All posts by Catherine Adams

Catherine Adams

About Catherine Adams

My Name is Catherine Adams. I'm a Junior studying Public Relations at Creighton University. I love live music, adventures, and the ukulele. Alaska Backpack Journalism is my first time traveling outside of the lower 48 and I couldn't be more excited!

It’s the Little Things

My previous blogs have been raving about the people and the places I have encountered over the past five weeks.  They are all true, but I feel like I’m omitting the little things that have made this project great.

  • Blogging parties:  We spent many night in the lobby of the church blogging.  While trying to blog, we would end up explaining our love for videography, sharing our best photos from the day, all while trying to charge our iPad mini keyboard.  Amongst the distractions, we managed put together thoughts into this very blog.

    Blogging party
    Blogging party
  • Pilot bread:  We discovered pilot bread and it was life changing (or at least to Scotty P).  Pilot bread is this hard cracker with its only purpose being a vechile for peanut butter.  When we found this gold mine of pilot bread in Swanson’s grocery store, we knew we had to show it to Scott.

    Scotty P and his pilot bread
    Scotty P and his pilot bread
  • Losing boots to the tundra:  Rain boots were the unanimous footwear of choice for the entire time in Bethel.  They were extremely useful for walking in the mud on the tundra, except when we would come across water and knee-deep mud. While being hounded by mosquitoes on the way back to the truck, a lost boot brought some much needed humor.

    Tony lost his boot in the mud
    Tony looking at lost his boot in the mud
  • Finding obscure restaurants and coming out with funny stories:  Our last meal in Anchorage was at an abandoned Italian restaurant, Guido’s.  Many emotions were felt during that dinner — overwhelmed by the breadbaskets, underwhelmed by the baklava.  It really messed with our heads, but now is a fond memory of a weird time in our lives.

    Dinner at Guido's
    Mari with the baklava at Guido’s
  • Two words: Puppy day.  Just like at midterms’ Puppies and Brownies, Carol and Nichole brought in their dogs for the last full day of class.  During the lunch break, we got to play with the dogs in Hitchcock’s newsroom.
    Giving Sadie a treat on Dog Day
    Giving Carol’s dog, Sadie, a treat


This entire trip was amazing and there were many big moments to remember, but I look forward to remembering the little lovely things that made me smile.

Closing Time

*Clue Semisonic’s Closing Time**

These past five weeks are something I never could have expected.

At the beginning of this Backpack Journalism project, I didn’t really know what to expect and looking back at my first blogs, I can only laugh. I was clueless of the greatness that would unfold in the next few weeks. Now that class is officially over (we got out today at 11:00), I can only feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude towards everyone we met, the CU Backpack Alaska team, and Bethel.

Thank you to Carol, John, and Tim for guiding, teaching, and letting us learn hands-on how to film, write, and create a documentary. Without all of the work you had done in preparation and throughout our trip, it wouldn’t have been possible in any way.

Thank you to Nichole for all of the behind-the-scenes work you did. And for also believing Morgan when he said that he was going to use the net to catch sea otters.

The CU Backpack Family
The CU Backpack Family (Photo: John O’Keefe)

Thank you to all of my peers who have gone through video boot camp, traveled 2,999 miles to Bethel, and worked the past two weeks starting to piece our film together along side me. Thanks for diving into this project and motivating me to do my best. Ily.

I haven’t laughed this much or this often in such a long time. Thank you for almost giving me a six-pack. Seriously, these people are hilarious and brought so much happiness to my days. For evidence, check out our superlatives or the catches phrases from the trip.

This experience has shown me much joy–in people, in our work, and in myself.

Thank you.  Quyana.

Transcendence Found

I turns out that I have a thing for sunsets.

In Bethel, a small group of us went out on the tundra to catch the sunset for the last two nights. We would leave around 10:30 p.m. to watch the sun “set” around 11:30 p.m. And when I say “set,” it would never really go away, just dip below the horizon only to reappear a few hours later.

Some took shots for a time-lapse, others filmed more material for the mockumentary, or some just took a photo with their minds (and iPhones). When we were out on the tundra we talked and joked around or we were silent, just trying to take in the moment with every breath.

Bethel Sunset
A beautiful Bethel sunset

With my new appreciation of sunsets, we had arrived to our next destination, Seward, Alaska, just in time for the summer solstice. This part of Alaska was much different than Bethel. There were mountains, trees, and roads!

