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.
Copper River Record March 7, 2019
By Robin Mayo
Teenagers eager for adventure are invited to apply for the 2019 Copper River Stewardship Program. For over a decade, this program has provided an eye-opening opportunity to explore the watershed from the headwaters to the delta, and make friends from diverse communities. It will be held from July 16-27th, 2019.
Copper River Stewardship Program is a 10-day trip that includes science, wilderness exploration, writing, service projects, and other elements designed to grow awareness of the scale, diversity, and complexity of the Copper River Watershed. It is open to all youth currently in 8th-12th grade who have significant ties to the watershed. As well as students from the Copper Basin, Cordova, and Valdez areas, we also welcome participants with strong cultural or family ties to the region.
The adventure is a little different every year, but always includes time spent both in the Copper River Basin and the Copper River Delta near Cordova. Activities have included rafting, canoeing, hiking, and camping. This year’s theme is “Stories in the Landscape,” so we plan to explore geology and learn the stories of the land and people.
Applications are due March 29th. The cohort of 10 youth will be chosen to represent the diversity of communities and backgrounds in the region. For many youth, a highlight is the strong friendships that are formed when you camp, eat, travel and learn together for 10 days. Copper Basin youth marvel at the civilized amenities of Cordova and the size of the temperate rain forest, and their downstream friends wonder “will we EVER get there?” as they experience a typical van ride in the Copper River Basin.
Students can earn high school credit for their participation. The program has already been approved for credit by Copper River School District and Cordova City Schools. Students from other districts have had credit granted as well. To earn ½ elective credit, students must participate in all aspects of the program, and create a final project which will share their experience with their community.
If you’d like to learn what it is like to be a steward, check out the final projects posted on the WISE website, including videos, graphics, and writing. www.wise-edu.org/copper-river-stewardship-program.html. The application packet can also be found at that location. Learning is important, but there is also plenty of fun, including campfires, sliding in the mud of the Copper River Delta, and sharing good food and adventures with friends.
Copper River Stewardship Program is organized by WISE along with Copper River Watershed Project, Prince William Sound Science Center, US Bureau of Land Management Glennallen Field Office, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and the US Forest Service Cordova Ranger District.
Photo: A day spent maintaining Dusky Canada Goose nest islands on the Copper River Delta is a highlight for many stewards.
Copper Valley Ruralite March 2019
By Robin Mayo
On the banks of the Gulkana River, a group of teens are gathered around the cut-up remains of a spawned out salmon, focusing intently on fins, eyeballs, scales, and other body parts. Then they get busy jotting down impressions in their yellow “Rite-in-the-Rain” notebooks, using simile and metaphor to create vivid descriptions. Nearby are the rafts and tents that are transportation and home for the group for the next four days.
Leading this activity is Alex VanWyhe, a quiet young English teacher from Haines who is guest educator for the Copper River Stewardship Program (CRSP). CRSP is presented by a partnership of agencies and nonprofits, including WISE, Copper River Watershed Project, Prince William Sound Science Center, Bureau of Land Management Glennallen Field Office, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Over ten years ago, Alex was one of the Stewards travelling down the Copper River on a journey to discover the meaning of a watershed. Now he has come full circle, having earned a master’s degree at University of Alaska Fairbanks, and is leading writing activities to help teens process their experiences. Alex is an engaging teacher with a strong interest in interweaving a sense of place into everything he does with his students.
Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) offers Copper Basin youth a year-round schedule of programs designed to get them outdoors, learning about science, the environment, and celebrating the natural wonders all around us. WISE is a locally based 501(C3) nonprofit organization, formed in 2002 by teachers, resource managers, and others who wanted to bring the benefits of environmental education to residents of all ages.
