• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Postcard from Alaska

Air Date: Week of December 29, 1995

Commentator Nancy Lord remarks on her trip to Alaska's Aleutian islands — a place that modern America has not completely transformed.

Transcript

CURWOOD: There's a corner of America which the human hand and its search for resources has touched, but hasn't yet transformed. That's what commentator Nancy Lord discovered recently after spending some time as a writer-in-residence in the town of Unalaska, Alaska - in the Aleutian Islands.

LORD: They call it the cradle of storms, this part of Alaska that sweeps westward from the mainland, this arc of islands that reaches nearly to Asia. Cold Siberian air masses knock up against warmer air carried north by the Japanese current, birthing windstorm after snowstorm after thick swirling fog. I had always wanted to visit this place of weather: rich in Aleut culture, Russian history, World War II battle scars. Now the top fishing port in the entire nation. Buried in clouds, Unalaska looks like what you'd expect to find at the edge of the world: a landscape so large and severe it might have been made only yesterday. Land meets ocean without curve or slope, but in straight plunges. These are, after all, less islands than mountain tops surrounded by water. The human effects - the ships and houses and canneries, the Russian church with its twin onion domes - are minimalist, nearly lost against the scale of mountains, ocean, sky. I felt so exposed at first I had to remember that the Aleut people have lived on the island with considerable success and comfort for 8000 years. I've watched flocks of Emperor geese dip in the waves, then listened to a local poet read about the last snow of winter. The snow that melts the snow. A giant new grocery store held its grand opening and the whole town gathered at the salad bar. I attended an art exhibit at the fancy new hotel in the Makushin room. Makushin, previously the Russian name of a volcano, a bay, and an abandoned village on the west side of the island, now applies to thick carpet and windowless walls. The hotel, like the new grocery store, depends on the Bering Sea on the business of those who harvest schools of pollack, cod and other ground fish. The Rusians came to the Aleutians in pursuit of fur seals and sea otters. Later, whalers stalked the surrounding waters. In my own memory, the area's crab fishery boomed and nearly busted. Now billions of pounds of ground fish are scooped from the sea yearly. Standing on the hill that morning, my sense of the Aleutians was not as the far edge of the world, but as a center, a cradle indeed, not only of storms but of a certain civilization both ancient and modern. Which will last longer, the pollack fishery or the new grocery store? The hotel or the volcano? Perhaps more than most other places, the connections here seem clearly drawn. The new enterprises won't survive without fish, and the land and sea abide.

CURWOOD: Commentator Nancy Lord comes to us from Homer, Alaska, and member station KBBI.

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.