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Last Days of an Atlin Summer

Last Days of an Atlin Summer

By Hannah Eiseman (University of Vermont ’14)

 

Flipping back through the yellow books we all use to take notes in the field, it’s impressive to see the amount of ground we have covered, and the experiences that we have all had this summer. From the hikes we have done, to the fieldwork we’ve conducted and the guest lectures heard, we’ve been busy. With exams and presentations finished, it marks the end of our summer coursework. Some of us have now graduated, like Joe who received his final credits on this program, and some are returning to school in the fall. Some are off to new adventures too – Sylvia is headed to Chile this fall for the Round River Patagonia trip.


It hasn’t all been work though- we’ve had heated ping pong tournaments, high stakes poker games (in which many quarters for laundry were gambled away), and struggled (and in some cases, succeeded) to shoot the moon in Hearts; though suffering an upsetting defeat to Kasey, yours truly is still the top Moon Shooter. We have explored the mountains around Atlin, namely the infamous ‘Sharktooth’ on our final day before the return trip to Whitehorse, and have swum as often as possible in Atlin Lake, including a late night dip to celebrate Nico’s birthday. Naturalist LeRoy and cameraman Joe have also teamed up to create a variety of nature videos, which were in equal parts informative and hilarious. Additionally, we’ve stayed in shape by completing a daily ‘ab-domination’ workout led by Drew.

 

Fieldwork with a view – Atlin Lake and the Llewellyn Glacier

 

We were also lucky enough to have wild encounters with some of the most incredible wildlife the North has to offer: black bears munching dandelions on the side of the road, groups of marmots playing, caribou trotting past, and most notably a mother grizzly and three cubs on the river. Though Joe was hoping to see a lynx, and Will was holding out for a wolf, we’ve been lucky in the wildlife department. Even luckier still, we were able to eat fresh salmon during our time on the Nakina, thanks to Sawyer and Doug’s expert fishing.

 

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The gang at the traditional Tlingit “smudge spot” along the Nakina Trail, where people entering the watershed for the first time put charcoal under their eyes to show the forest respect.

 

We’ve been exceptionally blessed to live in the shadow of Atlin Mountain across the lake all summer, even though we still haven’t figured out exactly what a rock glacier is – an area of particular interest for LeRoy. We have hiked to the top of talus covered peaks, gotten incredible views of the Llewellyn glacier, and spent three days experiencing the magic of the Nakina River during our nine day backpacking trip.

 

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The Nakina River

 

More than anything, the people on this trip have made it the most extraordinary. Coming from all over the country, with different academic backgrounds, and varying passions and visions for the future, we have pushed each other to look at things from different angles. Many of us come from environmental science, or biology backgrounds, but we have had the perspectives of journalist, Drew, and political science and international studies major, Kaitlyn in addition.  We’ve stayed up late in the night consumed with discussions led by LeRoy concerning everything from the current plight of the planet to gender heteronormality. Not to mention the amount we benefited from the supreme guidance from our fearless leaders, Will and Susie.

With two Round River programs now under my belt, it feels especially bittersweet to be coming down the last days of the program. I find something incredibly powerful in the fusion of passionate minds in this group, along with the carefully collected scientific data from fieldwork projects with thought-provoking readings on what being a naturalist really entails. The experiences we’ve had have bonded us together in the unique way that only living in the bush together can create. Our last night in Whitehorse was filled with decisions to stay up “just another half an hour later” as all of us were reluctant to waste any of our last precious time as a group, and the goodbyes the next morning were especially hard.

During our last night on the river, special guest Doug Milek read aloud the poem ‘The Theory and Practice of Rivers’ by Jim Harrison which provoked a wave of discussion. Harrison says “The days are stacked against who we think we are” and although it is hard to think of the limited days we have, we’ve used the days of our summer in the Taku well. Each day of the program has been packed with exciting fieldwork, visits from community members, and adventure, and we’ve all made the most of it, jumping on opportunities that arise, and staying positive despite any wrenches that get thrown into our plans. We’ve learned from fantastic leaders and in an academic sense, but more than that had an unparalleled experience in Atlin, an experience that has brought us closer to becoming the people we want to be.

 

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Hannah writing in her “yellow book” at the top of Sentinel Mountain

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