The email was a surprise. It’s not everyday you find something from Costa Rica in your inbox containing 24 photos from an era quickly fading away.
It started, “Buenos tardes from Costa Rica,” and quickly got to the point. “During the late 1980s my wife Cathey and I were fortunate to have had the opportunity of visiting Point Hope, Alaska, during one of our AlasCan Composting Toilet installations within the US Army National Guard armory in Point Hope. When the sun never sets during the summer in northern Alaska, at 3 a.m. in early July, we were invited to tour the very old Point Hope village by a local resident, Henry, along with our Alaska companions, Allan and Victor.”
The sender was a man named Clint Elston, who lived in Alaska from 1982-1996. He spent much of that time installing AlasCan Composting Toilet Systems in Bush villages in an effort to bring cleaner sanitation methods to rural Alaska. In Point Hope, he and Cathey also got a history lesson on rural life in Northwest Alaska.
“Point Hope rarely has a clear day with good lighting,” Elston wrote. “We were fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time with the right people.”
Point Hope is at the end of a spit that juts 15 miles into the Chukchi Sea. The Northwest Alaska community is mostly Iñupiat, and the region is one of the longest continually inhabited areas in North America, according to the North Slope Borough website. The website goes on to state visitors can see the remains of Old Tigara Village, home to traditional sod houses, and an earlier site — Ipiutak — that was occupied from 500 BC to 100 AD.
“Ipiutak and the surrounding archaeological district are on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the prehistoric village sites, there are old burial grounds in the area including a cemetery marked by large whale bones standing on end,” the borough’s website states.
Time has taken its toll, though. Erosion and Chukchi Sea storm flooding forced residents to relocate in the mid-1970s. While Point Hope still exists, it’s vastly different than what its history shows us.
Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 or at twitter.com/FDNMfeatures.