This morning, I caught up with a dear friend with whom I hadn’t spoken for more than a few minutes since relocating to Southeast Alaska. We met while working as teaching assistants in Bretagne (Brittany, if you are American). For me, she embodies Alaska and particularly the sense of community found in Southeast. Her descriptions of community gatherings, swimming by the light of the moon with women friends among Humpback whales on the solstice, dark, rainy winter nights spent sharing food, music, and company, and the strength and support she experienced growing up in this world in Ketchikan drew me in and instilled a desire to experience this world first hand. For years since our serendipitous crossing of paths, I have been dreaming of moving to Southeast and joining such a close-knit community.
So, now I have to pinch myself to believe that this dream is in the process of being realized. In a time of financial crisis, where so many are unemployed and have lost their homes, I have a permanent job in my field with the National Park Service, in a place I have imagined but never dreamed I would live, and I am on the verge of purchasing my first home and committing myself to a new life in a place that grows more familiar by the day.
The Tlingit, the people for whom Glacier Bay represents their homeland, have historically subsisted and survived through their relationship and intimate knowledge and understanding of the natural world, along with a different sense of relationship with it. They were a tangible member of a greater community, one that included all living things, the flora and fauna that have taken on an alternate personage for western civilization, now defined as separate from the human community.
My life in the Skagit revealed a connection to the natural world never embraced for my childhood and early adult life. I learned to train my senses to recognize the sounds of birds and take notice of the subtle transformations occurring across the seasons from day to day, month to month, and year to year. Through this way of being, I developed a deep connection with the natural community of the Skagit, an intimate, profound relationship I hadn’t previously experienced with any of the others places I had lived.
My friend spoke of how wonderful it was to witness this new life I am creating here in Gustavus and the process of connecting to the human community. She was so excited for me to become a part of this place and to experience the unique side of humanity that keeps these small Southeast Alaskan communities alive and thriving, inspires those who travel or work here seasonally to return here year after year, those who leave to make annual pilgrimages to maintain there connection to people and place, and arouses curiosity and fascination for those who visit from afar.