Rarely does a week go by that my social media doesn’t serve me up some crusty comment about the inadequacies of today’s youth. Apparently the built-in face recognition software has sensed wrinkles in my profile picture, activating logarithms which downboot memes complaining about the lack of work ethic, respectfulness, resourcefulness, responsibility, fashion sense, and real music.
Perhaps those rascals that live in my computer like to see steam come out of my ears, and hear me snort and mutter as I fire off an indignant reply about all the awesome kids I know. Works every time.
If you think kids these days don’t have a work ethic, you obviously have not hung out in the Copper Valley and met our awesome youth, who blow me away every day with their smarts, ambition, wisdom, and heart.
Let me tell you about J, who knowingly signed up for a schedule of WISE and family trips several summers ago which led to her inhabiting a tent and sleeping bag for three weeks straight. And never complained once. Instead of just dreaming of becoming a pilot, she has joined the civil air patrol and is well on her way.
I give you H, who wanted to be a backcountry guide, so worked two full time jobs one summer, a restaurant gig which paid the bills, and an internship which opened the door to her dream job. Fast forward several years, she has paid her dues with day hikes, and now spends her summers exploring remote spots throughout the Wrangells.
Or how about L, who had to grow up fast and parent her younger sibling for many years. Now she’s following her own dreams. Best of all, you’d never guess from her upbeat attitude how tough things have been.
I’ve known A since she was in Kindergarten, and after many years as a delightful participant in WISE programs, she’s worked her way to a permanent seasonal job with our partner agency, and a leadership role in our summer activities. This winter she is doing her student teaching, and eventually she’d like to teach here. Lucky kids of the Copper Basin!
Then there is C, who is such an adventure hog she came on Copper River Stewardship Program twice. She’s also active on a statewide level as a conservation advocate, is an honors student and gifted artist, and saves up money for college by working grueling dishwashing shifts.
Lastly, let me tell you about J, who was here changing the oil in the WISE vans on a cold day a few weeks ago. He used to show up at the office the day before big trips, riding on a tiny motorbike. He’d hang around with the interns and help pack, just for the fun of it. On backpacking trips I used to call him “the packhorse” because he was always ready to stuff one more heavy item in his backpack.
Fishing around on the internet, I found this quote: “The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves….They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them.” This is from a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in the year 1274. In the 8th century BC the Greek poet Hesiod wrote: “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent of the frivolous youth of today.”
So old curmudgeons complaining about youth is nothing new, and humanity has survived despite the despair that every older generation seems to feel about the youngsters. Certainly if you consume too much news you can feel a lot of despair about all sorts of things, since the news loves to report disaster and dysfunction. But the vast majority of young people I know seem to be thriving in spite of all sorts of obstacles. They deserve our praise and support for all the awesome things they do. And when they screw up, they deserve our wisdom and patience, for we were young once too. We are living in troublous times, but I have no doubt the youth are our hope for the future.
Copper River Stewardship Program youth celebrate reaching a ridgetop on a tough hike. CRSP Photo
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.
By Robin Mayo
The planning team for the Copper River Basin Symposium is excited to announce our second keynote speaker, Kathryn Martin of Mentasta. Kathryn will address our theme of Tradition, Science, and Stewardship from her unique perspective as a member of the ‘Ałts’e’tnaey (One Way People) clan, mother of six, and Senior Vice President at Ahtna Inc. Kathryn has been honored by Copper River Native Association, the Alaska Legislature, the Bureau of Land Management, and University of Alaska for her many achievements.
The other keynote speaker will be Terry Chapin, ecologist and professor emeritus at University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The Copper River Basin Symposium will be held February 18-19, 2020 at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center. The public will be invited to attend at no charge. Registration will open soon with the option to purchase a meal ticket.
The team has also been sorting over 30 proposals for presentations, and putting together a program which will include about 25 short oral presentations, two panel discussions, keynote speeches, an evening talk, and a poster session. Topics include Geology, Wildlife Biology, Fisheries, Anthropology, Archaeology, and more. Youth from the Copper River Stewardship Program will give a special presentation.
For more information, go to www.copperriver.org/copper-river-basin-symposium
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.