Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reconnecting with my teacher in Alaska

I just experienced one of the best vacations of my entire life. It was made possible by Facebook.

Recently, I reconnected with my 8th grade English teacher, Ms. Rebecca Clack, on Facebook. Rebecca taught me when we both lived in Soda Springs, Idaho. Now she lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. During our Facebook conversations, I mentioned that I had been thinking of visiting that area to see the Northern Lights, and she kindly invited me to come and stay with her and her husband Ray, which I did this past weekend.

I thoroughly enjoyed being with them. Rebecca is still as fun and entertaining as she was when she was my teacher. One of the things I love about her is that she will boldly tell you what she is thinking, but in a funny way that makes it easier to hear the truth about yourself. I'd like to be more like her in that way...I'm working on it, but I'm not sure how to get past the fact that it takes me about three days after an experience to think of something funny to say about it. Rebecca can think of something funny to say right there in the moment.

I admire the way that she builds people, by mentoring them, by serving them, and by holding them accountable to be responsible. She's involved in much community service--she mentors in a parenting support group, organizes a program so school children can go dog mushing, and even buys toy dinosaurs to put into the kids' play sandbox out at the airport. I witnessed her go out of her way to buy popsicles for a family that had a feverish child, to comfort all of them.

She's a talented poet and writer, and I love following her blog at

I was delighted to see that she still has the director’s chair she used when she taught drama at Soda Springs Junior High. This was the chair that her students were to NEVER TOUCH when it was in her classroom; messing with her stuff was NOT TOLERATED. So, it was quite an honor when she let me sit in it this past weekend. (To all my classmates: neener, neener, neener...I got to sit in the "Ms. Clack" director's chair!)

Another thing I love about Rebecca is that she is creative. Sometimes that involves rocking the boat, like when she got rid of her teacher desk and all the student desks in one of her classrooms, so they could sit at tables and have a more interactive experience. Here’s a shot I got of Rebecca interacting with a "Do Not Touch" sign at the University of Alaska Museum of the North:

Rebecca's husband Ray is a great person, and I had a fabulous time getting to know him too. He's very different than Rebecca, more on the shy side, and they complement each other well. Ray recently traveled to Thailand, and so I got to see his fabulous photos from that trip, put together in an awesome scrapbook made by Rebecca.

Ray can fix anything, including a house that shifts because it's on permafrost (he's working to put it on steel pilings, like stilts), a 319-foot-deep water well, a coal-fired power plant, or anything else that might need fixing.

He is a pilot and has several planes. Ray and Rebecca live on a marina where planes land on the water with their pontoons in the summer, when it’s not frozen. The planes land on a nearby airstrip during the winter.

Ray is also a fisherman, who uses a fish wheel to catch salmon. Lots of salmon. Up to 500 salmon per year. He then processes (freezes or cans) all the salmon right there along the river. Did you know that when you are processing salmon, you have to make sure that you cover the guts and leftovers, so that the eagles won't eat it all and die because they don't know when to quit? It's true. And, bears like fishermen too...not because they want to eat the fishermen, but because they want to eat all the salmon the fishermen caught, by scaring the fisherman away after they've hauled in their catch. Here's Ray with a bottle of salmon he canned himself.

If you look in the top right corner of Ray’s photo, you’ll see their beautiful log home and the string of twinkling lights that Rebecca prefers instead of harsh florescent lights, which makes for a very warm and inviting atmosphere.

Here are the binoculars they keep by the kitchen window, to get a better view of the moose that stop by on a regular basis.

I felt a little nervous about going to stay with someone that I hadn’t seen for twenty years, but Rebecca and Ray were so warm and welcoming that I quickly felt comfortable with them. The first day I was there, Rebecca let me cook my own eggs the way I liked them, which helped me feel comfortable and right at home. She also prepared many meals for me, and was very kind and generous, making me feel quite indebted to them. I tried hard to be a good house guest, so much that Rebecca asked me if I was going for their “House Guest of the Year Award”, which I was.

I'm not sure if I won or lost points in the "House Guest" contest when, before I went outside to take a photo, they reminded me to not lock myself out of the house, but I ended up standing outside on the front porch in sub-zero weather, locked out by my own hand, with no choice but to sheepishly ring the doorbell.

Here’s the photo I got locked out of the house for:

This was taken on the first day of Spring in Fairbanks, which is why it was only 2 degrees below zero, instead of 50 below like it was in a photo Rebecca took as part of their New Year’s Celebration.

I had an incredibly fun time. It was so fun to get reaquainted with Rebecca, especially now that I'm an adult. I left feeling like she was not only my teacher, but was also very much my friend.

Since all of the adventures I had there were too much to fit into a single blog post, I'll create separate posts about the trip over the next few days.

1 comment:

Rebecca Clack said...

You are welcome to visit us anytime! It was a joy to have you here with us, and yes, you have won BEST HOUSE GUEST of the YEAR! It's official!