A small group of us set out again to watch the sun go down on the longest day of the year.

This time we didn’t actually get to see the sun because of the clouds and the mountains, but we watched a show of our own. As we settled on the rocks at the edge of the water, a sea otter came up and ate a long meal right in front of us. We sat there for quite a while.

Seward sunset

There is something about sitting in silence with your friends before a perfectly serene scene of the blue water, cute wildlife, gigantic mountains, and low clouds.  It’s where peace and love for the land is found.

It was transcendent—a moment I’ll want to remember forever.

Passion Comes Home

I left Alaska knowing we had done a lot of hard work there: 13 interviews, hours and hours of B roll, and pages of notes and rough outlines for the story.

We couldn’t physically see the work until we were once again in Hitchcock 205, less than 24 afters setting foot in the Omaha airport after the flight from Anchorage.  Read  Madeline’s reaction to this here.

In the classroom, we found ourselves labeling and sorting files, looking through raw footage and transcribing most of the interviews. I thought the fun was over once we stepped back into the Murphy Media Lab—no more tundra adventures, no more interviews, no more games of Bananagrams or BS, no more fresh salmon for dinner.

A different type of fun was just starting.  After a few days of getting everything organized, the writing team assembled and dove into the best quotes from our interviewees and started the process.

Writing and rewriting.  Arranging and rearranging.

Writing Team working on the script
Writing Team working on the script

Matching the timeline to the script.  Matching the script to the timeline.

It’s time-consuming, tedious, and hard but I love this.

When we figure out a storyline, order of narration, or sequence of clips there’s a sense of accomplishment in the room.  We look around the room with smiles on our faces and high fives are given all around, but we still know it will be a long way to go until it is finished.  But those little successes keep a smile on my face.

Throughout all of this, I feel just as passionate as when we were in Alaska.  Back in Omaha is the where we take the words from Alaska and craft them into a  story in the best way we can.

I love seeing all of the pieces we collected during our time in Bethel come together, and knowing that I’m a part of the team that has done this extremely is gratifying.


Embrace It

When I think of Bethel, Alaska, I remember the constant sunlight, the flat, spongy tundra, the kind interviewees, and the amazing group I went there with. It did take some time to adjust, even to the simple things like no trees and constant sunlight.

During my two weeks in Bethel, I told myself to adjust and embrace.

Embrace the layers of long sleeves and sweatshirts you wear everyday. They’ll keep you warm enough to allow you to spend hours climbing on and filming B roll of the soft, never-ending tundra.

Embrace waking up every morning knowing your only footwear option is your rain boots. You’ll need them every time you go outside: on muddy roads, kayaking down a slough, and walking across (and almost getting stuck in) the little streams in the tundra.

On the tundra.  (Photo cred: Tim Guthrie)
On the tundra. (Photo cred: Tim Guthrie)

Embrace the hoards of eyeball-sized mosquitos that seem to laugh whenever you attempt to keep them away with bug spray. You’d be too scared out on sitting on the tundra at sunset at 11:30 p.m.

Embrace the queen bed you share with three other women. You wouldn’t have been blessed to wake up to 30 seconds of Jesse McCartney’s “Beautiful Soul” before Mari would hit the snooze button three times.

Embrace the sunlight. It’ll never be too dark to take walks on the tundra, and it will light up the clouds in the most beautiful way you have ever seen.

Tundra at sunset.
Tundra at sunset.

Embrace the 19 other people you’ve spent the past five weeks with. They’ll help you learn, they’ll make you laugh, and they’ll take great selfies with you.

Embrace the adventure, the landscape, and the people; they will embrace you back.

Nico Sandi: The Storyteller

Crouched on the ground, his forearms rest on his knees while a monopod stems from the bottom of his camera. His hands fold over the body as he pulls the camera to his right eye. Wrinkles form at the corner of his left eye as it closes relinquishing his full attention to the viewfinder and the scene the lens holds before him.

His left hand cradles the lens, sliding the focus ring back and forth ever so slightly before their faces become sharp. His right hand grips the camera’s body as his finger fidgets with the shutter speed dial. When the exposure is right and the aperture is set, his index finger hovers over the shutter button.


Kids riding bikes in Bethel. (Photo: Nico Sandi)
Kids riding bikes in Bethel. (Photo: Nico Sandi)

Nico Sandi captures a moment shared between three children on their bikes in Bethel, Alaska.

