by Alexander Swan
John and Ken Paulin were eight and nine years old when they visited their grandfather at the Air Station in Kodiak, Alaska. Glaciers towered in the background nearly touching the tips of clouds and polar bears gathered atop the Arctic’s layer of sleet feasting on wild cod and salmon. The Paullin brothers never imagined that 40 years later when they would return, a vast amount of that beauty would be gone.
John Paullin, 60-years-old, and Ken Paullin, 58-years-old, remember making the trip to the island of Kodiak. John Paullin said, “The air was thin. The sky was the clearest shade of blue; it was difficult for me to fixate on the heavens for more than a few moments. Atop the mountains, a trail of glaciers would begin to lead my eye across the horizon. Tall trees and dwarf trees scattered along the meadows and ascended up towards the hillsides. It’s like you’re standing inside a real life canvas.” Ken Paullin concurred with his brother, but explained what really resonated with him was how free the wildlife was. “Caribou would come shuffling out of the forests with giant antlers. I remember packs of polar bears clawing atop the layers of ice, trying to peal a patch of iceberg back and feed on the seals, salmon and cod.
In August 2013, John and Ken had an urge to return to Kodiak, Alaska. Their father, Walt, had passed away eight years earlier and the day of his birth was approaching. The brothers wanted to return where their father showed them one of the most majestic places on earth as young boys. It had been 40 years since they had been to Kodiak and they were anxious to see the changes to the island that held their hearts.
When the gentleman arrived, they were absolutely dismayed. John Paullin described the scene as ‘shockingly pitiful.’” The damage to the environment of Kodiak cut deep because both of the men knew they were part of the destruction. John Paullin said, “The glaciers had drastically melted. Many of the glaciers looked like an inferior power had sliced off a portion with downward precision on the icebergs with a Samurai sword. Copious amounts of sections that were previously attached to the glaciers had melted and the permafrost was thawing significantly.” Ken was also exceptionally somber regarding what he initially saw. He said, “What hit me the hardest was the wildlife was immensely reduced. The environment had drastically changed and it was hard for me to believe what my eyes were seeing.”
The two traveled along the flat ice where Ken had once seen polar bears feed when he was nine. He was nearly fifty yards ahead of John when he stopped and collapsed to one knee. John made his way toward his kneeling brother who had tears running down his cheeks. Ken pointed east in the direction for John to focus his attention and there were two polar bears on their side motionless. No blood, no wounds and no sign of the rest of the pack. “It was devastating to see that. Looking at that awful sight really put a whole in my heart. This was not a part of the circle of life. Choices and actions over the years by us humans caused this. I was a part of the deaths of these two polar bears,” Ken mournfully said.
Threatening problems are in the future for the state of Alaska. According to Alaska Wildlife, over the last three decades, Alaska’s average temperature has risen 5° Fahrenheit. The significant rise in sea levels along the coasts, particularly the Bering Sea, the Chuckchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea, are causing the communities of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Newtok to relocate because of erosion and flooding. Additionally, permafrost causes the ground to remain frozen year-round. Nearly 85 percent of Alaska is built on foundations of permafrost.
John and Ken Paullin currently live in Kodiak, Alaska. Both men are working on protecting their beloved state and country. They have made the effort and joined the Global Cooling Awareness Project (GCAP) and encourage other people to register and sign up by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject line of ‘GCAP Application’. John and Ken said, “The death of those two polar bears left an imprint on our hearts. It’s sad that it took death to awaken our eyes and touch our senses about climate change.” When the Paullin boys visited Kodiak, Alaska with their Papa Walt, they never thought that they would call the Last Frontier their home, but now they will never leave.