Team documents elders’ memories of colder winters

Multimedia producers are in Alaska gathering audio for a project called ‘Winters Past’. Their first stop was in Bethel where they’re talking with elders about how they’ve seen the climate change in their lifetime.

Two years ago around Thanksgiving Isaac Kestenbaum read an article in his local paper about how his grandparents’ generation used to skate outside during Thanksgiving. Growing up in Maine that was something he’d never seen because it wasn’t cold enough. It got him thinking about preserving memories of winters past before they’re lost to climate change.

“So I just started to think about how winter is changing and how our expectations of winter as a season are changing so I wanted to find a way to capture that so we started this project called Winters Past and the idea is to capture memories of winter the way winter used to be, to kind of preserve those memories and then to share those memories with other people,” said Kestenbaum.

Brooklyn-based Kestenbaum grew up in Deer Isle, Maine. He’s worked as a newspaper reporter and as a producer for the radio program Story Corps. He and his wife, fellow-multimedia producer, Josie Holtzman got a small grant to fund their project and they began collecting stories in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. A highlight was talking with people who remember spending winters doing a sport called ‘ice-yachting’. Imagine an ice skate merged with a sailboat and that’s essentially what the nearly forgotten sport is.

“It used to happen right on the Hudson River, which is the big river that runs through New York State. And it use to happen every winter regularly. The river would freeze from end to end and thousands of people would come out to watch these ice yachts race each other. Today that sport is carried on by kind of a handful of eccentric die-hards who rarely get out on the ice as much as they used to because the winters are just getting so much warmer,” said Kestenbaum.

Then, last winter, Kestenbaum saw a news report about how there was nearly no snow on the ground in Alaska during the 2014 Iditarod. They booked their tickets for Alaska. Kestenbaum and Holtzman’s first stop was in Bethel, gathering stories at the Senior Center. They’ll also travel to Akiak where they plan to interview dog mushers. They’ll also be gathering stories in Anchorage and Kotzebue. The stories will be produced and shared through their Winters Past podcast and eventually air on public radio programs.

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