building self-confidence

by Julia Palmigiano, AP'18

They say that if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. However, after participating in the Glacier Bay Summer 2018 program, I don’t think this statement holds much ground anymore. The stark transition from living in a big city to a secluded island in Southeast Alaska was one I was excited about, but could not fully prepare for. I wanted a change in pace, and challenging myself to participate in the program seemed the best way to get that. Though I welcomed the challenge, the idea of putting my mind and body to the test still made me nervous. I had never done anything like this before.

Upon arriving to Inian Islands Institute, my nerves seemed to settle. I began meeting not only other students from where I am from, New York, but students who expressed the same internal struggles that I was facing as well. I was immediately comforted. The warm welcome I received from the staff also helped in soothing the little voice in my head that was giving me every single reason to turn around and go home. One way or another, I would get through the next four weeks, and I was positive that the people around me would help to make that happen.

The program quickly started, and before I knew it, I was down in the dirt, my hands tightly gripping the handle of a metal shovel with the new work gloves I had bought only a week before. The first week of labor was the most intense, but the most satisfying as well. Seeing all the people around me committed to a common goal was extremely motivating. They pushed me to do my best, but also assured me that my best would not be the same as that of others. And that was ok. For our labor project, we are building a wood shed that will allow for the family to cure and store wood during the harsh winter. The foundation of the wood shed, like anything in life, was the hardest part to get started. Digging three-foot holes for hours was not exactly what comes to mind when I think of confidence building. But I have been pleasantly surprised more than once on this island. I felt an overwhelmingly strong sense of community all around me, and was encouraged to power through our labor project. After a days work, and a two foot hole, I saw my insecurities fade away into the pile of dirt that had been accumulating just to the right of the shed site.

“Great work you guys, lets go grab some lunch.”

Sighs of relief filled the air, and we gave each other high fives of accomplishment as we walked back to the main cabin in search of our lunches. I sat on a lawn chair outside to soak up what little South East Alaskan sun we had left for the day, and thought about how physically tired I was. But the strange thing was that I couldn’t complain. Satisfaction and pride had pushed out all the other emotions I had expected to feel. I had just spent a good portion of the day doing hard physical labor. This was nothing like running for the train in a New York City subway station, or lugging around a heavy backpack for school. This was physically straining, but yet so fulfilling. Who would have guessed that the young New York City girl who was hailing cabs just a week ago would have dirt underneath her nails and mud all over her pants. But this is Southeast Alaska. And I am convinced that if you can make it in the Inian Islands, you can make it anywhere.

Julia Palmigiano is from Queens, NY. She studies at City College of New York, where she majors in English Literature.

getting out of the muck

by Margaret Heflter, AP'18

Though our expedition to Taylor Bay was a deeply meaningful experience – defined by illuminating exposure to the scientific process and awe-inspiring encounters with the natural world – as a group, several unanticipated curveballs knocked us off our feetLuckily, I think we were able to meet these challenges with ingenuity and grace, teaching us new forms of problem-solving that wouldn’t be possible in the typical college classroom. For me in particular, the ‘quick mud’, which forms as ocean tides flow in and out of the mud flats where brown bears and moose roam, became a particular source of consternation. The first day, as I ventured out in my quick-dry pants and rubber ‘Xtra-Tuf’ boots, I figured I’d be adequately prepared for whatever the landscape might throw at me. Of course, ten minutes later, I found myself stuck in mud up to my knees, unable to get my boots out from the sticky, sinking mud. Eventually, I had to ditch the boots and run across the muddy patch in my wool socks to avoid sinking further. Luckily, Tania Lewis, the Wildlife Biologist for Glacier Bay National Park, had an extra pair of socks to lend me, and Laura helped unwedge the boots from where they were stuck. Still, I was pretty grumpy about the fact that one of my two pairs of pants were now totally soiled. The next day, decked out in my fresh pants, I figured getting stuck would be a one-time thing, but of course, on our way back from the old growth forest, it happened again: I was shin-deep in the mud. So, both of my pants were now wet and muddy, as were my socks. I figured I could either sulk about the situation, or try to laugh off my new-found filthiness. Laughing it off proved to be the much more productive attitude to take, and, learning my lesson, the next day I brought along an extra pair of socks for our 10-mile trek to Brady Glacier, as well as the flexible attitude I was determined to cultivate. 

