Jori Grant (’11) Shares A Slice of Life on Little Diomede (Polar Bears Included)

EL alum Jori Grant reports, “I graduated from Whitworth in 2011, found the job in Alaska before I had graduated, and spent the summer after graduation buying snowpants and ski masks. This summer I have been rather nomadic, traveling around to take in all the socialization and sun I missed for nine months.”

Check out her blog. Jori submitted the photos, including this one below of “a view from my front porch in December looking out towards the southern Bering Strait.”

Whitworth English

Little Diomede, also known as Inaliq or Dio, is located south of the Arctic Circle, east of Siberia, west of Alaska, and north of everywhere else.  It has been home for the past year and will be home for at least this coming year.  Books have been written on it and documentaries have been made, most of which have faded into obscurity. Life there can’t be explained or fully comprehended through words or even pictures, but I’ll try my best to help you to understand why I love this little piece of nowhere.

Whitworth English

My house is the right half of the duplex.

Day 1

I stepped off the helicopter, looked around and saw a mob of kids standing off to the side. Kids so young they still stumbled rather than walked right next to middle school students. They moved like the tide, surging forward and then pulling back until they couldn’t stop themselves. One girl, Destiny, ran forward and threw her arms around me. And with that a dam broke. Suddenly I was at the nucleus of life on Diomede. Kids were everywhere, grabbing my hands, hugging me, trying to grab my attention.

“Hey, hey what you teach?”

“Miss, I know where you going, follow me!”

“Hey you, I’m in fourth grade, you my teacher?

I glanced back and felt my bag slide off my shoulder. When I turned around, I found a four year old awkwardly dragging and pushing my computer bag to an unknown destination. Relieved of everything I had brought with me, I allowed two girls to lead me by the hand down the hill, through the mid-construction school, and up 70ish steps to a blue duplex. I reached the duplex only to find that I couldn’t touch the door because of the students jammed in front of me, behind me, beside me and often climbing the rocks instead of the stairs in order to get to my new house. Finally, I opened the door to the duplex and to even more chaos.

Miss! Miss! Where you want this?!

Miss, where you staying, which room yours?!

Can we visit?

I have to potty. Can you help me?

Hey! Your dresser is broken.

I fixed it!

Hey, where you want this?

Oh!! I remember this from Miss. Beck!

Can we visit?

I was exhausted, bewildered, and I will never be able to express the energy and excitement I felt coming off the students.  It was intoxicating.

Whitworth English

I’m playing on the helicopter pad with one of the preschoolers.

Day 125

Polar bears are a fact of life on Diomede, but they carry more than the feeling of awe that most people down states feel toward them.  There is legitimate fear towards the bears, excitement about bear stew, joy for the money the hide will bring, and pride for the hunter that shot such a beast.

The second polar bear that was killed on Dio this year was a ten-foot bear.  One front paw was bigger than my head. The kill happened in Russian territory, too far away for me to see it with my eyes. What I did watch was a group of men all working together to skin the hide and divide the meat.  It was gruesome and it was divine.

There is a pervasive sense of isolation on Diomede, even between lifelong Diomeders and family members. However, the tone of the village instantly changes when there is a downed polar bear. This, more than any other time, is when the men come alive. It was like the air was electric. Kids were everywhere, laughing and joking, trying to get as close as they could to the bear. Daring boys kicked the bear, much to the chagrin of me, the politically correct and animal rights aware teacher.

Completely ignoring said children were the men, who focused solely on cutting up the bear as quickly as possible.  They took the bear apart, from living breathing animal to skinned, gutted, and chopped up meat to divide between the helpers within two hours.  I had fully expected the process to take all night long.  Ron Jr., One-one, Ron Sr. and Henry were incredibly efficient, working with minimal talking and excessive smiles.  All the while the changing audience of at least ten people commented and laughed.

“Man Jr.  you sure picked a white one!”

“Yeah, he been dipped in bleach, he so white.”

“Ha, yah.  He going to be good eating.”

By the end Ron looked up and exposed the frost covering his face. His eyelashes were crystallized and snow was stuck to his cheeks, he looked completely in his element.

Whitworth English

This is a bear skull from last year.

Day 200

Crabbing field trip. Best day of the year. It means a half-day of work for the students, half the planning for me, and double the fun for everyone.

