All posts by Scott Prewitt

Scott Prewitt

About Scott Prewitt

My Name is Scott Prewitt. I am a cultural enthusiast hell bent on both enhancing and sharing passionate experiences. I aim to accomplish this through multimedia content creation. I am a passionate musician, reader and writer.

Breaking the Fellowship

“Tomorrow, we’ll answer any final questions and have a reflection,” John O’Keefe said on the second to last day of class.

“Then, we’ll break the Fellowship.”

That line stopped me in my tracks.

I immediately thought of this.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is my all time favorite story. The journey of the Fellowship speaks to me on many levels, providing much of the foundation upon which I built my worldview.

If you haven’t experienced this brilliant work, start here.

John’s words resonated with me. My heart began to ache when I realized they were true.

Our crew is a Fellowship, each member bringing our own strengths and weaknesses to the table. This is a common theme among many blogs on this site, mainly because it’s true. I think most would agree that this has been the most dominant theme of our trip.

Before we embarked, many of us hardly knew each other. Yet, over a five week period, we became an extremely tight-knit unit.

This is part of the Journey. You leave one person, you come back different.

I can honestly say this is true for me.

I can’t even begin to explain all of the ways that I have grown in the last two weeks, but I can try to distill it down.

Story: Stories are not abstract, They are tangible. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Stories exist in the world independent of storytellers. They can be touched, tasted, and smelled. They can be loved, hated, nourished, and killed. Most importantly, they can be felt. It is our responsibility as storytellers to do all of these, rather than observe from afar. Only then can we craft a true narrative.

Pressence: We spent the majority of our trip without cell phone service in a place where the sun sets around 12:30 am. Our sense of time and digital connection were severely impaired. Furthermore, we spent most of every day focused intently on the tasks before us. We spent every day with the same people. As a result, we were very present. I was able to focus on what was going on exactly at that moment and enjoy it for what it is. A lot of the time back home I felt like I was only half experiencing life. Now I know that I can experience all of it. All I have to do is be present.

Conscience: I saw a lot of things in Alaska that I had never seen before. Many of them, particular the effect of climate change on individual people, were difficult for me to reconcile with things I formerly believed to be true. I know longer have the excuse of ignorance. I have a responsibility to use my knowledge and experience the best I can. I have to be conscious of what is happening around me, even if it is not pretty.

Communion: Between spending every moment with the Fellowship and interacting with the community in Bethel, I learned to a great degree what it means to live in communion with others. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I always think of the reflection we had right before we left Bethel. We sat in silence, eyes closed, and just existed with each other. I am not an island. I am a part of a whole, a totality.

Spirit: I found grace in action and in the environment. There are many modes and mediums of spirituality. I saw God (whatever that means) in the midnight sunset over the Kuskokwim. I felt the humanity of another human at Rose Dominic’s. I felt harmony and peace with my own spirit walking on the tundra.

John said we would break the Fellowship. I don’t think that will ever really happen. We are bound to each other through experience. We will always share that.

To close, I quote J.R.R. Tolkien,

“It’s a dangerous business, walking out your front door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

This is Scott Prewitt, Scotty P, Mr. Panasonic, signing off.

Looking Through the Lens

We had shipped out of Seward on a vessel taking us to observe wildlife in the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Wales emerged for air, porpoises splashed and jumped along our bow, and birds innumerable soared above, all with a dramatic background of glaciers and mountains rising like Colossi out of the Bering Sea.

‘Twas a photographer’s paradise.

For the majority of the trip, as I have mentioned before, I was responsible for getting shots with the Panasonic. This was a phenomenal task, but limiting in some respects, as the Panasonic is valued for its amazing auto-focus and ease of stability. I didn’t get to take full control of the images I was taking. It hadn’t really occurred to me to try.

I noticed that Claire wasn’t using her Canon T5i during the voyage, so I asked if I could tamper with it.

I thank God that she said yes.

It was like playing guitar for the first time (for those of you who know me well, you also know that this is a big deal.

Photography is an art. It’s much more than simply pointing and shooting. Nico posted a video on Facebook a while back that captures the feeling.

I found a whole new form of expression and mode of narration and my disposal, so I experimented and tinkered for the rest of the trip.

Here are some of my favorite shots:

Halibut
Halibut
Hayley
Hayley
My favorite view.
My favorite view.
John O'Keefe
John O’Keefe
Seward
Seward

 

Companions

While I was in Bethel I made a couple of friends.

