Copper River Stewardship Lessons in Haiku

Cordova student Gage Frohnhapfel, left, was one of 10 high school students from the Copper Basin and Cordova who participated in the Copper River Stewardship Program this summer, learning all about the region’s diverse communities and ecosystems. Photo courtesy the Copper River Watershed Project

By Robin Mayo, for The Cordova Times

Cordova student Gage Frohnhapfel records data

As the school year begins, Copper River Stewardship Program participants are completing their final projects inspired by their summer “field school” experience.

For 10 days in July, high school students from the Copper Basin and Cordova participated in the program, an intensive exploration of the watershed that gives the students a chance to learn about the diverse communities and ecosystems that make up the region. This year’s theme was “Helping youth find their voices,” with daily writing and reflection projects.

Alex VanWyhe was the guest educator, leading the humanities portion of the program. Ten years ago, VanWyhe was a student in WISE’s Watershed Leadership Program, a precursor to the Copper River Stewardship Program. He now teaches English at Haines High School, and his participation in this year’s program brought it full circle.

The 10 students were chosen through a competitive process, and will earn high school credit for completing the program and doing final projects.

The students paddled canoes up and down Alaganik Slough to a US Forest Service camp on the Copper River Delta, where we helped maintain artificial nest islands for Dusky Canada Geese. We took a long ferry ride through Prince William Sound with a chance to learn more about the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.  Then we joined a BLM Glennallen Field Office river crew for a raft trip down the Gulkana River from Paxson Lake to Sourdough.

Early in the trip, the students learned to write Haiku, a Japanese poetry form with a simple five-seven-five syllable count. VanWyhe encouraged the students to write throughout the trip, with the incentive of a poetry competition and prizes on the last day. Students and staff alike tapped out rhythms on canoe paddles, tent walls and raft oars for the rest of the trip, and scribbled our words into “Rite in the Rain” notebooks. On the final evening, the stewards gathered around a fire and shared their best efforts.

As the school year begins, CRSP participants are completing their final projects inspired by their summer field school experience. Glennallen student Moses Korth pursued a unique and ambitious project, an oil painting capturing a variety of landscapes. Korth has studied oil painting as part of his Upstream Learning homeschool curriculum. Naomi Young of Casa de la Arte helped Korth create this canvas. It was Korth’s first time exploring the Copper River Delta area, and he chose two diverse locations: the marshy Copper River delta wetlands, and the temperate rainforest with huge Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock trees.

“My name is Moses A. Korth,” he said. “I wanted to join this trip first of all because I always feel at home in the backwoods. But also because I grew up in a very pro-industrial economy setting, and wanted to hear the environmentalist viewpoint.

“As a final project I have constructed a comparison by contrast,” Korth said. “On top I painted the nesting grounds of the Dusky Canadian Geese. Below I have the coniferous rainforest near Cordova. These are two different landscapes in the Copper River Watershed.”

Cassidy Austin-Merlimo of McCarthy and Kelsie Friendshuh of Kenny Lake worked on writing and art projects

The Copper River Stewardship Program is organized by WISE, Prince William Sound Science Center, Copper River Watershed Project, US Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This year’s program was made possible with funding from Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company and BLM.


Here are the students’ Haiku:

Patiently walking

Throughout the day we slowly went

Through Dusky Bay

— Joseph Hardy, Kenny Lake


Cool liquid glistens

In the morning sun as waves

Spread like wildfires

— Kaleb Carillo, Cordova


Spa-loosh we tramp on

Through the bogs squishy terrain

And the sound of life

— Izaac Nelson, Strelna


Team Dusky works hard

Viciously ripping Sweet Gale

From Shrek’s musky swamp

— Jessie Hale, Strelna

Once used boats now tied

Waters change behind our backs

We wander onward


Boots stomp natures path

The scenic view is foreign

We wander onward


Artificial land

We are tasked with maintenance

We have met our task

— Will Hand, Glennallen


Invisible from view

Nestled between the shrubs

Protect the nests

— Ethan Beckett, Cordova

We slide upon rocks

Struggling from their heavy grasp

Worn rafts now flow free

— Will Hand, Glennallen


Hear the water’s rush

A tintinnabulation

Nature’s instrument

— Moses Korth, Glennallen


Why does everyone forget,

Summer isn’t over yet.

Nine months of winter I did my school,

Just like any other fool.

And just as that’s all dead and gone,

Just as winter’s finally done,

I find school has followed me here,

This is now my serious fear.

Oh, why does everyone forget,

Summer isn’t over yet.

— Moses Korth, Glennallen


Golden rays cast down

From the foggy sky above

Warming the ocean

— Cassidy Austin-Merlino, McCarthy


Mud clouds around you

Disguising the underneath

Who knows what’s below?

— Kelsie Friendshuh, Kenny Lake


As the tide passes

We sit, cold in the water

Writing a haiku.

— Cassidy Austin-Merlino,  McCarthy
and Kelsie Friendshuh, Kenny Lake