To start we send the students home to dress with strict orders not to return unless they have a hat, gloves, snow boots, snow pants, a parka and a gun.  Perhaps the gun is a bit of an exaggeration. We only send a few middle school kids home to grab a gun to protect us in case of a polar bear. While we wait for a gun to come back, I can feel my heart race in anticipation. I’ve been waiting for this Friday for about a month, and I know that the students are just as excited. My high school girl who hardly ever smiles is beaming.  She can’t wait to ride the back of the sled, set up crab lines, and take in the sun on the ice. Charlie, my seventh grader, is sitting on the seat of the snow machine, begging to drive.

“Please MizzG? I’m better driver than you!  I’ve been drivin’ longer.  You even own snowmachine?

“No, but I’ve driven a car before. They are not that different. Plus I practiced yesterday.”

“Cah, come on Mizg!  I’ll drive back?


So he proceeds to sit on the seat.

“Get off, Charlie. I said I was driving and I’m driving, even if I have to push you off.”

At this point he growls and makes an ogre face at me, nose scrunched, eyes crossed, tongue sticking out the side of his mouth. But I don’t even care. I’m elated. I have a snowmachine with a sled filled with at least nine students.  Of course a bit of the elation dies down when I tip over the snowmachine within thirty seconds of taking off. For a moment my heart stops, thinking that I might be in trouble for hurting someone.  Not an issue. It’s Diomede, so there is nothing but laughter heard from the back of the sled where the kids have been dumped out. Two seconds later Charlie is at my side pulling the snowmachine up and gunning the gas all while running along side the beast.  I pause to think for a second that perhaps I should let him drive, but quickly decide it’s too much fun to give up.

Back on the machine and out on the frozen Bering Sea, I’m driving at what I consider to be a reasonable and safe speed for a teacher responsible for nine students.  However, the students don’t agree. They think I’m a pansy who can’t drive.  I hear a unanimous cry to go faster.  So faster I go.  Faster and faster and faster until the wind is forcing tears to fall from my eyes.  I can hear the giggles and excitement in the sled as we bounce over uneven ice.  Then out of nowhere Matthew, my 8th grader, roars by on his family’s snowmachine.  I gun my machine, giving it all I’ve got. My shouts of “It’s not fair! I’ve got extra weight on this machine” are lost in the midst of the engines’ competing roars. If I’ve ever been happier than at this moment, I can’t remember it.

Whitworth English

Here’s a 1st grade student with our first crab of the day.

Rambunctious Vernacular Podcast Strikes Again, Featuring Prof Brooke Kiener and Andy Rowland (’14)

Nicole Sheets

Theater professor and director Brooke Kiener and EL and theater major Andy Rowland (’14) share their creative nonfiction in the latest Rambunctious Vernacular podcast (9:01). Visit the RV blog to have a listen.

And hey, if you’ve got story ideas, hit me:

(Photo is from my March ’12 visit to the aquarium at Mandalay Bay. Fancy, I know).

Majors Abroad: Caitlin Wheeler (’11) Teaches in Thailand

Caitlin Wheeler (’11) recently sent us an update from Thailand. Caitlin is shown above with a krathong, which she describes as “a candle set on a decorated slice of banana trunk which is pushed out onto the water to send away bad luck/thoughts.” She also sent the photo of the Thai countryside.

Dear Whitworth,

I have been living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 10 months now, RDing and teaching English in a Christian University here. I want to tell you what Chiang Mai is.
My main mode of transport here is a bicycle. The first time I rode it in the city, a Thai man stopped his work to look up at me and shout “Hello!” For some Thais, it’s the only English word they know. It’s loud, surprising, and round-voweled, a little proud, but above all, familiar. I heard it and for a moment I expected that when I looked to the caller I would be seeing an old friend. Despite most Thais’ struggles with English, I’ve found that it’s far more uncommon for me to go a full ride without hearing a shout in my own tongue than otherwise.
This is Chiang Mai. It’s the old cleaning woman insisting I ask for my 25 baht in Northern Thai, repeating the correct words for me until I catch on. It’s the kitchen staff telling me, with giggles and no shame, that my love of Thai tea is going to make me fat. It’s my new roommate slipping her arm around my waist on the second day, just because. It’s my dorm boss giving me medicine and saying “this will fix the diarrhea” when I tell her I am sick with a headache. Chiang Mai is familiarity in what is entirely unfamiliar.
Chiang Mai is also a retreat for hundreds of missionaries. I’ve begun to learn the reason. Leaving college, for me, was a difficult goodbye, one with which I am still making peace. Many of the people who come to Chiang Mai have faced far more terrible goodbyes: sometimes permanent ones and some of them not by choice. They come here for a retreat from goodbye. Chiang Mai is full of leaving. It is a city of these goodbyes. But in its core, in its culture, Chiang Mai is that first hello.
Hello for now,
Caitlin Wheeler

