Copper River Record February 27, 2020
By Robin Mayo
A geologist, a biologist, and an archaeologist walk into a room….it sounds like the start of a joke, but it really happened last week at the inaugural Copper River Basin Symposium at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Visitor Center. And the results were inspiring!
The theme of the symposium was Tradition, Science, and Stewardship. In this article I’ll mostly review the science aspect, and plan to address tradition and stewardship in the coming weeks.
At many science symposiums, participants get together for big events like keynote speeches, but then have a choice of several different tracks. You have to make hard choices about which presentations to attend, and often end up learning mostly about your own discipline. This makes sense in some ways, but shortchanges the idea of thinking about our system as a whole.
For the recent symposium, the time for each presenter was short, but everyone had the chance to see all of the speakers. The topics were very diverse, but were grouped into sessions, blocks of 2 or three presentations with a common theme. Themes included Climate Research and Modeling, Glaciers, Hydrology, Archaeology, Working with Indigenous Communities, Wildlife, Collaborative Conservation and Human Dimensions, and Fisheries.
About 90 people total attended the symposium, some travelling from as far away as Texas and staying the entire time, as well as locals who stopped in for part of a day. Attendees ranged from experts in their fields, to Ahtna elders, to youth getting their first glimpse of some of the topics.
From the start, it was evident that local science is already embracing a cross-discipline approach. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Archaeologist Lee Reininghaus presented on exciting finds of ancient campsites along the shores of ancient Lake Atna. To start looking for the sites, she consulted geologist Mike Loso, whose experienced eye helped pick out the remnants of shoreline now high in the hills. In a reciprocal benefit, carbon dating from campfire remnants can now help geologists.
As Fisheries Biologist Matt Piche gave a talk on Native Village of Eyak’s chinook salmon tagging project in Baird Canyon, he mentioned that one of the benefits of the expensive study is that other studies can be added without incurring significant extra costs. In questions after the talks, and many informal conversations, ideas were sparked for more cooperation. What can biologists learn from the bone remnants found at archaeological sites? How can linguistic studies of place names help geologists learn about the formation of our landscape? How can a climatology study be used by fish biologists concerned about the effects of warming ocean waters? The possibilities are endless.
One of the most fascinating topics for me was Geolinguistic Evidence of Dene Presence at High-Water Levels of Glacial Lake Ahtna by James Kari of University of Alaska Fairbanks. Full confession: I did not begin to really understand 90% of his information! Trying to condense years of research and insight into a 15 minute presentation is nearly impossible. However, the rich heritage of Ahtna names in our landscape, vividly descriptive words packed with meaning, was abundantly clear. This led to conversations about restoring traditional place names and being mindful of the ancient traditions that infuse our whole valley.
Trenton Culp of Ahtna, Inc. and Dusin Carl of Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission gave a talk titled Bear Density of the Tazlina River Drainage, on sampling the DNA of our local bear populations. In designing the study, they tested and rejected the idea of live trapping, settling on a method of collecting hair samples with barbed wire. As well as being far less invasive and much cheaper, this charmingly low-tech solution is also far less stressful on both bears and researchers. They have already collected DNA samples from far more bears than they initially expected, and will continue the study.
I wish I had space and time to summarize every one of the amazing presentations at the Symposium. Words are also failing me in expressing the feeling of being in the same room with so much love for and knowledge about this place we call home.
Thanks to the partners who made this event possible: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Copper River Watershed Project, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission, Wrangell Mountains Center, Ahtna Heritage Foundation, and WISE. Thanks also to the sponsors who provided funds or in-kind support: Alyeska Pipeline Company Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Alaska Geographic, US Bureau of Land Management, and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission.
Paul Boos Photo. Students from Copper River Stewardship Program presented “Adventures in the Watershed Classroom. L to R, Braden Beckett, Cordova, Arthur Bishop, Kenny Lake, Grace Reyes, Cordova, Josie Beauchamp, Slana, and Jesse Hale, Kenny Lake.
Copper River Record- January 30, 2020
By Robin Mayo
Curious about the roles of tradition and science in the Copper River Basin? What can we do to become better stewards of this place? Or maybe your questions are more specific, like what is the meteorology of the debris-covered tongue of the Kennicott Glacier? How is language used to learn about the presence of the Dene people on the shores of Ancient Lake Atna? Or what is the preferred roost location for Little Brown Bats in the Copper Basin?
