Nothing says Alaska like taking a boat ride on the Kuskokwim River, eating freshly-caught salmon and watching a spectacular sunset at midnight. In the midst of our busyness, I am thankful to have experienced some of these remarkable aspects of this beautiful region.
On Friday, a group of us had the opportunity to take a boat to the Yup’ik village of Napaskiak to shoot some B-roll footage for our documentary. We could not have asked for a better day to go out on the Kuskokwim River. The weather had finally improved; the blue skies and fluffy white clouds were welcoming after many dreary, drizzly days.
We all piled into the boat and set off on our expedition. It was thrilling to get out on one of the last wild rivers flowing through the United States. The Kuskokwim is so important to the people of Bethel and the surrounding villages for transportation and food.
Along the way to the village, we made a few stops along the river to try to find moose. Even though we never found one, the meadows and marshy landscapes we saw were breathtaking. I am still holding onto hope that I will see a moose before I leave Alaska.
After the beautiful boat ride, we reached the village. As we got out of the boat, I noticed the peacefulness of Napaskiak and immediately felt that by bringing in all of our cameras we were intruding on the lives of the villagers. We had a limited amount of time to get our B-roll, so I knew I had to overcome my discomfort to find the footage we needed.
The eight of us split up into groups, so Leah, Morgan and I headed off to find interesting shots around the village. We communicated our whereabouts in the village by using walkie-talkies — an incredibly fun and useful addition to our adventure.
As we were setting up our cameras to shoot video, all of a sudden two young girls appeared and wondered what we were up to. Soon more and more curious children started to emerge as we moved around Napaskiak. They were incredibly respectful and stayed behind the cameras instead of trying to get in our shots.
The houses were very small and connected by boardwalks, so villagers traveled to and from different structures by bike or four-wheeler. Napaskiak had a Russian Orthodox Church that we peeked inside. We also chatted with a village police officer, who was very friendly and joked that he just didn’t want us to take pictures of him.
We received word from John via our walkie-talkie that it was time to head out. As we packed up our gear into the boat, the village children swarmed around us saying they didn’t want us to leave. I am sure we are the most exciting visitors they have had for a while.
The team was all set to go, and we all waved goodbye as we started back down the river. I couldn’t help but feel sad as Napaskiak became a faint sight in the distance. I find it hard to imagine winters in such a remote place. Villages throughout the region face great challenges due to their isolation from more populated areas. Despite the difficulties of village life, I am humbled by how welcoming the people of Napaskiak were and will always remember the lively spirits of the children.
During our journey back to Bethel on the Kuskokwim, I witnessed the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen (the one odd thing about it was that it was at midnight). No photo can do it justice, but I was able to capture a photo from our boat. It was a truly wonderful day.
On Saturday the entire Backpack Journalism crew took a boat ride on the Kuskokwim to a fish camp. We enjoyed a fun and relaxing cook-out of hot dogs and hamburgers. In addition, we had a taste of salmon that had just been caught in the river. I am not a huge fan of fish, but I thought this salmon was absolutely delicious.
Besides eating great food, our evening at the fish camp was spent in the great outdoors enjoying the presence of some fantastic people. It has been just over a week since we arrived in Bethel, and I am so thankful to be sharing this experience with fellow journalism majors, Creighton students and faculty, and friends old and new. Whether we are playing card games, preparing meals or just laughing uncontrollably, I am loving my time in Alaska and will be sure to make the most of my last week here.
Sending my thoughts and prayers to the people of my hometown of Norfolk and the rest of northeast Nebraska, especially those affected by the terrible tornadoes in and around Pilger.