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  • Seth Kantner

March 24, 2020

Kotzebue--gray morning here but the sun is burning through the haze, 30 above and not much wind. And it's late March--which means long days and soon no darkness for months. Which causes spring fever, that tug and draw and joy of being outside, out on the land in the light, happy and roaming. A tough time for school to get in the way, or anything related to homework. I wonder why i organized my life to be stuck with permanent homework? That's what being a writer is, Forever Homework. I was home-schooled, in our old igloo at a tiny table with a Kerosene lamp, so that dreaded "home-work" feeling is lifelong for me. Now I'm kind of wondering how home schooling is going for kids not used to the "home" part and the plain schoolwork with no socializing mixed in. My education was 99% home and not expensive: two cardboard boxes came from Juneau every late summer, one with books, one with cool stuff like erasers, paperclips, magnets, protractors--and my mom for a teacher. After dinner she wiped the grease off the table. Then came the dreaded feeling: time for school. We had to do it. My dad was grateful to melt into the shadows to saw boards or skin a lynx and not be a part of it. It was dark out, the house buried. My brother Kole and I glanced longingly at the projects we'd been working on, and the books we'd been reading, but had to turn back to the table and pulled up our little chairs. He was far better at it than me, that's for sure. Nowadays--they would have put me on drugs--I had too much energy and only wanted to work with my hands, build a sled, rasp wood, file metal, make arrowheads, anything that didn't involve using your head, ever. But, how long the school year took was up to us boys, and we wanted to get it over with. The good thing was first we had our days--our family didn't waste daylight on school, day was for running dogs, trapping, getting wood and water, doing chores. That stuff felt like pure freedom. I loved limbing trees for firewood, chopping holes in the ice to trap beaver, skinning furs, sewing, making pies, all regular stuff, not school. The other good thing was we didn't start school in August, we waited til after we'd gathered food, berries and moss and fish and caribou, and even under-ice fished too, which meant November was when school started. The long winter darkness helped. My mom made it better too by looking through each instruction book and only having Kole and I do what had to be sent in to Juneau. (Don't tell!) The rest she termed "busy work"--little exercises and stuff designed to fill the long days and long nine months of normal classrooms. She only made us do worksheets and extra practice if after studying we weren't ready for a test or quiz. Also, we were allowed to chose our favorite subject to start with--say science, and stick with it for all the evenings it took to finish a unit (one month's worth). No multiple subjects each day, that felt too messy in our heads. After science or math we'd start in on our next choice, and finally the worst: lititure, grammer, speeling! Lordy, i never did learn any of that. We ignored all the proscribed schedules designed to use up the whole winter and instead focused on getting all 9 units done before spring--7 nights a week, three or four hours a night, a few months straight. Kole and I always had that target in sight and knew the harder we worked the sooner we got through it. We wanted it done by the time the sun came back and was yellow. Anyway, now the sky is gray, and I guess the mystery here is why did I become a writer? Maybe..huh, did I of all people actually learn that we kids have to use our heads?


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©Seth Kantner
Alaska Wildlife Photography  |  Alaska Writer

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