By Rick Berry, Founder and Executive Director
4 Elements Earth Education
TEENS RETURN FROM AN ADVENTURE IN THE ALASKA BUSH
Nevada City, CA
When some kids are asked what they did this summer, seven local fortunate teens will have a tale to tell.
At the start of a remarkable summer journey seven teenagers and six adults packed up minimal gear; blanket pack, extra clothes, rain gear and tarp, water bottle, bag of nuts and dried fruit, hard boiled eggs, and two sandwiches. The group started at the base of the Peters Hills west of Trapper Creek, AK. To the North is the gigantic Alaska Range, with Mount Denali raising out above the clouds. The walk started with a gun safety meeting and if we had to – we learned how to use the shotgun- if needed. In Grizzly Bear country, having a fire arm is really smart. The trail started as an ATV path and we could see fresh brown bear tracks. There is definitely a different awareness when in Grizzly country; the sheer size of the track made everyone perk up as now we were part of the food chain.
We covered just under 20 miles on foot. Some of the land was open tundra and there were Alder thicket jungles speckled with Devils Club (a stabbing plant… quite dangerous and medicinal.) There was a cornucopia of berries for us to graze on! We moved like a heard of slow animals, stopping and grazing on watermelon berries, 3 types of blueberries, and currant berries. The first night was under a tarp and our wool blankets to keep us warm. It was not trying to stay totally dry, but staying warm and wet. We were all happy to have good rain gear, but even with the best, the water still gets in at some point.
On the second day we came to a slough of water without a plan on how to cross. We asked the teens how they could cross it. Then Klaus pulled an inflatable dingy raft out of his pack, (big enough for one person) and we crossed that way… shuttling the dingy back and forth. We finally made it to the Tokositna River in time for the helicopter drops of our gear… 1600 lbs worth.
After a days’ rest in the shadows of Mt. Denali, bathing in the clear glacier waters, we were now in “wilderness mind”… living in the very present. The days are much longer even in August as the sun rises around 5:30 and sets around 10:30, the sun sets seems to go on for hours and it only got dark for a few hours. A sense of timelessness came into our being. This is the very essence of what we strive for in a state of conscious awareness. Our modern clock time begins to vanish and the present moment becomes the eternal now. Stories around the fire about our meal (salmon, moose, caribou) – hunted by our guides tied us even more closely to the land and all she provides.
Next leg of the trek: River rafting the Tokositna for 60 miles. The river was fairly mellow and you could hear the sediment scouring by in the grey glacier silty waters. A beaver wander out and did a clumsy belly flop into the river. The entire area was filled with beavers, the original flood control task force. Camping at what we called “Wolf” Island, were there were many tracks of a wolf pack from the last week. We had brought some plaster of pairs and casted a set of fresh Eagle Tracks.
The next day the River got a bit more squirrely, with many trees down from recent high water and then we came into Ruth River , that combined to create the Sulitna River with its colder glacier water that created a fog off the first 10-15 feet of river. We stopped at a small island to see if it was worthy of camping at and one of the teens brought back a huge Moose antler! We floated silently past a huge family of eagles, about 30 or more all perched in the trees. It was like we were in a painting.
The rain was on and off and folks were getting a bit cold the third day rafting. We still had to find a camp and it was getting late even for Alaska time. We landed and in no time had a raging fire to warm everyone and starting unpacking the gear. We made raft shelters with tarps over them for a kitchen camp and a camp fire camp. It was the first time we cooked our food on the stoves we brought, every meal had been cooked over the fire. Everyone dried out around the fire and ate salmon and salty potatoes.
The last day we rafted straight across the river to witness salmon fins streaking in the river at the mouth of a small creek. They came flopping on the shore as they were scared by one of our rafts. Klaus bent down and picked one up. A beautiful pink salmon with the hump on its back flopped around in his hands. He let it go back to the stream, free to start its journey up the steep mountain creek and spawn.
It was most amazing to see how our little group worked so efficiently together. When we needed fire wood it was there, when we broke camp, everyone pitched in and it got done and at a nice pace with no stress of hurrying. It felt like living as a species of animal that did fit into the landscape, a glimpse of feeling a part of land. I always think of a Yurok term , “Merwerk Surger”, meaning a Beautiful Place that has become a part of you. In this way we are an integral part of the web of life.
As we returned to the town, city, airport to travel home we can still tap into the Wilderness mind. Take time to feel the earth, breath deep, fox walk and let go of all thought and step back into the eternal now.
This trip all came about because 10 years ago I traveled to Alaska to help run a Family Wilderness program with the organization I was directing in New Jersey call Children of the Earth Foundation. I had never been to Alaska and was going to lead an entire week of wilderness skills to a bunch of Alaskans. The skills I had learned from the Tracker School and my “dirt time” was more than enough to successfully run the program. I recall asking one of the parents, a biologist, if willow grew in the area. He was not sure if it was at our site but we found it and it was the wood I used to start a fire with a bow-drill kit.
That trip spurred another trip in 2012 to work with the youth at the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers Gathering in Anchorage. It was then that 4 Elements Earth Education began ongoing programs with the Waldorf Schools in Anchorage which still are active today with our sister organization; Alaska Wilderness Skills, with Klaus Learch and Ryan Ford.