Sitting at a cabin window with her guitar and journal, singer-songwriter KT Tunstall watched as a large, blonde-colored bear with three nearly grown cubs swam across the lake toward her. They silently climbed out of the water, shook off on the shore beneath the cabin, and walked off down the rocky beach in search of spawning sockeye salmon. Tunstall excitedly informed nearby refuge staff of the visitors by radio and stepped quietly out on the deck to capture the scene in a video.
Then, it was back to writing in solitude - with a view of the lake and mountains at the heart of Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.
A musical residency experience with Kodiak and KT Tunstall
Refuge manager Mike Brady and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge staff welcomed the 5X Platinum and Grammy nominated musician during the fall of 2022 for a one-week artist residency to spark new music and stories. Tunstall has teamed up with nonprofit Sustain Music and Nature and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to create an original song inspired by the residency. Her song and the accompanying music video, shot at Karluk Lake on the refuge by outdoor adventure videographer Chris Shane, will premiere globally in 2023.
Refuge staff hosted Tunstall in coordination with regional Alaska Native Corporation, Koniag, Inc., at Camp Island on Karluk Lake for three days. At more than 11 miles long, Karluk Lake is Kodiak Island’s largest lake and is home to abundant salmon runs, legendary Kodiak brown bears, and rich cultural history. The lake can only be reached by a 45-minut floatplane flight over the refuge from the city of Kodiak. The refuge shares stewardship of the lands around Karluk Lake and of Camp Island with Koniag, an important partner and landowner that represents more than 4,400 Alutiiq shareholders.
Time at Camp Island was the centerpiece of the retreat, a remote opportunity to create personal connections with wildlife, people, and place. The Community Affairs Liaison for the refuge and Koniag, Amy Peterson, facilitated an island-inspired menu and occasional activities at Koniag’s Kodiak Brown Bear Center, also located at Camp Island.
At Karluk Lake, KT was immersed in nature and surrounded by wildlife. She fished for Dolly Varden char, kayaked, snorkeled with spawning sockeye salmon, and encountered more than a dozen Kodiak brown bears, including a subadult that appeared curious and seemed to spend a few moments listening in as she played guitar outdoors in a cottonwood tree.
Tunstall also spent time in the community of Kodiak. She met with Alutiiq Museum staff to tour the museum and view archaeological artifacts from the Karluk area, learned about bear ecology and behavior with the Kodiak Refuge bear biologist, toured the refuge research vessel Ursa Major II, and practiced salmon skin sewing and beadwork with Alutiiq artist Kayla McDermott. She visited Main Elementary School as the last activity of her residency, where she spoke with students about music and 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.
The refuge is grateful to the Kodiak community and partners 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. Stay tuned for the final music and video, to premiere in 2023!
More about Songscapes:
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is the eighth Songscape produced by Sustain Music and Nature, following recent productions with Beebe at Colorado and Utah’s Green River, Ben Sollee at New Jersey’s Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and Conner Youngblood at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Salt Lake City. It is the organization’s first musical residency in Alaska.
Sustain’s Songscapes are retreats that create partnerships between land agencies and musicians. Through the hospitality of host environmental organizations, artists are immersed in the beauty and history of our public land heritage. Musicians use this retreat time to create a song inspired by the land and their experiences, and then the song is shared with fans to inspire and encourage others to value public lands and build critical awareness and support for continued conservation and stewardship of wildlife and landscapes.
Sustain Music and Nature is a U.S. nonprofit that makes music a force for nature. Co-founders Betsy Mortenson and Harrison Goodale accompanied KT Tunstall and Chris Shane during the retreat and will next work on the production, release, and promotion of the music video with Green Hill Music and Primary Wave Music.
More about the artist in residence, KT Tunstall:
KT Tunstall's music career launched into the international spotlight with the hit singles “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See”. She quickly became known for her empowered female-rocker style, pioneering looping skills and great storytelling. She’s released seven albums internationally, including a brand-new album released this September.
She’s also worked passionately for environmental causes throughout her career and has made efforts to neutralize her own carbon footprint, including donating a percentage of her first album sales towards reforestation in Scotland, working with the Environmental Investigation Agency and ‘Reverb’ in the Peruvian Amazon jungle to highlight illegal logging, and spending time in the Arctic on the Cape Farewell expedition to highlightissues. In 2011, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Environmental Science from her University, Royal Holloway in London.