Monday, March 2, 2009

Levelock: Mass in Bush Alaska

Levelock is a small village between Dillingham and King Salmon. It has nearly seventy people living there year around. The village is about 20 air miles northwest of King Salmon and about 53 air miles northeast of Dillingham. I normally fly in for mass every two months or so.

The airport is located about three miles from the village. I call George and Napatie on a Friday if I plan to celebrate mass with them that weekend. If George does not hear from me by 10:30 AM he rides his four-wheeler out to the small dirt strip to pick me up at 11:00 AM. In other words, if the weather is too bad for me to fly out, I call him about 10:30 AM to tell him I will not be coming. We always have a back-up plan if the weather is lousy, i.e. we will try again next Saturday.

On a previous visit one Saturday morning the wind picked up just as I arrived at Levelock. It was gusting to 35 MPH (which is considered a gale). I circled the small runway in my Cherokee Warrior II a couple of times and decided not to land. I flew on to King Salmon, where the runway is much longer and wider.

I felt terrible not landing in Levelock after I found out that George had been waiting for me on his four-wheeler with his newly adopted seven year old son Tuwon. Tuwon had just arrived from Thailand the week before and was all dressed up in his best suit to meet me for the first time.

The attendance at mass in Levelock, Alaska varies. One time I had about eight children and four adults. I have had as many as eight adults and four children attend mass in George and Napatie’s home. Here is a picture taken last year. From left to right is Napatie, little Joanna, me, Becky, and Benita.

Below are a few pictures I took the Saturday after Ash Wednesday, February 28, 2009. We celebrated Ash Wednesday on that Saturday rather than Ash Wednesday. Why you may ask? Well, it is difficult to fly to several villages in one day so we do the best we can.

Here is a picture of the Levelock airport just after I landed. My plane is in the background. There was 2-3 inches of snow on the dirt strip, which was covered with a thin coat of ice. My Pilot training never taught me how to land on short, soft, snowy, and icy runways.

Although the weather was rather warm, in the mid twenties, I decided to put on the engine cover to keep it warm. Even in 20 below zero weather, the engine will still be warm enough to start after two hours.

George was a couple minutes late picking me up. He had to run some children to the school. A few minutes after I started walking, he came tearing down the snowy road. Shown below is the new shelter he built for his four-wheeler. After a good wind he says he has to make a few adjustments.

George and Napitie’s three children, Joanna, the youngest, Benita, and Tuwon help me to set up for mass. They love taking the sacred vessels, altar cloth, candles, and books out of my mass kit. I had fog on my camera lens from the ride in on the four-wheeler so this picture was a bit blurred.

Before receiving the ashes the three children pose for a picture after setting up the altar. From left to right is Joanna, Benita, and Tuwon. George is feverously preparing for one of the readings and Napatie could not be prouder of her three beautiful children.

Out in the Alaskan Bush, we do not care how old the altar servers are. The only qualifications are a big smile and a steady water pouring hand. With ashes on their foreheads, here are Benita and Joanna ready for the Hand Washing ceremony.

Before I flew back to Dillingham, Napatie whipped up a delicious sandwich, Joanna gave me some pictures she drew, and Tuwon and Benita showed me some of the crafts that they had made in school.

For more information about celebrating Catholic Mass in the Alaskan Bush, please do not hesitate to call.

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