When she was a little girl growing up in Kasigluk, Elena Yohok spent long summer days exploring the tundra and playing in the sod qasgiq and learning how to survive along the banks of the Kuskokwim River.
When she was 17, she married a stranger from Kwethluk and moved upriver to start her new life and raise children of her own.
More than half a century passed. Now 85, Elena still calls Kwethluk home.
But last November, her house couldn’t keep out the winter chill, so she came to Anchorage for a long visit with a daughter who lives in Mountain View. The two places are so very different.
In Kwethluk, she says, the paths are all mud. In Mountain View, the broad, paved sidewalks make for easy walking. In Kwethluk, she says, the trees are stubby and small. In Mountain View, Elena sees the tall black cottonwood growing in Davis Park and thinks about what big, strong fish racks they could make.
She speaks in Yup’ik, because it’s the only language she really knows. Her daughter, Olinka Yohok, translates.
Elena has more than two dozen grandchildren, and she wants them to know the things she learned when she was young — how to fish, how to hunt, how to sew.
“It was all about survival,” Olinka says.
It still is.