Our group met several, more serious, challenges as well: when we arrived at the campsite, we had no idea where fresh water was located. This was our most pressing issue, as we had roughly 11 gallons of water and sixteen thirsty people. Camp crew set out to search for water, and eventually discovered water fresh enough to drink. Still, how best to haul the water containers through the mud and back to the campsite? The group eventually discovered that sliding a thick piece of driftwood through the handle of the water containers made it so the weight of the gallons could be easily distributed over the shoulders of two different people, making the haul far less painful. The question still remained of cleaning the water to make it drinkable. We discovered that a bandana works splendidly for removing an enormous amount of dirt and sediment from the water, and, after allowing the water to reach a boil on the propane stove, the fresh water was ready to drink. On the fourth day, however, a new issue arose: we were out of propane, and still had several meals left to cook. Dimitri proposed using an aluminum can to prop up the pot we used to cook in the campfire. This improvisation meant that the smoked salmon pasta packed for dinner could still be eaten. Other clever improvisations abounded amongst the cohort: sand works well to clean pots and silverware in lieu of sponges or steel wool, a piece of drift wood works nicely as a cutting board, and a puffy jacket makes a perfect pillow.

Though facing these challenges could be both anxiety-provoking and frustrating, in learning to cope with them, the cohort flexed mental muscles of improvisation and flexibility in new and exciting ways. Obviously, it would’ve been fantastic to have fresh water immediately accessible, endless propane, and a mud-free environment, but by pulling ourselves out of the proverbial and literal muck, I think we all grew stronger, both as a community and as individuals striving to embody the ideal of Arete

Margaret Heftler is a member of the 2018 Glacier Bay Session cohort. She studies English Literature at Georgetown University.

when my mind is free

by Kimberly Pikok, AP'18

What is my relationship with the natural world?

When I began the program, my relationship with the natural world and nature meant leadership, skill building, and a valuable resource for food, water, and fun, but as I sit on this large rock outside of the institute this morning, my relationship with nature felt much deeper. As I sat on this rock, I looked to the left of me, to the right of me, behind me, in front, and above. I hear birds singing, I see the tide coming in, tall grass blowing, seaweed drying in the sun, the sun on my back, the wind chilling my skin and to my bones, and my music playing quietly as I observe my surroundings. As I take in what’s around me, I closely pay attention to the song that’s playing. It’s one of my favorite songs, it’s Drift Away by Dobie Gray. The lyrics, even though the meaning to me at that moment isn’t the actual meaning of the song, thoughts rushed through my head as I assessed the lyrics.

“Day after day I’m more confused. Yet I look through the light in pouring rain. Know that it’s a game that I hate to lose and I’m feeling the strain, ain’t it a shame.” These lyrics first spoke out to me because I feel like I’ve had some of those moments here. I’ve been thinking about these past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about how helpless and sad I’ve been. Some moments I felt like I wasn’t capable of doing certain tasks like lifting things that is 10 times my size, kayaking, speaking my thoughts, and getting out of my comfort zone in activities, but on top of all of those horrendous thoughts, I sprained my ankle doing what I struggle with the most, walking. Looking back at those lyrics, there were times I felt like I wasn’t even trying to look for the light, because looking for light meant seeking hope, meant feeling confident in my abilities, it meant feeling like I belonged, and none of those feelings came to me, looking back at those lyrics, I never had a chance of winning because I was so far from a “finish line” or “winning.”

