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Bethel is special

Bethel, Alaska is accessible by land and sea; it's located approximately 424 miles by air from Anchorage 1800 miles from Seattle (by comparison, Chicago is closer to Seattle than Bethel). Thus if things--cars, mattresses, snowmobiles, people--make it all the way out here, they tend to stay. A public service advertising campaign seemed to have swept through some time before I arrived. The town's dumpsters (where people deposit household refuse) were all covered with colorful art and slogans. I couldn't stop taking pictures of them.

Land of the permafrost

Bethel sits on the tundra. Digging down through the first 18 inches or so isn't difficult (at least in summer). After that, however, you reach the permafrost--permanently frozen soil, almost as hard as bedrock. As a result, utility pipes that run underground elsewhere in the United States have to run above ground here. Atop this particular length of pipe runs a wooden walkway, another common sight in Bethel. During the warmer months, the walkways are essential for getting around, since much of the ground is swimming in mud.

Land of the Permafrost II

Around town, everything always seems to be in the process of melting, or freezing.

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Bethel does have a Catholic Church, but it's nothing like the one in my novel. The real one is grander and its staff kinder.

Paint by Mail

This house had recently been painted when I arrived, and the local paper carried a story about it. (It's that kind of town.) The owner had ordered the paint from Anchorage, selecting a color called "sunset yellow". They sent yellow school bus paint instead. But the first rule of living in rural Alaska is making do with what you got, so up the paint went. The article said pilots now use the house to help line up their approach to the airport.

PS After posting this, I recently received this e-mail: "Iím the guy with the yellow house in Bethel. I donít remember if the newspaper mentioned that part of the humor was that I was driving school bus, so the color was very appropriate."

Enjoy Pizza / Trash DESTROY

Another favorite installment from my dumpster series. To the right is the hanger for one of Bethel's unique modes of transport, a hovercraft.

Oats for Kasigluk

And corn flakes, too. Bethel is home to the postal service's one and only hovercraft, which is also the only postal service vehicle that carries paying customers. Based out of Bethel, it carries supplies to remote villages across the tundra. This photo was taken in Kasigluk, which is too small to accomodate the hovercraft. Supplies get offloaded in the middle of the river into this skiff and then taken ashore.

Sarge Connick

Arrived in Bethel before the war and never left. He's held a variety of jobs around town, including police chief. Both Democrats and Republicans pressured him into running as their candidate when Alaska's legislature was being formed, but he turned them all down.

Radio KYUK

John Active writes and reports for radio station KYUK. I stopped in to interview him about Yup'ik Eskimo lore, and he ended up interviewing me, and putting it on the air a few hours later. I was a celebrity around town by nightfall.

Rush Hour

I took this picture in the heart of town at 5 p.m. on a weekday.

Only Connect

Though plenty of wires criss-cross Bethel, none connect the city to the outside world. Internet access and phone calls alike travel via these dishes.

Snow Ball

I took this picture the last day. I had a cab--ubiquitious in Bethel, since few have cars of their own (there's little reason to, since there's nowhere to drive to)--take me out to the edge of town. I got out and found this boat, named Snowball. I never found out quite how it got all the way here--it's quite a ways from the Kuskokwim River; the picturesque waterway in back is Bethel's sewage treatment pond. The cab driver, reasonably enough, thought I was crazy to take pictures here.