EL Professor Laura Bloxham On Baseball, Narrative, and Pippi Longstocking’s Hairbrush

Perhaps Dr. Laura Bloxham needs no introduction, but here’s one for good measure:

Leonard Oakland claims I was born in the Seattle Public Library.  Not true.  But I raised myself there.  I’m a graduate of Lake Washington HS (Go Kangaroos), Whitworth, and I have two graduate degrees from Washington State University.  I have taught at Whitworth and at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Laura compiled a reading list for 2012 (the list appears at the end of this post) and shared with us how the reading is going so far:

My reading this summer has largely fallen into three categories:  1) baseball literature; 2) reading group books; and 3) mysteries.

I’ve read Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, a long often painful and explicit novel set on a college campus.  The baseball sections are stunning, the life lessons redemptive.  Despite my despair about half way, I was immensely pleased by the ending.  John Grisham’s Calico Joe is altogether different as a baseball book and novel.  I’m not a Grisham reader.  But I am a fan of this tight narrative.  The baseball, as in The Art of Fielding, is much more than incidental.  There’s history and nuance.  This novel also has its redemptive elements.  But no easy victories in either novel.  I have a few more baseball treasures to come this season, including R.A. Dickey’s non-fiction work.

I’m reading with two groups this summer. For four summers I’ve read classics (Dickens, Eliot) with some young women.  This summer we’ve read Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.  The other group is some Kick Ass Women Faculty reading Kick Ass Women Characters.  We are reading whatever we want for our June-July gatherings and then in August we’re reading Thackeray’s Vanity Fair together.  So far I’ve read Pippi Longstocking (which was very kick ass once I got past her stirring the pancake mix with her hair brush) and three mysteries, Susan MacNeal’s Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Sue Grafton’s V is for Vengeance and Jacqueline Winspear’s Elegy for Eddie. 

Okay, so categories 2 and 3 crossover.  I am a few pages short of finishing Jeffrey Deaver’s mystery The Burning Wire, featuring Lincoln Rhyme.  And the one book that stands outside all three groups is Anne Tyler’s The Beginner’s Goodbye, which is a tidy and often humorous novel about grief and recovery.

Laura’s Recommended Reading for Summer 2012 and Other Mental

Vacations (36th edition) 

                  “Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?”

–Henry Ward Beecher


Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (story of William Dodd, ambassador)

Jeffrey Deaver, Garden of Beasts (stand alone mystery set in 1936 Berlin)

William Deresiewicz, A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter

John Steinbeck, The Moon is Down (WWII)

Chris Cleave, Little Bee (harsh, brutal, but significant acts of giving)

P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberely (lots of Austen in-jokes)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853)

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (well worth rereading; 1868)

Christopher Fowler, Full Dark House (Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery)

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

–Italo Calvino


Charlotte Brontë, Villette (her last novel)

Kathryn Stockett, The Help (bestselling novel set in Jackson, MS, 1963-4)

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (one of a number of classics I’ve reread this year)

Hannah W. Foster, The Coquette (American; 1797)

Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Hope Leslie (Native American/Puritan/Gender issues; 1827)

Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall (autobiographical novel; 1855)

Harriet E. Wilson, Our Nig: Or, Sketches in the Life of a Free Black (autobiographical novel; 1959)

Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron-Mills (class struggle; 1861)

The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins (African-American writer; 1901-02)

Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)

“If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.”

–François Mauriac


Louise Penny, A Trick of the Light (series)

Michael Stanley, A Carrion Death (Detective Kubu, Botswana)

Henning Mankell, The Fifth Woman (Kurt Wallander, detective)

David Ignatius, Bloodmoney (espionage)

Alexander McCall Smith, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (No. 1 Ladies        Detective); The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

Diane Mott Davidson, Crunch Time (cooking/catering series in Colorado)

Janet Evanovich, Smokin’ Seventeen; Explosive Eighteen

Jo Walton, Ha’ Penny (#2 in trilogy); Half a Crown (#3)

Mark Schweizer, The Organist Wore Pumps: A Liturgical Mystery (series); The Countertenor Wore Garlic

Alan Bradley, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (2); A Red Herring Without Mustard (#3); I am Half-Sick of Shadows (#4)

Joanne Harris, Gentlemen and Players

Carolyn Keene, The Mystery at Lilac Inn (Nancy Drew)

Margaret Maron, Three-Day Town (links her New York and Southern series of mysteries)

“Never leave the house without a book—ever—even if you think you’re just going to the grocery store . . . .

. . . .if you’re stuck in a traffic jam or get a flat tire and you’re waiting for someone to come and help you . . . all kinds of moments in the day are reading moments.”

–Sara Nelson, “Marathon for a Reader,” Time, Dec. 16, 2003


Alfons Heck, A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika

Sara Miles, Take This Bread (communion)


Creative Writing Sampler: Katie (Rocketship) Daroff (’12) on Overcoming Pinterest

As the photo above suggests, Katie Daroff (’12) is good with a joke. She just finished a new piece of creative nonfiction called “Overcoming Pinterest,” which you’ll find below. But first, the facts.

Name: Katie (Rocketship) Daroff

Age: 23

Birth Place: Berkeley, California

Favorite Color: Pink

Life Goal: Become a crazy cat lady or write the next great teen fiction series

Greatest Accomplishments:

1) Becoming a Noble Dragon Slayer

2) Getting my cat off my laptop

3) Graduating

4) Making the U.S. Olympic Awesomeness team (none of the events are televised)

Favorite thing in her house: The Pirates Only sign in my living room.

Greatest Weakness: Writing personal bios. Check out my blog instead.

During the dark, dead, depressing months of winter, I made a mistake. While wrapped up in a super hero blanket with pink dinosaur slippers covering my half frozen feet, I logged onto my computer (of course this was after I completed all my work for the evening because I am responsible young lady). I typed the word “Pinterest” into the search bar. I requested an invitation to join the world’s largest online pin board. Unsure of how many online pin boards there could possibly be, I held back on being impressed.

My invitation came almost immediately from a woman in my parents’ church. I thought this was appropriate, seeing as she was the person who had first told me about this strange and mystic online world. Every time I saw the woman, she had something new and crafty that she had whipped up on display. She wore felt flowers in her hair with rhinestones that she “glued on herself” and knew 18 different ways to tie her scarf to make it look stylish with the dresses she had made herself. She had a ring she’d made out of a fork from her grandparents’ wedding silverware that was, she explained with a flourish of her hand, “much easier to make than it sounded.” I was thoroughly impressed with her, and every time I asked her how she learned to do something she simply stated “I saw it on Pinterest.”

I signed up. It sounded like the most wonderful place. It was a place with crafts but crafts that were so much more socially acceptable than the boondoggles and friendship bracelets I had learned to weave at camp. Honestly, I did not have enough friends to continue making friendship bracelets for much longer.

I had a case of crafter’s lust. I wanted to make everything and have it all be perfectly lovely. I pinned away hour after hour, always telling myself that once I got the supplies or learned to sew I was going to come back to that project, ignoring the voice of reason, who shook his head and muttered, “no you won’t.”

I pinned and pinned. March crept up on me. The long winter months were over. It was time to start the crafts requiring spray paint. It was time to remove my dinosaur slippers and get to work. Instead I continued as I had since Christmas, sitting on my couch, carefully selecting all of my future craft projects and with every click of the mouse muttering “I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll have time tomorrow.”

I found a tutorial for a bag that required no sewing. I thought, “I’ll do that someday, it seems cool.”

The days were growing longer and the voice of reason was growing less passive. “NO!”

It turns out that waiting until you have the skill to do the more advance crafts is not the way to get over crafter’s lust. The voice of reason had had enough of my shenanigans. I made the bag. It looked awful. I tried again. “Clearly,” I thought after more unsuccessful simple craft attempts, “I am out of my league.” I gave up. Maybe my friends wouldn’t mind too terribly if I made them each another friendship bracelet instead.