In late February and early March, I undertook an epic journey to Alaska. I visited more than half a dozen tiny, remote Yup’ik Eskimo villages in the Lower Yukon, accessible only by bush plane.
For the most part, there are no roads or cars. Supplies are flown in, and people get around the villages via snow machines, or “snow-gos” (nobody up there calls them snowmobiles). The area is beyond the reach of cell phones.
Tourists do not travel to this region. Even most locals from small towns such as Bethel don’t go there. The only non-Eskimo villagers I encountered were bush pilots and teachers.
It was one of the teachers, Emily Poole, who had invited me to the Yukon. We met at OryCon 27, a science fiction conventionI was the artist guest of honor, and she was on the organizing committee. At a convention dinner, we struck up a conversation and discovered that we both have Native American connections.
My adopted sister, Francis, is a Mescalero Apache, married to a descendant of Cochise. My wife, Anina, and I attended one of their sacred rituals in New Mexico. Anina and I have also taught workshops for kids at libraries and schools. This combo of otherwise unrelated credentials inspired Emily to ask me to trek to the Yukon and give demonstrations about graphic arts.
Each Yup’ik village has only about 500-600 residents, with one school that houses grades K-12. The plan was for me to do a series of workshops for different grades at one school, then fly to the neighboring village, eat, sleep, and start the cycle again at the next school.
Along the way, I was treated to all manner of novel experiences. Near Kotlik, from a co-pilot seat a mere three hundred feet above the tundra, I spied a roaming herd of caribou. Later, in Emmonak, I was invited to watch a traditional Eskimo dance with hand-fans made from caribou fur.
Traveling in an arctic locale during winter wasn’t as intimidating as it might have been; I was raised in Chicago, where I lived through some literally killing cold. Usually travelers don’t wish for storms, but in this case I hoped for a bit of winter weather dramaand I got my wish!
One thing I did not expect, though, was the lasting effect the place would have on me. Imagine how you’d feel if the world were flat and you were given a chance to peer off the edge... it changes your perspective forever.