The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge has inaugurated Wilderpeople, a biweekly storytelling series, giving Kodiak residents the opportunity to share stories “for and about those who embrace our connection to nature and journey into the wild.”
Wilderpeople is the brainchild of Ayisha Jaffer, a ranger at the refuge.
“I have always thought that the Kodiak community is a great one,” Jaffer said. “The reason I love Kodiak so much was all the people and their stories. You go anywhere and someone will share their story.”
The storytelling series is geared toward adults, but Jaffer said families are welcome to attend.
“I love hearing the real tales of going into the wilderness and things you’d think are inaccessible,” she said. “I just think that Kodiak has a lot of people that have a lot of stories that are well worth hearing.”
Jaffer was inspired by a storytelling series that takes place in New Zealand, where she lived prior to coming to Kodiak. That series, called The Watercooler, brought the community together, she said.
“I really think people join communities around meals, and around stories. I think the stories are what make up life. The Watercooler was that for the community of New Zealand. There are all these incredible stories and it’s really engaging and inspiring to hear,” Jaffer said. “If we all share them, it just makes a better community, through wilderness, through nature and through our wildlife here.”
Initially, Jaffer considered adding a theme to each storytelling event, but decided against it.
“There’s a lot of nature aspects within Kodiak and the wildlife refuge itself. There might be things that we miss if we put a theme on it. It’s almost better to see what people are willing to share. And then it diversifies the stories, as well,” she said.
At the inaugural Wilderpeople event that took place Aug. 8, one participant shared his experience from his first deer hunt. Another participant told the story of his first summer working on a commercial fishing boat. Sitting around a bonfire outside the Buskin Beach House, participants spotted a seal watching from the nearby shoreline.
Jaffer herself is full of stories about outdoor adventures. Her first foray to Alaska was the result of a fortunate series of events. While staying with a friend in Port Townsend, Washington, she befriended boat crew members. She was offered a job working as a chef on a boat going from Washington through the Inside Passage, ending in Glacier Bay. She had no experience as a cook.
“I actually always wanted to go to Alaska,” Jaffer said. “They said I was charming enough that they will let it happen, which I think is super lucky.”
Jaffar ended up serving also as the hiking guide, the deckhand and the naturalist for the boat and its 15 passengers. From there, she traveled to Kodiak to work on a seining boat for two months, and then landed a job as a cook at the Rendezvous.
“I guess being the chef is the key to getting anywhere. Everybody likes food,” Jaffer said with a smile.
The upcoming event will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Buskin Beach House. The following storytelling events will take place Sept. 5 and Sept. 19. The refuge staff will provide the makings for s’mores and refreshments, and participants are invited to bring other campfire-friendly food.
“Just come out, bring your stories, bring your ears, and we’ll bring the s’mores,” Jaffer said.