Monday, February 23, 2009

Clarks Point: Mass in Bush Alaska

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett

There are always a few hazards when celebrating Mass in the Alaskan Bush. During a mass last year at Clarks Point, while extending my hands during the preface, I broke one of Louise's favorite coffee cups...woops, sorry Louise!

I try to fly to Clarks Point, Alaska, every Friday for Mass at 11:30 AM. The small village of about 60 full time residents is 12 air miles from Dillingham. There are no roads to the small village. During certain times of the year, a person my attempt to cross the Nushagak River on a snow machine but it is dangerous. Like all villages in Bristol Bay, flying in is the best, and usually the only way, to get there.

Friday, February 23, 2009, I flew to Clarks Point for Mass. It was a beautiful winter morning. One of the first flyable days we have had in a couple of weeks here in Bristol Bay. The visibility was fantastic. I could actually see where I was flying. It was about 28 degrees with little or no wind. I decided to leave early to get some practice GPS approaches into New Stuyahok .

I plugged in my Cherokee Warrior II at 4:30 AM to ensure the engine was warm enough to crank over. I then called and got a standard weather briefing from Kenai Flight Service and Dillingham Flight Service Station and filed two flight plans, one for New Stu and one for Clarks. I then stripped off the wing, horizontal stabilizer, and engine covers at 8:30 AM, removed the tie downs, re-fueled, did my preflight inspection, and was in the air by 9:35 AM.

After practicing a GPS runway 32 approach into New Stu (43 air miles north of Dillingham), I turned the airplane South toward Clarks Point. Ten minutes away from Clarks, I flipped on my Marine radio and tried to contact Mariano on channel 11, the Clarks Point radio frequency. All villages monitor marine radios and have a special frequency for their village, i.e. Levelock is 14, Ugashik is 18. I thought it a good idea to get one installed in my plane.

No one answered the radio so I thought I might be walking the couple miles up the hill from the airport to the village. Unknown to me at the time, Mariano, who said he would be there to pick me up, left early to go hunting at Big Lake, a large lake a few hour snow machine ride from Clarks. Being a hunter for the village, Mariano had to take advantage of the good weather, and thus, could not attend Mass, or pick me up.

The runway at Clarks was icy but there were a few patches of gravel. I slowed to 60 mph and touched down as lightly as possible. I then used the flight controls to keep me straight and basically rolled to a stop, turned around, and taxied to parking. After putting on the engine cover, to keep the engine warm, and chalking up the tires, I grabbed my mass kit and started walking up the hill.

About half way there, Justin met me on his four-wheeler. He had heard my call on the Marine radio. It was then that he told me that Mariano had to go out hinting and would not be back until night fall.

I set up for Mass in Louise Gardner’s house. Nine people showed up, including two new people. The new people were invited by Judy. Judy, baptized Moravian, will be getting confirmed into the Catholic Church at Easter 2009. Also in attendance were Justine and her baby Trevillian. At the time of this mass, Trevillian was about 10 months old.

Below are a few pictures for Trevillian’s baptism last June and the mass I had on February 20, 2009.

I am always met at the door by Louise’s dog Buddy. It took about a year of Masses before Buddy finally stopped barking at me when I knocked.

Here are a few pictures from the baptism June 20, 2008:

Trevillian got baptized as his mother Justine positioned him over the blessed Holy Water.

Saint Peter the Fisherman parishioners gathered for the baptism June 20, 2008,

What does an Alaskan Bush parking lot look like before mass begins?

Here are a couple pictures from the mass last week, February 20, 2009:

People take their seats as they wait for Mass to begin. Judy, who will be confirmed on the Easter Vigil, April 11, 2009, at Holy Rosary, is sitting second from the left. Here sponsor is George Bowden, the post master in Levelock. Judy is the post master in Clarks Point.

During the sign of peace, the whole household comes alive. In these small house settings, I normally offer the sign of peace to all present. In a larger setting, such as Holy Rosary, I stay in the sanctuary to guard the Eucharist during the Sign of Peace.

Here is little ten month old Trevillian being held by Justin. Gramma Louise is sitting on the right.

If you have any questions about celebrating Catholic Mass in the great Alaskan outdoors, be sure to look me up...Fr. Scott