Watching Reality TV shows can be like sinking to the bottom of the television toilet. The Last Alaskans on the Discovery Channel is one shining exception.
I’m late to this party; the series started in 2015 and ran for 4 seasons. If you need a break from the news about Coronavirus lockdowns, elections, and whatever else is stressing you out, then this is the perfect time to meet the Last Alaskans.
The series features four Alaska families who, as part of a 1980 congressional act, are permitted to live in cabins within the 19.2 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the far northeastern part of the state.
The subjects of the series are separated from one another by hundreds of miles in different directions. They arrive by prop plane each year in September after the floodwaters and insects recede, as winter closes in. They set up their traps hoping to collect valuable furs to sell in the spring when they return to civilization in Fairbanks. There is no public electricity, plumbing, or internet.
While entertaining, beautifully produced, and compelling, it is a simple story. You will encounter recurring themes related to the relationship of man to his environment, and the struggle to survive in such a vast, isolated wilderness. The rhythm and flow of the program is calming, conveys a sense of wonder, and a fresh perspective on life.
If you’re like me, and your hunting experience involves stalking the meat section of your local supermarket, the series will help you appreciate the value of the Last Alaskans intimate relationship with those animals so essential for their survival.
The Value of Life
Prolife advocates will find this a life-affirming, marriage and family-affirming program. In particular, the story of resident Heimo Korth and his wife Edna, has a compelling prolife theme.
In the 1970’s Korth was working as a hunting guide on St. Lawrence Island, an Eskimo outpost in the Bering Sea, 36 miles offshore from Russia’s Chukchi Peninsula. It is here he met the love of his life, Edna. They married in the early 1980’s after being friends for years. Together they began to live the seasonal life of trappers and hunters in the Alaskan wilderness.
Their first child together, Coleen Ann Korth, was born on May 29, 1982. The Korths named her after the Coleen River, a vital waterway for the young family.
In June 1984, the family was in a canoe crossing the Coleen River when the boat capsized. Coleen, age two at the time, was quickly swept away in the river’s swift current. Her body was never found.
Another couple might have left the place where they suffered such a traumatic loss. But for the Korths this was unthinkable.
“Why would we move away from where we live, even though we lost our daughter? Granted, to this day, many times when I’m walking by myself or me and Edna will be walking somewhere, and even though it was 30 years ago, tears will fall from our eyes out the blue when thinking about it.”
At the end of Season One, the Korths journey to a special memorial place they established for their daughter. Edna shares, “This is a very important day for us. We’re going to go up to the top of the hill where we put the cross.” Around the simple cross Edna carefully, and lovingly places bouquets of flowers.
Edna reflects, “Sometimes when we go up there it takes a lot out of us.” The couple shares tears, hugging and supporting one another. “We still have each other,” says Edna. Heimo adds, “It’s a very important ritual for us.”
As the series progresses you can see how this traumatic loss of Coleen runs like a river through the life of this couple, and influences their perspective and relationship to their life of survival and challenge. They are clearly a joyful and resilient couple. While they carry the wounds of that experience, the Korths are able to acknowledge this loss openly, as they support and love one another.
As I watched the couple share this chapter from their lives, in an open and authentic way, it made me think of our work in Rachel’s Vineyard and the Silent No More Awareness Campaign with those who have lost children to abortion. Like the Korths, their children are often swept away in a rapidly flowing river of anxiety, confusion, and fear.
These mothers and fathers never had a chance to hold their lost baby, and grieve their short lives. Those who have experienced abortion find a great benefit by participating in an emotional and spiritual healing program.
Part of this healing journey involves a simple ceremony to honor and memorialize the baby, or babies, lost to abortion. Some feel called after this healing experience to create a special place in their home, a garden or other location to honor and remember their children. A place to visit and pray on special days like the time of the child’s conception, and anniversaries of the child’s death. Unborn Memorials was created to provide an internet based place where women and men can honor their children.
Life Goes On
The last Alaskans explores the sacred, and intimate relationship of the residents to their environment, the other animals, the land, water, and sky.
The Korths went on to have two other daughters, Rhonda and Krin. These impressive young women grew up learning the hunting, trapping, and other survival skills necessary to make it in the Alaskan wilderness.
Their family story helps us see the value of honoring our grief, affirming and loving one another in times of pain and loss. We are then set free to repent of those sins that hurt others and our relationship with the Lord, and to fully embrace life, trusting in God’s mercy and love.