Tonight was our last night in Bethel. There has been nice weather during our 11 days here, but none like today’s. As I sat under the sun, barefoot, with the transitioning blues above, it felt like home. It felt simple. Bethel is full of welcoming and kind people who we have had the humbling opportunity to meet and to hear their stories. During one of the interviews a Yup’ik elder told of his dislike of Anchorage and of the mountains there. If you were to ask most who have lived in Bethel and in the surrounding villages their whole lives they will tell you the land is part of Bethel and what makes this place home to them. The tundra and the Kuskokwim River provide for their subsistence living culture. I thought everyone liked the mountains, but I realized that to this man the mountains were only obstacles. He lasted nine weeks in Anchorage and then returned to Bethel where he could see for days. On Sunday seven of us walked through the town of about 6,000 people to its edge where we could see the midnight sun. Standing on a spot of earth on the edge of Bethel more than 3,000 miles away from the familiar fields of Nebraska I watched the orange haze hover above the horizon. I wondered what the evening sky had looked like back home in rural northeast Nebraska. The way the Yup’ik elder feels about the flat tundra is how I feel about the fields of Nebraska. These places are our homes. I can’t watch a sunset in Omaha the way I can in the countryside of my hometown. I was reminded of the frustration I felt in Omaha when an evening sky caught my eye a while ago. I had gotten into my car and started, what turned out to be failed attempts, to find a satisfactory place to view the sunset. I felt defeated when I knew that by the time I drove out of Omaha it would be too late. Watching the sun melt into the tundra or an open field is different than watching it disappear behind mountains or trees. At first glance the tundra can even look like a field. I hope everyone has a place where they can go to feel a sense of home and a connection to something or someone. I have that place in Nebraska that is half sky and half field. Now in a place that is very different, yet strangely familiar, I have had a chance for my bare feet to touch the earth more than 3,000 miles away from the land I know and the people who I love. I have felt a connection with Alaska as I watched the midnight sun mingle with the tundra.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I don’t think I have laughed this much in a really long time. So I want to use this blog post to give a shout out to everyone on this trip who has made me laugh. You guys are awesome and hilarious. Love you all! Shout out to Claire with her awkward facial expressions and candid pictures of me. Love you girl, but only because I have to…(cuz we are sisters and we stand together! Shout out to my kappa girls back home that wish they were here with me and Claire. Don’t lie. We both know you are jealous.) Shout out to Leah, Morgan, and Hannah, or as we like to call ourselves the dream team, with our professional selfie and our odd luck on Friday the 13th. Shout out to John and Scott with all their father/son moments. Shout out to everyone who tries to imitate Tony with his okays. Also, Tony, your purple rain gear was epic. Shout out to TJ or as we like to call him August Taylor Moore because that would be an epic movie star name. Claudia and Mari, you two are just hilarious. I can’t even capture that in words. This is just a small percentage of the moments that made me laugh and smile. I like to laugh and with this group not laughing is nearly impossible. Just remember, you are all great comedians and don’t stop laughing. Laugh a lot, and then even more.
I want to be a storyteller.
The storyteller holds a sacred vocation. As far back as 40,000 years ago, storytellers have been bearing witness to the events of their times and places. In Mesopotamia, they spread the legend of their greatest king in The Epic of Gilgamesh. In ancient Greece, Homer showed the traits of the ideal Greek man in The Odyssey. In early twentieth century United States, Muckrakers exposed crime, corruption and injustice through investigative journalism. These and all other storytellers are responsible for shaping the way people understand and interact with the world.
Storytelling is time and space sensitive. A story’s medium panders to it’s audience. Just as Homer had to twist his tales with a largely oral audience in mind, so I must create content for an audience steeped in a multimedia environment. Media in the modern day have converged. The lines differentiating print journalism from broadcast journalism, and even journalism as a whole from English and communications studies, have blurred. With the advent of computers and the internet, we have entered into a storytelling environment where different platforms and media become juxtaposed in telling a single story. This has serious implications for the future of storytelling.
Stories exist in the world independent of storytellers. As a storyteller, I am a conduit through which a story flows. I have to ask how a story may best reach its audience. The convergent nature of modern media means the answer to this question is no longer confined to a single medium. Narratives may be spun using a multitude of platforms. Short form documentaries, slideshows, text, audio clips, and more may all contribute to a single narrative.
Backpack Journalism allows the individual storyteller to leverage this convergence. With just the equipment in one’s backpack, a storyteller can record, review and edit any kind of content a story calls for. This liberates the storyteller to roam the land, bearing witness the world and telling stories however they ought to be told.
This is why I have chosen Backpack Journalism. Through it I will become a more effective, independent storyteller who can individually create high quality, convergent content that serves the needs of the story and its audience.
Till next time,