...you might like nome.
After college, I spent a few years doing volunteer work Cleveland, Ohio, and working at newspapers in the midwest where I’m from, and a few years volunteering in South Africa. And when I came home from Johannesburg, I wasn't sure about what to. I was kind of stuck for a while. I studied for the LSAT, and did not take it. I did temp work. Eventually, I was visiting with one of my sisters in the Twin Cities and a friend of hers was over, and I kind of told her the tale I was just telling you, and she said, “You know, you might like Nome, Alaska. My boyfriend works at the Nome Nugget newspaper up there, and I was up visiting.” And she described Nome. She talked about the Nome National Forest, and just the small community, and how it was so great. … I have 5 sisters, and one was living in Ketchikan, and I had never been to Alaska. So I started getting this idea that I would visit her, and, you know: Alaska! That's a place to go when you don't know what else to do. … I had two big goals based on all the reading I had done about Alaska. One was, “I’m going to hike the Chilkoot Trail.” And the other was that I was going to get to Nome. And of course I didn't have a lot of money and it’s very expensive to travel around Alaska, so I wasn't sure about the Nome part, but this was my idea. So I went to stay with my sister in Ketchikan for like 2 weeks, and every time I’d meet people I kept asking, “Do you know anyone in Nome?” So I did spend almost two months traveling around; and I did hike the Chilkoot Trail; and for my final week, I organized to come to Nome. I was so excited to come to Nome I actually went to the airport a day early! I went up to the check-in desk and the lady was like, “Your ticket is for tomorrow.” Anyway, fortunately there was room on the plane, and she let me on. … In Nome, I found Norton Sound Health Corporation’s Human Relations Department, and I went there and asked about a grant writing job. They said, “Well, with your background, you're probably not qualified. But: we have this newsletter job opening up that might be good for you with your newspaper background. The person that has the job is just down the hall, you can talk to her about it, she's going to be leaving.” So I went down the hall and talked to the person who had the job, and it really seemed like it was just perfect. So I applied for the job. I went back to the Twin Cities, and within a couple weeks they called and offered me the job. So I was like, “Wow, I guess I'm moving to Nome!”
"I just really fell in love with Nome! ... I met people who love to do outdoor things. ... And the job was so interesting. ... All of a sudden I had this full life with all these people and friends. It was a big contrast to where I’d been living… [where] it just seemed like it was hard to really make other friends or get involved with people. … Whereas when you came here, all of a sudden you had all these friends, and this instant world of fun activities. … People would just say, “Hey! We’re doing this thing! Do you wanna do this thing?” And I just started doing all that!"
when i first came to alaska...
Of course, that was the big question: “Can I handle the winters of Nome, Alaska?” I thought it was going to be dark, and a big challenge. I think I thought I was going to be able to write some kind of great novel or memoir on those dark lonely nights. But it wasn't like that. It was busy! There are things to do all the time. I never have those times. I have this full life with all these people and friends. The tundra turns colors… There's the wilderness… I just really liked it from the start: the people, the adventure, the big wide open space.
LIVING IN A REAL PLACE
One of the things I like about Nome is you're just kind of living with everybody: different incomes, different ethnic groups, [and] you're all jumbled together. There is no other side of the tracks. You’re sort of living in a real place. When I was living in South Africa, people talked so much about all the race issues—the end of apartheid; people getting along in colonialism; topics like that. I feel like generally, there’s not those conversations going on in the U.S. That's what I like about it here in Nome: that conversation is here; that topic is in the air, and you don't forget about it or just brush it under the rug. There are people around you trying to sort through all those dynamics, and what it means, and identity and stuff. I just find that to be somehow enriching. When [Jim, my husband, and I] think about ever leaving Nome, we just can't think of a place that would be as good. Because of, I guess…: the people; the richness of the experience of living here; access to wilderness; the friendships; the music community that we have access to. It just seems like it would be an empty life, and I'd cry every night if I left.