Last week on Voices of the Tongass we heard from Tully Mcloughlin who is relatively new to Southeast Alaska. To hear how he has been affected by his new second home, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Photo by Berett Wilber
This week, Voices of the Tongass brings us salty stories from Adrienne Wilber. To hear this week’s show, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post. For more stories, keep reading.
Photo by Berett Wilber
Adrienne Wilber was born and raised in Southeast Alaska. Whether it was turning over rocks on a beach or deciding she would rather have a skiff than a pony, Adrienne has always had a connection to the ocean. She started commercial fishing with her dad at age ten, and kept it up every summer for over a decade. Even after she went to college in a land locked state, she graduated with a degree in geology. She was still studying oceans – only now they were fossilized ones. “From an early age being expose to a tidal environment – gaining food and profit from the ocean – has made me feel like the ocean is a really important part of my life. I look at the character traits that I admire in myself and I attribute them to growing up every summer on the back of a fishing boat. I feel like that’s where I learned to work hard. Enthusiasm for hard work. I’m no longer trying to catch as much fish as possible in one trip, I’m trying to broaden the minds of middle school and high school students. But now the idea of working hard in a crew is still there.”
Because of course Adrienne’s relationship with the ocean didn’t end after college: it just transplanted her to warmer waters. She currently works as a deckhand and marine science instructor on the SSV Tole Mour in the Channel Islands, which at 160 feet is the largest active tall ship on the West Coast. But even despite the move, she still feels like values that she developed because of her relationship to the the environment of Alaska are a big part of who she is.
So much in fact, that her coworkers in California are always asking if she’ll move back to her homestate. “People ask me this all the time. I take a lot of pride in being from Alaska and sharing how great it is with people who aren’t from here. Truthfully, I can hardly imagine settling down anywhere… But I don’t know where I would live if it wasn’t Alaska…If you grew up in the Sitka School District, you remember getting into your survival suite and floating around in the harbor for the 7 steps of survival. Building shelters of ferns and bracken. And when I describe this to people outside I get head-shakes, wide eyed looks, and, ‘What? I want to grow up in Alaska!’ and I think that’s an example of the richness that this place can bring to people, whether they’re little kids or returning college students or people who have fished and just decided to stay. And I feel pretty lucky to spend a lot of my time here.”
One of the things that struck me instantly when I moved to Sitka was the number of jarred foods I saw on people’s shelves. I moved up from Oregon where canning foods was either considered “trendy” or outdated–it was a lost art. But here, it’s an art that is practiced every year. In fact, according to the 2013 Sitka Food Assessment, 77% of Sitkans preserved or processed food in the last 12 months.
1 in every 3 Sitkans jar up food every year! And while that is an impressive number, it’s one we want to increase. In the case of an emergency shelf-stable foods are incredibly important. Canning foods is a way to build our individual and community food resiliency.
And it’s another way to connect to the Tongass. Knowing the seasons through food harvest forms a relationship to the natural world, a dependency even. It’s sustenance and subsistence—it’s a way of life. Many foragers even have secret spots for berries, wild greens, or mushrooms. There’s a sense of ownership for these treasured places and they invite stewardship.
Every year hundreds of pounds of berries hang off their branches and freezer bags are filled with future muffins, smoothies, and pies in mind. And while these gems are absolutely delicious frozen, they are quite yummy canned into jams, jellies, syrups, and juice.
The Sitka Conservation Society offered a food preservation class this winter, turning frozen huckleberries into jam, jelly, and fruit leather. If you’re interested in a canning class, call the Sitka Conservation Society at 747.7509 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If we get enough interest we’d be happy to organize another class for our members!
Photo Credit: Christine Davenport
It’s that time of year and Emma Bruhl, like many seniors in Southeast, is about to hit send on her college applications. This week on Voices of the Tongass, Emma gives us a sneak peak at her application essay, and shares some thoughtful insight on what it means to be from the Tongass.
Photo by Berett Wilber
Brian McNitt has an incredible collection of stories from his years living in and exploring Southeast. To listen to him tell one of them, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Photo by Caitlin Woolsey
To hear this week’s episode of Voices of the Tongass, featuring Jonny KT, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Photo by Berett Wilber
It has stopped raining by the time Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins gets off the plane, but his feet are already wet. Why?
