96.1 FM, 780 AM, Yours for Western Alaska

It Takes a Village (Trip)

I love to travel. I’ve been lucky enough in my brief 27 years on this planet to see quite a bit of it, and some interesting, off-the-beaten-path corners of it, too. The question “what brought you to Alaska?” is one I’ve asked – and been asked – a few times since moving to Nome. And the answer that usually comes back involves looking for something new, exciting, and adventurous. I think wanderlust is a part of that sense of adventure, and one of the most unique opportunities I’ve had at KNOM has been the chance to travel to communities in western Alaska outside of Nome.

Savoonga. Gambell. Teller. Kotzebue. Golovin. Unalakleet. White Mountain. Koyuk. These names were new to me in 2010. I could hardly pronounce them, let alone place them on a map. (White Mountain, that’s in Middle Earth, right?) Now I’ve been to these communities – all within range of KNOM’s signal – and been able to meet some of our listeners first-hand.

My last glimpse of Nome as I head out to one of our regional communities.

In White Mountain, I interviewed an Anchorage-based artist who was doing a two-week residency in the village as part of the “Artists in Schools” program. Her name was Shayla Dobson, and in addition to class with the students, she was also holding evening classes for the entire community.

I visited the village of Wales – on the far western end of the Seward peninsula, reaching across the Bering Strait toward Russia – to cover the annual Kingikmuit Dance Festival. Wales is a community of about 150 people. Like many village trips, I slept on a mattress on the floor of the school library. Juxtaposed against the silver-shiny rows of iMacs in the school library is the fact that Wales lacks running water, food prices boggle the mind and consternate the wallet, and a gallon of gas runs around $7.50 a gallon. Like many communities in western Alaska, you can feel connected to the world at large with internet and a cup of coffee, until the costs of food and energy, and the challenges of living in such a remote part of the country, hit home. It was a stunningly beautiful day when I arrived in Wales, so before the dancing and singing started, I walked along the shore, over the grassy hills, and up to the Arctic Arc.

Arctic Arc is one piece in a two-part art installation that spans the Bering Strait. A collaboration between Wales-born artist Joe Senungetuk and Michigan sculptor David Barr, the hand and bird you see above look about 60 miles across the strait, toward another sculpture in Naukan, Russia.

And of course, what I came for: some Inupiaq drumming and dancing. They went all night! It was … interesting … to type and voice a story on my laptop as the drums thundered through the walls at 2am.

I went to Shishmaref to conduct some elder interviews for Elder Voices. I knew some teachers who live in “Shish,” so when the weather turned and I wasn’t able to make my flight back in to Nome, I found myself playing volleyball with the Shish volleyball team. It was “adults” versus students, and the adults were summarily trounced. Watch these Shish kids, they’re sharp on the court. Once again, I was on a mattress in a classroom. Glad I brought a book.

When I wasn’t interviewing elders or playing volleyball, I wandered the village and snapped some photos. Subsistence hunting – both marine mammals and caribou – were in evidence.

Returning to the relative hustle and bustle of Nome after a trip to a nearby community puts in sharp relief just what a unique place western Alaska is, and what a unique and privileged position KNOM offers. Our work at KNOM serves Nome, of course,  but it also travels through the air and magically brings news, music, race updates, talk shows, and entertainment to thousands of people across a staggeringly huge geographic area. Having a chance to travel to these communities, to meet the people who live unique lives on the edge of the map as different as I could imagine from my spawning grounds in the suburbs of Delaware, is a true honor. These people are our listeners. They depend on KNOM for news, weather, and more.

All in all, this job, and the traveling I can do while here, is a pretty humbling experience.