WISE programs span the seasons, and try to offer something for everyone. In winter, a science lecture series showcases research happening in the region. In the spring, every 4th, 5th, and 6th grader in the Copper River Basin is invited to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitors Center for Earth Discovery Day, with 12 learning stations presented by outdoor professionals from agencies, villages, and organizations throughout the region. In the summer, weekly hikes explore local trails, and multi-day programs focus on Aquatic Ecology, Geology, and provide support for Project Healing Waters. WISE also offers two credit-earning courses for high school students, Copper River Stewardship Program, and Outdoor Wilderness Leadership Skills (OWLS). Autumn brings an outdoor program called Changing Season to all second and third grade students in the Copper Basin schools. If you add up all the WISE programs and other Agency/organizations programs WISE partners with it totals 21 programs! This joint effort is the glue that ensures sustainability. We couldn’t do it without each other.
Getting kids outdoors and teaching them about science and how all things are connected in the environment is the short-term goal, but WISE is also interested in the long term outcomes of environmental education. There are many research studies showing that time outdoors has a positive effect on everything from social skills to good health. As they learn about the world around them, kids are also learning about teamwork, resiliency, self-reliance, and the interdependence of all things. An important goal is that they learn a stewardship ethic, the idea that they are responsible for taking care of their world.
Is it reasonable to expect that every child who wades in a pond goes on to be a scientist? Of course not. WISE “alumni” go on to work in all walks of life, but with a heightened awareness of the natural processes going on around them, and their importance as a steward. Appreciation for a sense of place and the wonders of nature help us become better citizens, who care for and take care of our homes.
Looking back on his experience on the Copper River Stewardship Program, Alex reflects: “One of the greatest gifts that I received on that journey was the awareness and practice of being intentional about my relationship with the Copper River Basin. As this summer’s guest educator, I was thrilled to be able to help foster and instill that same sense of purposeful, active stewardship.”
Trevor Grams is another Copper Basin youth who grew up with WISE programs. He recently graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a degree in Geology and GIS, and is applying to work with NOAA on one of their research vessels. While participating in Copper River Stewardship Program as a High School student, Trevor caught a fascination with fisheries that led him to spend a year in Norway as an exchange student. There he discovered a totally different perspective, as most of Scandinavia’s salmon are farmed.
In 2013, Trevor travelled with a group of WISE sponsored youth to the international World Wilderness Congress, WILD10, held in Spain. “It opened my eyes up to what is going on around the world, and made me realize how good we have it in Alaska. People were comparing land management strategies, citing Alaska as a good example.”
Cassidy Somerville has participated in WISE programs since she was very young. As an elementary student, she enjoyed Changing Seasons and Earth Discovery Day: “It was a chance to be outdoors and didn’t feel like school, but we were learning about everything I was interested in.” As a high school student, she worked on the Willow Creek Research Project, supported by WISE. She is now a student at University of Alaska Southeast, and works for Alaska Department of Fish and Game in the summers as a Fisheries Research Technician. Cass credits her high school experience in research with getting her start in field research. She will graduate this spring, then plans on taking a Certificate Course in Outdoor Leadership before pursuing her dream of working in a therapeutic wilderness program.
For all three of these young people, the practical and inspiring experiences WISE provided when they were young gave them the building blocks they needed to start building a life around adventure, stewardship, and wilderness.
WISE sustains its programs through donations from people like you, our earned income nature tour program, corporations, organizations, and grants. There are even those who donate from their acquired minimum distribution from their IRA.
Copper River Record February 21, 2019
By Robin Mayo
On February 11th and 12th, four Copper Basin youth traveled to Anchorage to participate in Alaska Forum on the Environment. They re-united with 4 Cordova students with whom they shared an intensive 10-day expedition on Copper River Stewardship Program in the summer of 2018. The 8 students planned and presented “Linked by the River,” a multi-media presentation on how shared wilderness experiences encourage camaraderie, mutual understanding, and a stewardship ethic.
Alaska Forum on the Environment (AFE) is a statewide meeting attended by hundreds of people, including agency representatives, tribal leaders, businesses, and educators. As well as inspiring keynote speakers, a multitude of tracks give everyone a chance to learn and connect on topics as diverse as marine debris, disaster response, climate change, and alternative energy.
