Category Archives: 2014 Alaska

A Certain Feeling

I’m at a point in my life where a lot is uncertain. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get a job for the rest of this summer. I’m not sure what I want to do after I graduate, I’m not sure where I’ll end up in a few years. Out of all this uncertainty, wanting to go to Alaska was the one thing I was certain about.

Now, here we are at the end.

I’m still not entirely sure what it was that drew me to it; The posters, knowing people who have been on CU BackPack before, just the thrill of the experience of a lifetime. But now, as the last day as an official group comes to an end, I just look back on the past five weeks and think of how proud I am, of myself and of my entire team.

We started off uncertain of so many things. We were uncertain what we’d find, how to work the cameras, exactly how intense Johnny I really was, and how this trip would stay with us. Now, with a rough cut in production, and a chance to reflect on all that’s happened, I just want to climb to the top of a mountain and shout, “LOOK AT WHAT WE DID!”

Team, we did it. We got that B-Roll, we worked those cameras, we met some amazing people, we bonded all together, and now we’ve put together a story. A story that does the culture, the stories, and the people of Bethel a great justice. And that is something we should be very proud of ourselves for.

Being in Alaska was like a different world for me. I was able to put my phone away, and ignore the comfortable world that I’m accustomed too, and experience the real, raw, harsh, and yet absolutely beautiful world for an entire two weeks.

We were given the opportunity to step into someone’s life, and learn from both the good and the bad. So while we were there for the greater purpose of making our documentary, we were also there to learn.

So to answer the question: What is one thing you can do differently based on what you learned? I would say, Live with an awareness

John and Carol summed it up perfectly today as we wrapped things up; something chose us to participate in this experience, and therefore we are both blessed and given the responsibility to act based on what we witnessed and learned.

To live with an awareness comes in parts: to cherish, to expand, and to preserve.

Cherish the things we’ve been given, whether that means in life, relationships, the environment, and things we’ve learned. Seeing the importance these types of aspects play in our lives is crucial. Expand then means to share what we learn with others. Keep the conversation going. That then can lead to more knowledge, discussion, and sharing. Finally, preserve what we know, have, and share. Work towards making a difference.

While my lesson may be vague, the things I learned and experiences I had are far from it. I truly hope I can go forward from this point with a sense of certainty that I learned something and acted with that new knowledge.

Either way though, I do know for certain that this experience will never leave me. Thank you so much to Tim, Carol, and John, for working with us, and allowing us to be a part of your incredible mission. And thanks to my people, all of y’all. I have absolutely loved working with you all; we couldn’t have gotten a better team!!

Quyana, from the bottom of my heart <3

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.

The hardship of impermanence

The reality of global warming hit me as I stood close to a melting glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park and watched a small stream trickle off the edge of this massive, frozen form. Living in the Midwest my entire life I grew up concerned about global warming, but far removed from the issue. I have always believed in the reality of global warming but the changing weathers direct connection to me was minimal.

But as I hiked up the trail that lead to the glacier back in Seward, Alaska, I passed signs that had dates on them which marked what year the glacier had been in that spot. As I continued on, I noticed the rapid regression of the glacier. Even since 1994, the year I was born, the glacier has melted almost a mile.

Seeing this drastic environmental change made me think of a quote said by Nelson when we interviewed him back in Bethel:

For the people that don’t believe in climate change.. you know, I don’t blame you for being a skeptic, but there are no climate deniers here in Bethel or in the rural parts of Alaska because we are living climate change, this is ground zero for us…I think we just need to find a way to say sorry to the land, and sorry that we are doing something wrong, and if it is then just you know…please forgive us…we need you here …

I think one of the greatest struggles of humanity is that we fall in love with things that are not meant to last forever. People die. Glaciers melt. Friendships fade. Permafrost subsides. Culture clashes with modernity.  While we try to cling onto things that are familiar, it would be remiss to think that the world keeps things stagnant. This is not to say that humans are not at fault for causing change to be made more quickly or for participating for destructive actions, but it is a struggle when things change.

As Brian McCaffery, a biologist we interviewed, pointed out- God is in control but we are His stewards. We are called to apologize for our actions, seek forgiveness, and resolve to find better ways to cope with God’s ever-changing world.

The melting glacier in national park.
The melting glacier in the  Kenai Fjords National Park.


Life Goals. CHECK!

If you asked me five weeks ago what I would be doing in Alaska I would have simply just replied, “We’re filming a documentary!” But thats not just it. Now I would say I had the chance to tell a story. A story about the people of Bethel. A story about subsistence. A story about spirituality.

 Not only did I have the chance to tell a story and give people a voice, but I had to the chance to find my own voice. Even during these last two weeks of editing, I’ve found myself not afraid to speak up about issues that I care about. I think going outside the boundaries of your own comfort zone really forces you to look at yourself and ask, “Who am I and who do I want to be?”