Now, I know it’s been a couple of weeks since the trip, but I owe my companions the the credit they deserve. They sustained me through long days (they never ended really, since the sun hardly went down), rough weather (consistent rain and mud), and a formidable work load.

They are my hat, the Panasonic camera, and my mud boots.

Me with boots, hat, and Panasonic
Me with boots, hat, and Panasonic

I found the hat on a rack at Walmart for $3.50.

“Eh, may as well,” I thought to myself.

My hat quickly became a staple for me. I can’t think of a single day I’ve gone without it since leaving for Alaska. That includes class back here in Omaha. As showers were rare, it helped hide my greasy, gross hair during the trip. I don’t really need the hat now, I just feel attached to it. So for now, it remains on my head.

I found my boots soon after I picked up the hat. Admittedly, they’re pretty cheap pieces of gear. I first bought the black, molded pieces of rubber for $12. They were unadorned. They didn’t remain so for long.

Soon my boots were caked with mud and worn in. They carried me across miles of tundra and up and down the river bank. My boots prompted my just-go-for-it attitude.My mantra for the trip soon revolved around them.

“I bought the boots, I may as well use them.”

Sadly, the boots now sit in my closet.

My final companion, though it is no longer with me, was the keystone of my Alaska experience.

The Panasonic camera, Panasonic for short, allowed me the freedom to roam. I didn’t have to share it with anyone, which allowed me to go out on B roll trips and experience the environment around me.

The Panasonic was rarely not at my side, resulting in the nickname, “Mr. Panasonic.”

 

I thank Tim Guthrie for allowing me to use such a gratifying piece of equipment.

These items are a part of me now. Each one holds innumerable memories.

One day I’ll be thankful for that.

 

 

Quyana

It’s almost time to wrap things up.

The end is nigh, and it’s staring me in the face.

There are some people who need to be thanked.

John O’Keefe: The master behind the madness, John kept it all together. He worked for over a year before the trip to make contacts and find threads for the project. Without him, we wouldn’t have a story. Johnny Intensity pulled through.

Tim Guthrie: Tim is a true artist. He miraculously taught us all video and photography to the point of competence within a week. Then he had enough confidence to throw us out in the field and let us do our thing. What a guy. Without him, we would have NO FILM.

Carol Zuegner: Carol had her eye on the ball. While the rest of us may have been goofing off or letting our attention slip, she was on point. She worked tirelessly with the writing team to ensure high quality, thought provoking, story-oriented questions, took copious notes that turned out to be invaluable, and discerned where the story was headed before the rest of us even knew it.

Nichole Jelinek: The logistics queen. She shopped for us, she managed equipment for us, and best of all, she drove us to the Tundra for late night time-lapses. Nichole not only was a great helper, but a phenomenal companion.

The Student Crew: Each person brought their own skill and personality to the table. The result was one of the most dynamic teams I’ve ever worked with. Y’all taught me what it means to live in communion.

The Interviewees: These people allowed us to set up a bunch of intimidating equipment around them and ask them difficult questions about a trying time. That takes some real bravery. They gave us the story.

The People of the YK Delta: They welcomed us with open arms. I would walk the streets and strike up conversations with random people. Fifteen minutes later it seemed like we had been neighbors our entire lives. I guess we had, in a way.

Sincerely and truly, from me to all of you,

Quyana

Tom: A Man Among Boats

Tom J. Usterman stands in the mud, slightly slouching against a service truck.

He whips out a pack of camels, quickly lights one, and takes a slow drag.

“I like to work with my hands,” he says. “My money makers,” he adds with a grin.

Tom works as a Port Attendant at the Small Boat Harbor on the north side of Bethel, Alaska. He’s a handy man, a jack of all trades. From general maintenance to helping the elderly, Tom is a perennial face at the Small Boat Harbor.

“I’ve got a facial recognition around here,” Tom said. “The people, I like to help them out, have small conversations…I like helping out people. It’s a great feeling.”

Tom’s initial interest in working the harbor came from a friend.

“I heard it from a friend who said ‘if you’re looking for a job, we need some help over here at the port,'” he said. “I applied and ever since then on a regular basis I’ve come here year after year.  It’s kind of something that is fun for me, because…sunshine, you get to meet new people, life along the water I guess.”

Through his work at the harbor, Tom is a firsthand witness to the thriving boat culture on the Kuskokwim river, the main mode of commerce and transportation for the people who call its banks home.