However, the next lyrics in the song, “Give me the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.” I applied those lyrics for my “thirst” for  nature and always wanting to be outside, or helping the crew with projects. Nature, the outdoors, and always giving people a helping hand always made me feel better, and during my time of boredness and aches, I craved those activities even more. But I realized that when you’re hurt, physically and emotionally, the craving of wanting to do something becomes burdensome because I knew I couldn’t participate or satisfy my need for nature and the outdoors.. Even though I was going through a mental breakdown because of my sprained ankle and feeling helpless; the people surrounding me, the environment everyone creates, the conversation we make, and the reassurance everyone provided lifted my spirits and made me think positively. If it was not for this magnificent group of people and their personalities and presence, who knows what would be running through my head now.

Somehow my brain then jumped to the question as to why I decided to sit on a rock for 45 minutes alone with my thoughts and nature. What brought me on this random journey today? Was it the weather? Was is the need to reflect?  Was it the built up urge I had to be outside? Was it because I finally felt like I could kind of walk? Was it because I had nothing better to do? Maybe it was because I was seeking something deeper with nature and the natural world, a relationship that needed strength and inspiration. I couldn’t tell you any answers because I do not know myself what exactly happened, but what I could tell you after this time of reflection is what this program has taught me thus far. Regardless of your academic background, where you live, and how much experience you have, you can have a relationship with the natural world. You don’t have to think scientifically or think about literature and art to have a relationship with what is around us now. To me, I think, that is not what it takes. Even though I do believe literature, art, and science is a tool, I believe you don’t need to have those backgrounds or interests to have a relationship with nature. Science, arts, and literature is another way to connect with nature, but to me, I think regardless of your way of thinking and seeing things, it is up to you to strive for that relationship in the natural world. The natural world and nature will accept you regardless of your academics and abilities. Show respect, be in awe, embrace your surroundings. As I sit here thinking about my relationship with the natural world, I believe your relationship begins with a good spot on the ground, on a rock, on the dock, or anywhere that it’s just you and nature. It begins with the idea of embracing what’s around you. It begins with thoughts, questions, and the need for adventure or peace. The relationship begins when you sit, look, listen, and reflect. So I guess my true relationship with nature has just begun.

Kimberly Pikok is from Barrow, Alaska and is a member of the 2018 Glacier Bay Session cohort. She is a student at the University of Alaska - Fairbanks where she majors in Wildlife Biology and Conservation.

making the unreal

by Dimitri Diagne, AP'18

This is the place to watch the tides. I’ve become compulsive about it. Sometimes I walk to “The Gut.” Other times I stare from the window of the Hobbit Hole’s main house as a trail of white foam and tiny whirlpools forces itself through this one narrow entrance to the harbor. Save for the ring of seaweed and barnacles around its rocky edge, the cove looks more like a mountain lake than an inlet of an inlet of the wild northern Pacific. In the evenings I stare down at enormous fronds of ribbon kelp pulled either to the left or right side of the dock, as I and a new friend look for a clear place to jump in. We’ve made a pact to enter the forty-something degree water every day we spend at the Hobbit Hole. This ordeal doesn’t get easier.

It’s astounding that the physical world can move so quickly. A rock I stepped on minutes ago is now covered. We dig postholes through marine sediment, deposited when this land lay underwater, still bowed below the phantom weight of glacial ice. The copious rainfall keeps a stream flowing down from the heights of the island. This stream provides us water and, as of yesterday’s refurbishment, a steady supply of hydroelectric power. Two fishing trips over the past two weeks have each yielded a halibut more than big enough to feed twenty (taking for granted the supply of grains, vegetables, tubers, fruits, and condiments we brought here from the mainland).

These features of satisfyingly off-the-grid life are only possible on this island paradise, a sheltered emerald rainforest in the rich marine passes of Southeast Alaska. So many things happen that are only possible right here, under these conditions. This is a certain kind of blessedness and magic for which we are thankful and overjoyed, but which the goals of the Arete Project suggest we must also scrutinize.

