Pinned birds: photo courtesy of UA Museum of the North
Fairbanks is amid an annual rite of passage as thousands of migratory birds make their way farther north. Geese, ducks and swans can be spotted at various fields and ponds around town. And a well-timed pair of events at the University of Alaska Museum of the North salutes our transitional and permanent avian neighbors. On Thursday May 17, the museum celebrates the remarkable legacy of Dr. Brina Kessel, who was a passionate scientist, administrator and curator at the museum for decades. On May 10, the current curator of the museum’s bird collection Kevin Winker spoke about the unexpected importance the bird collection is having for researchers looking at more than birds.
Also, Frank Soos is professor emeritus of English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He’s also the author of several works of short stories and essays, most recently Unpleasantries: Considerations of Difficult Questions. Frank is also a regular reviewer on Northern Soundings and he’s in today to talk about a book published 50 years ago – Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night.
Former FBI director James Comey’s new memoir A Higher Loyalty has attracted both praise and condemnation. Comey lays out the argument that President Trump is “unethical and untethered to truth and institutional values.” The higher truth for Comey lies in the rule of law, which he feels is in jeopardy.
The author of another recent book on the state of our state hasn’t received nearly the same amount of attention as Comey’s. Nevertheless, Yale historian Timothy Snyder issues his own warnings. Reviewer Frank Soos looks at On Tyranny.
Recently, hundreds of graduates recieved diplomas and certificates from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Among the gowns and mortar boards, processions and speeches was a figure officially documenting the proceedings. JR Ancheta is UAF’s chief photographer and videographer. If his images show a special appreciation for the emotions of the graduates and their friends and families it might be because it wasn’t that long ago the JR was one of those receiving a diploma from the school. But his story offers a compelling case for the United States retaining a robust immigration policy.
Greg Shipman is known for his craftsmanship at University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute. He runs its machine shop that manufactures anything scientists need that can’t be had off the shelf. Last year, the shop’s reputation led a local surgeon to see if Greg’s crew would print a 3-D scale model of a boy’s femur to aid a tricky operation. What many of his colleagues on campus may not know about Greg is that he is also a serious writer with published poems, stories and plays. I recently sat down with him to find out how he balances his two passions and where he learned his craft.
Also on the show: Matthew Sturm is a frequent guest on Northern Soundings. Matthew’s the author of Finding the Arctic and he’s also our guide to some of the remarkable people and expeditions that every citizen of the Far North should know. Today we hear about Greenland’s Knud Rasmussen.
This episode wasn’t supposed to be about Earth Day. Originally, I thought I’d focus on art and literature. I spoke with painter Madara Mason about her exhibit at the UA Museum of the North. Her work sparked this episode’s Katexic Clippings. But then two surprising offers came my way. First, an independent radio producer in Minnesota Jim Gallagher offered me a wonderful portrait of Fairbanks singer, educator, and environmentalist Susan Grace. The crazy thing is, their discussion took place in East Africa. Then later in the show, I talk with author Marilyn Sigman and her new book about the ecological, cultural and historical connections found in Kachemak Bay. But I begin today’s show with the second offer to come my way last week. Guest producer John Perreault pointed out to me that the warmer temperatures in the north would soon spark a healthy and perhaps healing opportunity. Here’s his conversation about birch sap with Kimberley Maher.
Years ago, KUAC aired “The Radio Reader” where the host would read entire books a half-hour at a time. Once, the host tackled a book about Alaska, and whenever his eye and lips ran up against the town of Nenana or the Tanana River, something weirdly inflected reached our ears. The station was flooded by callers who wanted to register their indignation. If nothing else, that experience impressed on me that Alaskans are sensitive about our place names. And as guest producer John Perreault discovered, that sensitivity extends to Alaska’s First Peoples. John talks with Edward Alexander of the Gwich’in Council Internationalabout reclaiming Alaska Native place names.
Also on the show: Years ago I joined the Fairbanks North Star Borough LibraryCommission at the invitation of the library director Greg Hill. Although Greg is retired now, he continues to work with The Library Foundation and on the Guys and Gals Read program where men and women enter schools at lunchtime and read to students. The program’s aim is to instill a love of reading into the young. I talked with Greg about the program and the continued relevance of libraries in the age of “fake news.”
Some years back, Greta Johnsen, served as KUAC’s morning host. She now works for WBEZ in Chicago and she is co-host of a fun and engaging podcast called Nerdette. Recently the podcast focused on Greta’s rare genetic disease, a disease she inherited from her dad, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen. The affliction is known as Best disease, after the physician who most clearly described it. Broadly stated, Best disease is a form of macular degeneration. As serious it is, Best disease turns out to be ideal for a new genetic therapy using a technique called CRISPR. The Johnsens are subjects in a University of California, San Franciso study run by the Institute for Human Genetics.
