Wise words from my boat captain housemate, who encouraged me to set aside my urge to use my cell phone (which only gets service “in town”), and be fully present, embracing a unique moment in a year in the life of the Gustavus community. This morning, I decided to peek my head out of my hermit shell in an effort to immerse myself in the annual 4th of July celebration, and I was not disappointed. To be honest, it is quite easy for me to get out of my homebody, introvert mode here because everyone is so genuinely welcoming and wonderful to be around. I joined many folks at a fellow ranger’s home for a pancake breakfast, which he and his wife have been putting on for the town folk every 4th of July morning for the past nine years.
From there it was on to watch the parade, replete with candy flying through the air, dancing and singing, and pickup trucks masquerading as brown bear and orca. Festivities of the day also including a trebuchet catapult, a slow bike race, tug of war, and an 8-legged race, for which my team came in second! I even read a few lines in the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence, for which 40 folks step forward in what I found to be quite a moving rendition and an apropos tradition for a rampantly independent community on the fringe of society. It seemed appropriate for me to partake in this portion of the day’s activities, for I think I have an independent, stubborn streak in my personality that has somehow led me here. I have never considered myself a particularly patriotic person, and I vividly remember receiving detention in elementary school for embracing my right to refuse to stand and take the pledge of allegiance. However, I found the experience quite different than I envisioned and pleasingly so. Isn’t is strange how we wind our way from moment to moment and find ourselves at times in both the unlikeliest and most timely of places? The crowning moment of the day was a fly by male goshawk in full on breeding plumage, certainly the sexiest and most badass of raptors in the accipiter family and a life bird to boot!
This was also another day of insight into the life and times of Gustavus. Each time I converse with people from the community is an opportunity to add another piece to this Southeast Alaskan community puzzle. In talking with one of the local librarians, I learned that she had moved to Alaska to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the late 70s and moved to Gustavus in 1982. I am always curious about the ways communities and habitat change, and this is generally a question I ask people who have been rooted in a place for many years. At the time this woman moved to Gustavus, there were 82 people living here, one telephone at the post office, no electricity, and one barge that traveled to the town once a year. I honestly cannot imagine. Even with the many changes that have shaped this place – air taxis, ferries, cruise ships, isostatic rebound in the wake of a retreating glacier – this community is still thriving and pumping with life and energy in a way I have never experienced in all of the places I have lived.