Twenty years ago a young science writer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute took off on foot from Valdez, Alaska to follow the Trans-Alaska Pipeline north to Prudhoe Bay. Permission was late in coming. He received a permit from Alyeska Pipeline Service Company just days before his departure. For the next four months Ned Rozell forded steams, climbed mountains, avoided bears, braved swarms of mosquitoes and met a diverse and quirky series of individuals who had property near the pipeline corridor. He wasn’t alone. His sturdy Labrador Retriever Jane joined him on the journey. Periodically, friends and family would join the pair and walk a section of the 800 mile hike. His trek was captured at first in a series of columns and later in a book called, appropriately enough, Walking My Dog Jane.
In 1997 when that trek occurred, Ned was 34. In the intervening years he married Kristen and they have a 10 year old daughter named Anna. By all rights, Ned should be a comfortably settled middle-ager negotiating nothing more demanding than a recliner. Instead, earlier this month he took off to retrace his path up Alaska, this time joined by a new canine companion, 3-year old Cora, a Lab-heeler mix. Kristen and Anna are also planning to share some miles with the pair.
I spoke with Ned before he left. I wanted to know why he was hiking again a trek most of us wouldn’t tackle once.
Every year the University of Alaska Fairbanks Communication and Journalism Department draws journalists north to either occupy the Snedden Chair of Journalism for a year, or for a shorter stint as the Snedden Guest Lecturer. Dorothy Parvaz, an Iranian born reporter who works for Al Jazeera Media, was this year’s lecturer. Before Al Jazeera, Parvaz worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Times. At the Times she served on the editorial board and was a columnist.
However, it was her recent work on the global refugee crises that brought her to Fairbanks this winter. Last year, Parvaz reported on the nearly two million refugees caught in political limbo between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as other regional and human rights issues.
Given the word “refugee” has become so politically freighted in the U.S. recently, I asked her about the term from her perspective as someone who has reported from the front lines of the crises.
John Estle (left), 1984 Chief of Competition, FIS World Cup Races, Birch Hill, Fairbanks
There are a series of distance national championship Nordic ski races taking place in Fairbanks this week as part of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s Super Tour finals. The Chief of Competition is John Estle. Above you can see a picture of John fulfilling the same role in the World Cup races held here more than 30 years ago. It isn’t overstating things to say John is something of a legend in the Nordic Ski community. He has been inducted into the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks Hall of Fame and he also served as the Cross Country Head Coach of the US Ski Team from 1990-93. His views on skiing and training are still sought after, and I began this episode by asking John what Fairbanks and the Nanooks were like when he began as a coach in 1982.
As regular listeners will know, I fell in love with cross country skiing late in life. Over the last six years I’ve made steady progress, but I have unique, if dubious, distinction. Not many skiers of my caliber can say they’ve made an impression on the celebrated former Nanooks ski coach John Estle. In my first 20K race I was approaching the stadium and the finish line when I saw a friend. I stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes. Then they asked if I was in the race and hadn’t I better finish. Well, when I actually crossed the finish line, dead last, I looked over to find dour-faced John Estle gazing out at me from the timing hut. He had been waiting to wrap things up and I’m sure he saw me chatting away. I’ve never had the courage to ask him what he was thinking at that moment.
From that unpromising start, I have gotten to know and become friends with John. And the more I learned about him, the more I knew I wanted to have him on the show. He was inducted into the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks Hall of Fame five years ago. During his time as head cross country and skiing coach at UAF, he mentored two skiers to a combined three All-America honors. Also, much of our trail system in Fairbanks has seen his touch. He oversaw improvements to the UAF trails as well as creation of new trails. After UAF, John became the Cross Country Head Coach of the US Ski Team from 1990-93, which included the 1992 Olympics in France, and also served as the Chief of Stadium for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. John continues to play a role locally, nationally and internationally in races and with skiers.
As you’ll hear from our discussion, John approaches his skiers as individuals and as puzzles to be solved.
I want to point out, for any skiers in Fairbanks, there is still time to sign up for the Sonot Kkaazoot. Nifty hats are promised to the first 300 skiers who sign up. More information is at https://sonotkkaazoot.org/
In the summer, I enjoy biking with family and friends and some of those friends take pedaling pretty seriously. They will often bike 50 to 100 miles without thinking twice about it. My guest today is writer Daryl Farmer. His book Bicycling Beyond the Divide recounts a 5,000 mile trek he made, not once, but twice. It is a lyrical and engaging narrative that explores the American West as well as the author’s emotional geography. It won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award. Farmer also teaches creative writing at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and he has a recently published collection of short stories entitled Where We Land. The collection displays Farmer’s keen ear for dialogue, ability to conjure up arresting characters and deploy them in interesting stories.
