's views on the environment, but obviously his friends at ALO do. Another author with similar views is Don Rearden who appears here often and supplied this month's mandatory moose.
Regular readers will remember that 70th birthday parties started in November, and have continued well into the winter. The last two were held recently, and one drew a crowd. The Angstman kids waited until race weekend to stage their party to allow for out of town guests. They put on a dinner for 70 people at the Angstman house, and Andy's band even provided live entertainment. Look closely at the shirts, if you dare. Jill Hoffman spent some time to put together another poem and read it. While reading the poem, Jill’s habit of breaking down with laughter erupted, which proved to be highly contagious.
Click here to check out other recent Facebook posts. There are a lot of great photos and videos from the past month there.
Finally, this clip of a comedian with a few thoughts about the English language. If you don't laugh at this, you are likely an ass.