The other day, I got the following email from man named Tony Weyiouanna.
Hello everyone from balmy Shishmaref, Alaska! 40 degrees above zero in February! This weather is unheard of this time of the year and open water to the beach. This is the first time in my life I've seen open water this close to the shore in February. Thought some of you might be interested in seeing the photos I took today.
Attached were these pictures:
I met Tony two years ago, when I went to visit Shishmaref. It was the first place I traveled to for my book, and it was an extraordinary experience. Shishmaref is an Inupiat village that sits on a small island called as Sarichef, about five miles off the Seward Peninsula. To get there, you have to take a bush plane from Nome. (The flight that I took also made a stop to pick up a woman who was transporting a load of reindeer meat.)
In recent years, Shishmaref has achieved an unfortunate sort of fame, owing to the fact that Sarichef is washing away. It used to be that the island was protected from fall storms by sea ice. Now the sea ice forms so late ? this year, it seems, it never formed at all ? that the place just gets pummeled. The situation has gotten so bad that residents want to move the entire village to the mainland. They are hoping to get federal financing for the move ? estimates of the cost run to $180 million ? but so far Congress has declined to provide it, and they are still there.
When I went to visit Shishmaref, Tony invited me over to his house for lunch. He is a very sweet guy ? everyone I met in Shishmaref was extremely generous ? but he couldn't resist needling me. (I don't blame him.) While we were having lunch, which was sourdough pancakes ? the Alaskans eat a lot of sourdough and will tell you that their starter is a hundred years old, or something like that, which, to be honest, I did not find that appetizing ? he kept trying to get me to try some of local delicacy: cured seal meat. The seal meat was black, and very oily-looking. I carefully weighed the risks of offending him by declining against the risks of vomiting if I accepted. I chose the former.
I still periodically exchange emails with Tony and a few of the other people I met in Alaska. Most of these emails are about the phenomenal changes people are seeing. Recently somebody ? not Tony ? sent me a story the Anchorage Daily News. It was about the state's premiere snow machine race, the 1,800-mile-long Iron Dog Race, which starts in south-central Alaska. The article began: "Rain hammered the puddles on the lake ice here Sunday as the world's longest, toughest and once coldest snowmobile race met global warming."