Tag Archives: history

Happy Seward’s Day


Naknek, Alaska

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Looking out over Naknek from the Tribal Hall

Naknek sits along the shore of the Naknek River, where the river flows into Kvichak Arm of Bristol Bay.

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Bristol Bay is Alaska’s famed salmon waters.  It is the world’s most productive salmon fishery.  Naknek is home to both Trident and Peter Pan Seafoods, among many others.

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Hiking along the shore of the Naknek River

Naknek lies less than 20 road miles from King Salmon, which is also on the Naknek River.  It’s definitely fishing country, with over 75% of the jobs in fisheries.

When we visited, the town had only begun to get ready for the fishing season.  Many were worried about what the Corvid-19 virus was going to do to the industry.  At the time, Alaska had no known cases of the virus, but Washington State was already a hotbed.  Many summer workers come up from Washington every year.  Concerns were rampant, and not unexpected.

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The nightlife hotspot of Naknek

The community was welcoming and open about their unique lifestyle on Bristol Bay.  Naknek has a population of less than 600 in the winter months, but explodes to around 15,000 during the summer.  I have always wanted to visit the area in the summer, it must be absolutely beautiful.  The sockeye runs are a major temptation, but I simply could not imagine so many people in such a confined space as Naknek.  There is a nearby alternative, but more on that in a future post.

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Naknek, circa 1946; Naknek Native Tribal Council

 

 


Got Snow?

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Breaking trail with the snowshoes

Interior Alaska does.  

Fairbanks officially received 8.9″ of the white stuff from Sunday night to Monday afternoon.  That’s 13″ for the month of March, and more on the way for Wednesday.  It looks to be our snowiest March since 1991.

On the ground, we officially have 32″ of snow.  At the cabin, I have more than that, and in the hills above Fairbanks, there is certainly even more yet.

For the outdoor enthusiast, the snow is a boon for social distancing.  No staying inside, when one can find a trail, or make your own.


Vernal Equinox

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A young moose blocks my way to the job site on Wednesday; its twin was eating willows in the slough to the right.

Winter 2019-2020 seems to have dragged on forever.  We are finally turning the much anticipated corner into spring.  I understand, for some of you, briar & tick season leaves you feeling itchy over the upcoming season, but up here in the Far North, I’m more than ready for spring.  Without any hockey, we might as well melt the ice.

Spring officially arrives early this year.  We have not seen a spring this early on the calendar for 124 years. Looking at the snow still on the ground here in Fairbanks, only the warmer temps signal any sign of spring.

Here in Fairbanks, we have finally pushed over the 12 hour mark for daylight.  We gained 6 minutes, 44 seconds from yesterday.  That makes both the moose and I happy.


On the shoreline of the Ninglick River

Film Friday:

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Newtok, Alaska: After the storm

Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X 400 

 


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Newtok Post Office

The lean in the post office building is quite visible here.  This was the day after the storm, and when we first walked by, you could not see the building under the snowdrift.  On our return, a couple of hours later, the front had mostly been shoveled, but the front steps and door were still encased in snow.

Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X 400 

 


Leaning

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I don’t think I saw one power pole standing completely upright when I was in Newtok.  Due to the melting permafrost, the poles were all leaning one way or the other.  Some lines were so slack, I had to duck under them, some were so taught, I expected them to snap at any moment.  Several poles had been propped up with lumber.


Mertarvik

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The streets of Mertarvik, Alaska

We needed a ride across the Ninglick River to the new townsite of Mertarvik.  So the word went out, and by morning we had a couple of offers of snow machine rides.  I also had received an offer to guide us the nine miles across by foot.  Of our little troupe, I was the only one who was intrigued by this, although I had one guy who said, “If you’re walking to Mertarvik, I sure as hell won’t let you be the only one!”  In the end, lack of time overcame intense desire, and I hitched a ride on the back of a snow machine.

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The snow machine trail back to Newtok

Thirty minutes later, I was dropped off at the Tundra View Lodge.  Within fifteen minutes my partner in crime arrived, and we set off to explore the new location for Newtok.

