Sometimes the most interesting person in the room is the guy with his mouth shut. On Friday, Oct. 19, in a conference room at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, that guy was Orville Huntington, a 51-year-old wildlife biologist from Huslia, Alaska.Huntington was among a handful of scientists in town that weekend to act as 'cast members' of Polar-Palooza, a traveling event aimed at raising awareness of global climate change. On Friday, the scientists met with several reporters for an informal roundtable discussion. They took turns identifying themselves and describing their areas of expertise. When it was his turn, Huntington-casually attired in a T-shirt and a flannel, his long black hair pulled into a ponytail beneath a ball cap emblazoned with a Huslia, Alaska, logo-sounded an ominous tone. 'I don't think you guys have seen anything yet,' he said. For Huntington and his neighbors, climate change isn't an abstraction; it's a reality they live with every day. 'What are we supposed to do when we can't get across that ice?' he said, referring to the thawing arctic permafrost the natives have traditionally used as a land bridge on hunting trips for moose and caribou and ice-fishing trips. He cryptically mentioned things he cannot talk about 'because it's not my place' and then didn't say much of anything else for the next couple of hours while the other experts discussed the effects of the world's shifting climate.Polar-Palooza project directors Erna Akuginow and Geoffrey Haines-Stiles met Huntington in Washington, D.C., several years ago and later visited him in Fairbanks, Alaska. 'We appreciated his combination of traditional knowledge and training in wildlife biology, as well as his commitment to sharing tribal knowledge with the next generation,' Haines-Stiles said.Huntington 'is such a wise, calm, no-nonsense person,' said Helen Fricker, another Polar-Palooza expert and a glaciologist at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. 'It is rare that you get to meet someone whose life is so truly impacted by climate change. The ways and culture of his people are being challenged all the time because they have to change their habits more and more each year. 'His stories about Alaska and the changing conditions up there were sobering,' she said. The day after the media roundtable, Huntington and Fricker, along with a third expert, biologist and Antarctic expert Donal Manahan, arrived at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla to give short talks to patrons and otherwise hang around for several hours and field questions.'For me, it's personal,' Huntington told CityBeat after settling in behind a table. Huslia is located about 90 miles inland from the Bering Sea coast. It sits on the Koyukuk River, a major tributary of the Yukon River, which empties into the Bering Sea. Roughly 300 people live in Huslia, about 95 percent of whom are native Alaskans, and Huntington, a member of an Athabascan tribe, says he knows each of them. 'I live there. I was born there, I was raised there and went back to live there,' he said. 'We're living what [scientists] are studying. For us, if the polar bears go away, that's a big thing because they're sisters to our grizzly bears. The grizzly bear is one of the most respected animals in the Koyukuk River [region]. That's a big thing if you lose your sister.'The interview was interruped by the sound of music and the appearance of a trio of young women dressed as arctic animals. The leader was a polar bear who launched into Patsy Cline's 'Crazy,' only changing 'crazy' to 'hungry' and the rest of the lyrics from the plight of a relationship to the plight of arctic mammals. Huntington watched with what appeared to be a combination of bewilderment and amusement.Huntington, soft-spoken and reverent, was educated at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and is currently the vice chair of the Alaska Native Science Commission. He straddles a line between the spirituality of his community and the empiricism of the scientific community. Questions invariably lead him to talk of his people's stories and prophecies.'It's cultural,' he said. 'There are things in culture we don't talk about-like when we're teaching children, we won't talk about the bad things that have been prophesized, because we want them to learn and we want them to be happy. If they're happy and they're learning, they'll be a good person; they'll be stronger.'You don't talk about millions of people dying to a young child,' he continued. 'That comes from prophecy.'Huntington declined to elaborate on these prophecies, so it's not entirely clear how his community's oral tradition relates to the changing climate, but there is a connection.The moon, he said, plays a large role in the natives' belief system. In stories passed down through the generations, the weather would change when humankind messed with the moon. Once a manned spaceship reached the lunar surface, Huntington said, the elders in Huslia convened a meeting. 'They said, ‘OK, it's going to come, and it's going to come fast,'' he recalled. 'I didn't know what they meant then, but now I see what they meant. It was related to the time when they stepped on the moon and NASA started playing around.'Still, he added, 'I didn't think I'd see it in my lifetime.'Coincidence or prophecy-come-true, folks in Huslia started seeing the changes in the 1980s. 'There would be record-heat days, day after day, year after year. It was OK for one day out of the year to break the record, but not a hundred times out of the year. We saw changes in trees. All the spruce trees used to be big, healthy, green conifers; now they're all brown and they're dying.'As a result, the region has become prone to forest fires; one threatened the village during an unseasonably hot summer in 2005.Ever resourceful, villagers have used fallen trees to help stabilize the banks of the Koyukuk, which have historically been protected by the permafrost that's now thawing. The quickly changing environment has wreaked havoc on the behavior of animal and plant species.'We're seeing birds we never saw before,' Huntington said. 'We see animals that are confused, running around-they don't know what's going on. You see a bear out of the den, late fall, when he should be sleeping. We see plants that are blooming out of season... and when an animal sees that, they get confused.' Many beavers, longtime residents of the area, have moved elsewhere.'There was ice,' he said. 'Nine months out of the year, you were able to get around. Now, it's six months of summer and six months of, basically, winter. It's late fall now, but it's early spring now. The seasons have changed, and it makes it a lot more dangerous to do things that we've traditionally done because we're really connected to the lands and the waters around our village. That's what we rely on.''Four or five years ago,' he said, he was fishing the river about 15 miles from Huslia. A beluga whale hit his net, perhaps following migrating salmon. Perhaps it was the wayward beluga that made news in 2001 by swimming up the Yukon River and turning up the Koyukuk. A result of a changing climate? Maybe. Villagers have seen adverse changes in the fish populations in the river, and scientists are hard at work studying the impact of global warming on the Bering Sea fisheries, as well as impacts on arctic marine mammals such as the beluga.When Huntington says climate change is personal, he means it-he believes it claimed his wife. A couple of years ago, she was out on a caribou hunt and died in a severe blizzard, a kind the area had rarely seen. (Scientists prefer the term 'climate change' over 'global warming' because the impact is not always in the 'warming' direction.)His wife's death was a 'combination of too many bad things happening at one time,' he said. 'It was raining snow in a whiteout. We never used to get what they call ‘ground storms.' But we get them now with climate change, and she went out there and just got caught in it.'Huntington used his spiritual side to help his children cope with his wife's death-he told them their mother has gone on ahead and will wait for them. But, now, for himself, as a scientist, there's a simpler explanation: It's nature, and nature means death. In his community, there's not as much conflict between spirituality and nature as there is in Western culture-as he says, 'nature is our god.'In fact, his spirituality is the reason he's a scientist. After his father died, he needed to pay his respect. He did so by going back to school and earning his degree in wildlife biology.He continues to pay his respect by being the best person he can be. 'I'm trying my best,' he said. 'Every day is hard. I wish I could do more.' Even though he speaks to crowds of up to 2,000 people about the impacts of climate change on native arctic villages, 'I still find I want to do more. I want to help more. I'm not here to save man, but if there are good human beings like me out there, I want to help them.'An element of his struggle, it seems, is that he harbors bitterness toward humankind. 'I'd be just as happy if man was gone from the face of Earth; it wouldn't matter to me,' Huntington said. 'We'd just come back in another form and maybe we wouldn't quite mess up the planet so much.'