A lot of the experiences I had in Bethel really solidified what I want to do with my life. For our small video project, I had the privilege to work with Stephanie Tedesco (also my plane buddy) and film Stanley Corp, the Bethel barber. At first I thought we would get some basic footage about what its like to be a barber. We got more than that. Stan gave us advice that will stick with me forever. He talked about how he likes people and getting to know people on an individual basis. At the end his one piece advice touched on jealousy and how its important not to hold grudges, be jealous, or dwell on the past. Its amazing how much a a simple man could give advice that applies to all aspects of someones life.

At the end of our interview, Stan pulled me aside and we talked about dentistry in Bethel. He stressed to me how important it is they need Dental care and someone to take care of these people in the villages. The day before while Stephanie and I were filming Stan’s barber shop, I stopped by the dental clinic and peered in through the window. Apparently, the dental clinic was opening in a month and the dentist had just come into town a month ago. It was great seeing the progress being made!

Just knowing that its important for people to have access to healthcare and dental care really affirmed my decision and life goal to become a dentist. Knowing that I would be able to make a difference and change someones life just by working with my hands and having that ability to provide dental care gets me really excited just thinking about it. I’m also excited just to be able to treat people individually and get to know their life stories, just like Stan gets to know every single one of his customers. I know I have a ways to go to get there (2 more years of undergrad, apply, get in, etc. etc.), but Alaska and speaking with Stan really motivated me to conquer this goal of mine. I don’t know if I will ever move up to Alaska, but someday I would love to go back someday and thank everyone that helped me with this decision.

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:

My favorite view.
My favorite view.
John O'Keefe
John O’Keefe



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.



The Stories Still to Tell

Alaska. When I think of this place, I no longer only think of dog sledding, the snowy expanse, and drilling oil. I no longer see the population of 735,132 (provided by the United States Census) as a simple number.

What I now think of when I hear Alaska
What I now think of when I hear Alaska

When I think of Alaska, I think of Bethel. I think of the rolling tundra, the hazy blue sky, and the providing rivers. I think of the people, and I think of their stories.

And boy, did they have stories. After 13 interviews and even more interactions with the people of Bethel, I heard countless tales. It would take an entire two-week long documentary to share all of these stories and opinions with the rest of the world. And so, as a writing team, we had to reduce over 13 stories, to a single, 25 minute-long film.

The script we have written is good. It is true to Bethel and it shares the people’s commitment to a subsistence way of life and their fear that it, along with their culture, is coming under threat. It includes the difficult economic realities as well as the visible proof of climate change evident in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta.

Yet, I cannot help but shake the feeling of shame at the fact that some of the stories will be left untold. The people of Omaha will not learn of the tragic cultural trauma the Yup’ik people underwent, nor will they grasp the full reality of the fishing restriction problem.

It is simply impossible to learn and write the story of all 735,132 people of Alaska. In the midst of all of these stories, we must simply choose which to share and which to save. We pick, and we choose, but at least I can find comfort in knowing that the 13 stories that were shared in Bethel will live on in my heart as well as that of the entire Alaska team.

Our job as journalists will never be over. There are always new stories to tell and new cultures to explore. Though our Alaskan film making adventure is coming to a close, I know that I will continue searching for new people to talk to and new stories to tell.

Blessed to learn and to love

It’s been five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. The whole trip, every single minute of it, was better than I had ever imagined it would be.

I’ve been thinking about how I was going to write this last blog post for the past 24 hours. How could I possibly sum up such a wonderful and impactful experience?  So to save you all from my rambling and incoherent thoughts, I want to share with you what I’ve learned from this trip:

1. Writing a movie script is different than any journalism story I’ve written. 

I’m used to telling stories using my words in my own style, letting others’ voices help me prove whatever statement I’m making. That’s what many journalists do, and that’s the privilege of being a journalist. You get to share stories, and it’s your job to tell the story to others. This experience has been different because instead of using our own voices, we help in another way.  We let our video and our interviewees tell the story. We rely heavily on them, while leaving ourselves out of it. Perhaps that’s what makes the best kind of story; when the subject is able to speak to a large group of others directly with only a little help from journalists.

2. I need practice shooting video, but hey, at least I know what all the buttons on the camera do. 

I can tell you how to set the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance on a camera. I can tell you that when you don’t have time to set those features, shoot in Program mode. However, I’m not quite comfortable with a camera yet.  I hope to spend more time with a camera in the future (and maybe not with the thought of making an award-winning documentary in mind).

3.  Confidence is absolutely vital to a project like this. 

You need a lot of faith in yourself and in your team members to complete something like this. You need faith you’ll get the interview, faith you’ll get enough b-roll, faith you’ll find a good story, and faith it’ll all come together in the end. (I also learned I’m awful at hiding the times when I don’t have faith in myself; John had to remind me to be confident.)