All these questions and many more will be answered at the Copper River Basin Symposium: Tradition, Science, and Stewardship to be held at the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center February 18-19, 2020. This will be more than just a science symposium, we will also explore traditional ecological knowledge and nurturing a stewardship ethic.
The conference is open to the public- you are invited to attend any of the sessions. A complementary lunch will be provided by Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission, and breakfast and dinner will be available, but must be pre-purchased through the conference registration site by January 31. Anyone who wishes to attend is encouraged to register (no cost) at www.copperriver.org/copper-river-basin-symposium/
On Tuesday, February 18th, programming will begin at 8:30 am with the symposium opening, a visit from an Ahtna Elder, and a keynote address by Kathryn Martin, Senior Vice President at Ahtna Inc on the theme of tradition, science, and stewardship.
Each presentation at the conference will be about 20 minutes long, with a few minutes for questions. On Tuesday, topics will include climate research and modeling, glaciers, hydrology, aquatic ecology, and ancient Lake Atna. At 4:45 there will be a poster session at the Ahtna Cultural Center with about 20 different presenters available to share their projects.
On Tuesday Evening there will be a special presentation by William E. Simeone at Tazlina Hall at 7pm. He will speak on “A Convergence of Knowledge? Scientific and Ahtna Knowledge of Salmon Diversity in the Copper River.”
On Wednesday, February 19th, the symposium will begin at 8:30am with the second Keynote address, by F. Stuart (Terry) Chapin, Professor Emeritus of Ecology at University of Alaska Fairbanks. He will speak on “Linking Indigenous and Western Science to Adapt to Climate Change.” Topics for Wednesday sessions will include a panel discussion on working with indigenous communities for scientific studies, wildlife research and management, collaborative conservation and the human dimensions of natural resource management, and fisheries. The day will finish with a symposium wrap-up at 4:30.
On Thursday February 20th, a morning meeting will be held to synthesize salmon habitat topics from the symposium, and consider past and current research projects with the goal of identifying research gaps. This session will be held from 8:30 to 11:30 am at Tazlina Village Hall, and is open to the public.
This symposium, the first of its kind for the Copper River Basin, is being organized by a group of partners including WISE, Copper River Watershed Project, Wrangell Mountains Center, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission. Funding or in-kind support is being provided by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission.
For more information visit the Symposium web page at www.copperriver.org/copper-river-basin-symposium/ or call the WISE office, 822-3575
The Symposium logo was designed by Copper River Stewardship Program Alumni Lindsey Gordon and Elvie Underwood.
Copper River Record- January 23, 2020
By Robin Mayo
My approval ratings are at a record low. I’m still holding my own with positive numbers in the areas of kibble pouring, water bowl rinsing, and ear scratches, with both felines and canines agreeing that my performance meets expectations. But in the all essential tasks of door opening and walkies, my constituents express extreme disapproval.
Of course, the felines rarely express satisfaction in anything but themselves, so I’m not too worried about their disdain. However this year I have a canine companion, my Granddog Tazlina, and her disapproval cuts to the bone.
Both species line up at the door expectantly, waiting for me to work my magic and reveal the great outdoors. When instead of fresh air a wall of ice fog rolls in, they all duck their heads, pin back their ears, and give me a look of deep disappointment. They hold me personally responsible for this travesty.
The cats slink away to visit the conveniently provided tub of wood chips, but Taz has no such option. Instead she gives me a long look that clearly says 1)“You are NOT my Favorite Person.” 2) “When Favorite Person opens the door, the air never hurts” and 3) “I fear I shall perish immediately, therefore I will only venture outside if you go too.”
Taz grew up in California and her previous Alaskan winter was spent in Girdwood, so her bewilderment is justified. Also, her ancestors were not wolves but dingoes, and her body is better adapted to extreme heat than bitter cold. I’ve tried to explain to her about the dire situation in Australia and how much better off she is here, but she isn’t buying it. I’ve even shown her pictures of scorched kangaroos and koalas, taking care that she doesn’t catch a glimpse of any photos of Favorite Person on a beach in Central America.
