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Healing Journey: On to Anvik

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National Geographic grantee and contributor Jon Waterhouse, an avid paddler and Alaska Region Director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, is leading the 2010 Healing Journey down the Koyukuk River from Coldfoot to Koyukuk, Alaska. Along the way, he’s calling from the field via satellite phone to share stories with BlogWild readers of the river, the wilderness, the wildlife, and the people he encounters.

“The Healing Journey continues against heavy winds and slow current about 90 miles from the village of Koyukuk. This is where the Koyukuk River meets the Yukon River.

“Some of the paddlers had to leave at Huslia due to having to return to responsibilities in the outside world. Ah, but the magic of the journey, Mary saw an old DC-6 from Everts Air Cargo…

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“… out on the dirt runway, talked with the pilot, and five hours after we arrived in Huslia, three canoes were winging their way home on a plane named Charlie Brown.

“We’ve decided to continue downriver past Koyukuk to the village of Anvik (another 250 miles). Mike Gruenberg and his son Mud are from Anvik, and thought they’d like to stop by for a visit.

“The River Schools have gone extremely well. The kids are very interested in the science and completely fascinated by the canoes. Jessica is a superb canoe and safety instructor and the science gear has a certain “Star Wars” quality to it that draws them in.

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“Sorry I haven’t been able to send regular water quality reports due to lack of communications, but I can tell you that the water is VERY silty—so much so that both of our water purifiers are now inoperable. The clouds of silt give the river a sort of opalescent quality. Water temperatures have ranged from 13.89 degrees Celsius to 22.2 degrees Celsius. ODO (optical dissolved oxygen) has ranged from 78% to 134%. The current has been 1.2 miles per hour to 6 miles per hour. And the outside air temperature has ranged up to 105.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

“One of my favorite photos (at the top of this post) is the young fellow waiting his turn, a future Healing Journey leader anxious to go!

Listening to the Elders…

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“… has added to our knowledge of the river. We’re hearing how the river has changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Consistently, though, we’ve heard that fish stocks and animal populations are down. The only real increases we’ve heard about are with the wood frog population. Frogs being environmental indicators, is it to much to hope that we’re seeing a recovery?

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“This is my wife Mary’s first long distance canoe trip with me. Some people find that strange because of my work, but like she tells folks, ‘he’s a little National Geographic and I’m National Enquirer.’ (Mary’s the author of Charm School for Guys and How to Lose the Fugly and Get Some Snugly, and she’s also a professional matchmaker.) She’s tough, though, traveling with me to the Amazon back in January—a very challenging trip. I couldn’t ask for someone any tougher with a happy, positive attitude.

“She’s good at the science, great at photography, super with kids and Elders and now, with the pilot of Charlie Brown, it appears she’s pretty good at logistics. Maybe we should switch jobs!

“As we’ve gone down the river, I’ve seen (as I always do) the people that accompany me change. They become quieter and more introspective. I can see them begin to reconnect to the environment, that connection that so many people have lost in the modern, indoor, climate-controlled world. That loss of connection makes it hard for people to understand or even care about the planet.

“The other very important part of this journey is the people we meet along the way. They too are part of the environment. It’s so cool to see everyone’s—both paddlers’ and community members’—faces light up when we arrive. People who, without this journey, quite possibly would never have met. Now they’ve exchanged stories of their lives (Guillermo from Peru had a lot of talking to do) and come away with a better understanding and caring for each other. It’s out hope that this will translate into hope and care for the planet.

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“Talk to you soon, -Jon

Photos courtesy Jopn Waterhouse