Before talking with Jim Johnsen, I spoke with University of Alaska Fairbanks evolutionary biologist Diana Wolfabout CRISPR: how it works and what its name means.
Also on the show: Randy Zarnke is a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist who specialized in diseases. His book “Alaska Tracks” is a popular profile of 30 Alaskan trappers, fishers and hunters; it’s drawn from oral histories he’d collected over the years. And this year Randy was tapped by Governor Bill Walker as Conservationist of the Year.
Many KUAC listeners will recognize John Perreault’s name. He serves as the radio station’s weekday morning host. He also keeps the station’s programs flowing as the FM Operations and Traffic manager. But John also enjoys a passion for the sciences, with an undergraduate degree in Earth and Space Science and UAF graduate work in geology. So, when he told me about a researcher and engineer he knew doing cool things with submersibles I asked him to do the interview and produce the piece. I’m happy to offer John’s conversation with Hank Statscewich of UAF’s College Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
Also, UAF snow scientist Matthew Sturm is the author of several books, including Finding the Arctic. He’s also a regular contributor to Northern Soundings where he introduces us to some of the explorers of the high latitudes. As a graduate student Matthew worked on Mt. Wrangell. That’s where our conversation begins, though we quickly move to Denali.
In late March, many communities around the country saw thousands of people taking to the streets to protest gun violence. The main March for Our Lives event took take place in Washington D.C. but the movement’s website tallied more than 800 other coinciding marches worldwide. One of them occured here in Fairbanks. It’s no secret the issues of gun violence and gun rights spark intense debate and rhetoric in our country. My first guest on today’s podcast is part of the response the University of Alaska Fairbanks Summer Sessions offered to coincide with the march. It was loosely called a teach-in because it allowed three professors from various disciplines on campus to address the issues. I agreed to moderate the discussion and questions from the audience. Alexander Hirsch is a professor of political philosophy at UAF and he helped to organize the event and was one of the panelists.
Also on the show: mining is inextricably woven into Fairbanks’ history. While it was gold that thrust the town and region onto the world stage, coal continues to power the community. The Alaska Miners Associationrecently held its conference in town and I had a chance to talk with Curt Freeman, President of Avalon Development Organization, a company he formed in 1985. He also received his master’s degree in economic geology from UAF.
Concerns about delivering quality education to rural Alaska extend back beyond statehood. I encountered this first hand more than a decade ago when I was organizing listening sessions in Yup’ik villages. Elders bemoaned the diminishment of Native culture and despaired at ever having Yup’ik teachers for their grandchildren. My first guest this episode is working on correcting that situation. Amy Vinlove is with the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Education. She’s part of a team funded by a grant from the Minnesota-based Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. In a collaboration with the Bering Strait School District and the Native non-profit corporation Kawerak the team is working on a project called SiLKAT, which stands for Sustaining Indigenous and Local Knowledge, Arts and Teaching. I began our discussion by asking Vinlove about the project.
Also on the show: Recently on Northern Soundings I spoke with the curator and artist Asia Freeman about the exhibit currently showing at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, “Decolonizing Alaska.” While I was up at the museum I ran into a long-time friend Roger Topp who is Director of Exhibits at the museum. Roger is an avid fencer. In fact, he’s been awarded state champion six time and national champion once. Maybe it comes from watching all those Errol Flynn movies as a boy, but I’ve always been interested in fencing. I invited Roger in to talk about his work at the museum and any links he’s found between writing and the sport.
Recently, the University of Alaska Fairbanks hosted the Sydney Chapman Lecture Seminars. The gathering targeted rising sea levels. One of the presenters was Robert Bindschadler, a retired NASA earth-scientist who enjoyed a long and distinguished career with the space agency. He also has links to UAF. Early in his research career he worked with UAF geophysicists Will Harrison and Matthew Sturm. More globally, Bindschadler has served as the president of the International Glaciological Society. But his talks for the Chapman seminars focused less on field work and more on policy-makers.
Also on the show: Last episode I aired an interview with local African-American community leader James Nathaniel Hunter Jr. He talked about his early life in the civil rights movement and his role as an Episcopal priest in North Pole. This week we hear from his wife Sharron who had her own history of teaching and community activism. In fact, her civic engagement included serving eight years on the North Pole City Council.