Updated: May 1, 2020

The tundra is , “a vast, flat, treeless arctic region of Europe, Asia, and North America in which the subsoil is permanently frozen.” Our tundra is not in the arctic, technically. Our tundra is about 400 miles south of the arctic circle. Much of the rest of the definition is accurate. It is certainly vast and it is mostly flat. It is mostly treeless. We live on top of the permafrost, where tree roots cannot penetrate.

This Alaskan tundra sort of resembles the high deserts of Wyoming, where I grew up. There, the hills are covered with grasses and sage brush. The ground here is blanketed in lichens and scrub bushes. In Wyoming, there is almost no water on the land except for the rivers. Here the land is dotted with hundreds of small lakes and ponds formed by water percolating up from the permafrost which is melting due to warming global climate. And, of course, there are the great Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers that form the delta giving the region its name – the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta.

The delta is the home of the Yup’ik people whose ancestors walked here from Siberia across Bering land bridge between 8,000 and 20,000 years ago. I am grateful to have the privilege of living on their land. On behalf of my people, white European and Russian settlers who arrived here less than 300 years ago, I apologize for the tremendous harms we have done to the Yup’ik and other Native Alaskan people.

My own migration to Alaska happened about a year ago when I arrived here in Bethel.

Bethel is a town of about 6,500 people and a regional hub. About 60% of us are Yup’ik. Part of what makes Bethel interesting is, while you’ll hear mostly English spoken on the streets, you’ll also hear a lot of Yup‘ik. It’s not spoken just by the elders. People of all ages speak this language fluently –unusual for many indigenous groups in the United States. Signs in stores often read, “Quyana” (thank you). Streets bare the Yup’ik names of tundra birds and animals.

Bethel can be reached only by air or water. We are about 400 miles west of Anchorage with the Alaska Range and the Kuskokwim Mountains in between. These are tall rugged mountains. Fly over them and the tundra, you understand why there are no roads leading in or out of Bethel.

All our supplies are flown in or brought around by sea and 70 miles up Kuskokwim by barge. We have a couple of grocery stores. We have several restaurants, all of which serve Asian food or pizza. We are a dry town – no alcohol. There is a hospital of 54 beds.

The University of Alaska, Fairbanks, has a small campus here. The university provides us with our library and a cultural center. Unexpected treasures in this small, rural community. We have a pool and fitness center. Another unexpected treasure. There are no dry cleaners. No shipping services (UPS or FEDEX). There is a business that will receive UPS and FEDEX packages and deliver to your house. Amazon is extremely important to us out here.

OD consultants have only their individual selves to rely on as an instrument when working with groups and their processes. That self, and the identity it produces is constantly being formed and reshaped by their experiences and environment. You need to stay conscious of what’s happening with it in any given moment and how those changes are affecting your thoughts, feelings and work.

Moving here has taken substantial adjustment. I have had to relearn the meanings I make of things and the assumptions I make based on those meanings. One part of what I’ve learned: the tundra defines and informs much of my life as I now know it.


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