Monday, January 19, 2009

Are there peacocks in Alaska?

A few weeks ago my friend Abby, who teaches a class of second-graders at a private school in Connecticut, asked if she could have her students write me a letter and ask about Ak.
Always eager to spread the good word about the Greatland (read: we are better, we are stronger, we are tougher, we are smarter, you must know) haha, just kidding, I was happy to help out a friend.
She sent me the following list of questions last week and I've done my best in a letter to answer them at a second grade level.

1. What kind of fish are in Alaska?
2. How is it up there in Alaska? Is it cold in Alaska or hot?
3. Why did you move to Alaska? Is Alaska pretty?
4. What is your favorite fish for catching?
5. What is the biggest fish that you have caught in Alaska?
6. What language do they speak in Alaska?
7. Why is Alaska called Alaska?
8. What kind of animals are there in Alaska? Which animals have you seen?
9. What is the weather like there?
10. What can you see and do in the mountains in Alaska?
11. Are there peacocks in Alaska? (great question...)
12. What is school like in Alaska? Is it different?
13. Tell us what you know about the Iditarod? Have you met sled dogs?
14. What do people in Alaska do for fun?

Dear Ms. Putnam and Class,
What great questions you’ve asked! I’d better be careful that my boss at the newspaper I work at doesn’t find out what a great group of questioner you all are, I may lose my job!
I’ll do my best to answer everything you’ve sent.
Let me first tell you a little bit about myself. I work as a reporter for a very small newspaper in a little town called Kenai (pronounced keen-eye). Everyday I write stories about things like fishing, government and school.
Children in Alaska have to go to school too just like you, from the end of August until the beginning of June. They learn many of the same things you do, and in the towns and cities the schools probably look just the same.
In the small towns and villages of far away from any roads though, there may only be one or two teachers for an entire school, and first graders may eat lunch every day with eighth graders.
In the wintertime children go to school in the dark too, since the sun does not rise until 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning. When they leave it will be dark again.
If it’s too cold out the children may have to spend their recess playing indoors, something that none of them like very much.
I moved to Alaska this past spring to work at a fishing camp where people come in the summertime to go fishing. I decided after I graduated college, that I wanted to move someplace new and see something different.
While Alaska is very different, most people still speak English. In the native village though, you may find people still speaking in Yupik, Tagalog and Inupiaq. There are also a few villages where people mostly speak Russian
The name Alaska, is Russian. The Russians were the first Europeans to settle Alaska. They took the name from the native Aleut’s word, Alyeska, which means, great land.
It’s a very good name.
When I moved here I found a very pretty place full of tall snow covered mountains, forests as far as the eye can see and streams full of big fish.
It seems like there must be some fisherman and woman in the class with so many questions about the fish up here.
Alaska has many many different types of fish and I’ve only caught a few of them.
I live next to a river with four different types of salmon, Kings, Reds, Silvers and Pinks, plus two types of trout, rainbows and Dolly Varden.
There is one other type of salmon, the Dog, and at least two or three other kinds of trout. We also have the sharp toothed Northern Pike, and the eel like Burbot.
My favorite fish to catch is the Silver Salmon. The Silver Salmon come in August and September. They get very angry as they swim up the river and if you hook one, it will jump, splash and dive to try and escape. They’re very fun to catch, if you can get them to the boat!
The biggest fish I’ve caught in Alaska was a 60 pound Halibut. Halibut are strange looking fish that live at the bottom of the ocean. They have both eyes on one side of their body, and swim with one side facing the ocean floor, and the other up. Some grow to be over 300 pounds!
There are also many different animals in Alaska. Some of the more famous you may have heard of are Moose, Sheep, Wolves, Lynx, Wolverine, Caribou, Musk Ox, Brown Bears, Black Bears and Polar Bears. There are also many small animals you might expect to find too like rabbits, foxes, coyotes and beaver.
I’ve seen many of the small animals along with lots of Moose, Brown Bears and Black Bears.
The bears have all gone to sleep for the winter, but I see moose almost every day when I go skiing. One even spent a snowy night under my front porch!
I have never seen a wild peacock in Alaska. There are lots of birds here though, including bald eagles. In the summer a family of three bald eagles lived on the other side of the river from me. In the morning they would wake me up while they called to each other and feasted on the fish they’d caught for breakfast.
Right now it is winter time here. Winter starts in October and stretches until April. At times it can be very cold. Last week the temperature was almost 40 degrees below zero. I don’t like that kind of weather, but luckily, it doesn’t come around much.
In the summertime it doesn’t get very hot. Seventy degrees seems like a heat wave. In the middle of Alaska, far away from the cold oceans though, summer temperatures reach 90-100 degrees.
The nice thing about summer though, is the sun never sets. We have daylight all the time. That means the sun can be shining at midnight!
Alaska is a good place for people that like to play outdoors. On the weekends people go to the mountains to fish, hunt, hike, snowmobile, boat, ski, snowboard and yes, even dog sled.
One of the reporters I work with and his wife, Colleen, who’s a teacher at a school here, have a kennel of sled dogs. They are getting ready to do a race that’s just as long, and maybe even harder than the Iditarod, called the Yukon Quest. Colleen, who will do the sled driving, or mushing as it is called, will go from the Alaskan city of Fairbanks, in the middle of Alaska, to a city in the Yukon Territory of Canada called White Horse. It will probably take her two weeks to complete. Can you picture Ms. Putnam doing a dog sled race across Alaska?
We’re very lucky to have so much to do here in the mountains.
They’re a beautiful place to go all year round. They’re tall, pretty, full of animals and the place where all our rivers begin.
Alaska is also home to the tallest mountain in North America, Mt McKinley, but everyone here calls it by its Native American name, Denali, which means, the tall one.
Denali is so tall, that on a very clear day I can see it even though I’m over 300 miles away!

Thank you again for all your great questions-

Dante Petri

I'm hoping my letter reads ok at a second grade level. I've never really put much thought into target audiences until the past month or so as I've begun to rethink the paper's Schools section, but more on that some other time.

In other news, to keep it brief, we've lost about 80 percent of the snowpack here after a pineapple expressed drove temperatures from near record lows to damn near record highs with sustained winds of 25-30mp and gust topping over 100. My thermometer that likes to read 5-10 degrees above the actual temp took a major digger in a massive gust of wind, getting ripped right off the railing on the deck and slamed back down, but not without first threatening that temps had made it to the big 5-0.
Rain and snowfall water equivalent totaled over 10" in Turnagain pass, and above 3,000', 56" of snow fell.
The xc skiing is slowly recovering but things are dangerously icy in a few spots; it'll be a good week to work on speed and a bad week to take a tumble.

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