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The Tundra View Lodge

People started to move across to Mertarvik from Newtok in October of last year.  First in line were the people who were displaced or very soon to be displaced, either by the melting permafrost or the river erosion.  Approximately twenty-two homes have been completed in Mertarvik, along with an evacuation center that currently houses the school.

In the evacuation center, I talked with an elder on the move from her traditional home.  She told me that she had cried for weeks leading up to the move, and the first few days in the new location.  But after a week or so in Mertarvik, she no longer wanted to go back to Newtok.  This was home now, and it was time to move forward.  The upcoming weekend had an area wide basketball tournament at the Newtok gym, the elder confessed to me that her granddaughter was playing, but she didn’t even want to cross the river for that!

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Toksook Bay traveling basketball team

Since the planes were not flying between the villages due to high winds, the basketball teams from around Nelson Island headed over to Newtok by snow machine.  I believe this is the Toksook Bay team, as they took a break on the edge of Mertarvik, before taking on the final nine miles to Newtok.  Toksook Bay is approximately 59 miles, as the caribou plods, from Newtok.

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Mertarvik, looking back across the river towards Newtok

The move across the Ninglick River has been 20 years in the making for the villagers of Newtok.  A lot of challenges remain, and the move for the remaining people of the village will still be a long and slow process, but the residents here are a hardy bunch.


Kuskokwim Highway

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Breaking trail on the Kuskokwim River; Photo credit: KTOO

The ice road on the Kuskokwim River in southwestern Alaska has reached a record length this year: 355 miles.

The ice road generally starts to take shape, weather permitting, in January.  This year, for the first time, the village of Sleetmute is on the river ice-highway system.

On average, the ice road runs 200 miles long, or so.  With unpredictable air transportation, the ice road can be a boon for residents trying to reach medical care, or to just buy supplies mid-winter.

Ice thickness near Bethel was at 3-4 feet, but it dropped to approximately 2 feet thick near Sleetmute.  One 14 mile section was so rough that it had to be bulldozed prior to plowing.

Thanks to KTOO, Johnny Cash, Rebecca Wilmarth and Corey Nicholai for the video.


Images of Newtok

Sticking the landing:

Newtok, Alaska: That wasn’t a landing, as much as it was an arrival.

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When we landed in Newtok, the little airstrip was a hive of activity.  Two small planes were parked at one end of the runway, with people, gear and supplies being quickly unloaded in the -20F degree air.  Two men with four wheelers offered us rides on the back to the heart of the village: The School.

In the summer, Newtok is a village of boardwalks.  The entire village is sinking into the tundra, with the melting of the permafrost, and many of the boardwalks will be under water when break up arrives.

Today though, the ground is frozen firm, and the village is encased in snow.

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The Yup’ik village of Newtok, which roughly translates to “rustling of grass”, first saw a permanent settlement in 1949, although the ancestors of the residents have lived in the area for over 2000 years.  By 1958, the BIA had built a school.  The location was determined because it was the farthest up river that barges could bring in supplies.

The Ninglick River has been taking dozens of feet of shoreline annually by erosion, leaving much of Newtok balancing precariously.  A new location for the village has been staked out 9 miles away at Mertarvik, which roughly translates as “good water” from Yup’ik.  Approximately one third of the village moved across the river onto higher ground this past autumn.

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The church of Newtok

The church was empty, as the priest travels from village to village.  The sunset is glowing through the windows on the opposite side.

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Go Jaegers!

We spent a lot of time in the school, as it acted as a community center for the village.  Everyone seemed to go through the school at some point.  The teachers, administration, and students were all very welcoming, and I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction.

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Bear, aka Dimitri

This little guy became our constant companion and guide.  Bear would see us out walking from across the village, and he’d come running for us at a gallop.  We often had a pack of village dogs following us, and competing for our attention when we were out & about.  Like all the residents of Newtok, they were incredibly gracious hosts.