Tag Archives: Alaska

I asked for burger… I got an extra cheesecake

In my first blog, I imagined our project as a combo burger. Actually I had a fatty rich one, I learned a lot in photography (Thanks Tim), journalism(Thanks Carol) and theology(Thanks John).  But God is generous and always has surprises for me. He always add an extra addition to my order, this time was an eternal amazing cheesecake that I am enjoying right now. After I finished with my burger, it is time for dessert, the sweetest thing in this magical “restaurant”. Click continue to see the surprise.  Continue reading I asked for burger… I got an extra cheesecake

A Difference Maker

Thank you to Scott Prewitt for capturing this moment.
Wearing my Alaska hat and taking in the beauty surrounding me. A special thank you to Scott Prewitt for capturing this moment.

At the start of this journey, I was looking for adventure. I hoped to learn and grow in my journalistic and video skills. I was excited to travel to Alaska, a new and fascinating place.

Now that we have completed our final day of the Backpack Journalism Program, I can say that I have accomplished all of this and so much more.

I can’t even come close to adequately putting this experience into words. It has far exceeded my expectations, and I feel so grateful for these past five weeks.

The Backpack Journalism team traveled to a place at the world’s edge, often unseen or forgotten by the lower 48. There we stayed in the small but welcoming community of Bethel where we learned about the Yup’ik culture, the people’s connection to the land and the effects of climate change. I was amazed by the openness of the community and how willingly people shared their stories with us. If they had not taken the time to be interviewed and filmed by us, the creation of our documentary would not be possible.

After learning about how climate change is affecting Alaska, this trip allowed me to reflect on my own life and how I live. Over the years, it has been easy for me to be critical of others who do not believe in climate change or chose to ignore it. But because climate change is a collective problem, I am as much a cause of this environmental crisis as anyone else. I recycle and walk to school, but I still drive a car and feed into the consumerism that is much of the cause of climate change. In the next few months, I will make the changes in my life necessary to live more simply and reduce the amount of energy and resources that I use.

Because of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I also gained a sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. I feel that I can now take on any challenge in life, which will be especially important as I begin my senior year of college and look to the future.

The memories I shared with my team members will be ones I’ll cherish forever, from watching the magnificent sunset during a boat ride on the Kuskokwim to the beautiful tundra walks to the countless games played in the social hall. The perpetual laughter of our group, no matter what the circumstance, made this experience unforgettable. The amount of joy that I have felt in the last month has renewed my spirits and inspired me to continue fighting for what I believe in.

I already miss the people and landscape of Alaska, but soon I will miss spending time with the 19 incredible people on the Backpack Journalism team. Thankfully we will always have a connection to each other and Alaska because of this film-making and community-building experience. Even though it was our last day of class today, I know that the journey is not over. We still have a great deal of editing to do on our documentary, and then comes the most exciting part of this project: sharing our film with others.

I feel blessed to be a witness to a part of the world that is hurting but still lively, rich in culture and appreciative of the land and community. I can end this five-week experience feeling as though I made a difference in some way, but I know that Bethel has made much more of a difference in me.

Learning to Live in the Moment

Yesterday, we created a small B-roll team to go shoot some footage around Omaha (it makes sense for the documentary, I promise). Myself and five others squished into Hannah’s vehicle, excited for the chance to take the cameras out again. We quickly realized something though: here in Omaha, people are terrified of cameras in public places. Everyone was very paranoid about our presence, and our filming was nearly always halted by security guards and managers.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but the greatest thing about Bethel was how open and accepting everyone was.

It seemed like everyone was willing to help us with our film. And we were able to take cameras everywhere: stores, public buildings, neighborhoods, wherever we needed, basically. And everyone we interviewed was honest, open and willing to share their stories. It was incredible.

