Wild Alaska by Flight: Cliff Birds, Seals, Walruses, Rivers, Hunters and Ice Floes of the Bering Sea!

Leaving Diomede
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A thousand birds on the cliff
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They say hundreds of millions birds come here in the Summer
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More birds–I couldn’t get over the numbers, everywhere along the cliff!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Little (Rock of) Diomede…in the middle of the Bering Sea
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gorgeous Spring Breakup
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cool break up patterns
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The wind is blowing the ice out to sea!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fairway Rock
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Seals on the ice
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The pilot was awesome and flew down for a closer look
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Walrus chilling in the Bering Sea…literally. We saw several, but I didn’t get any great pictures of them. The pilot said he saw some birthing with new walrus babies and some blood on the ice. I can’t even imagine witnessing such an amazing miracle of an ice-birth in the wild!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Little Diomede, Big Diomede and Russia Mainland, and the Hunter on the ice–looking for seals and walruses:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More of the Diomedes and Russia–with Open Water in sight!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cape Wales–farthest western point on the American continents!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Love these wilderness abstracts! Mother Nature’s Art
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bering Air Hangar–made it back without getting too stuck in Diomede (although I was kind of hoping to get stuck :))!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Little Diomede-“Alaska Is a Land of Extremes, But Here Extreme Is a Way of Life.”

Here we are, a minute from tomorrow, on the island of Little Diomede. This island is a rock, and a few miles from Big Diomede, which is Russia. The international dateline runs between the two islands, and they have been known to be called the Tomorrow Island and the Yesterday Island. Right now the only way to get here is by chopper:

The village of Little Diomede:
Stacked houses Little Diomede

Little Diomede Clinic
Little Diomede Health Clinic

The Native store
Little Diomede Native Store

We had lovely little tour guides who took me up the hill–great View of Big Diomede:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Little Diomede House
Little Diomede House

Steep playground!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hanging out in the window
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Goofy girls in the sunshine!
Goofy girls in the window

Caught a baby fox–turns out when they tested it, that the fox was rabid.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Girls checking out the kill.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Barefoot girl! They say this weather is so warm! (It’s 30-40 degrees)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Another barefoot girl
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s not that cold here, surprisingly. The people are so tough…and healthier than a lot of the patients I see. It’s interesting that in a place so remote and cut off from the conveniences and healthcare and access to the world, they seem to be actually healthier. If it wasn’t for the cigarettes and alcohol and drugs, they would be so fit!

I got to chat with an amazing 16 year-old girl here who was really open and told me so much about their history and culture and hunting and gathering, and the clan life and family dynamics, which aren’t always idyllic. She wants to go to college in Fairbanks, and she’s so excited and soooo nervous about it. :) She loves Diomede so much–the land, the animals, the way of life, and the food that they hunt and gather and store under their shelters. She told me that 70 degrees is her limit of heat that she can tolerate. I told her that 70 degrees used to be freezing for me–blankets and hot chocolate weather. We both laughed.

Anyway, it’s so fascinating that people live here, and yet it’s just the same humanity as anywhere. With hopes and dreams and fears and the desire to be listened to, respected, understood and loved, the same struggles and shit and the same ability to rise above the harsh circumstances.

We had dinner with the teachers last night. that was heaps of fun.

Then we got called to the clinic to see a patient who was having severe cramps/muscle spasms, and it was great to be here and be able to help him out. Out here you definitely feel like even these small things make a difference, which feels great.

I love these little “out-of-the-way places”
******
It reminds me of one of my favorite excerpts by Annie Dillard on her experience in a South American village:

“Like any out-of-the-way place, the Napo River in the Ecuadorian jungle seems real enough when you are there, even central. Out of the way of what? I was sitting on a stump at the edge of a bankside palm-thatch village, in the middle of the night, on the headwaters of the Amazon. Out of the way of human life, tenderness, or the glance of heaven?

She goes on to describe her experience there (it’s a great, heart-capturing read!) and say that this village is “in the way, catching the sunlight the way a bowl catches water, a basin of life, and grace and it would seem of peace”…

I love that. It does feel like Diomede is so much more in tune with the essence of life; the simplicity but complexity of subsistence living, and the way everyone must work together to survive.

The Catholic Parish house
The Catholic Parish house

Who needs a jungle gym when you have stilts like these?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So tiny–although the school (green building) is huge compared to the other houses
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Playing in the snow
Playing in the snow

Front porch
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This trip to Diomede was definitely one of the highlights of my life!

