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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.

A mother and two small children zooming down Front Street in Kotzebue. The 4-wheeler and passengers are almost totally obscuring the decrepit dogsled behind it, posing an interesting metaphor for lifestyle changes in the Alaskan Bush. Is it just me, or is a 3-year-old steering?!

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.

Greta and Lisa gazing out over the ocean, while fish and other meats dry on the rack.

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.


4 Responses »

  1. Hello and thanks for the introduction to what you’re doing along with the pictures. I look forward to reading more and seeing more pictures about your groups adventure and science which includes the involvement of my daughter Lisa.

    Btw., as a parent I worry about her and Grizzly encounters – although Lisa said that you floks took many precautions regarding same which I’m glad to hear. (please don’t tell her I brought this up because I think she would think or say something like, “oh Dad etc. !! ”

    Ok, good fortune to all

  2. Hello to all… I was reading this wonderfully descrpted adventure you are all having. I just wanted to say hi to everyone. Lisa is my best friend and I am so proud of her for persuing her dreams. Tears came to my eyes because not everyone can experience such beautiful things in life. I really wish the best and safest trip to all of you. Watch out for them bears! Lisa also reassures me you guys are very safe in your travelings, so I will leave it at that. You are all in my prayers and I wish you the best of your trip!!!!

  3. Good luck and be safe guys!

    Forward science!

  4. It’s work to you but it looks like an awesome adventure to me (not being the parent and all). Lisa – take it all in – the science, the adventure and just the experience of nature.

    Thanks to all for your work and publishing the notes to enlighten the rest of us. Stay safe, move science forward, and ENJOY this work you have found which is like no other!