Making clothing for Taz has become a household obsession, another activity that she disapproves of thoroughly. Before leaving, my daughter re-tailored a nice Patagonia fleece pullover into very chic “PETagonia” complete with fitted sleeves and snaps down the back. Doing this required many fittings, and every time Taz stood with her legs locked, her head down, and a long-suffering look on her face.
For cold waits in the car, I adapted a loose fleece hoodie which gives her a cool thug look. A friend picked up a tacky Christmas sweater on clearance, the only piece of Taz’s wardrobe which was actually made for dogs. She grudgingly admits it is comfy but suspects the snowman makes her butt look big. Please don’t tell her, but it does.
My latest effort is a puffy jacket, repurposed from a well-worn North Face coat that has already survived a bad trip through the dryer and many wilderness adventures. I’m remodeling the hood as well, so it can protect her big dingo ears when we go fast on the snowmachine. For all this work Taz is profoundly ungrateful.
If you’d like to adapt castaway human clothing for your canine companion, here are a few tips. The easiest item to start with is a synthetic fleece jacket or vest. Almost anything is fair game, but stretchy is a plus, and cutting and resewing down-filled garments is not recommended unless you are an expert. Dogs come in so many shapes and sizes your best approach is to experiment and improvise. And chances are good the dog will loath it, so don’t sweat the details.
One approach is to choose a garment with the right chest circumference, sew up the armholes and cut new ones where needed. Another strategy is to find something large enough to use the existing armholes, sewing a giant tuck in the front or back to fit the animal’s chest. You can just go with something stretchy that you can pull on, or use existing fasteners on either the chest or back. For very small dogs, baby lambs or goats, or even cats if you are very brave, a piece of sweatshirt sleeve with strategically cut armholes works great.
As I write this the temperature has soared up to a balmy 8 below, and Taz is eternally grateful that she will not be wearing any clothing today, unless we need a photo shoot for this article. Two months ago she would have found this temperature miserable, so it appears our transplanted doggie is on her way to becoming a true Alaskan. I’m planning a long walk in the heat of the afternoon today, which should make my approval ratings soar.
Captions- Top: Taz did not choose the thug life, the thug life chose her.
Bottom: The dreaded Christmas Sweater.
Copper River Record January 16, 2020
By Robin Mayo
It has been a while since we had a good cold snap, and although I do not enjoy dealing with frozen fingers, frozen trucks, frozen pipes, and all the other tribulations, there is a certain fierce joy in this kind of weather. The alpenglow is gorgeous, the creak of the snow under your feet enticing, and there is a deep satisfaction in seeing the plume of woodsmoke rise from your chimney. And hey, the best part of going out in the cold to do chores is coming back in, defrosting your glasses, and settling in with tea and a good book. And a 160-degree sauna at 40 below, earning membership in the 200-degree club? Priceless.
This cold snap is treating me pretty well. The scores so far: Of the five Toyostoves I am responsible for, four are working. Of the three water/sewer systems, one is frozen, one is thawed, and one is good but may be out of water soon if the water truck can’t roll. Of the four vehicles I am responsible for, one is fine, one is startable (although I suspect each start takes years off its life,) and two are mercifully parked for the winter. Of the two woodpiles I am responsible for, both are fully stocked with well-seasoned spruce, cut to the right length. Of my two offspring, both are in tropical locations.
But I’m reminded that it isn’t easy for everyone. We took some extra propane tanks to a neighbor in a wheelchair who is going through a 20-pound tank almost every day keeping his water room warm. He figures he may have to go to Valdez for refills. Driving to work today, I noticed freshly cut branches where someone had been cutting firewood from the road right of way. Every one of us is just a split pipe, a broken fan belt, a gelled fuel line, or a chimney fire away from disaster.
Yet we lean into this weather instead of fleeing. I grew up in Fairbanks during the 70’s and 80’s, when very long cold snaps were more common, so it is tempting to dismiss this current one and tell some stories about the good old days. Were we just tougher back then, or are our memories short? Midwinter cold snaps bring back the smell of starter fluid squirted into a carburetor, the distinctive sound a vehicle makes when it barely turns over but it is not going to start. Not after being plugged in for 12 hours, not if you blast it with the propane weed burner, and especially not if the flame gets too close to the wiring.