“For new vehicles, building equipment, and mass bulk production the barges that come up the river maintain a lifeline for Bethel,” Tom said. “I guess I want to say I want to be a part of that. ”

Boats are integral to survival on the Kuskokwim, from subsistence fishing to emergency runs to the hospital in Bethel. But survival is not their only use.

“About half of Bethel owns boats and come summer time when it’s 90 degrees, they’re not staying here, they’re going down the river…people can travel up and down the river, see family, go see gram, or go to fish camp,” Tom said.

Tom believes that boats are and will continue to be a strong part of the Kuskokwim peoples’ culture.

“The culture is still pretty much the same as it was twenty years ago,” he said. “Just faster boats and bigger motors.”

Check out the video of Tom’s interview here.

Biking out of Bethel

Just to get this out of the way….

Queen-Bicycle Race

Before heading to Alaska, I had been spending some time at the Omaha Bicycle Company because they have a great coffee bar. Between hanging out there and talking to a  couple friends who were into cycling, I developed a desire to get on a bike.

“I live two miles from campus and I have access to a bike. There’s no reason I should have to drive,” I would say to myself.

My experience in Alaska intensified my desire.

For one, I feel the need to be outside. Alaska is an outdoor state. I spent a majority of time outside while I was there and loved it. Now, the thought of sitting in air conditioned monotony all day while the weather is nice makes me sick.

Most importantly, I think, visiting rural Alaska made me much more conscious of the way I interact with my environment. Rural Alaska’s people, especially the Yup’ik natives, identify with their environment on a level that a midwest suburbs guy like myself can hardly understand. That’s not to say I don’t absolutely love my environment or that I don’t identify with it on a deep level. The environment IS Bethel’s identity. There is no separation  between self and land.

Unfortunately, their source of identity is sick.

People can argue to what degree humanity has affected climate change, whatever, go crazy. The fact is it is happening and real people are being hurt.

As my friend, Tony SJ would say, “One person isn’t likely to change the world. All one can do is change the way they personally live. If one by one, we all do that, the world will change.”

Tony is right. There isn’t a whole lot I can do to change our trajectory. However, I can change the things in my own life that I am in control of.

So…

I bike.

Proof!
Proof!

Mari Heller: The Glue of the Group

Mari Heller walked into the fish camp late on the evening of June 14. She looked around, assessing her surroundings, and locked onto her target, a young girl named Jordan.

Ten minutes later, this happened.

Photo Cred Claudia Brock
Photo Cred Claudia Brock

Classic Mari. Fighting an 8-year-old.

“Right away I just started by just pushing her around and giving her crap for stuff. Bullying her, but not really. Just making fun of her.” Mari said. “Then she just gave it right back! She basically was me in a little person’s body. Like literally.”

Several hours later, as our crew started heading back to Bethel, Jordan ran up to Mari and hugged her with great gusto.

“I miss her already,” Mari said.

Mari Heller is spunky and strong-willed, but simultaneously caring and considerate. She’s quick to poke fun, but does it in a way that’s all inclusive, bringing people into a tighter community.

She brought these traits with her on the Creighton Backpack Journalism trip to Bethel, Alaska, and quickly became the glue that keeps the ragtag crew together. She was integral to social unity.

Mari once walked throughout the camp, telling people that Carol wanted to see everyone in the social hall.

Upon the last person’s arrival, she revealed the truth.

“Okay everyone, Carol didn’t actually need to see you,” she said.

Stunned silence.

“Claudia and I have appointed ourselves the social chairs of BackpackJournalism,” she proclaimed, “and we have a fun surprise for y’all: Superlatives.”

She and Claudia proceeded to run through a list of superlatives for the entire group, including Best at Being Dressed to Scale a Mountain at All Times (Hannah), Best Smirk (TJ), and Best at Making Everything Epic (myself).

The spectacle demonstrated Mari’s astounding ability to lightly poke fun at people and subsequently bring them closer together, her most prominent and endearing quality.

Mari was brought up in San Antonio, Texas ((she’ll be quick to argue with you about the merit of her home state’s Barbecue) Okay, maybe I instigated her a little on this, as I’m from Kansas City).

After graduating from high school there, she decided to continue her education at Texas A&M University.

“I pretty much just went to Texas A&M because that’s where kids from my high school were going. I was really close to them,” Mari said.

This proximity to her high school friends did not turn out to benefit her.

“I realized how big of a mistake that was like sophomore year,” Mari said. “I decided I was going to transfer.”

After researching and visiting several schools, she decided to attend Creighton, though she initially was against it.