Nico can be found all over the world with a camera in hand.

Prior to his trip with Creighton’s Backpack Journalism program to rural Alaska, his past two summers were spent on other backpacking trips: a trip though Europe with his sister and a solo trip to Patagonia.

“I love traveling. It’s when I’m most comfortable. I considered myself to be someone who lives a simple life. I don’t like to carry to many things, traveling with a backpack is very much me,” Nico said.

The Backpack Journalism project is just the very beginning of Nico’s summer video adventures. He is also working on a video about the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador for RSP classes this fall and will be traveling to his home country, Bolivia, to film a documentary about Jesuit missions with Don Doll, SJ.

Nico's Favorite photo from Alaska.
Nico’s favorite photo from Alaska. (Photo: Nico Sandi)

When forced to choose a medium, he prefers video over still photography because he can focus on the story instead of being bogged down by photography rules.

“Video is just a series of photos put together. In video, you can tell a bigger story in a more compelling way than a picture,” Nico said.

With his love of backpacking and video, it was as if Backpack Journalism project was tailored precisely to him.

“It’s basically what I want to do with my life. I want to go and do backpack journalism—travel around the world and find interesting stories and find a good way to tell them through video or photography,” Nico said.

Nico is a storyteller; instead of using a pen and paper, he uses a camera.

“I really like to tell stories about people. I want to do meet people, find what their story is, and show that to others.”

In Good Hands

I have heard someone here say that they moved to Bethel because they wanted to be a part of of community that truly cared about each other. This is a special place. I haven’t seen kindness like this anywhere else; not in New York City, Omaha nor my hometown of under 2,500 people.

Bethel isn’t just buildings and roads, it’s full of warm and welcoming people.  Their  kindness has been shown to us in various ways, from sincere hellos to delicious salmon to sharing their stories with us.

Here some examples of their great kindness:

  • On our first day we walked through Bethel and were greeted with hellos and even a “Go Creighton!” from a passing car. While walking across the boardwalk we heard some, “Hi, people on the boardwalk!” from a house across the tundra.
  • We’ve enjoyed fish, boxes of produce, and oatmeal cookies given to us by parishioners of the Church.
  • Our fixers in Bethel, the lovely Sarah and Alisha, have been a extremely valuable resources to set up interviews, brainstorm iPad mini feature story ideas, and connect with generosity people in Bethel.
  • While shooting B roll near the docks, it started to rain hard so we ran back to John’s truck and began to pile in when another truck came up beside us and ask if we had enough room. We did, but the gesture was so considerate.
  • Our group at Stan's fish camp (Photo: Tony Homsy SJ)
    Our group at Stan’s fish camp (Photo: Tony Homsy SJ)

    The local barber hosted all of us at his fish camp for dinner where we had a night by the river and around a campfire. He’s not only done this for our group but all the other groups that have stayed at the church so far this summer.

These are just a few instances of their generosity.  The people have invited us into their kitchens, fish camps, boats, struggles, and hopes for the future. And I am so thankful.

My Ella

Over the last week, we’ve been exploring the relationship between identity and landscape. During our interviews, we would ask what the Yup’ik word “Ella” meant. Ella has been explained to us as a word for earth, universe, weather, sky and everything. Sitting in the interviews and never having experience the Alaskan wilderness yet, I had to take their word for it.

A few nights ago I finally got my own taste of Ella.

Kayaking group
Our small group of kayakers.

A small group of us who weren’t going to a fish camp or a village that night had a chance to go kayaking. The weather was absolutely beautiful, one of the nicest days since we’ve been here.

We rushed over to the in-home kayak business and slapped on the lifejackets so we could get going while the tide was high. We lowered six single kayaks and one two-person canoe into the slough and set off.

It was amazing, beautiful, almost sacred. The low shrubbery and trees blocked any strong wind as we paddled down the winding path, but there was just enough breeze to rustle the grass. The slough’s width varied any where from two to 10 yards, each side crowded with branches and grass. I paddled alone most of the time with just faint voices of my other kayakers around me. Even though it was past 7:30 p.m. the sun was still high, reflecting off the ripples in the water.

I felt thankful for being able to feel the warmth from the sun and hear the birds around me as I drifted down the slough. Thankful to whom? God, the creator of Ella, lucky circumstances? I’m not sure.