Farmer recently received an Alaska Literary Award and an artist’s residency to write in Iceland. I asked him to begin our discussion by reading from his first book: Bicycling Beyond the Divide.
I first heard Ross Coen before I met him. This was years ago at KUAC. Ross was a volunteer host and I was immediately caught by his engaging on-air presence and terrific set of pipes. When I actually met him I was further impressed by his intelligence and great sense of humor. As so often happens at public radio stations, Ross moved on and I lost track of him. That was until about five years ago when I spotted a copy of his book The Long View on the shelves of a local book store. When I cracked the book open I found a wide selection of short essays on Alaska’s history, all of them informative and exhibiting the same engaging style as his on-air hosting.
Right now, Ross is finishing up a PhD in History from the University of Washington in Seattle, but he already has publication credits any tenured professor would envy. Besides academic articles he is the author of two other books: Breaking Ice for Arctic Oil, which charts the voyage of the oil tanker SS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage, and Fu-go that explores high altitude balloon bombs the Japanese sent aloft towards the U.S. during World War Two. Fu-go also sparked a delightfulRadiolab episode that explores the story.
I caught up with Ross last month when he was giving a talk about who owns Alaska’s history. So I began by asking him if today there was a definitive historical narrative to own.
A combination of computer issues and the holidays put Northern Soundings on hold for a while, but I think this episode is particularly timely. Sunday, in her Golden Globes award acceptance speech, actor Meryl Steep spoke about her art and industry. In part she said:
“You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.”
Her words resonated with me, and I suspect with my guest today. Leonard Kamerling has crafted some of the most deeply penetrating documentary films about Alaska Native Culture. He is also Curator of Film for the University of Alaska Museum of the North, and a professor of English at theUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks. Perhaps his best known film The Drums of Winter is in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. However, he’s created other wonderful examinations of cultures and personalities. Len’s most recent work, Changa Revisited looks at the life of a Masai tribesman over the course of 30 years. It recently garnered a win at an international film festival in Romania. I began our discussion by asking him about the film and the festival.
I never saw my mother perform, but I have pictures of her in high school and college productions and even a few from an amateur theater group in San Francisco she joined when she first arrived. Later, her love for drama, musicals and grand opera found expression in the music we listened to at home and the productions she took me to as a boy. As a consequence I also was drawn to theater in high school and college. And when I moved to Fairbanks I also performed for a time in local productions. All of this is by way of saying I can’t remember a time when theater wasn’t a part of my life.
It is often remarked for a town our size, Fairbanks is blessed with a flourishing arts community. This is true theatrically, as well. Besides wonderfully gifted actors, directors, set and costume designers we have several thoughtful and passionate playwrights, perhaps foremost is Anne Hanley. [Here is Anne’s page.] Her most recent production The Winter Bear examines the issue of cultural identity and village suicides. The play draws on myth and history: one of the play’s key characters is the late Sydney Huntington of Galena and draws on his book Shadows on the Koyukuk. [You can find out more about the project here.]When I invited Anne on Northern Soundings, I was pleased to learn her love of theater also sprouted from childhood experience.
The longest car ride I can remember was the 15 minutes it took me to drive Julie and our newborn son Evan home from the hospital. It was an afternoon in late October, and small flakes of snow descended in the dimming light. Every flake seemed a potential threat, diminishing my vision or compromising the road. Admittedly, I was a little wound up; all I could think about was getting them home safely.
I share that story because my guest today is poet and essayist Nicole Stellon O’Donnell. She and her husband TJ faced an experience every parent dreads, suddenly discovering their child has a potentially life-threatening disease. Today, on Northern Soundings she talks about that and about her award winning collection of poems Steam Laundry which examines the lives of historical figure struggling to live during the Yukon and Fairbanks gold stampedes.
Nicole and I attended the graduate writing program at University of Alaska Fairbanks, and I remember vividly an essay of hers KUAC broadcast about freezing blueberries. Her voice, both on the page and in her delivery, was distinctive, vivid and wry.
That was more than a decade ago. Lately, Nicole has been writing about teaching, and I started our discussion by asking if teaching had always been a goal.