“Oh, I ran from Craig to Klawock this morning,” he says casually.
This is perhaps the best introduction to Jonathan that you could get. Born and raised in Sitka, Alaska, most of the people that know Johnny would say that he has always been unusually active. “In the beginning of high school I would start to go off on trips in the mountains in Baranof just by myself. I would pack my backpack and go off and explore,” he says. One of those trips? An attempt to trace the Kiksadi Survival March through the backcountry, from the northern tip of Baranof Island to the town of Sitka. “It rained every day and it was wonderful. I think about that trip all the time,” Johnny says. And when he tries to explain why, he gets down to the heart of something that many Alaskans can relate to. “We’re made to go from place to place, inherently nomadic in some way. When you complete a trip from A to B, it sounds so simple: why would you waste your time putting yourself through brush and discomfort? But it satisfies a very primal purpose, moving and accomplishing something in a locomotive way.”
The mountainous landscape of our archipelago has given Jonathan vast areas in which to satisfy the need to be active, and the landscape has become part of who he is. As a result, a relationship to place has become very important to him. “You want to fall in love with the place you live,” he says, comparing place to a life partner, “that is the same kind of relationship.” He feels his deep connection to place is unusual, and it keeps him coming back to Sitka, even if it’s hard to describe why. “Something I realized back East [at college] was that some of my classmates weren’t in love with a place. Perhaps it’s self-perpetuating, in that if you’re in a place where other people are committed to place, that sense of community perpetuates itself.”
We ask Johnny why he thinks people here become committed to place, and he responds, “Sitka is objectively breathtaking in its place in the natural world – mountains, the ocean, the outer coast, that’s the reason tourists come here, and it’s hard not to appreciate that. But it’s a difficult, perhaps unanswerable, philosophical question.That’s like asking why people fall in love – with a person, or with a place? I don’t know why. In some ways it’s just innate to us.”
For Kari Paustian, one of the most important things about growing up in Southeast Alaska is the way that is has shaped what she considers valuable. To read about a value system based on the Tongass, read Kari’s story. To what she has to say, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
If you had seen Kari Paustian at her first dance recital, in her polka dotted tutu, you might not recognize her now. She is 21 years old, a senior in college, almost six feet tall. and has worked for the Forest Service Trail Crew for the past two years, hauling logs, sawing trees, and building bridges. However, if you listen to her describe her job, it’s clear that her tutu years have had their influence. “Me and my boss, and we went up to cut firewood with a cross-cut saw because you can’t use a chainsaw in wilderness areas. We took this beautiful saw up to this very isolated cabin – flew in by float plane. We spent two days cutting firewood. You move your whole body when you use a cross-cut saw. It’s almost like a dance – one person pulls and the other person pushes, and the only sound that you hear is the shh shh shh of the saw moving through the wood. And you can still hear the birdsong in the background.”
Kari can make chopping wood sound like a gift because for her, it is one. The opportunity to work with the Tongass is a way to take advantage of the skills that she learned from all of the physical activities she did as a kid, from ballet to cross country. And her relationship to the land is reciprocal: she’s majoring in environmental studies and is currently interning at the Sitka Conservation Society. When she thinks about her future, it’s with conservation in mind. Being out in the woods is something that is valuable enough to her that she is working on becoming valuable to the forest in return. “I think that any work If involve myself in here will be involved with the Tongass, with the ocean. I can’t imagine living here and working at a desk for 8 hours a day 5 days a week,” she says.
Kari feels that because she grew up in South East, her view of the land is different that most people’s – but just as important. “I think the true beauty in this place is in the details.There’s a sense of learning about plants by tasting them, instead of learning out of books. picking up a leaf and tasting it. The act of being out in the environment – feeling the bark in the trees, the rain falling on your face – it’s a very tactile life that we live here. Those really little details, those tiny creatures and plants are what makes this ecosystem run. They’re at the bottom of the food chain. It makes me feel blessed that I’ve had the time, enough years, to notice those things. and enough people to show me.”
Even if she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after graduation, one thing that she’s sure of is where she’ll do it “I’ve never been someplace that I’ve liked more than Sitka, and I’ve done a fair bit of traveling. If I were to raise a family, this would be -” she stops, and corrects herself – “This is the place I’d want to do that. It’s home.”