“(My Mom) suggested I look at Creighton and I wrote it off immediately because it was in Nebraska and because my mom suggested it,” Mari said. “I wasn’t even happy that I got in because I was like, ‘I’m not even going there anyway.'”

After visiting, Mari decided Creighton was the right fit after all, and transferred in for her Junior year, eventually deciding on a major in PR.

“I had to admit that my mom was right, which was rough. The rest is history I guess. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done probably, getting away from high school,” Mari said.

One year into her Creighton career and craving a travel-study experience, Mari decided to head to Alaska for the Backpack Journalism program.

“When I talked to Dr. Wirth about abroad possibilities, she suggested Alaska as a good way to get to know people in the department.  So, I signed up,” she said.

Before leaving, Mari had some second thoughts about the trip. She found herself unsure of the intended story and unfamiliar with the group she had become a part of.

Luckily, she found more than she expected.

“I thought we were going to just go make the film, talk to some people. It was more than that.  I learned that what’s right or normal for one person isn’t necessarily right or normal for another person. It kind of reinforced the idea that not everyone should have the same lifestyle or beliefs. That shouldn’t be forced on anyone. It was intense,” she said.

“Is there any more you’d like to add?” I asked, near the conclusion of our interview.

With a rambunctious smirk and shrug, Mari answered in classic form.

“Eh. Not really.”

 

 

Oh I Was Born a Ramblin’ Man

Well, I’m hooked.

Fishing puns aside, ((Brad Dice, I hope you’re reading this) Actually they use nets up here, not hooks), my experience in the YK Delta of Alaska has further affirmed my choice to pursue journalism as my career choice.

Author’s note: I usually put a lot of thought into my blogs, thinking hard on structure and creativity. This one is more of rambling thoughts, quickly putting my thoughts into words for my own sake. Thus, the title. And as a music enthusiast I must pay my respects to those who rambled before me:

The Allman Brothers Band-Ramblin’ Man

Led Zeppelin-Ramble On

Additionally, it’s an excuse to use my SUPER AWESOME FISHING PUN. 

Anyway, I always liked the idea of working a job where I simply had conversations with people, thought about it for a while, and wrote a story. Up until now, my experience with this has largely been confined to what’s known as the “Creighton bubble”. I enjoyed working on stories about my own community, but I craved interaction with people and places different from me.

Well, this trip has more than satisfied that craving.

The people of the YK Delta more than welcomed us. They embraced us.

From visiting fish camps:

 

Chris, Donna, and Zohn's newly discovered and beautifully rustic fish camp
Chris, Donna, and Zohn’s newly discovered and beautifully rustic fish camp

to tasting an amalgam of native foods at the parish potluck:

Seal stew, Moose stew, corn bread, grilled salmon, and friend bread all in one meal
Seal stew, Moose stew, corn bread, grilled salmon, Moose stir fry, and fried bread all in one meal. Not Pictured: Life-changing salmon chowder.

I was afforded an opportunity to peak into peoples’ lives, and that’s a big deal. There is a fine line between observing respectfully and invading rudely. Yet another fine line sits between a story as a vessel of truth and as an objectifying window. The people we have met with, interviewed, and filmed ran the risk of invasion and objectification, yet they trusted us to observe and narrate truthfully.

I really think this team can fulfill that trust.

Our team has been stellar on this project. Each person has prioritized the documentary above all else, including personal comfort (lack of sleep, limited showers, zillions of mosquitos, dirty clothes, the list goes on…). No one complained. Rather, we embraced it. I honestly think that commitment will shine through in the final cut.

Alas, we leave Bethel tomorrow. I have been witness to so many cool/badass/transcendent people and experiences, I need some time to process it all. It’s all jumbled up at the moment. But two experiences in tandem provided a clear bookend for my Bethel experience.

Last night, our crew gathered in the church for a reflection. John encouraged us to sit in silence for a while, practicing the Ignatian spiritual practice called the Examine. Sitting there in communal silence, we each went into our memories to center ourselves and our thoughts. After a while, Carol spoke aloud, expressing her feelings and thoughts on the experience. Every person eventually shared something they were thinking about. Often there were several minutes of silence between speakers. I remember sitting there with my eyes closed, hoping that John wouldn’t call an end to the reflection, simply so that I might spend more time in communion with the people I had worked with, slept with, dined with, played with, and learned with. I went in with a heavy heart and lots on my mind. I came out with the weight off of my chest. At peace.