Kayaking down the slough with a sense of peace became my version of Ella and I began to understand the encompassing concept of nature, earth, universe, and everything.

Channeling Barbara

We started our first day of filming with back-to-back-to-back interviews.

The night before, we sat in the social hall located between the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and the Sunday school rooms that double as our sleeping quarters deciding people’s roles for the next day. People were volunteering for audio, video, and B roll. When it came time to decide the interviewers, Madeline and Claudia raised their hands to volunteer. Carol then needed a third interviewer for another priest we would meet the next day. My mind flashed back to our last reflection in Omaha about widening comfort zones as my hand shot up. “I can do it,” I told Carol.

What had I done?

I had planned on being an interviewer at some point in the week, but much later after I had a chance to see how these ordeals played out. Instead, I followed my impulse and became nervous immediately after I folded my arm back into my lap.

I fell asleep that night to the rhythm of Claudia’s snores while the guidelines for the interviewee preparation ran through my mind, “ignore the camera, eye contact, no reaction, pause, include the question in the answer.”

Usually, I like to have a good handle on what I’m doing and let’s just say I haven’t been perfecting any well-versed interview skills recently.

But the next day came and we took a short trip to the Lutheran Church to meet with Michelle Dewitt, a person who deals with community outreach in Bethel to talk about the environmental impact and the Native culture. We set up in the corner of the church with only natural light to create the Rembrandt lighting effect for our cameras. Claudia rocked her questions for the hour long interview only interrupted because of a few loud trucks driving by and low camera batteries.

We broke for lunch and then set up for a pair of interviews in the living room of the apartment above the church. Madeline and I had the same set of interview questions for adult faith formation leader, Patrick Tam, and Father Mark. Sitting in on Patrick Tam’s interview I got to know the set of the questions well so I felt more and more excited to have the chance to interview next.

Prepping for Fr. Mark's interview
Prepping for Fr. Mark’s interview

Once Patrick’s interview ended, I took one big calming breath and thought “What Would Barbara Do?” Barbara Walters would know her questions and be confident. I sat in the chair and less than one hour later stood up to shake Father Mark hand to thank him for his great thoughts and stories.

I felt satisfied that I had accomplished the goal of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I found it rewarding talking with Father Mark about faith and culture and asking questions to further his explanations.  My hope is that I continue to push my journalistic skills on this trip and after I return home.

This was only day one of filming. Keep up with our progress throughout the week here on the blogs and on Twitter @cubackpack.

All Aboard!

All aboard the Alaska Backpack Journalism Project Express!

This isn’t a rinky-dink cute train you would ride around an amusement park on; it’s a high-speed rail.  One where you hold on with white knuckles and hope you don’t fall off.  One where you can see your teeth from the wind blowing back your cheeks.  One — okay, it isn’t that intense.

Our first week was packed—eight hours per day in beloved Hitchcock 205. Our time was split between Tim Guthrie’s video boot camp, Carol Zuenger’s interviewing expertise, and John O’Keefe’s delves into ecclesiology and its ties to culture.

The amount of knowledge I have gained in this short week is tremendous. The skills, techniques, and facts learned will be used in our 15-day adventure in Alaska. I’m nervous all of the abundance of information has overwhelmed me, but I will get to process it and put it into practice soon.

Very soon. Two days and 25 minutes, in fact.

At the end of our last class today, we held a reflection, circling all of our chairs, to share any concerns, questions, or thoughts. Sitting there I heard everyone speak of their excitements, travel concerns, anxiousness of stepping outside of their comfort zone, and this amazing opportunity we have to witness the Yup’ik culture and broaden our own world view. I find comfort that I share these emotions with my fellow travelers.

Suitcase art in SAC
Not even these bags could fit all our anticipation.

There isn’t a bag big enough to pack all of our excitement.

Speaking of packing

This is one thing that worries the most as of now. I haven’t even grabbed my bag from the back of the closet. If you know of a trick for fitting a sleeping bag, 2 weeks of clothing, and food in a regular size suitcase, let me know!

After spending a whole week in one room with the CU Backpack students, let me tell you it is an awesome group of people.  I have so much respect for them and am looking forward to learning from them.

It’s a great group traveling to Alaska on Sunday.  Make sure to keep tabs on our work by checking back here periodically throughout the next few weeks.