Copper River Record September 12, 2019
By Robin Mayo
The theme for this year’s Copper River Stewardship Program was “Stories in the Landscape.” We wanted to learn about the dramatic geology of the Copper River Watershed, and also share stories with each other, and with the people we met along the way. Six High School Students from Cordova and three from the Copper River Basin spent 10 days in July travelling all over the watershed together. Their adventures included wading up their chests in the ponds of the Copper River Delta as they helped US Forest Service staff maintain Dusky Canada Goose nest islands, and hiking into the jagged remains of a volcano in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park near the headwaters of the Copper River.
As they got to know each other early in the program, the students wrote personal poems. “Where are you from?” can be a complicated question, since we are created by places, people, and the events of our lives. The students dredged up family memories and used a template developed by Alaska Poet Laureate Earnestine Hayes to create poems.
Where I am From
I am from long, crisp days on the river followed by warm camp fires and friendly laughs of the loved ones around me.
I am from rock scrambling down the banks of McCarthy Creek, my old worn Chacos filled abundantly with river rocks.
I am from Mac and Cheese over our rusty green camp stove, and hot chocolate that my little brother and I sneakily made with twice the suggested serving of powder.
I remember the feeling of sand in everything; your dry bag, your sleeping bag, your tent, and often even your oatmeal while journeying down the mighty Colorado River for weeks at a time…
…and I remember laying beneath the northern lights at a camp we call “The Center of the Universe” as the October air riffled through the birchwood trees.
I stand for protecting this land of which I feel so blessed to inhabit, and protecting the voices and rights of those who walked it before me.
I am from “your voice matters”—some words which I have carried with me throughout my journey as an advocate and a steward amongst this land.
And I am from creating artwork wherever I go. I am from this unique state, but more importantly, I am from my adventures. Cassidy Austin, McCarthy
Where I am From
I am from the present, from my future and my past
I am from the nights spent camping, and the days working and relaxing.
I remember the nights watching fireworks, and days spent sledding, my friends, and my parents.
I stand for the land we live in, and those who walked it before us.
I’m from those who seek to preserve the past, and make a future for those who will be here next.
I’m from Alaska Arthur Bishop, Kenny Lake
The students travelled across Prince William Sound on the ferry Aurora, and read first-person stories about the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in the book “The Spill.” As they looked out on the blue water, rocky beaches, and lush hills, the stories brought to life a tragic time when these waters were a place of tragedy. To help process the painful personal experiences, they created drawings and wrote letters putting themselves in the shoes of the oil spill responders.
Later in the trip, we gathered at the Viking Lodge, a Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Public Use Cabin on the Nabesna Road. As rain pelted down outside, the students and adult leaders shared more stories based on their lives, prompted by the color of the MnMs they grabbed out of a bag. Blue stands for water, red for an embarrassing story, etc. The hilarious round of storytelling that ensued included answering the door in your underwear, rescuing a sparrow nest from the lawnmower, and a somewhat bungled but ultimately successful ice skating marriage proposal.
The next day we met with Ahtna Elder Wilson Justin at his camp. We were surprised to learn that some of the traditional stories of his people can take days to tell. Wilson wove together stories from his childhood at Nabesna, his gradual enlightenment as a traditional healer, and his work as an advocate for the environment and traditional values. He challenged the students to see the coming changes and challenges as a chance for uplifting, just as the geologic action of the earth brings chaos but also builds mountains.
That afternoon we hiked up into the mist on the Skookum Volcano trail, finding stories of eruptions, landslides, and metamorphosis in the dramatic landscape. Luckily we had some visiting geologists along to help us read the clues. The students were asked to find an interesting rock, and get to know it. Back at the cabin, we wrote the story of our rocks. Some stuck to geologic details, while others gave their rocks names and complicated personal lives.
This program was a wonderful reminder of the power of stories in our lives. They help us learn about each other, inspire, and enlighten.
Copper River Stewardship Program is organized by a partnership including WISE, Copper River Watershed Project, Prince William Sound Science Center, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, US Forest Service Cordova Ranger District, and US Bureau of Land Management Glennallen Field Office. A huge thanks to Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, AT&T, Oil Spill Recovery Institute, Conoco, and BP for providing funding.
Photo: Time for reflection and journaling is an integral part of Copper River Stewardship Program.
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.