Julia O'Malley

Anchorage teacher Mary Beth Hammerstrom's answer to my first question about her recent appearance on "Jeopardy!" was supremely unsatisfying.

Me: "What does Alex Trebek look like up close?"

Her: "He looks exactly like he looks on television."

Hammerstrom, who teaches economics, criminology and Alaska studies at Dimond High School, appeared last week before a television audience of just over 9 million people as a contestant in the quarterfinals of the "Jeopardy!" Teacher's Tournament. She advanced to the semifinals, and will appear again on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. on KYUR Channel 13...

Julia O'Malley

A picture I saw in an Anchorage courtroom has haunted me the past couple of weeks. It is of a woman, naked from the waist down, sitting in the middle of Commercial Drive. Her face and clothes are covered with blood. It was taken in late April 2010, just after 1 a.m. The woman's age is unknown. She is Alaska Native. She's pointing to something out of the frame. Her mouth is open, as if she's screaming...

Julia O'Malley

Anchorage has a soft spot for the 4th Avenue Theatre, one of the city's most visible historic buildings, with its art deco style and stunning interior. Those of us old enough to have been inside remember the smooth walnut panelling and Alaskana murals, including the gold leaf of Mount McKinley, and the lovely staircases. How many first kisses have taken place under the twinkling big dipper cast in lights on the ceiling? Could "Ghostbusters" or "Gone with the Wind" or "The Exorcist" play in a better venue? No. Not here.

The theater's sign no longer glows. Its lights have long been dark. Recently when I walked under the awning, I noticed peeling paint and crumbling cement. My heart broke a little...

Julia O'Malley

It's been hard not to do budget math while reading the paper this week. The Anchorage School District is short $23 million in operating funds and is looking at cutting teachers. Meanwhile, the world of professional tennis, including Billie Jean King and the Williams sisters, has been lobbying Anchorage lawmakers to build a tennis facility that will cost at least $8.5 million and that a lot of people don't want.

I don't think I'm alone when I asked out loud while reading these facts at the breakfast table: Why are we building a tennis facility we probably don't need while we can't fund schools? What the heck?...

Julia O'Malley

It was a day in 2010, after the sweet, chubby, 20-something kid from her village shot himself, after she talked to his mother, after she helped clean up his body the best she could, that Cynthia Erickson found herself behind the Catholic church in the village of Tanana, throwing up. Then she started to count.

How many suicides had there been in her 300-person Interior village and the Yukon River villages in the region? Stevens Village. Minto. Ruby. Galena. Six in her recent memory. One of them was her brother-in-law. He hanged himself.

"I was traumatized," she said...

Julia O'Malley

Stacey Maddox is 32 weeks pregnant. Her belly is round enough that strangers ask her when she is due. But her pregnancy isn't like most pregnancies. She isn't decorating a nursery or registering for a baby shower. Each week that brings her closer to the moment she will get to hold her daughter also brings her closer to moment when she will have to say goodbye to her child forever...

Julia O'Malley

FAIRBANKS -- Ask an artisan sitting at a table in the massive Alaska Federation of Natives craft fair where they are from, they will always answer with the name of a village. Maybe Kaltag. Or Kake. Or Napaimute.

But continue the conversation further, often they will say they live in Anchorage or Fairbanks or another larger community. Among the carvers, beaders, skin-sewers, and jewelry-makers at the convention, where you live is secondary. Where you're from is what matters. That spot on the map, even if it has not been a primary home in years, is at the core of their artwork.

"You can live anywhere all over the world but you still got to tell 'em where you're originally from," said Theresa Mike, who is originally from Kotlik but lives most of the year in Chugiak...

Julia O'Malley

FAIRBANKS -- Notebook from the Alaska Federation of Natives' convention:


Valerie Davidson, senior director of legal and intergovernmental affairs for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, urged Alaska Natives to look into their options for health insurance. Natives have access to care through the Alaska Native medical system but the cost of their health care is only half covered by federal money, she said...

Julia O'Malley

FAIRBANKS -- Politicians and speakers talked a lot about Alaska Native family values on Thursday, the first day of the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention at the Carlson Center.

Gov. Sean Parnell, speaking as a sitting governor and as a candidate for governor in 2014, returned repeatedly to the idea of "family values" when he gave remarks in the morning, citing his work getting more village public safety officers into rural Alaska and his ideas about bringing teachers to village schools via technology and using tribal courts to handle more criminal matters...

Julia O'Malley

In case you missed it, just about dinnertime Monday, the sky above Anchorage filled with thousands of Canada geese, in a massive, concentrated migratory flyover that lasted into early Tuesday morning. Everywhere you went before the sun went down, people were craning necks and pointing cell phones at the sky.

Wigi Tozzi was in his yard around 5:45 p.m. when he heard the birds' racket. He's heard geese plenty of times, but this was different. Louder. Then he looked up.

"It was one giant skein of birds," he said.

He could make out individual animals, but they were tiny and very high, like splinters in the sky.

"This was just like strings of Vs where one leg of the V connected to the next V."...

Julia O'Malley