AFE also includes a youth track, and we shared meals and laughter with youth from all over the state who also gave presentations on their projects. WISE has taken students to AFE for the past 5 years, as it is a wonderful chance for them to connect on a statewide scale. Some of the students also documented their experience and earned college credit from UA Bristol Bay Campus.
The 30-minute “Linked by the River” presentation used a variety of media and the diverse talents of the students to tell their story. They shared photos and anecdotes from the journey, played videos, and taught the audience an “icebreaker” game to demonstrate the power of laughter to connect. The highlight was a song re-written for the program, featuring all 8 stewards singing along with 2 ukuleles and a guitar. The audience of 75 went away humming and singing “We had lumps in our throats ‘cause we knew we wanted more time…” To see a video of the song, visit Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) on Facebook, and don’t forget to check out all the other events and like our page while you are there!
The funds for the AFE experience were raised at a Taco Feed in the fall, when the stewards shared their final projects from the Copper River Stewardship Program. Families and community members chipped in to help with the expenses of travel, lodging, and food. Conference registration fees are waived, and many of the meals are provided as part of Youth Track activities.
For students who would like to embark on a similar adventure, applications will be accepted in March for Summer 2019 Copper River Stewardship Program. We are looking for youth from the Copper Basin and Cordova, or with significant ties to the Copper River Watershed, who want to explore, learn, and share with their communities. And they will earn High School credit from Copper River School District. Watch this space for more details!
Photo: From Left: Josie Beauchamp, Warren Brower, Lindsey Gordon, and Cozmo Harder are joined by 4 Cordova students for the grand finale of their song at Alaska Forum on the Environment.
Copper River Record February 28, 2019
By Robin Mayo
When you think of a leader, what comes to mind? Is it someone up on stage in front of a crowd, making an inspiring speech? Or perhaps an Arctic explorer breaking trail in a blizzard, exhorting their lagging teammates to keep up?
Last week, I was talking comparing notes with an outdoor educator friend about what we hope youth are learning from the adventures we organize. He recited the Scout Law that he still remembered word for word, 60 years since learning it: "A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.” We had a chuckle about the clean part, but agreed that these traits are also keystones of leadership. I grew up in 4-H and FFA, and the leadership ethic we learned included Humility, Integrity, Empathy, Collaboration, Communication, and Respect. Lectern thumping and heroic acts of physical endurance are never mentioned in either of these models.
As an adult, I’ve attended sophisticated leadership trainings which share the same ideas but include a lot less marshmallow roasting and silly games, which is a shame. One of the most useful models I’ve seen is Jim Collins’ 5 levels of leadership: Level 1 is the highly capable individual, Level 2 the contributing team member, Level 3 the competent manager, and Level 4 the effective leader. But to reach level 5, a Great Leader, you have all the abilities needed for the other four levels, plus you have the unique blend of humility and will that’s required for true greatness. How interesting that of all the leadership qualities, it is humility that takes you to the highest level.
But what does leadership look like in a down-to-earth, outdoor setting with youth? When you get a group of youth together for several days, natural leaders often emerge. These are the ones that the others naturally follow. There is no official title or symbol of leadership, and the individual may not even be aware of the role. If the natural leaders are going in the same general direction the adult organizers have planned, the camp is a delight for all. But sometimes the natural leader has other ideas, and relative chaos ensues. So part of our job is to identify and work with the energy of the youth leaders, and a safe, fun, and educational time will be had by all.
WISE is starting a new yearly tradition of honoring outstanding youth leaders, and at the Annual Meeting last Saturday we were pleased to name Josephine Beauchamp of Slana as our first leader. Josie participated in Outdoor and Wilderness Leadership Skills, Geology Camp, and Copper River Stewardship Program last summer, and recently travelled to Anchorage to attend Alaska Forum on the Environment. She is very much a quiet, behind the scenes leader, who last summer excelled at logistics, trip planning, and attention to detail. In early February she overcame her fears to speak in front of an audience of 75 people at Alaska Forum on the Environment, to help give a presentation on the power of wilderness experiences in building community. Josie is also an outstanding homeschooled student with Upstream Learning, and a star member of the Slana Archery Team.
