The flight to Newtok took us across a vast expanse of seemingly endless white. As far as one could see, from one horizon to the other, nothing but white. Out here, the wind is an artist, leaving mesmerizing patterns in the snow. Even in the air with two other people, I could feel the grip of isolation.
Earlier in the month, four children became lost in blizzard conditions out here, when they went out on a snow machine. It was not hard to imagine losing your bearing, especially when the wind picked up. The kids were found, huddled around the youngest to keep him warm. They were flown to Bethel with severe hypothermia, but they were alive, against long odds.
That’s the village of Newtok, with the airstrip dead ahead. It’s located on a bend in the Ningaluk River. River erosion and the melting of the permafrost is taking a huge toll on the village, forcing a move to a new location.