Nueva School Guest Writer Ina Lalic
We welcome guest writer Ina Lalic, a participant in Nueva School’s junior year American Studies capstone course at Inian Islands Institute.
My time at the Inian Islands Institute will go down in my mind as one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken. From the first foot we set at the Hobbit Hole, our whole group was slack-jawed with the stunning physical beauty of Southeast Alaska. A group of lucky kids who have seen wonders in Peru, France and Cambodia were all silenced by the beauty within their home country. We were welcomed at the Institute by the open arms of Lexie, her daughter Jordan, Colter, and their WWOOFer Emily. From the beginning to the very end of our time with them, they did their utmost to make us feel warm, included, welcome, and well-fed.
In our short time there, we did more new, perspective changing activities than we could have imagined existed on one single island. On our first day, we were treated to a wilderness hike (no trails!) through the forested areas around us, marveling at lush greenery and traces of the wildlife that surrounded us, culminating in a broad expanse of rocky beach. Here, we picnicked overlooking almost Caribbean waters left so clear by rich phytoplankton and glacier deposits. In the afternoon, our fearless and inspirational leader, Dr. Zach Brown, se nt us to do an hour of independent reflection on the question: what does it mean to be of a place?
The next day, in obedience to the tides, we embarked on an 11-mile kayak around the island. Paddling through crystalline blue waters, spotting otters, whales, and porpoises, Zach explained the forces in the water that alternated between floating us through narrow passages and making even the strongest among us pant across wide open channels. In the afternoon, our views of bald eagles in coastal cliffs were misted by rain. We finished the paddle soaked and giddy, scrabbling home to layer clothes in front of the fire and treat ourselves to hot chocolate and secretly vegan cookies.
Our third day was a day of homesteading. My cozy group of four got to go into the forest with Colter to cut down trees for lumber, make smoking racks to be used for years to come, and then taking once again to the sea to reel in a 70 lb halibut for that night’s dinner and food for days to come. We gaped and squealed as we felt a hard tag on the last hook cast, and Colter unearthed a fish the size of Jordan. He showed us a new respect with which to treat our food, and the practice of subsistence fishing, both logistically and as an interaction with nature. This day of homesteading showed our group the monumental, beautiful, thoughtful, and honest effort that went into the magic of the Hobbit Hole, and I know that we will take the practice and habits we learned there into our futures.
On our fourth day, we hiked up the island. Thirteen hundred vertical feet of steep, gnarly hike, we broke a sweat for the first time – XTRATUFs and hands equally covered in dirt. After attaining a certain altitude, we saw our first patch of snow. The eager students made wet snowballs and lobbed them at each other. As we continued the ascent, we came across a snowy wonderland. Unaffected by the temperature thanks to our dry land hike, we skipped, sledded, snowballed, and sank to a vista (all the mountains in the region don’t have physical peaks thanks to glacier erosion, only many beautiful overlooks). A micro-climate later, we found ourselves sitting on snow, lunches in hand, breathing in a panoramic view of Southeastern Alaska: blue waters, lush forest, snow-capped mountains, bald eagles in flight, and humpback whales out of sight. As we wrapped up our lunches, the mist pulled the curtain closed on our scene, the weather giving us our cue to move on, and we started the descent.
This little insight into our adventures at the Inian Islands Institute does not even begin to describe the awe-inducing, mind-blowing experience that our trip was. I can say with certainty that we all went home rosy-cheeked, curious, and positively in love with Alaska.