I turned a mountain of moose into sausage and watched some football this weekend, ate too much bacon and cupcakes. My Mom has been wishing for some extra warm mittens, so I cut up an old sweater, layered it with polar fleece and quallofil, and stitched near the fire. In other words, a perfect winter weekend.
On Friday, town was full of dog mushers, hardy souls who know how to dress for winter. It is impossible to recognize anyone in their winter garb, so I waved to every round figure waddling about town in the smog from all the idling vehicles. And I waved to the teenagers in their hoodies, warmed by the energy and fire of youth. Some things don’t change.
Copper River Record December 2019
By Jolene Nashlund
With the fresh fallen snow that we finally received, one question, or rather song lyric comes to mind, “Do you want to build a snowman?” Well, the Copper River Basin may not be quite like Arendelle, the quaint little fictitious town from the Disney movie “Frozen,” but it’s pretty close! Except here, you are more likely to hear, “Do you want to build a Quinzee?” Now, we’re talking! Snow had eluded us for a while longer this year, but alas, the beautiful fluff is here. And, what better way to welcome the long awaited snow, then to make an official day of playing outdoors in it!
WISE and Partners will host the third annual Winter Fun Day to be held on December 23, from 10-3pm, at the Wrangell St. Elias National Park Visitor Center. The festivities will include both outdoor and indoor activities. The outdoor activities will include; Quinzee (snow shelter) building, skiing, snow machine maintenance, animal CSI (critter scene investigation), and a snowshoeing obstacle course. Some of the indoor activities that are being offered will include Christmas gift making projects, the Jr. Ranger Program, and two Ahtna Cultural Activities; rabbit snaring and drum making.
Winter Fun Day is a family event, so come one, come all! Children under 8 years old will need an adult to accompany them in making some great memories. It is definitely going to be chilly out so dress in warm snow gear and bring extra socks. All gear will be provided, however if you have your favorite skis or snowshoes that you’d rather use, feel free to bring them. Hot chocolate and snacks will be provided, but with all the excitement and running around, a lunch will definitely be in order, so please pack one to help stay fueled up for the next round of activities!
We look forward to seeing you and get ready to have “snow” much fun!
Beginners learning how to snowshoe at Winter Fun Day 2018. Photo courtesy WISE
Copper River Record December 2019
By Robin Mayo
For the past month, Prince William Sound College students have been learning the traditional art of fur sewing, and making their own trapper hats, mittens, and parka ruffs. In Glennallen, ten students met every Thursday evening for concentrated sessions of learning to customize patterns, cut fur, and patiently assemble their creations. In between classes, they spent countless hours sewing.
In Valdez, a class of four met for a marathon weekend, nearly completing their projects in two long days of companionable work in pleasant company. Last January, 19 students in Glennallen and Kenny Lake also went through the course and made an amazing array of useful garments.
In the grand scheme of human existence, the modern textile arts that we take for granted are a relatively new thing, with a few thousand years of spinning, knitting, weaving and felting to make fabrics. Every item required countless hours of highly skilled work. The inexpensive mass-produced garments that we so take for granted today have only been around since the industrial revolution. Before all that, harvesting, tanning, and sewing garments out of animal pelts was the only option for making clothing to keep us warm and protected from the elements.
I like to remind my fur sewing students that no matter where their ancestors lived, some time long ago, or not so long ago, someone was an expert at creating clothing out of fur and leather. Learning to sew fur can be a daunting task, but remembering that it is in our DNA somewhere can help us trust ourselves to take the plunge.
Fur sewing is always an act of transformation, steeped in tradition and made sacred by the fact that lives were ended prematurely to make it possible. Beginning fur sewers who are experienced seamstresses and quilters sometimes find it challenging, because the process, rules, and possibilities are so different. Some of the students have barely sewed a stitch in their lives, and although they have to work hard to learn to manage needle and thread, in some ways their path is the easier one.
The pelt of an animal is at once a very challenging, and also very forgiving medium. The direction, length, and colors of the fur need to be considered carefully to transform an animal-shaped pelt into a garment. The slightest error can look terrible, but there are also possibilities for carefully piecing together furs to get the shapes and look you want. Carefully planned seams become invisible if the fur matches. And a wrong cut can always be re-stitched so that only the most careful observer will be able to tell what happened.
