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
Copper River Record October 10, 2019
By Robin Mayo
I carry a zippered blue nylon bag wherever I go, hoping I don’t need it. It is an oddly shaped bag of forgotten origin, about ten inches square with a zipper on three sides and mesh pockets.
This bag is transferred from day pack to backpack to dry bag dozens of times each season. Inside is a first aid kit, extra matches and lighters, spare headlamp and batteries. Latex gloves and empty Ziplock bags. Birch bark, wax paper, and the stub of a red candle for firestarter. A reflective bivvy sack that doubles as a small tarp. A small notebook, pencil, and first aid manual. Bandaids and Ibuprofen so I don’t have to dismember the first aid kit every time someone gets a boo-boo. Tiny bottles of Aquamira water treatment and a bug headnet in its own tiny stuff sack.
Most of these items are never used. I check them in the spring, replace crushed pills and tattered ziplocks, then tuck them back away again and forget about them. I subscribe to the philosophy of preparedness that believes the better prepared, the less likely you are to encounter misfortune, much as packing raingear seems to help the rain stay away.
But there is one item that comes out nearly every trip, sometimes every day. In fact, the contents of this tiny purple stuff sack are currently spread out on my bunk as I contemplate a tear in the hood of my raingear, which was brand new less than a week ago. I left it hanging on a nail outside the cabin and apparently an annoyed bear came along while we were gone for the day and tore it down. I’m glad there were no granola bars in the pockets or the whole thing would surely be shredded. The only scar is an inch-long tear on the hood where it parted company with the nail.
The tiny purple bag contains cord and string in various weights, dental floss and sewing thread, an assortment of sewing needles, a little tube of superglue, extra toggles and buckles, and safety pins fastened to the hem of the bag. There is black Gorilla Tape for repairing dry bags and backpacks. I’m momentarily confused by the absence of a roll of electrical tape, then remember giving it to my daughter as she fashioned impromptu dog booties for Echo, limping with a split paw.
For this job I’ll definitely be using Tenacious Tape, an adhesive-backed ripstop nylon perfect for patching raingear and puffy jackets. Usually there is a set of shoelaces, but we’ve raided these to make croakies for our eyeglasses after twice halting all progress to crawl around on the ground looking for lost spectacles.
What, no duct tape? I can hear your disbelief from here. At the risk of sounding like a bad Alaskan, I’ll confess I am not a fan of the stuff. It doesn’t hold up very well, and leaves behind a sticky, stringy mess.
The most important part of the repair kit actually lives in my pocket, a tiny multi-tool that almost universally draws coos from women and dismissive snorts from men. This is actually the second mini-tool, I snapped the pliers on the first one while helping build a bridge. In spite of this being obviously outside of the design scope of the tool, the manufacturer replaced it without question.
The teensy scissors on the multi tool are very sharp, perfect for cutting a rounded patch out of Tenacious Tape for my rainjacket hood. First I need to re-stitch the seam in the drawcord channel. I’m interested to see that no waterproofing was added when the seam was originally sewn. The dental floss I use sets deeply in the dense rubber fabric, forming a satisfying seal.
Then I line up and lay flat the jagged edges of the tear, and smooth on the oval of bright yellow repair tape. It’s probably not necessary, but I put a matching patch on the inside as well for good measure. Good as new, and now with a story to tell.
I repack the repair kit, making a note to replace the roll of electrical tape when I get home. A student first introduced me to the wonders of this stuff on one of WISE’s geology backpacking trips, strapping on the flapping sole of a hiking boot. Electrical tape doesn’t always stick super well to some materials, but it has a great combination of toughness and stretchiness that make it great for certain repairs. Since blowing out hiking boots has become a Geology Camp tradition, I took note and added it to standard repair kit stock.
The little multi-tool goes back in my puffy jacket pocket, where it’s weight will be reassuring. The tiny purple stuff sack goes into the “Just in Case” bag, which fits nicely into the bottom of my day pack, just in case.
Madison Carlton’s hiking boot gets emergency repairs on Bonanza Mine Trail during Geology Camp.
Copper River Record October 3, 2019
By Robin Mayo
“After a certain point, it’s mostly about the cuisine,” claimed Steve, as our party settled into camp on a small river in Utah. Awed by the desert landscape, I disagreed, but not strongly enough to refuse the king crab and steak on my plate.
“We just eat dirty rice,” said Ruth with a shrug when I asked her for backpacking recipes. “Why bother? You are out in the wilderness, anything tastes good.”
When it comes to camping food, most of us will come in somewhere between these two extremes. I don’t care too much as long as it is warm and filling, but imagining the good food that will reward me has gotten me through many a hard day of backpacking.
This fall I had the chance to try some freeze-dried meals for the first time in over 30 years. Although they have improved (Thank Goodness!) I still found the food disappointing, especially considering the premium price. My biggest beef: most of them don’t re-hydrate very well if you just add hot water to the pouch per the instructions. They work much better if you put all the ingredients in a pot and simmer them gently, which is starting to sound a lot like cooking. In which case, why am I cooking $9 Mountain House instead of $1.79 Kraft?