Going out to Little Diomede

Going out to a place like Diomede is not that easy. Diomede is out at the ends of the earth…way out of the way. There are many variables pertinent to traveling to this rock island that in my modern travels, I haven’t really factored any more. This is more like going to a village in Papua New Guinea, also the last frontier and also the land of the unexpected.

Not the least of these variables is whether or not there will be an airstrip carved out on the sea ice or if the trip will be by helicopter, since the island is on a steep-sided rock in the middle of the Bering Sea. Then of course there is weather (the principal and a teacher were stuck trying to get back to Diomede for a few weeks, in the last month of the school year!), mechanical issues, and how many other passengers are waiting to get back to Diomede, and how much mail and cargo has built up in the towns around Diomede. Also for me–it meant trying to fit a village trip into a full-time schedule in town. Lucky me, I’m the village doctor for Diomede and three other villages, so it is something that the medical director makes a special exception for.

This was my first time to Diomede, and I got lucky to go there with one of the Nurse Practitioners who has been working in this region for six years: flight to wales

We weren’t sure if we were going to make it into Diomede or not, so we went to the village of Wales to await a mail run out to the island. From the airport to the clinic, I got a sled ride!

Sled ride

Then a guy picked me up on his snow machine and we zipped to clinic–he said “Just hold on real tight, because we are going to go water skipping.” And we did–we drove across a patch of open water and got to clinic a couple minutes later.
Water skipping

Awaiting the chopper in the container cargo shed:
Awaiting the chopper in the connex

Loading the chopper:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince the mail had accumulated, the chopper was going to make several mail runs back and forth between Wales and Diomede.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Unashamed selfie–yes, I was excited to be on the chopper going to the island. The pilot said he would take it for me, but couldn’t take his hands off the controls. I did not object. :)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rounding the South Point
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Can you see it?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

And the chopper took off–leaving us here to get to work, seeing patients!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 
See next post about Little Diomede

 

Flight back from Teller

The flight back was super beautiful with wispy clouds around the mountains as the only warning signs of some seriously bumpy air! cloudy mountains

cloudy mountains ii

We bounced around a lot–like hitting-your-head-on-the-ceiling-of-the-airplane and were getting tossed around a bit. One girl was with her baby and was terrified, she had tears in her eyes from fear. She asked if we were going to make it. all I wanted to do was give her a hug or put a hand on hers, but there was no way I was getting out of my seatbelt!

Behind me sat a guy that I know from Wales who was in his happiest place, a former pilot, now without a license due to medical conditions, he loves the rough rides. He had a great big smile on his face and was woohooing. :) He said “now you get to experience Alaska.” He is involved with helping international adventurers to have the first vehicle drive from London to New York, which means you have to cross the Bering Strait, to land in Wales–the westernmost part of the continent. And to this day, nobody has conquered that feat. And it seems like it will become increasingly impossible if this is the new winter climate!

misty hills

Plane view of the mountains
Plane view

The Bering Sea–still not really frozen
icebergs and water

wind in the hills

 

Nome again, nome again.
Nome again

Another Village Visit-This Time to Teller!

Yay! I get to go Teller, a new village for me! This one is drivable in the summer, with a dirt road and one-lane bridges connecting it to Nome. It’s about 70 miles Northeast from Nome. Located on a little spit of land that stretches North in a large bay inside Port Clarence. It is where I was going to go to the cultural fest, but then I ended up delivering a baby in the hospital.

View Larger Map


View Larger Map

I still can’t get over how much closer it is to Russia!

View Larger Map

Aerial view of Teller:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just across the bay from Brevig Mission:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The flight over the Kigluaik mountain range between Nome and Teller.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a really simple, pretty village! Small and connected but still maintains lots of traditions. They have great traditional dancing and story telling, subsistence lifestyle and old beliefs mixed with some modern beliefs.

I slept in the clinic, which is really nice! The pipes froze, so there is no drainage, which means honey buckets and washing everything into a bucket. Everyone was really kind and welcoming and fun to work with.

Pics from the school–the making of a kayak with Maligiaq:
Kayak building

Maligiaq is a native Inuit Greenlander, famous for his phenomenal skills with traditional kayaking: http://www.maligiaq.com/about.html.