Modern fur sewers have the option of incorporating non-traditional materials such as nylon, polarfleece, and synthetic insulations. And of course we are incredibly grateful that our process does not start with tanning hides, making bone needles, and painstakingly preparing sinew thread. One of the Valdez students made overmitts out of home raised and tanned rabbit skins with beautiful results but countless hours of dedicated work.
Several of the students up-cycled garments from the thrift store or their own closets for their projects. I’ve been offered quite a few fur coats to recycle but have always found the skin is too brittle or the fur not attractive enough to make it worthwhile. But we used wool shirts, suit coats, and even a Carhartt jacket for the shells of hats, and cut up quilted or polarfleece clothing for insulating liners.
Who knows, maybe a day is coming when we won’t be able to purchase clothing cheaply at stores, and will need to turn more to self-reliant skills like fur sewing. I’m proud of these students and hope they will continue to carry on the tradition, and share it with young people.
If you are interested in joining a fur sewing class, Prince William Sound College in Glennallen is keeping a list of prospective students for the next class. You can call 822-3673 to add your name.
Felicia Riedel made these mittens of beaver, coyote, and deer leather.
Copper River Record November 21, 2019
By Robin Mayo
Mark your calendars for the first Copper River Basin Symposium, to be held February 18 &19, 2020 at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center.
The event will showcase current scientific research and traditional knowledge of the region, with illustrated talks on a wide variety of topics, including archaeology, biology, and geology. There will also be panel discussions, a poster session, and a post-conference workshop on salmon habitat. The public will be welcome to attend.
Mr. Terry Chapin, professor emeritus at University of Alaska Fairbanks and recent winner of the 2019 Volvo Environmental Prize, has already agreed to be one of the Keynote Speakers for the Symposium. Mr. Chapin has been a faculty member at UAF since 1973, and in 2001 founded a graduate program called the Resilience and Adaptation Program, which aims to train future scientists to take an interdisciplinary approach to studying climate change. His newest book, “ Grassroots Stewardship: Sustainability within our Reach,” will be released in early 2020.
An additional keynote speaker, to be announced, will address the symposium with a focus on the Tradition aspect of the theme.
The planning committee is currently sorting through over 30 proposals for presentations, and is excited in the interest the symposium is generating. Team members include Copper River Watershed Project, Wrangell Mountains Center, WISE, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Event sponsors so far include National Fish and Wildlife Federation, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission.
The symposium logo was designed by area youth Lindsey Gordon and Elvie Underwood.
Copper River Record November 7, 2019
By Judith Lorenz
On Saturday, October 19th, Advocates for Victims of Violence organized its 12th annual "Women of Distinction Awards and Celebration", held at the Valdez Civic Center. The event, one of the biggest fundraisers of the year in Valdez, assembled over 200 people for a dinner-auction and award ceremony.
This award is presented to honor women who are outstanding role models, support the development of others, show vision and initiative and set themselves apart through their philanthropic and professional contributions to our communities.
Gay Wellman and Robin Mayo, both from Kenny Lake, are the recipients of this year's awards, chosen among a field of 13 nominees.
When asked how she felt about her award, Gay Wellman says it is a big honor. "How wonderful to get recognized. The field of nominees are an incredible group of women. None of us is doing this by ourselves though. I feel like all women are women of distinction. It's important for me to accept this kind of recognition for everyone. It is not just about me". Robin Mayo says she was surprised and honored. "There are so many inspiring women in our communities who fit the description, making a difference every day."
Gay has degrees in nursing and Organizational Administration, and has worked at AK Regional Hospital South Central Counseling Center, and a Behavior Health Nursing carreer for 22 years. In 2017, she became an educator for the Alzheimer's Disease Resource Agency of Alaska, and from there, her name became synonymous with advocacy for for Alaskans effected by Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, as well as the elderly in need.
She spearheaded the development of a huge online and telephone education effort that now brings information to rural Alaskan caregivers. She regularly teaches the classes that she helped create, "The ABC's of Caregiving and Savvy Caregivers".
Among the messages of support posted on behalf of Gay at the Women of Distinction event includes the following:
"Gay honors her family, her community, her state, her earth. Sh reaches out to persons in need and feeds them amazing support and education. She gives, and she is a true Woman of Distinction."
