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Alumni Memories: On December, in June

KNOM Radio Mission stands on the shoulders of all the volunteers that have come before. For one, two or three years they give of their time and talents to enrich the airwaves and the mission of KNOM Radio. As they move on, volunteers take with them a wealth of experiences, memories, and relationships.

Former volunteer Laura Davis Collins shares a memory of her first winter in Nome, December 2007:

I have file folders full of digital images, cataloging memories I have as a volunteer at KNOM. One that really stands out to me came during my first winter in Nome. It was a tradition for a KNOM volunteer to fly out with the National Guard on their “Operation Santa Claus.” They gathered donated presents and visited a rural community in the region, bringing an afternoon of Christmas festivity in Santa’s Western Alaskan sleigh: a Black Hawk helicopter.

We suited up at the National Guard Hangar, and an officer handed me a set of headphones that piped in the chatter between the pilots. We flew out to Shishmaref, an Inupiaq community nestled out on the coast on the northern side of the Seward Peninsula. Shishmaref is a barrier island, not unlike those off the coast of North Carolina, surrounded by water on each side. In the summer and during fall storms, the community is threatened by melting permafrost and fierce Bering Sea waves that batter their shores. Global warming is more than a theory in Shishmaref, it is a reality. But in December, in the midst of winter, the sea is only evidenced by the vast, white expanse of ice lined with fishing boats; remnants of a busy summer of subsistence hunting and fishing.

We took off from Nome in the dark, and landed in Shishmaref just as the sun started to lighten the sky. It struck me how compact the buildings were. A nice person shuttled us on snowmachine from the airport to the school, zooming between buildings on trails like a bobsled. The event itself went pretty quickly, and I was unable to really get good pictures because of the low light in the gym. It seemed like everyone in the community must have been in the gym that day, joining in a time of celebration with friends and family. The kids all wore the biggest smiles.

As we were taking off to head home, the sun was at its highest point. So close to the winter solstice, that meant soft light, dusting pink on the snow-covered mountains. The pilot wound us through the hills, zoomed over a herd of muskox, and took a moment to touch down on the top of Mt. Osborne, the highest point on the Seward Peninsula. As the snow kicked up pink in the propellors, we couldn’t even see the ground. But it felt like we were on top of the world.