Rain drips down 6-year-old Ryker’s face. He’s placed a small patch of moss atop his head, demonstrating how to cool off on a summer day. A typical Southeast Alaskan, he declares, “It’s 50 degrees!”
Ryker Goddard is lead explorer and Instagrammer with Ryker Camp. His Instagram account’s byline reads: “Hi! I’m Ryker and I love to share my Alaskan outdoor adventures while sharing knowledge about creatures and outdoor life.”
Ryker was born in Sitka, Alaska.
“That’s why I am so Alaskan,” he says. “I am a Tlingit, that’s why I am so like one. Tlingits are Alaskan right? That’s why I like to explore outside so much. I am always exploring every day. Looking for new salmon and new berries.”
Follow Ryker Camp into the enchanted realm of childhood. Ryker says, “Ryker Camp is my way to take care of animals and get Native foods.” Ryker is Kaagwaantaan, Eagle, Brown Bear. And his parents, Mary and Lucas Goddard, have taught him one of the most important Tlingit values: We are Stewards of the Air, Land and Sea, A káx yan aydél wé tl’átgi.
Ryker’s dad, Lucas, is the founder of Way Point for Veterans, an outdoor recreation opportunity for Veterans and Emergency Responders. Ryker’s mom, Mary, is a filmmaker, jewelry artisan, and works in the field of regenerative tourism. Both Ryker’s parents are the culinary duo behind Forest Fresh, a forest-to-table cooking blog.
“They inspire me to do it,” Ryker says, “because I see them doing their jobs and I said, ‘Whoa, I should get a job too!’ That’s why I have Ryker Camp.” Though, on an Instagram post he also said he has two jobs, one is a fisherman, and the other is a wood carver.
Dressed in a warm jacket and jeans with bare knees poking through, Ryker wanders Sitka’s tidepools with his camera, searching for something interesting to learn and show his viewers.
“I like sea cucumbers because they turn inside out, and you see their insides. It’s really weird.”
Southeast Alaska, through the eyes of a Tlingit child, a gift to us older humans, who’ve forgotten what it’s like to peer into a barnacle.
“Barnacles spew out this worm-type eel thing! I learn so much by watching sea creatures. It’s winter now, so I don’t go to the beach so much. But we are going today, so we will bundle up and find what we can.”
Ryker is already learning to “Be Strong in Mind, Body and Spirit, Yee toowú klatseen.”
Like me, Ryker sometimes takes his shoes off to connect to the earth.
“Sometimes I do that. Not now, because its snowy out and cold. That blocks my connection. In the summer I do, it’s important to connect to the earth, it’s so magic.”
In his camouflage gear, with his backpack on, he hikes into Tlingit Aaní educating us about mushrooms.
“It’s mushroom heaven,” Ryker says. “We like to harvest chicken of woods. Here is a fun fact about mushrooms, some mushrooms can live through the winter. It’s amazing because normally mushrooms like wet, but not cold, so it’s amazing that some survive the cold.”
A budding scientist, Ryker keeps notes in a journal.
“I write down the date and I can use it to write down things that happen. I draw it and I write it down. I keep it in my backpack and take my backpack pretty much everywhere.”
You grow a forager by letting them help you forage — children need to get their hands dirty. Ryker helps his mother experiment and create new recipes from foods they’ve harvested.
“Sometimes I help chop mushrooms with my own knife. My favorite recipes are soups, even though I never made a soup. It’s fun to pick berries and put them in muffins. I like to drink milk and eat berry muffins and remember all the times I went outside. Because it’s winter we use frozen berries. The plants are starting to die because it’s cold out.”
In Indigenous worldviews, it’s important for children to learn from elders and grandparents as well. It teaches them respect, another essential value. Respect for self, Elders, and others, Sh yáa ayakdané ka ldakát káa yáa at uwanéi.
“My grandpa is a Tlingit, and my grandma is not. They give me lots of love and I love them the way they love me. I gave my medicine I made to my grandparents. When I was in culture camp, I was taught a way to make medicine using thorn bush, devil’s club. I like calling it thorn bush because it’s so thorny.”
Thorn bush, ravens, pink warty sea cucumbers, jelly fungus and bears — A walk with Ryker is an education. Being from Sitka and belonging to the Kaagwaantaan clan, it’s natural that Ryker’s favorite animal is a bear.
“My favorite mammal is called a bear, which yeah, I am sure you know what a bear is because we have them everywhere!”
And he loves all birds: “My favorite birds are blue heron, bald eagle, and raven. Since I am a Tlingit, I do have a connection with a Raven. He follows me each day to school, to home, to anywhere!”
Ryker Camp also shows us how to pay attention to the smallest of creatures in Tlingit Aaní. One of Ryker’s favorite insects is the caterpillar:
“They change into different forms. They have a life cycle. First an egg from a butterfly, then the larva, then a caterpillar and they metamorphosis into a cocoon, then they eat their way out and turn into a butterfly, then they lay eggs, then larva, then the whole life cycle again.”
When asked if he gets nervous being in front of a camera Ryker says, “No, I don’t. Because it’s just how my body works. I like being in front of the camera because I think it helps inspire people to forage and hunt.”
When you’re 6 years old, learning is playing. Ryker loves playing and foraging in the woods.
“Those are my favorite hobbies. Like climbing a tree on a summer day. It feels like I am the woods when I am in it, when I see nature playing.”
When he’s older, Ryker wants to expand the concept of Ryker Camp.
“I want to make Ryker Camp a bigger place. A place people can come to. I want to help other people, help them make new jobs, jobs that help animals and the earth.”
For now, he shares his 6-year-old Tlingit world, @rykercamp, on Instagram.
“Soon, we are going to create a Kids YouTube channel. I want kids to watch it and learn about life in Alaska, because life in Alaska is fun. Plus, it helps our Tlingit ancestors to see us working really good! And that’s important.”
So welcome to Ryker Camp where curiosity skips along a forest path and peers into a tidepool. “Nature is my home,” Ryker says. “The earth is our home, mother nature is earth, we all connect to make a wonderful family.”
Going forward in a new season, be like Ryker as we explore a tideline or walk a snowy trail.
“I can’t believe I get to live here and see so many cool things. It’s the world to me.” There’s wonder in everything around us.” In Tlingit Aaní there are snails with a thousand teeth, yellow-eyed rockfish with poisonous spikes, red squirrel’s stashing pinecones, killer whales chasing seals, and even a fungus that looks like a bird’s nest.
Happy wandering and wondering this winter and all through the next year!
• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Yéilk’ Vivian Mork. It appears twice per month in the Capital City Weekly.