April 21, 2023—Scottish-born singer-songwriter and 5X Platinum and Grammy-nominated musician KT Tunstall released an original piece of music inspired by her residency at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Kodiak, Alaska. “Century Trail” creates a story of Tunstall’s experience and a tribute to place, drawing from the Kodiak landscape, refuge, wildlife, and culture.
Tunstall shared, “I’ve never been anywhere like it. It’s an incredibly powerful and affecting landscape, full of ancient rock and rivers, all teeming with brilliant life. The whole experience has had a deep and lasting effect on me.”
Dr. Joy Erlenbach, refuge bear biologist, introduced Tunstall to bear biology and behavior on the island, where the abundance of salmon, berries, and vegetation supports some of the highest densities of brown bears ever recorded. The Refuge was established in 1941 to protect and conserve Kodiak brown bears and their habitat. It is one of 16 Refuges in Alaska that are part of a larger national network of public lands and waters managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The title and central image of the song took shape after Tunstall learned about the lasting imprints, sometimes called century trails, that bears have formed across the mountain ridges of Kodiak as they walk in the same tracks over generations. “As human culture, we cave painted, we wrote on stone, we made artifacts, pottery, jewelry, all these things that told stories. I like to think of these century trails as bears’ way of leaving a history of their own culture,” she said. “And it was just such a poetic idea and an amazing real-life metaphor for history and stories of the land, told by bears.”
Go behind the scenes for a glimpse of the residency and the creative process on location at Karluk Lake, the largest lake on the island, with a rich cultural history and home to vibrant salmon runs and legendary Kodiak brown bears.
“I tried to embrace the complexity of celebrating this place,” said Tunstall. “It’s easy for us to visit and take photos, but this is home to these communities and wildlife. This song is a tribute to the line of history and ancestry, from way back when the bears made their way to Kodiak Island across the ice, all the way to present day.”
During her residency, Tunstall learned about Alutiiq culture and some of Kodiak’s history, spending time with community members, visiting the Alutiiq Museum, and beading with a local Alutiiq artist, Kayla McDermott. Alutiiq Sugpiaq people are the original stewards of the lands and waters that now make up Kodiak Refuge and continue to live in relationship with the place that has been a homeland for more than 7,500 years.
It was fitting that Tunstall ended her time in Kodiak in the music room at an elementary school, talking to a new generation about music inspired by nature and place. She taught them her award-winning song, “Suddenly I See.” The class then joined her in singing the Kodiak Refuge Salmon Song about the salmon lifecycle, a favorite at the Refuge’s annual summer Salmon Camp.
Tunstall’s songwriting project was part of nonprofit Sustain Music and Nature’s Songscape program that brings musicians to public lands across the United States to create new music inspired by public lands, showcased in a music video filmed on location during the residency. This Songscape involved collaboration between the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Sustain, Primary Wave Music, and Koniag, an Alaska Native Regional Corporation that represents more than 4,400 Alutiiq shareholders and is an adjacent landowner at Karluk Lake. Songscapes like this help connect music fans who might not otherwise get to visit these public lands with the landscapes, waters, wildlife, and communities that call them home.
The Kodiak Refuge is grateful to the Kodiak community and collaborators who made this residency a tremendous success, and to KT Tunstall and Sustain Music and Nature for this incredible opportunity to share the refuge and Kodiak with new audiences.
The National Wildlife Refuge System emphasizes interpretation and education as important ways that people can appreciate and experience these special places. There are 567 National Wildlife Refuges in the United States, each with unique stories and environments to inspire art and creativity. Many of these refuges are located near communities and provide important local places where people and wildlife thrive. Learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge system.
Read more about KT Tunstall’s residency at Kodiak Refuge
Learn more about Sustain Music and Nature
Homeland of the Alutiiq Sugpiaq people, Kodiak Refuge boasts misty fjords, deep glacial valleys, and lofty mountains across Kodiak, Uganik, Ban, and Afognak Islands. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Refuge in 1941 to protect Kodiak bears and their habitat. Today, the refuge strives to instill regard for bears, salmon, and other wildlife; to protect interdependent species of fish, wildlife and plants within the largest intact, pristine island ecosystem in North America; and to ensure compatible management of wildlife, subsistence, recreation, and economic uses of refuge resources.
Alaska’s 16 National Wildlife Refuges span from the edges of the high Arctic to the outer islands of the Aleutians and provide some of the best places in the world for wildlife and people to thrive. These are the homelands of Alaska Native peoples from time immemorial, and we honor their centuries of stewardship and deep connections with these lands.
Other examples of art inspired by Alaska’s refuges:
Illustrating the Arctic: Presentation and Art Demo (May 11, 2023 at 9:30AM Alaska). 2022 Artist in Residence Francis Vallejo will share his experience at Arctic Refuge’s Canning River Bird Camp during the 2023 Arctic Refuge Virtual Bird Festival. All are welcome!