Coming back home, it’s easy to see how differently we live as opposed to the people in Bethel. People here don’t seem as open or friendly. Everyone seems very closed off and in their own world. In Bethel, no one hesitated to ask about our cameras, our purpose, our background. Yesterday while we were out, no one cared what we were doing. In fact, it felt like everyone just wanted us to leave. Everyone was too busy moving onto the next thing they had to do, or walking around absent minded, distracted in the world of emails, texts or Twitter.

And I myself, am included in this. It’s very hard to break habits.

In Bethel, as you probably know, we didn’t really have cell service. For short amounts of time, we were able to connect to wi-fi, able to connect to friends and family. During the day, we were completely disconnected though, and sometimes it was really nice. We were present, we were observant, we were living in the moment.

Before our trip began, I had a feeling that we would learn a lot from this experience. I never knew how much it would teach us about the way we live, however. As I said before, it’s really hard to truly be present in the moment. I’m honestly terrible at it, craving a glance at my Twitter feed or needing to eliminate notification icons immediately.

I don’t want to continue these habits though. Bethel taught me how important it is to simply pay attention to your surroundings. When you step away from the problems of your own life, that’s when you gain the most from the world around you. That’s how you learn about the people around you. And that’s how you learn the most about yourself.

Breaking the Fellowship

“Tomorrow, we’ll answer any final questions and have a reflection,” John O’Keefe said on the second to last day of class.

“Then, we’ll break the Fellowship.”

That line stopped me in my tracks.

I immediately thought of this.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is my all time favorite story. The journey of the Fellowship speaks to me on many levels, providing much of the foundation upon which I built my worldview.

If you haven’t experienced this brilliant work, start here.

John’s words resonated with me. My heart began to ache when I realized they were true.

Our crew is a Fellowship, each member bringing our own strengths and weaknesses to the table. This is a common theme among many blogs on this site, mainly because it’s true. I think most would agree that this has been the most dominant theme of our trip.

Before we embarked, many of us hardly knew each other. Yet, over a five week period, we became an extremely tight-knit unit.

This is part of the Journey. You leave one person, you come back different.

I can honestly say this is true for me.

I can’t even begin to explain all of the ways that I have grown in the last two weeks, but I can try to distill it down.

Story: Stories are not abstract, They are tangible. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Stories exist in the world independent of storytellers. They can be touched, tasted, and smelled. They can be loved, hated, nourished, and killed. Most importantly, they can be felt. It is our responsibility as storytellers to do all of these, rather than observe from afar. Only then can we craft a true narrative.

Pressence: We spent the majority of our trip without cell phone service in a place where the sun sets around 12:30 am. Our sense of time and digital connection were severely impaired. Furthermore, we spent most of every day focused intently on the tasks before us. We spent every day with the same people. As a result, we were very present. I was able to focus on what was going on exactly at that moment and enjoy it for what it is. A lot of the time back home I felt like I was only half experiencing life. Now I know that I can experience all of it. All I have to do is be present.

Conscience: I saw a lot of things in Alaska that I had never seen before. Many of them, particular the effect of climate change on individual people, were difficult for me to reconcile with things I formerly believed to be true. I know longer have the excuse of ignorance. I have a responsibility to use my knowledge and experience the best I can. I have to be conscious of what is happening around me, even if it is not pretty.

Communion: Between spending every moment with the Fellowship and interacting with the community in Bethel, I learned to a great degree what it means to live in communion with others. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I always think of the reflection we had right before we left Bethel. We sat in silence, eyes closed, and just existed with each other. I am not an island. I am a part of a whole, a totality.

Spirit: I found grace in action and in the environment. There are many modes and mediums of spirituality. I saw God (whatever that means) in the midnight sunset over the Kuskokwim. I felt the humanity of another human at Rose Dominic’s. I felt harmony and peace with my own spirit walking on the tundra.

John said we would break the Fellowship. I don’t think that will ever really happen. We are bound to each other through experience. We will always share that.

To close, I quote J.R.R. Tolkien,

“It’s a dangerous business, walking out your front door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

This is Scott Prewitt, Scotty P, Mr. Panasonic, signing off.

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.