But the night wasn’t over.

We realized that the clouds had cleared, so Nico suggested that we go to the Tundra to get a time lapse of the sunset. A few of us piled into the truck and went out there. We set up the cameras and sat down to watch:

 

You have seen the river sunset, now here is one on the tundra
You have seen the river sunset, now here is one on the tundra

Nico, Hayley, Hannah, Tony, Catherine, and I sat until nearly two in the morning in a cloud of mosquitos, just talking, looking, and listening.

As they say:

Everything in front of me was beautiful

Everything behind me was beautiful

Everything above me was beautiful

Everything below me was beautiful

Everything around me was beautiful

Sock Washing

I’m washing my socks in a sink tonight.

After monotonously scrubbing, I find myself trying to divine some semblance of a conclusion regarding the last couple days of my life from the deep creases, caked mud, and sweat stains. Each one has a story to tell.

Which one best captures the essence of the week?

Maybe it was the Saturday Market.

Tony, Nico, and I walked to the Market together, taking random shots of Bethel and discussing the use of traditions in organized religion as a mechanism for expression of personal spirituality. When we arrived at the market, we talked with many of the vendors, asking about their wares and their lives in the Y/K Delta. We exchanged words with the people our project centers around, giving a face to the story.

Maybe it was eating Salmon that practically jumped out of the Kuskokwim and onto the grill.

Our entire team was fortunate enough to go up river to a fish camp. Once there, we grilled hotdogs and hamburgers, conversed, shot B roll, and played frisbee and basketball on the river bank.

Then the prize came.

A couple showed up in their boat bearing a freshly caught Red Salmon. Fortunate for us, they offered it up as food. Heaven opened up and provided us its most superior mana.

Maybe it was visiting one of the villages on the Kuskokwim.

A group of us, led by John, ventured down river to a village called Napaskiak to shoot some B roll for the film. I centered myself, vamped up the intensity, and got into my work zone as we pulled up to the bank. Dropping onto the soggy beach, I immediately started looking for shots. Before I could get much, a group of young boys came down in a swarm. They asked for my name (first and last), where I was from(Nebraska and Missouri), my interest in basketball (Spurs or Heat, clearly Spurs), and wether I could understand certain words in Yupik (I couldn’t).

Soon after, I had myself a crew. We ran around Napaskiak getting shots and talking shop on guy stuff. They quickly took to calling me “Scotty P”. Now I have friends from Arizona to Alaska using that nickname.

Maybe it was the sunset.

After several hours on the river, we decided to head back to Bethel. It was near midnight at this point. In the low light we cruised along the Kuskokwim, bracing ourselves against the quickly cooling wind and taking in the expansive Tundra.

Then we turned a corner.

And we saw this:

Midnight Sunset on the Kuskokwim River
Midnight Sunset on the Kuskokwim River

The picture does no justice to the view in real life. We knew what was coming around the bend, but we still weren’t prepared for what we saw.

As soon as the midnight sunset came into view, glinting off the Kuskokwim with gold-orange luminescence, we gasped collectively. I pumped a fist in the air and let out a primeval yell, caught in a crossfire of transcendent beauty.

When I first arrived in the YK Delta the story we have been chasing was just an idea. With each experience it becomes less and less abstract.

The people are real. The fish and wildlife are real. The River is real. The story is real.

But then again, what do I know?

I’m just washing socks in a sink.

We Got that B Roll: A Chronicle

Tuesday, June 10 I was inducted into the venerated brotherhood of B roll videographers.

Things I have done as a result:

1. Filled both of my boots (and socks) with water while ambitiously (or recklessly, OR stupidly) trudging through slushy tundra in search of a shot that wasn’t really necessary.

2. Rode on the back of a pickup bed with Kari whilst capturing images of Bethel with the Panasonic.

3. Ripped my jeans whilst dismounting from aforementioned pickup bed.

4.  Saw a hill on the open tundra, realized my feet couldn’t get more wet, and decided to go for it.

5. Ran, zig-zagging and jumping over mud pits, until I reached the top of the hill.

6. Punched my fists in the air Rocky-style , basked in the sunlight and openness of the tundra, and laid down on the spongey ground to take a pan shot of Bethel.

image

7. Pulled an ATV out of one of the aforementioned mud pits.

8. Held a shot during a surprise visit from a wild pack of family dogs.

Watch out for updates and edits to this post! I’ll keep y’all  in the know regarding the weird/entertaining things that happen to me while collecting B roll for the film.