There Is No Word For Goodbye

Holding back tears, I put my oldest on the bus for her first day of Kindergarten; the neighborhood moms laughed at me, joking that by the time this day arrived for my third child I’d be sending her off gladly, toasting to my newfound freedom. I was indignant – thinking I would never feel that way. Four years later I discovered that, while I wasn’t pushing her out the door per se, I actually was ready for my youngest to go to school. That season of my life had run its course and, while I treasure the memories, it was time to move on.

The end of a long, beautiful journey. Photo Credit: J.Westrich

Now I find myself in a similar, bittersweet place. My time as the 2023 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail is at an end. I am eternally grateful for all of the experiences and individuals this journey has brought into my life, but it is time to move on. 

One of the best things about the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail is that each year the torch is passed to a new educator; someone enthusiastic about taking on this challenging role. As my tenure comes to a close I’m aware that my well of inspiration has run perilously dry; I have exhausted all my ideas. Fortunately, the Teacher on the Trail program is designed to guarantee educators original, innovative lessons from teachers of diverse backgrounds and content areas. I’m thrilled to hand off the role to Kate Newmyer, 2024 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail. She will bring a fresh perspective and new curriculum connections to the race. I am so grateful to have been given a platform to share my museum educator/school librarian point of view, but it is time to move on.

Always seeking out a good library…in Big Lake,

…in Wasilla…

…and in Nome. Photo Credit: J.Westrich

A “goodbye” selfie with the moose at the Anchorage airport. Photo Credit: J.Westrich

The hardest part of letting go is the goodbye. What I value most from this year, this journey, this trip down the Iditarod Trail, are the connections with the people I encountered. It is true that Iditarod is a sled dog race, but the race is run by the humans working together to preserve the legacy of the Trail and to honor the history of the sled dog in Alaska. I have no intention of closing the door on the friendships made; I will return to Iditarod again and again. How can I say goodbye to this race, the landscape, culture, and people? I can’t. Instead I will cherish the words of Athabaskan poet Mary TallMountain, and also acknowledge that it is time to move on.


There Is No Word For Goodbye
Mary TallMountain, (1918-1994), Athabaskan

Sokoya, I said, looking through
the net of wrinkles into 
wise black pools
of her eyes.

What do you say in Athabaskan when 
you leave each other?
What is the word
for goodbye?

A shade of feeling rippled
the wind-tanned skin.
Ah, nothing, she said
watching the river flash.

She looked at me close.
We just say, Tha.
That means
See you.
We never leave each other.
When does your mouth 
say goodbye 
to your heart?

She touched me light as a bluebell.
You forget when you leave us;
you’re so small then.
We don’t use that word.

We always think you’re coming back,
but if you don’t,
we’ll see you someplace else.
You understand.
There is no word for goodbye.

Thank you to everyone who helped to make this experience a great joy and the most impactful of my life. I am forever grateful for all the love, support, understanding, and encouragement. I look forward to seeing you again soon – in memories, in dreams, and in person on the Iditarod Trail.  

With much love, Juli

Sunset in Anchorage. Photo Credit: J.Westrich

Pugs are NOT meant to handle the Frozen North! Photo Credit: J.Westrich

Library Learnings: I’ve been waiting all year to share this book! One of the most common questions I get from students is, “Do you have a dog?” I do, but not a sled dog. I have an adorable pug mix. This question is a great opportunity to share with students the importance of responsible pet ownership. My family life and work schedule isn’t suited to running a husky 5 miles a day, but our “couch potato with attitude” suits us perfectly. Pugs are NOT good in the cold and do NOT have an abundance of energy….which is what makes the book Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre hilarious! What would happen if you had 66 pugs pulling a sled? This suggestions is an end note to my year as 2023 Teacher on the Trail, and I recommend it purely as entertainment reading. You could use it in the classroom to discuss the ways the story is unrealistic and why real-life pugs would make terrible sled dogs! If you’d like to learn how to draw the pugs from the book the author/illustrator Sarah McIntyre CLICK HERE.