The visitor information centre at Nenana is a little sod-roofed log cabin at the junction of the main highway and A Street. It looked quaint and interesting so we pulled over to investigate. Inside, manning the site we met Skook and two of her children and despite it being only the second Friday Skook had ever manned the centre (she drives the school bus as a day job) the kids and her had the role sussed.
Kayla, a really bright articulate 11 year old told me that Nenana means “a village between two rivers” or a place to camp! She was bang on as the town is located at the confluence of the Tanana and Nenana rivers with a population of only about 550 people. Johnny, the handsome 7 year old was sporting a freshly styled mowhak by his mother and he eagerly gathered up brochures for things we could do.
The biggest thing that happens in the town I expect is the “Nenana Ice Classic.” It is a competition that is an annual event that has woven itself into folklore. Cash prizes are awarded to the lucky person who guesses the exact time the tripod erected on the frozen river earlier in February at the tripod raising festival becomes dislodged by the surging ice coming down the river as a result of the spring thaw.
Apparently the river freezes over the winter in the subzero temperatures that are in the vicinity of 20 – 40 degrees below. Enough to freeze the nuts of a squirrel one might think, but the burgeoning population of these cute little things that has been evident in our travels indicates it is having no effect.. Once the tripod is raised it becomes serious business for the town. A cable is attached back from the structure to the clock tower on the riverbank that is manned 24/7 over the next few months. Once the ice dislodges wooden structure, the cable trips the clock to stop at that exact moment so there can be no doubt in the time recorded for the competition. The stakes are high and the jackpot last year to be won was $267444.00 that ended up being shared by over 42 people. Entries close on the 5th April 2018 for next years competiton and all entries must be dropped into the red can pictured . No postal entries allowed! A guess cost $2.50 a pop and the statistics from previous years are avalaible for any punter to use as a guide.
I used my trusty old pendulum as I stood in that little log cabin casting spells on it to give me the right answers. Pertaking in all that “woo hoo” stuff as my good friend Lucy back in NZ calls it! The kids were intriguied as it moved to indicate a yes or no to the questions I was asking it . Anyway it seems my guess is at slightly long odds if the effect of global warming and recent trends are to be taken into account. I think it will be 12 noon on the 10th May next year, last year it was May 1st. By my reckoning, they only need to have a colder winter like they must have had back in 1982 as that’s the last time it went on May 10th and I will be on the money.
The love in the room between Skook and her children was a beautiful thing to see. They adored her, were really polite and willing and it was an absolute pleasure to witness. She must be one amazing lady, a tough cookie with a heart as big as a grizzly bear I expect. She married her lesbian partner of 14 years last year and between them over that time they have adopted and are raising 6 children. Maybe that isn’t that amazing in itself these days but they made a conscious decision to adopt babies that were born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Babies that had been exposed to excessive alcohol in the womb and likely to have developmental delay or a number of other issues growing up as a result of that expose.
55 year old Skook home schools three of the children while he partner who remains in Washington currently is looking after the other three. Because of a variety of reasons they only see each other infrequently at the moment but they do skype and talk every day. The 18 year old daughter in Washington is a strait A student and the younger one in intermediate is achieving at a level well above her peers. It isn’t easy she said, and despite these kids achieving academically, socially and physically beyond anyones expectations as a result I expect of all the love and support they have , Skook and her partner are aware that the effects of FAS are never far away and will be present for the rest of their lives. They are guiding them all to careers in the USA Military believing the discipline and order that the life in the military will provide will ensure that their children have to best foundation and boundaries to continue to be the best people than can possibly be.
I say love is the answer to everything. This amazing woman and her family must surely be proof of that.