chickenTisha Made Me Do It

After successfully delivering the rhubarb pie to the sweet folks at Red Eagle Lodge, I had to decide on my next destination. I had two choices—return the way we came, or take a slightly-out-of-the-way route through Chicken, AK and Dawson City, Yukon Territory.

Tisha made me go the unknown route. I read Tisha in my first year of teaching—and it inspired me to stay in my profession despite the difficult students I encountered. When we decided to travel to Alaska in the summer, I decided I should reread Tisha.

The second reading surprised me—mostly because at the time of my first reading I had never worked with Native American kids. While Tisha (Ann Purdy) deals with the challenges of working in a remote community in the early 1900s, the theme of the story is prejudice, not privation.

In reading Ann’s descriptions of the attitudes and living conditions amongst the Native Alaskans, I realize that as a society, we haven’t come very far in the intervening one hundred years. Tisha looks like just another historical account of an idealistic young woman back in the day. In reality, the book serves as a wake up call for us to examine our own prejudices and hear the voices of those we desire to help.

After rereading Tisa, I knew I had to read it out loud with my students this school year and have discussions with them about the characters and their opinions. I see the same sense of hopelessness in my students that the characters express in the book. And so I headed north on the Tok cutoff, bound for the Taylor Highway and Chicken, Alaska.

Chicken, AK: Population Nice…

I left early enough to drive the 139 miles to Chicken and still arrive in plenty of time to explore the town before heading to Dawson City. A few miles before arriving in Chicken, the road turned to gravel. I pulled into the first place I could find with enough parking for Beauty and the Beast, and moseyed into a little shop across from my truck.

After I’d browsed for twenty minutes, a lady walked through a doorway behind the counter and asked, “Are you finding everything you need?”

“Yep!” I held up a copy of Tisha and asked, “Do you have 15 copies of this you can sell me?”

She pointed out the rack on the end of the counter. “You must be a teacher,” she said.

“How’d you guess?” I lay the pile of things I wanted to purchase on the counter. “How do I find Tisha’s schoolhouse?” I asked her.

“Ugh.” She shook her head. It’s on the National Historic Registry,” she said, “but the road to it is a private driveway.” She jerked her head towards the other side of town. “The folks down there lead tours, and they’re the only ones authorized to go down that road.”

“Oh.” I replied. “I hoped to get some photos of it so I could show my students when we read the book.”

“Here,” she grabbed a postcard from a countertop display, “in case you don’t get to see it, you can have this.”

“Thanks. May I leave my truck and trailer parked out front?” I asked. “I don’t want to get stuck anywhere and I could use a walk to stretch my legs.”

“Fine by me,” she said. “I’m giving you pencils for all of your students, too. I really appreciate you buying the books from me instead of Amazon.”

…and Not so Nice

I locked my purchases in the truck and headed down the hill to the other store and campground. When I arrived, I asked the lady at the counter how one went about seeing Tisha’s schoolhouse.

“You missed today’s tours,” she told me, without looking up from the paper in her hands.

“Missed it?” I exclaimed. “The Milepost just says that I have to make arrangements with you in order to see it.”

“Nope. Daily tours at ten and one,” another gentleman chimed in.

Tears sprang from some hidden well and I tried to hide them in a show of blowing my nose. Certain I had read correctly, that one could ‘arrange’ a tour, I decided to argue the point.

“I’m pretty sure it says to arrange a tour.”

“Nope,” the woman replied, finally looking at me. “I wrote the copy. We just do two tours a day and you missed the last one. You can buy a postcard.” She pointed to a rack behind me.

By this time I knew if I didn’t get out of there soon I’d spring a leak for sure. “Right.” I said, grabbing one off the rack and slapping it on the counter.

“That’ll be 75 cents.”

I pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. I hadn’t had time to make change yet.

“That the smallest thing you got?”

I dug around in my pockets. “Yep.”

“You can just have the postcard,” she grumped.

“Thanks.”

Loosing My Cool in Chicken

I hurried out of the store gripping the postcard in my hand. I rushed up the hill towards the main part of Chicken. Copious amounts of tears ran down my face and I caught a sob or two trying to escape.You're never out of God's range (even in Chicken, AK). http://wp.me/p7W1vk-7D #BGBG2

I felt hijacked by the Chickenites. I had driven all this way just to see their stupid town and local petty politics prevented me from my objective. If I hung around until tomorrow at ten, I wouldn’t be able to stop in Dawson City.

I wanted to call Pedro and pour out my woes, but along with the no plumbing situation in Chicken came the no electricity and no cell towers situations. For the first time on my homeward journey I felt alone and lonely.

As I stumbled towards an old mining operation, I focused on photographing the area as a way to stem the flow of tears. I sniffled whilst snapping photos of old cabins. When I saw a sign next to an enormous contraption that looked like a cross between a sternwheeler and a giant chainsaw, a smile sprouted.

“The Pedro Gold Dredge” an informational sign proclaimed. Fancy that, I thought. Pedro made it to Chicken after all! I still hadn’t made up my mind about going or staying, but I felt better after giggling over the name of the dredge.

Next I wandered up to a giant chicken roosting on a nearby hill. Made out of lockers by a high school welding class, the metal monster towers over the landscape. Nearby, a signpost gives distances to other fowl places.

A Promise and a Prayer

As I gazed up at the sign, a Bible promise popped into my head. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

A sense of peace washed over me. I might have ended up in fowl town on a lonely road in the middle of nowhere, but I wasn’t alone. Traveling without earthly companions didn’t mean I traveled alone.

I knew this. Time after time God has shown that he faithfully travels beside me—through cancer caregiving, through our daughter’s mental health crisis, through the ordinary and not-so-ordinary days.

Closing my eyes, I shot a quick prayer heavenward, asking for guidance. When I glanced down at my watch I realized that I could make it to the campground near the ferry crossing before dark. I hoped the nearness to civilization would enable me to contact Pedro and tell him about my adventures thus far.

No matter how long I put myself out of cell-phone contact with the ones I loved, I knew I could never put myself out of prayer contact with the One who loves me.

You can never put yourself out of contact with the One who loves you. #BGBG2 Click To Tweet

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