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PUBLISHED: 2:23 PM on Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Alaskans' memoirs kept alive through CDs

Everybody who lives in Alaska has a story about what brought them here or what keeps them here. And Ed and Milinda May are no different. Yet it is their desire to share other Alaskans' stories with the rest of the world that is helping to create a permanent oral history of life on the Last Frontier.

Originally from Ohio, the Mays always dreamed of moving to the 49th state, but never had the opportunity to do so.

"Every time we saved enough money to move, something happened, like the dog got run over and its medical bills broke the budget," Milinda explained. "We still wanted to live where there were mountains and clean water, and not so many people, so we decided to move to North Carolina's Blue Ridge mountains."

Even after their move, they dreamed of Alaska, so when an opportunity opened up at the public radio station in Haines, Ed applied.

"We'd barely bought the piece of property we were living on, and we had to sell it when he got the job," said Milinda. Ed worked at KHNS in Haines for a year, before becoming a social worker. When he got laid off from that job, he and Milinda decided to try something different.

"Nothing was really happening, so we started talking about making recordings of people's stories-creating CDs of what it is like to live in Alaska," said Ed. "When I was interviewing people at the radio station, I noticed that hunting guides had all kinds of stories, and so did the Native community.

"There were times when we'd be sitting around a campfire with friends, and we'd hear stories and say, 'oh, we should be recording this!'" said Milinda. "Our friends down south were always asking questions about how people lived up here, and we thought this would be a good way to show them."

To date, the Mays have produced two CDs through their company, Insight Passage Productions. Part of the Alaskan Life Portraits and Stories series, the first CD, entitled Stories from the Last Frontier, features four Alaskans' adventures. This includes a dog mushing tale by Jim Stanford, a story about Tlingit culture by Raymond Dennis, remembrances of moving to Haines by Ray and Vivian Menaker, and a tale of living in 'the last wild place in North America,' by Steve Kroschel.

The second CD, released this spring, is called Fishing Tales, and features seven more Alaskan storytellers sharing their experiences on the water.

"At first, we found the people we recorded by word-of-mouth," said Ed, who added that the couple already knew a lot of people in town through his work as a radio news director and Milinda's work with the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel. "After the first CD was released, we got a lot more people telling us, 'you should go talk to this person.'"

The company's CDs are now carried in roughly 18 Alaskan communities, and can also be found worldwide. "We have CDs in Finland, London, and soon we'll have them in Africa," said Milinda. Through Ed's involvement with the Public Radio Exchange, the couple has also sold two of the stories to producers at public radio stations in Alabama and Colorado.

"There's really a large market for these recordings in Alaska, not just for tourists, but for locals too," added Milinda. "People like hearing the storytellers' voices and getting involved in the drama. They tell the stories with such enthusiasm that listeners get pulled right in."

In addition to continuing the CD series with stories for children, stories from bush pilots, hunting tales and sourdough stories, the Mays are hoping to branch off into recording 'family tree portraits' as well.

"I often say, 'boy, I wish I had a tape of my grandfather's voice so that our son, Isaiah, could hear him," said Ed. "I think that there are a lot of families out there who want to preserve their elders' wisdom and knowledge, and who might be interested in this kind of format."

Though it's still a fairly new company, the business keeps the Mays employed full-time between making the recordings, marketing the product and working for other clients.

"I really love preserving oral traditions," said Ed, "and I believe that these stories are Alaska's greatest renewable resource. When all of the oil and gold and trees and fish are gone, we'll still be telling stories."

To hear excerpts of the stories on CD, visit www.alaskanlifeportraits.com. For more information or to recommend someone's story, call (907) 767-5433.


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