"Gay is an educator but she does not teacher in a school. She teaches though outreach. She has a solid understanding of folks living with dementia, and her true gift is her ability to relay that information to caregivers with love, compassion and humor, in normal-speak. Her messages are true and understandable, often by persons struggling with very difficult and pressing situations."
As a long time resident of Kenny Lake and a life-long Alaskan, Robin Mayo is deeply connected to the Copperr Valley community. Her experience includes time as director and vice-chair of the Kenny Lake Community Library, substitute teaching at Kenny Lake School, operating her own fiber art business ("Wild and Wooly"), work as an outreach technician for Prince William Sound Community College, and office management, and co-ownership of a rafting guide service ("Osprey Expeditions").
Local non-profit Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment has enjoyed Robin's ingenuity, resourcefulness, and upbeat attitude through every challenge. With each month since she assumed the helm, Robin has grown into an ever-more exceptional teachers, organizer, and leader.
In October 2013, Robin earned a certificate in non-profit management from the Foraker Group. In January 2015 she completed training to be a certified Wilderness First Responder. She Participated in the Foraker Group's Executive Leadership Initiative in 2015.
Robin's message of support included the following passages:
"While Robin's an inspiration to youth of all ages, she is a special role model for young women in the middle and high school years when ,any girls lose confidence and interest in outdoor activities and adventures. Her perfect mix of strong outdoor leadership skills, can-do spirit, and safety consciousness demonstrates to girls that being a strong outdoors woman can open doors for future careers and for a lifetime of contentment."
Congratulations to both Gay and Robin and thanks for all that you do for the Copper Valley and beyond.
Gay Wellman and Robin Mayo were chosen as the 2019 Women of Distinction from among 13 nominees at the annual Advocates for Victims of Violence fundraiser held in Valdez on October 19. Photo Courtesy of WISE
Copper River Record October 31, 2019
By Robin Mayo
“This house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy” declared a sign in the home of childhood friends. A good creed to live by, although exactly where that line between healthy and happy lies is a personal preference. And it turns out that too clean can actually be unhealthy. The human body is host to countless microbes which contribute to our health, and we pick up many of these microbes from the world around us.
A recent Forbes Magazine article explains: “Excessive hygiene, especially in childhood, leads to an abrupt and sharp decline in natural exposure to all sorts of microbes. The gist of such observations became codified as the Hygiene hypothesis, that a 'Western' lifestyle increasingly automatically undermines natural exposure to microbes. This in turn fundamentally alters how the immune system gets 'trained' during formative years and thus increases the risk for inflammatory disorders. How exactly this happens remains the focus of intense research.”
Children need to play in the dirt for their physical health, and exposure to nature in general has dramatic results for their emotional health, intelligence, behavior, and overall life happiness as well.
If you need convincing on this idea, I heartily recommend “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. It spells out the symptoms, but also shares the cure an inspiring way.
“If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy. It's a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun.” Richard Louv.
In my experience as a parent and outdoor educator, one of the single most important things you can do to encourage your kids to spend more time in nature is “Say YES to the Mess.” This may mean sharing their delight when they get muddy instead of scolding them. Remembering to bring spare clothes along so full-immersion exploration doesn’t mean an uncomfortable damp car ride home. Purchasing mud boots, rain coats, and other protective gear. Providing chances for gardening, mud pie baking, fort building, and mucking about in creeks and on riverbanks.
As I dug into the research while writing this article, I was reminded that it is not only children who need to spend time outdoors. Studies show that teens, adults, and elders also benefit greatly from time in nature, which not coincidentally usually includes exercise, fresh air, and a break from electronics. Some of the benefits are fairly straightforward and easy to understand, like improved health and stress reduction. Others are more interesting, for example improved risk identification and decision making. But when you think about it, a walk in the woods holds a myriad of chances to make decisions and deal with the outcomes: Should I climb over that log, or duck under? Is that puddle deep enough to top my boots? How can I get up this steep slippery slope?
