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More than a Field School

By Tania Lewis, Wildlife Biologist at Glacier Bay National Park, and President of Inian Islands Institute’s Board of Directors

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with something wild? Maybe it was the waves pounding on the sand when you first saw the ocean, or a group of deer grazing peacefully when you began wandering the woods, or a deep green pool of a cascading mountain creek on your first backpack trip. For many of us, these early memories shape our lives, how we live, where we travel to, and how we devote our life’s work. Experiences in wild places generally make human beings feel profoundly good, connected to a larger universe, less alone. Research has shown that spending time in nature decreases anxiety and increases feelings of empathy and altruism. These feelings lead to healthy stewardship of our land, resources, and community. Many of us believe that connecting people to nature may be our best shot at turning this world around.

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Thanksgiving Hunt

It was a dizzying month.  After our last student group left, I set off for the wide world to keep plugging and pitching Inian Islands Institute.  Having decided that October was “the month,” I may have been a bit too cavalier with scheduling my time in one city after another, from Portland to Seattle to San Francisco and beyond.  After all, I thought, it’s all the Lower 48 – compared to Alaska, it’s all in the same neighborhood!  In the final tally, I gave 6 presentations and sat in 43 meetings in 20 cities, with 17 planes, 28 trains, and 30 buses connecting it all.  At such a feverish pace, at times I became a bleary-eyed shell of myself, a zombie lurching.  Though I remained pretty confident that the year was still 2015, I was so disoriented and sleep-deprived you could’ve convinced me otherwise.  It was time to get back to the Wilderness.

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To Alaska

As guest blog writer, Inian Islands Institute welcomes Elizabeth Hillstrom, a wonderfully bright Stanford student in mechanical engineering — and, we hope, a future intern at the Inian Islands!

We came to Alaska to learn about sustainability.  There were over twenty of us at any given time: twelve undergraduate students, plus our professor, instructors and course assistants, a local coordinator, a media tag-team, and a rotating cast of guest lecturers, experts in everything from ecology to policy to art history.  We moved as a herd.  We did not come to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life; we came as a mob of disoriented students with a support crew, hoping to glean something intellectually useful from an environment and lifestyle completely foreign to us: to neatly wrap up these lessons and take them back to our well-planned academic lives.

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As our guest writer this month, Inian Islands Institute welcomes Jessica Lindmark, our board secretary, keeper of our Facebook page, and Seattle-based yoga instructor.  This summer she led the first ever yoga retreat at Inian Islands Institute.


“Do you think they’re ok?” I craned my neck to look behind me toward the rest of our kayak fleet still battling the currents behind us. Mitchell Green, one of the retreat participants, sat in the bow and mused that they must be getting pretty tired out there. It was the end of our “big paddle” day, and the evening tide was moving powerfully through South Pass, a narrow channel between two of the Inian Islands.

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Inian Islands Institute is excited to welcome Hank Lentfer, Alaskan author, grateful harvester, guitar player, and groovy dude as this month’s guest writer.  Thank you Hank for helping make the work party happen!  Look for Hank in the video below, driving the boat, diving into Icy Strait, and leading the crew building the “sexiest dock in the Hobbit Hole, hands down!”


The work was hard.

Six guys on their back in the boulders and muck, wrestling a rotten 12 x 12 out from under the shop building.  Another crew shoveled gravel into Greg’s skiff and then hauled the rocks, one bucket at a time, up the length of the dock to fill a drainage ditch.

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