Tag Archives: Newtok

Newtok in Widelux

Film Friday: 

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The sun sets over Newtok, Alaska

Camera: Widelux FVI; Film: Kodak 35mm, Ektar100 

 


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.


“Bear”

Film Friday:

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Bear, aka Dimitri

The dog “Bear” quickly captured the hearts of our little troupe.  He came to us at full gallop whenever he saw us out and about in the village.  At one point, I had been inside a home talking to the home owners, and when I came out, Bear was curled up in the arctic entry, right in front of the door.  Bear was with me the rest of the day.

Bear was our mascot, guide, companion and ice breaker, all rolled up in one furry package.  The locals all thought we were crazy: We either had a pack of dogs following us, or a pack of kids.  Often we had a mixed following of each.

One of us even renamed him “Dimitri”, although he was obviously a “Bear”.  There were some whispers of a dognapping, questions were asked about the dog’s owners.  No one could tell us who owned the friendliest of village dogs.  Finally, we asked one of the students at the school, who we saw every day, and who joined us for meals, whenever he could.

“Who owns this dog?”

“That’s Bear, he’s my dog.”

Of course he was!  What a perfect match.  Bear could have belonged to no one else.

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

 


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.


Tundra Life

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Waves of snow

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The wind picks up

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The wind keeps blowing


Blizzard!

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The Newtok store after the storm

There is something quite impressive about a Southwestern Alaska blizzard.  We were out at the far end of the village, when our local guide told us that we had 15 minutes left to take cover.  He had become incredibly reliable with his predictions, and we had already used up 3/4 of an hour from his first warning call.  He had been counting down regularly after that first one.

Visibility had been shortened considerably, and it was obvious that we needed to take cover soon.  Even Bear, our furry, four-legged companion, had left us to take his own cover at the 30 minute warning mark.

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One side of the church…

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… and the other side of the church after the storm.

By sunset, one could hardly see the closest building to you.  The wind howled over, under and around the building that housed us.  It was simply put: Intense.  I can’t think of any time I have experienced such fierce winds.  In Fairbanks, we rarely see much wind, the colder it gets, the calmer it gets.  Out here in Newtok was a totally different animal.  Which meant that we spent far too much time outside reveling in the chaos.

The next day, the kids were climbing up snow drifts against a couple of connex units and running the length of them, then launching off into the massive piles of snow.  Backflips were par for the course.

Trails that we had been walking, now had steep drops, only to have us climb back up the other side.

We flew in on a Wednesday, and due to weather, another flight didn’t land at Newtok for the next 8 days.  Weather permitting, Grant Aviation makes 2-3 flights per day.