Once you learn to look beyond titles and traditional leader roles, you find that leadership is all around you, in large and small acts of kindness, empathy, inspiration, and resolve. Several years ago one of our youth was asked to give advice to adults on including youth, and made a simple sign that stated, “Let Youth Lead!” It now hangs in the WISE office as a constant reminder that often, the best thing you can do is create an opportunity, then step back and see what happens.
Photo By Kate Morse, Copper River Watershed Project. WISE Leadership Award winner Josephine Beauchamp of Slana (Right) and Warren Brower of Gakona work together to transplant foliage onto a Dusky Canada Goose nest island on the Copper River Delta during Copper River Stewardship Program.
Copper River Record January 17, 2019
By Robin Mayo
You know when you are in your hometown when you plan your time at the supermarket based not on what you might need, but who you might see. Last week I ventured into the vast frozen food section at West Fairbanks Fred Meyer. Freddies was one of Fairbanks’ first Big Box stores, and when it opened we swore you could see the curvature of the earth in there. I was strolling slowly past the glass doors peering at an endless array of vegetables when I heard “Are you ever going to find it?” and turned to see Amy, a high school friend. We caught up very quickly, she enlightened me on the location of the Puff Pastry (next aisle over from potato products, with the fruit, of course…) and we wheeled our carts away. My social life in a nutshell.
I have not lived in Fairbanks for more than a few months at a time since 1983, but it is still very much my hometown. Although most of the town has been transformed with supersized retail and expressways, the west side around the University of Alaska has changed less. And the center of my family’s life, the 100 acre hay field and rambling log cabin where I grew up, seems to be frozen in time.
My parents came to Fairbanks in 1960 to attend graduate school, and built the cabin on a couple of inexpensive acres because the affordable rentals were all dismal. If you had told them that nearly 60 years later their 3 kids, all getting a little gray now, and 9 grandchildren would be crowding around the homemade table for chili on New Years Eve they would not have believed it. But perhaps they would have considered putting a better foundation under the “temporary” cabin.
After dinner, we walk to the botanical gardens at the university, a great place to watch the “Sparktacular” New Year’s Eve fireworks show. Along the trail, we are overtaken by a variety of travelers, including skiers, runners, fat-bikes with LED headlamps glowing blue, an old snowgo overloaded with teenagers, and even a unicycle. In Fairbanks, sharing trails is a tradition.
The distant pop and sulfur smell of fireworks surround us as we make our way through the parking lot and into the botanical garden, where groups of people are standing in the dark amongst the trees and flower beds. A friend who was a founder of WISE recognizes my voice, and we catch up quickly as the Sparktacular begins. A group of children nearby cheer at every rocket, and call out their descriptions of the display, “Shower, Waterfall, Popcorn, Flower….” As the show stretches on, they run out of ideas and seem to decide that Popcorn, if yelled loudly enough, works for almost everything.
Afterwards, I walk home with my best friend from high school. Walking in the near dark, side by side, it is easier to talk than facing each other with bright lights and tea bags to manage. We are even able to talk about politics, and respectfully agree to disagree, before settling into catching up on our lives and kids, and laughing about some wilder New Year’s Eves in the past.
“Alaska is a big village,” I’d tell my kids when they were looking for someplace they could be more anonymous, “wherever you go there is someone who knows Grandma.” At the time they saw it as an intrusion on their privacy, but I call it our safety net. You don’t have to agree on everything to be a good friend and neighbor, and someone is always watching the kids. It is one of the reasons I love the Copper River Valley, and I’m glad to discover it is still true for Fairbanks as well.
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.