Even a small supermarket like our IGA in Glennallen is a fantastic source of light, tasty, quick cooking and economical staples for any sort of outdoor adventure, from car camping to multi-day backpacking. Here then are my top-ten favorites for outdoor cuisine. I’m assuming you are already acquainted with instant oatmeal, boxed mac-n-cheese, swiss miss, beef jerky, and the overwhelming assortment of bars available.
#1- Instant Mashed Potatoes. Honestly, this stuff is magic. Many foods claim to be instant, but this really does transform from a few spoonfulls of powder to a bowl of yummy taters with just warm water and a little stirring. Also super handy for thickening recipes gone wrong.
#2- Nut Butters. Surely that $3 little plastic jar of Jif is one of the best bargains around for protein, calories, and sheer comfort. As well as classic sandwiches, it is excellent added to oatmeal or ramen soup. Trust me, just try it. If PB isn’t your thing, try Sunbutter or one of the many other choices.
#3-Convenience Packed Dairy Products. Normally I avoid single-serving anything, but string cheese, Go-Gurt, and little tubes of cream cheese are awesome for camping, saving you much spoiled food and many messes. A tube or two of cream cheese is the secret for transforming box mac-n-cheese into something extraordinary.
#4- Flat Breads. Flour Tortillas and Pita Bread travel much better than loaves. As well as creating lunch wraps, they can be warmed for quesadillas or pizzas. If you want slightly less flat bread that holds up to packing, try bagels, which also make pretty good candle holders.
#5- Foil Packed Protein. Tuna, chicken, salmon, and other ready-to-serve meats add satisfying protein and flavor. We rinse out the pouches so the garbage doesn’t become a bear attractant.
#6- Stove Top Stuffing. My Mom would NEVER serve stove-top stuffing at home, but she loves to bring it camping. Lots of flavor, reconstitutes in a moment, and true to it’s name, really good at stuffing the crevices when you still feel hollow after a meal.
#7- Deli Meats. Some carnivores are content to go nearly vegan while camping, but I really crave meat. Thinly sliced pepperoni, salami layered with cream cheese, or summer sausage hacked into chunks with a pocket knife are infinitely satisfying, and have enough salt and nitrates to keep without refrigeration.
#8-Dried Fruits. Excellent for keeping one regular as well as satisfying a sweet tooth without mainlining pure sugar. Check the ingredients though, did you know Craisins contain more sugar than cranberries?
#9-Minute Rice. As promised, it makes very acceptable rice with just a minute of boiling, at a fraction of the price of freeze dried. A staple that makes the base of many meals.
#10-Coconut Milk Powder. This magic ingredient will not be found in every supermarket, you may have to track it down online. Works great as coffee creamer and milk substitute, and has transformative power when added to nearly any sweet or savory creation.
Here are some recipes to get you started.
Thanksgiving Dinner: This is my go-to meal for large groups. Each person makes it just how they like it in their cup or bowl, so no large pots are needed and special diets are easily accommodated.
Mix up and simmer a packet of Turkey Gravy for each 4 diners. In individual cups or bowls, place ¼ cup of dry instant mashed potatoes and a spoonful of stove-top stuffing. Reconstitute with water and mix well. Add foil pack chicken and craisins, then top with hot gravy. Repeat as many times as necessary until everyone is full. When packing for this meal, disregard the suggested serving size on the mashed potatoes, just pack a lot. If there are teenagers involved, pack even more.
Chicken Curry: I’ve never had a kid dislike this, even if they say they don’t like, or have never had, curry.
Cook ½ cup minute rice per person according to box directions. Add some extra water, a spoonful of dried coconut milk, and a spoonful of peanut butter per person. Add curry powder to taste and mix very well. Add foil-pack chicken and mix gently.
Pita Pizza: Layer Pita bread with Pizza Sauce (put it in a squeeze mayonnaise or jam bottle for easy packing and dispensing) pepperoni or other toppings, and grated mozzarella cheese. Warm in an oiled pan with a lid, add a few drops of water on the side to make steam and melt the cheese.
Still hungry? I’ll give you a bonus for this top-ten list. Drumroll please…..Jell-O No-Bake Cheesecake! If you tend towards the “Steve” or gourmet end of the camp-cook spectrum, find and appropriate receptacle of approximately pie-pan dimensions, and layer the ingredients according to instructions. You’ll need to bring some butter for the crust, and dry milk for the filling. You have an impressive and delicious treat or backcountry birthday cake.
If you are more of a practical “Ruth” type, put the contents of all the pouches in a ziplock bag, add water, and knead until combined. Snip off the corner of the bag and dispense directly into mouths. You’re welcome and Happy Backcountry Cooking!
Nothing builds up an appetite like carrying a heavy pack! Geology Camp 2019, WISE Photo
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.