If there is one thing I’ve learned in Alaska, it’s that the Kuskokwim River is magical. As the largest river in the U.S. that isn’t dammed, it is incredibly expansive. While we traveled down the river with our guides, Chris and Donna, I was struck with the knowledge that I was actually in the real Alaskan wilderness. No roads, no power lines, just tundra dotted with the occasional fish camp.
The river was not only magical because of the surrounding wilderness, but also because of the isolated villages that crop up along its banks. We stopped in a tiny village to shoot some footage. In the place of pavement and cars were boardwalks and bikes. Smokehouses filled the air with the delicious smell of salmon drying. Almost the instant we stepped foot on the boardwalks, curious children were swarming our cameras. They were absolutely adorable, constantly wanting to get in our shots or take pictures. While we clamored back into our boat, all of the kids waved at us and shouted, “Quyana!” which means “thank you” in Yupik.
Several hours later, we were still on our journey back to Bethel. At this point is was midnight and the sun was finally close to the horizon. As we turned around a river bend, I could see gorgeous rays of light bursting through the clouds. River water was spraying my face. Everything from the river, to the islands, to the sky was absolutely perfect. Actually, it was more than perfect. Right then and there, I understood the Yupik concept of Ella. As everyone who was with me will tell you, I kind of freaked out about it. The whole experience seemed divine and otherworldly. I was totally alive and connected. I had my Ella moment.