I wanted to sit where I could see the terrain below; specifically, the Yukon River. I climbed the shallow steps into the ERA airplane and looked ahead. The ceiling was low and even I couldn’t stand up between the single row of seats on either side of the narrow aisle. Halfway back, I stepped over a hump in the floor and an older Native man informed me, “He doesn’t want us to sit back there. Weight and balance.” I sat down across from the gentlemen and noticed that his fingers were all stubs. Frostbite? My view outside was filled with the high wing and the back of a twin-engine.
About 10 people filled the seats in front of me. A number of passengers started conversations. The tall young man who crouched awkwardly to ensure our seatbelts were fastened, was every bit a commercial pilot in his clean black trousers and crisp white shirt. At that moment, he was also the flight attendant.
Even though my view was limited, I caught glimpses of the very frozen Yukon River.
When I deplaned, I wasn’t sure who to look for, but Genny, the school librarian, found me as if we were old friends. My suitcase would arrive in the outdoor chainlink fenced area. “They’ll put it on a pallet,” said Jenny. The other option was the mud.
Genny, the ultimate hostess, tour guide, and chamber of commerce spokeswoman, immediately oriented me to my unfamiliar surroundings.
Galena’s population of 500 is spread around three main parts:
– The Air Force Base which is now used as Galena Interior Learning Academy (GILA) and is set back from the airport.
– Old Town, the original townsite which runs along the often mile-wide Yukon River and is comprised of old cabins, outhouses, sled dog houses, the post office, and a docking area for barges.
– An area upriver, away from the river, which includes the public school, health services, community hall, KYIU radio station, and houses. That evening, when I was invited to dinner by Kim, whose family lives in that area, she said, “We live in the suburbs.” As much as the Galena people told me they didn’t really live in a village, at no point was I convinced.
Scattered within these vicinities are the Alaska State Troopers post, the headquarters for the Koyukuk/Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge, St. Berchman’s Catholic Church and Galena Bible Church, government offices, two B&Bs, and a coffee shop. All in all, Galena is a hub for smaller villages up and down the river and the Interior.
Genny and Kim had set my agenda. Lunch at the school cafeteria, which was also the gym, was top of the list.
Breakup was in full force. The ground was frozen, but the snow was melting and water had no place to go; consequently, puddles were lake-size. I was ready to put on my tall rubber boots — even though I observed women in crocs and sandals. Some even wore cropped pants and frilly nylon blouses. It was sunny all right, but it was also 40 degrees. I was comfortable in my wool sweater.
Next on the list was to see if I had cell phone coverage. No. That meant they’d verbally tell me when I’d be where, and who would pick me up from where. Or, they could call the B&B if I was there.
The B&B was a double-wide trailer on stilts. It is not unusual for houses and building in the Interior to be on piers. Permafrost semi-thaws with temperatures, but more so if a warm house is placed on top it. The owners did not live in the B&B and I was on my own. The entry was through the garage which smelled strongly of fuel. The bedroom overlooked a frozen lake. “Overlooked” was enhanced by the de-cline of the room. “There’s been some shifting,” said the owner. This shifting was evident in bedroom doors which stayed open unless a shim was wedged beneath them, kitchen cabinet doors that swung open, and an exterior door that didn’t lock. I prayed there would not be an earthquake.
The boiler had a problem. The heat was hot water baseboard. The electrical heater warmed my room nicely. The shower the next morning was chilly. There were no window coverings. Facing the lake was a good thing. The sun didn’t set until after 10 pm. The bed was comfortable.
My 48 hours in Galena was a blur of unknowns, adventures, and fun surprises — were those baby chicks I heard peeping?
To be continued…..