We’ve been really focused, rightly, on our documentary during most of the past week. But the last two days were an immersion into the Alaskan wilderness.
We’ve had amazing interviews and conversations about Yu’pik culture and spirituality, environmental conservation, subsistence living, and many other topics, and now I realize that they were all a preparation for the our experiences in the last two days.
First of all, our interview with Brian McCaffery was enlightening because of his expertise on the area and the problems that the environment and the people in the region are experiencing. He not only told us of the urgency for conservation of the region, but he said it in such a way that it was inexorably connected to the people and their culture. As the director of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Brian is a major advocate for the conservation of the area, which makes him somewhat responsible for the fishing restrictions. But his job also includes cultural conservation, which can be sometimes at odds with his job, as we’ve heard from so many other people.
We also interviewed Cecilia, an elder and teacher of Yu’pik spirituality in Bethel. She was not nearly as technical as Brian, but she told us about the deep meaning that the environment plays in the lives of the people here. Just like we had talked about with Rose and Pat, Cecilia brought up the concept of Ella, the word that describes nature, weather, God, everything.
But I was only when we went out to the river on Friday and Saturday that I understood why the Yu`pik have a word that describes the inconceivable beauty of nature around the Kuskokwim. It wasn’t until our boat rides and time spent on the shores of the Kuskokwim, the real wilderness, the corner of this world that I understood what Brian meant when he says that this is one of the last untouched places in the world.
There is really no way to describe the beauty of the place here other than by looking up to the sky and saying “Ella” (which is exactly what Scott, Hannah and I did when we met after our separate expeditions on the river). The endless horizon, the rolling clouds, vegetation, the calm waters of the river, fish camps on the shore, but more than just, a feeling of freedom and completeness from just being part of nature. Its really indescribable. The only thing that comes to mind is “Ella”, a word that is now part of my daily vocabulary, because everywhere I see, is all “Ella”.