The Iditarod Air Force planes are grounded if the visibility is poor. That means the Teacher on the Trail stays put until the weather clears. Having waited two days, but following the admonition to always be packed and ready, I jumped in the first available plane out of Unalakleet to the checkpoint of Anvik! We landed on their airstrip; I stepped carefully, carrying my gear down the long hill to the community building. I passed the Blackwell School on my way and made plans to go visit.
The story of the Blackwell School deserves telling, as it serves as a legacy to a much beloved teacher in that community. Mr. Blackwell came to teach and quickly assimilated into the hunting and fishing culture of the town. Musher veteran Ken Chase shared about the influence this man had on him during his growing up years in Anvik. Most teachers in the small villages only stay a year or even less, as the excitement of remote living wears thin. Mr. Blackwell, however, embraced the community’s lifestyle and stayed, guiding and influencing young people as good teachers do. After Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell left, years passed. One day, Ken received a letter from Mrs. Blackwell. His former teacher and friend had passed away, but he wanted Ken to inherit one of his possessions, demonstrating Blackwell’s fondness for Anvik and his students. Ken still got a bit choked up as he told me the story. It goes to show the influence a dedicated teacher can have!
The community of Anvik is welcoming to the Iditarod mushers. Some will just breeze through, while others prefer rest in a quiet checkpoint. There are strong ties to the Iditarod race here. Local musher Ken Chase finished the race 12 times. Wilson Maillelle has checked in mushers in for every Southern route Iditarod. For a small fee, school children offer snow machine rides to the press and volunteers, to and from the airstrip.
As the new school year approaches, I want to be like Mr. Blackwell in Anvik, staying for the long haul, making a difference in my students’ lives.
“A teacher influences eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams