Greetings from the Alaskan Bush
Journal Entry 1: Tuesday, June 24th, 2008, 4:00pm
KOTZEBUE, ALASKA– Greetings from the Alaskan Bush, and the village of Kotzebue, situated on the northwest coast. I am writing from our cush apartment, complete with plumbing, which is a step up from the “dry” cabins on the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska, where we live. Luckily, you’ve missed the worst part of the trip – preparations and packing – and you’re here just in time for the science and adventure.
We left Fairbanks several days ago on scheduled air service (a 10-seater) to Kotzebue, where we now await for low fog and mid-level clouds to dissipate. We originally planned to fly on a plane with wheels to a gravel bar high on the Nimiuktuk River, but the pilot scouting for suitable landing areas found them to be underwater. One of our primary concerns in planning this trip was whether or not the Nimi would have sufficient water to float us and science gear downriver, but the water is now so deep that we hope to land a float plane at a nearby lake and endure the swampy portage.
Navigating the numerous logistical constraints can be overwhelming at times, but we are loosely scheduled to fly out in multiple loads on a 4-seater (Cessna 185) on floats. A serious adventure is taking shape, and we’re stoked to get our scientific sampling started.
Our abbreviated gear list:
• 2 16-ft. inflatable canoes, both equipped with canoe paddles and oar mounts, to allow navigation of both small creeks and large rivers.
• 5 bear barrels, to prevent bears from enjoying human food.
• 1 shotgun, for bear protection
• 4 dry bags of personal gear
• 5 hard cases of science gear and communications
• 1 large screen tent, with rain fly
• 3 mountaineering tents
• 4 scientists
Along with myself, the four scientists include: National Park Service biotech Lisa Garrison, an undergraduate at Montana State and newbie to the Arctic; Mark Winterstein, a volunteer that I recruited because of his incredible knowledge of boreal and Arctic plants; and Greta Myerchin, a hydraulic engineer, and another volunteer with a laundry list of field experience in the Arctic. Together, hopefully we have the skill-set to execute the science, meanwhile crossing a large swath of Alaskan wilderness.
But, for now we gaze over the foggy Arctic ocean, waiting for weather to lift. Kotzebue is dominated by beachfront, Native Alaskans, 4-wheelers, trash, and a vestige of an incredible culture. It is probably best described by these photos.
Coming from Fairbanks, the typical reaction is “How could anyone live here?” But, people from New York City react similarly to living in Fairbanks, and, frankly, people from Fairbanks react similarly to living in New York City! I guess it’s all about what makes a person happy, and the truth is that the locals in Kotzebue have flush toilets, and that is more than I can claim.