4.  When you find a culture and a people as special as those in Bethel, you try to soak in everything you can.

I’m still trying to soak in all the lessons learned and the sights I saw. This culture is a welcoming culture, an open culture, a completely different culture than my own. Cecilia let us try on her parkas, pieces of clothing she hand-made and were a part of her culture and identity.  Nelson let a dozen people watch him cry as he told us how climate change is affecting the edge of the world and his life. If you’re blessed enough to be a witness to all of this, you keep a place for those people in your heart, knowing that truly good people, people who care, are out there.

5. Once you become aware of a moral evil or a social sin, you are held accountable for your actions. 

During our last lecture on Tuesday, we talked about social sins and modernity. We reflected on becoming aware of the social sin that has become climate change. Now that we are aware, we are held accountable to help make it right. As Nelson would say, we need to  find a way to say sorry to the land.

Carol asked us,”What is something you can do differently based on what you learned?”

I learned that climate change is not a hoax. I’ve seen the impact it’s had on people and on their culture. I’m now accountable for my actions. I can’t change the consumer society that is affecting climate change, but I can take little steps, like recycling and reusing items, and find out how to take bigger steps in the future.

6. It takes a lot to still love 19 people with whom you’ve spent five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. 

The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O'Keefe.
The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O’Keefe.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard sometimes. But, in all honesty, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend over 50,000 minutes with. This trip and my whole experience wouldn’t be the same without them.  I  walked out of the classroom today with a happy heart and a feeling of gratefulness.

So again, I’d like to thank Carol, Tim, John and the rest of my peers for a life-changing experience.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened

Wow, today is the last official day of Backpack Journalism… and I don’t even know what to really say (but of course, I’ll think of something).  I am more just in shock with the fact that…

…it’s over.

For starters, I think that it is a given for myself that, not today, or tomorrow, but give it a week or two and I will be having some serious Backpack Journalism withdrawal. This experience is a perfect example of how life can fly right past your eyes when you blink. It feels like just yesterday that we were all worried and packing for the trip, but at the same time it feels like a long time ago.

I find it extremely hard to sum up all that this trip has done for me, and I am sure that it has done things for me that I don’t even have a grasp on yet.

These 5 weeks have helped me visualize things that I would like to do with my future, and directions I would like to lead it. It gives me a “hey I went on/did this, so I’ll be able to do this!” kind of vibe, if that makes any sense. It has helped me develop skills that I never thought I would learn, and an experience I could have never have gotten in any classroom.

Another thing this trip has done is reintroduce a passion into my life. For the longest time in college, I felt myself just drifting through my classes, getting sucked into the zombie routine of going in and out of class, not giving much thought on the future instead of the present. This experience, I can honestly say, has helped me think of my future, and all the doors that can be unlocked.

Something else to note that this trip has done for me, is that I will be forever plagued and gifted with awareness. I guess this trip was an “ah-ha” moment for me after all, or “when I first became aware”. I know that (even if they are just small things), I will be conscious of what I am always doing, such as taking long showers, wasting the gift we have here of electricity, and wasting food (which according to the Yup’ik people is a mortal sin). It has helped me to take a step back from my consumer lifestyle, question something you don’t even realize you are doing, and ask, “should I be doing this?”

I would like to say another thanks to John, Tim, Carol and Nichole for making all of this possible. It really means a lot to me that you all go out of your way to do this for students. Before the trip, I didn’t really doubt that we were going to go and make a documentary.  I just couldn’t really wrap my head around HOW we were going to do it in such a short time span, it is really amazing all that we accomplished while there. Even though I still have my self doubts about working the equipment and being involved and all that, I was glad to help and be a part of a team, I think that’s really the thing that I will miss the most.

Overall, this trip was nothing that I expected. Of course, I’m not sure I really knew what to expect. I can honestly say that this trip has done so much for me. It has helped me gain firsthand experience in areas of film/video in the best way possible. It has let me look into another culture through the eyes of the ones living there, and see what they value, what they believe, their struggles, and really who they are. It has taught me about myself, and what I believe, who I really think that I am, and even though I’m not exactly sure what it is yet, it has done something for me that nothing else could have.

I am trying to keep the “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” attitude, and even though I will miss everyone on the team, I am overjoyed and so thankful that I was given the chance to experience this.

What is one thing I can do differently based on what I have learned? (Carol’s question). The one thing I can confirm that I am taking away from this is that opportunity isn’t going to come knocking on your door, you can’t just glide through life expecting the doors to open up for you, you have to take the step outside of your comfort zone and go seeking opportunities. That is one thing I am going to attempt to do different, look for opportunity, and try to make things happen for myself (something I need to keep in mind).

With that, it has been a wonderful experience to say the least, I especially need to thank Johnny Intensity for opening up these doors, and helping me grow in my life, and helping my spirituality grow in ways I never knew possible. And for being the Dad of the trip to all of us (you all know it’s true).

Until next time…


The best team I could have asked for
The best team I could have asked for

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.