With no road in or out of town, the residents of Alaska’s remote city of Cordova live in a land where people and nature thrive together. From a Native fishing village, it grew to become a town created to be the “premier copper port of the world.” For generations, the people of Cordova have relied on unfailing goods and their Alaskan pioneer spirit to preserve their livelihoods and the rich ecosystem that surrounds them.
For more than a century, the local economy and people from different walks of life and professions have relied on the sustaining power of nature. I asked a local biologist about this relationship: “In my family, we don’t buy any meat. The meat we consume in our house is what we harvest, and we prefer it that way for many reasons,” she says. “We prefer it for taste and money savings, and it’s just how we want to eat. I believe that if more people got their sustenance from the land, they would care more about losing habitat, and that if people who aren’t vegetarian understood that a living, breathing thing produced what they are eating and that it didn’t just come from a Styrofoam package, they would think more about habitat loss and whether or not it matters to lose wild places.”
Aside from a springtime festival which draws visitors from around the world to witness a stopover for millions of migratory birds and the summer which fills the harbor with the commercial fishing fleet, in these late fall and winter months, locals enjoy a quieter version of what is already a quiet town. And, like many other remote communities in Alaska, the residents here are affected by high food costs, travel options, and limited daylight hours this time of year.
“Sustenance is always an activity here,” says local resident Robert Silveira. “I like living here. I like going out to fish or catch my food instead of going to the grocery store,” he says. “It’s really unbelievable to see the rivers and waterways filled with wild Copper River salmon,” says Robert.
I join Robert on a drive to a local river where he hopes to catch a trout for dinner. The river rocks we walk alongside have a fresh, soft layer of snow, and as we look down from the bank, dozens of wild Coho salmon are resting in a pool between two boulders. “Let’s make our way upriver. We gotta make sure we can spot a trout first; we can’t pick out any salmon this time of year,” says Robert. It’s clear that conservation and respect for the cycle of wildlife is present in his mind.
Part of everyday life in Alaska is embracing the relationship between different elements: the past and present, human occupation and wilderness, challenges and pleasures. It’s a place where you take your rifle with you on a hike one day and can pick endless amounts of berries the next. There is no doubt that the wild beauty of the two million acres of land that surround this community is as unfailing as the heritage and spirit of its occupants.