Another year, another “Out of this World” festival

Visiting author writes about climate change, ice worms and festival in new children’s book

The parade Iceworm makes its way down Main Street during Cordova's 2019 Iceworm Festival on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Aliens, dancing fish and a giant fabric ice worm. For just one day out of the year, these were welcomed and celebrated guests who wiggled, twirled and strolled their way down Cordova’s Main Street during the annual Iceworm Festival.

This year’s theme, “Out of this World”, prompted exuberant creativity on parade floats, in attire and even in desserts.

The premiering Iceworm Disc Golf Tournament closed out the festival Feb. 3, while overnight, the town became blanketed in snow.

“The Best Cure for the Winter Blues since 1961”, read the festival slogan. It did just that throughout the week as sunshine and guests filled the town with energy.

One of this year’s guests was Oneeka Williams, author of the children’s book, “Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo’s Ice Worm Intervention.”

Oneeka Williams signs books outside of Wells Fargo on Main Street in Cordova before the Iceworm Parade on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Oneeka Williams/for The Cordova Times)

Williams, a Massachusetts surgeon originally from the Caribbean, began planning for this book, her second installment of environmental science children’s books, about three years ago. It was then that she found out about Cordova during a National Public Radio piece talking about Cordova’s Iceworm Festival.


Having never heard of Cordova, or ice worms for that matter, Williams began researching and writing the book, highlighting climate change as the major theme.

In the book, Dr. Dee Dee Dynamo arrives in Cordova, attends the Iceworm Festival and sets out on an intervention to save the ice worms, whose lives are threatened by Earth’s warming climate.

Williams felt it was important to make a science-driven children’s book in order to get kids excited about science much earlier. She made the main character female in hopes of interesting young girls in the STEM field earlier on, and also to empower girls of color.

Illustrations by Valerie Bouthyette of Cordova’s iconic ice worm cartoon appear throughout the book, along with local scenery, including the Merle K. (Mudhole) Smith Airport and the Iceworm Parade.

“Just the opportunity to come full circle to experience the very thing I wrote about was…literally out of this world,” Williams said.

Williams told story after story of her first time in Alaska, including how she was greeted by Baby Iceworm at the airport and invited to a church service by Rev. Belle Mickelson. David Janka offered her a place on his boat to watch the Survival Suit Races too. The warmth of the community truly impressed Williams.

“People don’t really embrace differences and so to come to a place where differences are celebrated, that people are excited about, it sort of inspires curiosity,” she said, making note of our nation’s current political climate. “My experience in Cordova…I felt valued just because I was different. And that people wanted to find out more about me because I was different. (It was) so incredibly heartwarming to me.”

Williams spoke briefly during the Variety Show on Feb. 1. She attended the parade and events on Saturday, went to Sheridan Glacier in search for ice worms and held an impromptu reading at the Cordova Public Library, along with planned visits to the schools.

Attending the festival gave Williams a platform to continue education and discussion on the impact of climate change, she said. She also gained a new understanding of the impact of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and the fishing industry in Cordova.

“Now that I had come to Iceworm, now I’m family,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to visiting again with her family, similar to the many guests who come back for the festival every year.

Oneeka Williams poses for a photo with the parade Iceworm in Cordova on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Oneeka Williams/for The Cordova Times)

Ice worm facts:

  • Ice worms are about 1 cm long.
  • They are only found in glaciers along the western coast of North America (Oregon, Washington, Alaska and British Columbia are the most common habitats).
  • They were first discovered in 1887.
  • They have adaptations to help survive in the harsh glacial environments including a dark skin color, nocturnal behavior, unique proteins and fast metabolisms.
  • They feed on snow algae and pollen grains trapped in the ice.
  • Their ideal habitat temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit
An ice worm seen on Sheridan Glacier in Cordova, February, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Ice worm facts gathered from the U.S. National Park Service and author Oneeka Williams.