To hear Kari, click here: 19_LWL_KARI_PAUSTIAN
Anyone who has lived in Southeast Alaska for any amount of time can’t help but feel a sense of connection to the place. This week on Voices of the Tongass, Matt Hunter reflects on his relationship to the people and the landscape in Sitka. To hear what he has to say, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Photo by Berett Wilber
Matt Hunter wants to live in Sitka forever. He’s already been here for thirty years, and he has decided that it is the place for him. What makes someone who once dreamed of becoming an astronaut choose to make their life in a tiny isolated town in the Tongass? Love of place. It’s not outer space, but, to Matt, Sitka is still a place of limitless possibilities. “In a big town I wouldn’t be able to run on the ambulance, that would be all profession paramedics. The Search and Rescue program is it’s own city department here, so we can respond before the troopers give the word.”
Matt also loves the environment around Sitka. “Kayaking and having a whale pop up next to you…hiking in the fog, where you can’t see more than 10 or 15 feet and your entire existence is 30 foot circle around you…I really like getting up on a mountain if it’s a little stormy or wintry weather, and it’s dark and grey and gets a little uncomfortable. You get out on a ridge and there’s this blast of air that almost knocks you over, and you realize the power of the wind. And I love those moments.”
Matt’s life in Sitka has given him an insightful perspective on how we relate to the natural world. He believes that he values the environment because he gets out and experiences it all the time. But not everyone is that lucky. Matt compares some people’s distance from nature to our isolation from most current events. “I find myself not wanting to read the newspapers – war, you don’t want to think about it as real. The same thing can happen with nature. You don’t value it because it’a a totally foreign concept.”
While we are pretty isolated here in Sitka, our conversation with Matt reminded us that we are certainly not lacking in opportunities. He pointed out that everything that happens in Sitka is made possible by passionate individuals who create opportunity for themselves and others. “You can do pretty much anything in Sitka. I couldn’t be an astronaut, but I don’t really know if I need to do that anymore.”
This week on Voices of the Tongass, Margot O’Connell gives us a look into the unique set of skills she has developed by growing up in the Tongass. To hear Margot’s story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
When we ask Margot O’Connell about her plans for the future, she tells us something we already know – something everyone who knows Margot knows about her: she loves books. “Growing up, books were sort of my entire universe,” she says, “and that’s still a big part of my life. I want to be a librarian. I’m going to go to grad school in a few years, I want to work in a library.” Honestly, we are inspired by her sense of direction and her long term goals. But when we ask Margot about what she’s doing now, she laughs out loud. “Well, growing up in Sitka you develop a weird skill set, so since 2008 I’ve been organizing and developing marine debris clean up on the outer coasts around Sitka. So kind of on accident I’ve become the marine debris coordinator for Sitka.”
So library school is waiting because after graduation Margot felt “a compulsion to come home.“ And although Margot is humble, it’s no accident that she has found herself involved with marine debris. She’s been helping with the program for the last six years, and is now in charge of everything from organizing clean-ups and estimating fuel costs to partnering with community art programs and applying for grants. Not to mention the actual business of going out on the F/V Cherokee for a week at time to record what they can find on the beach. “We can only get on the beach June – September because of the weather. We’ll take the Cherokee in, then a skiff, then a zodiac. We’ll see what’s there. We’ve expanded our mission to include tsunami tracking. So we’ll record what we find, including invasive species. And then we’ll actually remove all of the debris that we find on the beach.”
Margot has never thought of herself as a scientist, but part of marine debris involves picking up shifts at the Sitka Sound Science Center, and teaching visitors about the local aquarium. She’s surprised by how much she does know, even if it didn’t come to her out of a book. Margot says she’s learned through osmosis simply from growing up in Southeast. “The touch tanks we have [at the aquarium], they look like the tide pools we grew up playing in,” she says. “Growing up here you just have this deep ingrained, inherited knowledge about the landscape and the environment.” It’s knowledge that she has put to use through her position with the marine debris program. Since she started in 2008, the program has cleaned more than 70,000 pounds of refuse off the beaches of Southeast Alaska.
The program will miss her when she follows her passion for history and books to librarian school, but Margot is pretty sure she’ll be back. “I guess I always had two separate worlds,” she says. “I loved where I was living, loved my school, but I really like to be in this environment. I love to come home.”