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Inian Online Journal

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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Retreat

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.

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“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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Work

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!”

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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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Into the Wilderness

Inian Islands Institute welcomes Erin Bumpus, a junior at Earlham College in Indiana, as this month’s guest author!

Never in my life had I seen waters so turquoise.  Our little boat drifted towards the Inian Islands over a forest of kelp, vibrant with life.  The above-water scenery looked like a landscape painting, something I’d seen only in pictures, or wildlife documentaries narrated by invisible men with British accents.  In the distance lay a panorama of snow-capped mountains. In the foreground, rocky shores decorated with three green houses and the smiling faces of Zach Brown and Annika Ord, our instructors for the week.

We crossed a small bridge to a little garden and the buildings that make up the property, where Jane Button, the most lovely individual and as we would all soon learn, the most amazing cook in all of the Inian Islands, gave us a tour.  Not two hundred yards from the Hobbit Hole, we found ourselves standing at the edge of the Tongass National Forest.  We were surrounded by Wilderness.

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Community Campaign Kick-Off

Happy solstice, friends!

Today at 8:39 a.m. Alaska time, our planet’s axis, which at this moment in Earth history is tilted about 23.5 degrees relative to its orbital plane, was tipped maximally towards the sun, as if bowing in deference to our life-giving star.  For most of our readers (all you denizens of the northern hemisphere), that makes this the first day of summer and also the longest day of the year – 18 hours and 41 minutes out at the Inian Islands.  Even those remaining 5-plus hours are plenty bright for a stroll or a paddle, and we won’t see stars or aurora until the darkness returns.  The biosphere is dazzling this day: iris and lupine are in bloom, the sea is cloudy green with phytoplankton, the rufous hummingbirds and humpback whales have arrived and so have the salmon. Read more

A place to see for yourself

Inian Islands Institute welcomes author and team-member Judith Aftergut as this month’s guest blog writer!

I lean my bike against the worn green wood siding and knock on the door of a house near the Salmon River in Gustavus. It is my second summer near Glacier Bay. My first summer, I worked as a housekeeper at the Lodge. This second year, I plan to write magazine articles and to interview old timers.

A tall man, slightly stooped, opens the door and invites me in. I’ll call him Mike. We sit at his kitchen table and he offers instant tea. He is in his 70s, the age I am now.

I’m young and full of uncertainties, doubts and trepidations. My first question is impossible to answer, especially right off the bat: “What have you learned from living here all these years?” He chuckles, looks at me and speaks a sentence that sticks in my mind for the next 40 years:

“If I tell you what I see, you won’t see what you see.”

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A Different Kind of Wilderness

It’s go time.

Inian Islands Institute is an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a business plan, a Board of Directors, and a big vision.  And I, the newly-hired Executive Director, am back in the San Francisco Bay Area where it all started, armed with a fistful of flyers and a big earnest smile, setting out to raise $2.5 million to buy our land and create our school.

Of course, as an environmental scientist who’s spent far more time in the company of penguins than millionaires, I’m feeling a little out of my depth.  Stepping off the train in Palo Alto, I wondered, wide-eyed, how do I even begin this monumental task?  I’ve received no shortage of good advice about “cultivating donor relationships” and “making asks,” but that all felt very abstract and far away from this lonely, busy train station.

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Caretaking, part II

Last week I told about the day-to-day doings out at the Hobbit Hole, so now I thought I’d tell a bit more about the place itself.  There’s something about this homestead that seems to draw people here, body and spirit, through the years.  I doubt I have the wisdom to say exactly what that something might be – it probably verges on the ineffable.  But maybe writing this post will bring me closer to understanding the nature of the something.  In turn, maybe that will help me to understand myself, and why I’ve taken on the vast project of Inian Islands Institute with such abandon.  Thankfully, in seeking the nature of the something, there is no shortage of material to explore!  The Hobbit Hole is such a treasure-trove, I swear this post is going to write itself. Read more

Caretaking, Part I

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been winter caretaking out here at the Hobbit Hole.  The “inhobbitants,” Jane, Greg, and Fred, have migrated south, leaving me alone in the middle of the Wilderness, tasked with ensuring that this remote property keeps running the way it ought to.  And I exuberantly welcomed the chance to spend a month out here on my own — because for all the time I’ve spent thinking about this place, I’ve never spent more than a few days out here at a time.  I’ve never truly lived this life.  And if I’m going to lead the charge to turn this remote property into an institute for education and research, I’d better get to know the ins and outs of the place, its rhythms and cycles, as a sailor learns every inch of her boat before a long voyage. Read more