In “Of Beauty and Death,” which we read for class one day, W.E.B. DuBois describes the Grand Canyon as something not real. He stands before it, marveling at a terrifying greatness and eternality that seems not of the Earth. The Inian Islands Institute is unreal for the opposite reasons. It is temporally and physically specific. As a social project, it is distressingly bounded. Here is a place that seems to be heaving itself away from the exploitative, industrial, modern American mainstream. The tough part is that, like most places, it is still moored down to that world. The Inian Islands Institute and the Arete Project we imagine, or at least the ones I imagine – self-sustaining enclaves almost completely independent from that world – are unreal. Even what exists now is unreal. The magic of small-scale hydropower and long-lined halibut are only possible in this place – not in Dakar, not in Philadelphia.

But some of the communal, sustainable lifestyle practices we engage in here can be carried into the “real” world. DuBois casts stones into the canyon’s void, and hearing no sound, concludes that it is unreal. It is not like this here, for us. The stones we move from the garden and those we skip across the water make a noise. This place is as real as the Grand Canyon. Unlike the canyon, we can make it realer.

Dimitri Diagne is a member of the 2018 Glacier Bay Session cohort. He graduated from Yale in May 2018, where he majored in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

a construction project

by Tyler Nadasen-Gladstone, AP'18

I hesitate to speak for the whole.  In the space of self-governance, our individual voices give way to something larger. In dialogue, we negotiate the delicate terrain of conflict, find common ground, and advance competing visions of utopic blueprints for what we can build here together at Arête’s Glacier Bay session.  I’ve tried to map the landscape of collective thought, the prominent features of which will continue to develop with the erosive force of argument and the tectonic shiftings of minds changed. If we are moving towards consensus, we are doing so at a glacial pace. My writing on self-governance will inevitably fail to account for the wealth of perspective that abounds in this group of humans, fail to do justice to dissenting opinions for I will take liberties, liberties that haven’t been granted to me, to generalize when it is probably unfair to so do.  All in all, I will fall short. Personal reflections of this nature are, in pretty obvious ways, contrary to the mission of self-governance itself.  My words are only relevant insofar as they contribute to dialogue and, try as I will to capture that dialogue in my best approximation, this is a transcript of my words alone. But someone has to do it, so here’s my synopsis of our last meeting:

The days have been full and, naturally, accompanied by fatigue.  Exhaustion, however, is distinct from lethargy and both appear to be present and active.  The latter is cause for concern.  Conversation oscillated between identifying the source of the problem and seeking a cure. It is agreed that the issue, after taking the time to be more specific, manifests as the sensation of aimlessness and purposelessness. A spare whiteboard proved useful – on it, we brainstormed a list of communal activities and scheduled a few for the rest of the week, including an upcoming hike and night of card games.  Still, though, there remained a feeling of dissatisfaction, as though our remedy were insufficient.

Discussion eventually migrated to a related but distinct topic.  We were challenged to give words to the culture that we are creating. Each and every one of us played a hand in the inception of the prevailing atmospheric quality, the mood and attitudes that flavor the air. As such, we all are responsible, whether we’re conscious of it or not, for both the strengths and weaknesses of its particular tenor. The question, posed by Margaret, was intended to prompt self-awareness of our shared values, whatever they might be. The hope is that, through deliberation, we may actively determine those values, should we choose to do so, should we take issue with inertia’s natural trajectory and, when our discontent deems it appropriate or necessary, intervene to right our course.

At present, we have a lot to be proud of.  It is encouraged, if not expected, that we challenge not only ourselves, but each other.  Our lives of relative excess back home have cultivated an appetite for various comforts and privileges, comforts and privileges that we are eager to identify, interrogate, and abandon, if we come to the conclusion that they are either frivolous or inconsistent with living out our personal visions of a good life. There is a palpable abundance of energy, an energy that gives substance to those very same suspicions, however abstract, of what a good life consists of. It is an impatience, an eagerness to make good use of time and energy, that lures restless legs up and out of the cabin, up the mountain, off the dock and into the freezing waters of the cove, into kayaks and out to open ocean, towards adventure in all its many forms. And, truly, people find adventure everywhere, from wanderings of the mind to helping out whenever someone can use an extra hand or two, taking on extra hours without being asked.  Our behavior attests to the conviction that labor is an opportunity, not a burden.  At this point in time, intervention seems neither appropriate nor necessary.  After all, if it aint broke…

Again, our answer was vaguely dissatisfying, despite how well everything seems to be going.  It’s almost as if we wished something were broken, so we’d have something to fix.

