Sometimes the most inspiring moments of your life come when you least expect it.
Yesterday we reached day nine of our time in Bethel. As our trip is nearing its end we are starting to feel a bit sluggish. I know everyone seemed to be a bit sleepy this week, and naps have become a frequent occurrence for our group.
The day was expected to be pretty low-key with not a lot of activity. The weather was cold and rainy again after a few days of sunshine. We had gotten a lot of the video footage that we needed, yet I was still anxious to get back to Omaha to see how all of our interviews and B-roll would fit together. With only a few interviews left, our project was winding down in intensity.
In the morning as a group of us were eating breakfast in the church social hall, John walked into the room and wanted our attention. He had finally reached an important person who we wanted to interview and needed a video team to get ready to go immediately. I volunteered to help, and within minutes we were piled into two vehicles with our equipment and headed off in the rain.
Our interview was with a young Yup’ik man named Nelson, who just finished his freshman year at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and is working at the Tundra Women’s Coalition in Bethel during the summer. During high school he worked on a documentary about climate change, which was an added bonus because he understood the video-making process and didn’t really need to be coached on interviewing.
I honestly didn’t expect a whole lot from the interview, partly because I hardly knew who we were talking to before getting there but also because Nelson was so young. I know for me personally how difficult it would be to get in front of the camera to tell my life story and open up to complete strangers, so I assumed Nelson would be nervous too. But from the moment he answered our first question, I knew this interview was the one we had been waiting and hoping for.
Nelson was wise beyond his years, and the video team was holding onto every word he was saying as he shared his life in Alaska with us. He discussed growing up in a village and how his family relied on subsistence to survive. He talked about how hunting, particularly for seals, seems cruel to many people but that the animals are never wasted; every part has an important purpose. To get such eloquent responses from someone who could speak from the perspective of younger generations was so important to our film after speaking to a few Yup’ik elders.
The most profound moment of the interview came when he told about the impacts of climate change on Alaska. He spoke earnestly about the harm we are doing to our planet, which is God’s gift to us. Nelson said that we need to tell the land that we are sorry and ask to be forgiven, which was the quote that really surprised me and touched every person in the room.
I was holding the boom mic during the interview and couldn’t see Nelson, but I could hear the pain in his voice and knew how deeply climate change has affected him. I could see the various people behind the camera starting to tear up as he spoke. Then I started to tear up. After he finished his answer, you could hear us all give an audible sigh. I knew that this moment was incredibly special and felt so thankful I was there to hear Nelson’s story.
After the interview we were all so excited because we knew how crucial it was to our documentary, and we didn’t realize it until it happened. We now had the emotional and personal story that we were missing.
A day that was supposed to continue our usual routine in Bethel turned into one of the best days of my life. Besides the interview with Nelson, I was able to see a dog sled team and watch them practice, met my new favorite dog Tanner (we have matching hair – pictures to come), shared a beautiful reflection time with my fellow Backpackers (yes, tears were shed) and have one last tundra adventure with great friends. This week was starting to blur together and I was forgetting why I was here. But then all of a sudden the world surprised me.