As the daylight shortens and kids are busy with school and activities, it can get harder to build outside time into your day. One solution is to embrace messy play indoors as well, such as drawing on the bathtub surround walls with shaving cream, or sculpting with playdough or clay. Another is to commit to going outdoors even if it is cold and dark, perhaps setting up a new yard light and providing fort-building materials such as boards, ropes, and tarps so they can make their own outdoor space. Or get the kids headlamps and send them out on a scavenger hunt. You can also combine chores and outdoor play time by involving the whole family in fall projects like cutting firewood, putting away the garden, or picking berries. For other ideas, www.childhoodbynature.com and other websites are full of inspiration.
Tolsona Mud Volcanoes are a wonderful place to get really muddy while learning about our unique geology. WISE photo
Copper River Record October 24, 2019
By Robin Mayo
Sitting tucked under the wide branches of a spruce tree, we are bundled against the early morning chill and prepared with thermos mugs of coffee, binoculars, and bear spray. This is the perfect spot to see out across the valley at first light.
Halfway up the mountainsides, a layer of wispy clouds is sailing upriver at a steady pace. At river level, fog is rising from the ponds and sloughs and drifting slowly downriver. It catches on hillocks and patches of spruce, piling up briefly before being combed into strands and continuing to drift close to the surface.
Several hundred yards below us, we harvested a moose in a small meadow in the bend of a slough. We have spent the last three days field dressing, hauling, and hanging the moose on a high pole. All looking forward to watching the gut pile, backbone, and head left behind. A Gray Jay arrived soon after we did, bravely flitting nearby and hauling off any beak-sized tidbit it could pull loose. Surely word has spread among the ravens, magpies, and eagles already. Bears and wolves will not be far behind. Nothing will be wasted.
The fog is thickening as a few rays of sun start to reach the ground, well soaked by a night of rain. Soon the valley floor is fully carpeted, only a few ghostly outlines of the tallest spruce trees are visible. I am struck by how slow and subtle yet complete every change in the fog is. You cannot really see movement, but within a few minutes everything is transformed. The air and water are interacting under a complex set of rules: temperature, sun, dew point, breeze, topography.
The fog drifts slowly down valley at ground level, but as it lifts to the level of the upriver breeze it is caught and sails with that current. It is okay to be moving in different directions at different levels, I remind myself. It is okay to live within conflicting values, habits, and cultures. My partner eats meat and potatoes, frosted mini wheats with milk. I also like things like asparagus, couscous, and feta cheese. This bothered me at first, but now I smile, privately pleased to eat a whole avocado at one sitting without guilt.
The coffee is no longer enough, I have started to think about the four potatoes and one onion that we carried up yesterday evening. The only part of the moose that didn’t get hauled downriver is the ragged end of one of the backstraps.
Once the fog is totally gone I’ll go make breakfast. If you cut the potatoes in irregular chunks they won’t stick together as they fry. I’ll wait to add the onion, so the potatoes will have time to get perfectly brown on every side. The meat I will cut across the grain in finger-shaped steaks to roll in seasoned flour then fry hot and fast.
An eagle arrives but does not approach the gut pile, watching for ten minutes from the top of a dead spruce. A magpie swoops in to check us out, keen eye locked on our hiding place as he cocks his head to and fro, wondering who we are trying to fool.
The fog has gathered itself for another act in the morning drama. It is draped across the valley, some places thick as a blizzard, others thin so the layered silhouettes of ridgelines show. The camera on my phone proves to be totally inept, so I content myself with admiring the way shafts of sun cut between tall spruce, sending rays to the ground.
Surely news of this bounty has spread through the valley on the breezes and scavengers are converging, waiting and watching until the smell of our piss fades and they deem it safe to approach. The big bull had an old wound on one hind leg, a thick hard mass of scar tissue all the way around the bone with three puncture wounds that never fully healed, deep pockets of grainy pus ringed with bare skin. At some point a wolf or bear had hold of that leg, but he kicked free.
Ten minutes ago the fog looked ready to lift and burn off for good, but the air has gone still now and clumps linger in spite of the direct rays of the sun. The warmth reaches in to our hiding place, welcome on chilled fingers and toes.
Ignoring the rumble of my stomach, I wait patiently while pillows soften to shrouds, which dissolve into tufts, which slowly fade. The spell is over. I gather my coffee mug and straighten stiff legs. Walking back to camp, I decide to save half of the onion for stir-fry moose tomorrow.
Morning sun cuts through the morning fog at Moose Camp Robin Mayo photo
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.