We’d reserved the last chunk of self-governance to articulate our hopes for next year’s cohort at the Glacier Bay session.  There was talk of a time capsule, of leaving our mark in the form of completed labor projects, and various other ways of giving back to this place and the people that keep it up and running.  Sentimental musings persist, for they are valuable in their own right.  But it wasn’t long before our imaginations for the following group of Arête students became a little more forceful.  Talk of hopes for next year evolved into talk of expectations for next year’s group.  And it was here, at this point, that the meeting came full circle.

It became clear that we had been having one conversation the entire time.  The moment we understand our demands for future Glacier Bay cohorts is the exact moment that we understand what we demand of ourselves. ‘Demand’ is an appropriate word – in accepting our spot in the Arête program, we are granted access to an experience that is simultaneously an investment, quite literally, in our lives as future servants to humanity.  What that means, exactly, is itself up for debate.  But what is clear is that we are indebted and, if we are to pay what we owe, we are asked to think about more than our own enjoyment during our time here in Alaska and afterwards.

In making sense of our own demands, we can discern the values we aspire to. We can best perceive the distance between ourselves and our ideals, a distance that points in a clear direction, when we concretely define those ideals.  It seems as though the actual cure to our collective lethargy, directionless, and purposelessness resides in the search for values that dwarf both our anxieties and our pleasures in the service of something more, values that loom larger than ourselves– a construction project of the highest order.

Tyler Nadasen-Gladstone is a member of the 2018 Glacier Bay Session. He recently graduated from Deep Springs College and will finish his degree at Columbia University.

fish dinner

by Joshua Pautz, AP'18

Fish. Nearly every meal. There is something pleasantly consistent about it. We have classes, labor, and finally dinner each day, and dinner means fish. But, dinner time also means the entire group gathers together to enjoy the meal. That’s also pleasant and consistent. In fact, these two elements have made the daily meal stand out among the experiences this program offers far more than I’d have anticipated. In my experience, the educational community created by the Glacier Bay Project thrives at the dinner table.

At a basic level, we eat fish each night because it is abundant, but the abundance isn’t what stands out to me. The conscious effort to utilize this natural abundance does. Fish we have caught and processed provide the bulk of our protein. Garden greens we have planted and harvested fill our soups, stir fries, and salads. While we do still rely heavily on stocked, non-perishable ingredients such as flour, oats, and potatoes, each meal focuses on utilizing our garden and ocean resources as primary ingredients. This decision to make even our meals an exercise in awareness of nature and natural resources bolsters the education we are receiving here at the islands.

More than the fish at each dinner, the people catalyze the educational experiences here. While we have time during classes and labor hours to discuss what we are learning, at dinner we are all together. We are relaxed and free to give our undivided attention to each other and the discussions at hand. So far, dinner conversations have included things as mundane as our camping experiences prior to this program to lofty questions like “What is nature?” As expected with a group comprised of individuals coming from so many different areas and upbringings, everyone brings something unique to the table. Discussions don’t end at the table either. They consistently linger on into the night as smaller groups continuing to talk, individuals bringing ideas from the discussions at self-governance meetings, or as something to dwell on before starting the dialogue again at the next meal.

Though the Glacier Bay program emphasizes education through a combination of classroom learning and field education, I’ve found that I learn most at the dinner table. It isn’t the exclusive place in which I’ve learned, nor is it where I expected to gain the most, but the dinner table has in my opinion served as a hub of some of the group’s most fruitful endeavors.

Joshua Pautz is a member of the 2018 Glacier Bay Session cohort. He studies at Hillsdale College, where he double-majors in mathematics and art.