I was living with a couple of high school buddies during the summer time. They came up to this place called Nome, Alaska and worked with a gold company. They said there were lots of jobs out there, so the buddies I was living with took the summer off and went off to Nome to work. I stayed behind because I wanted to finish college and only had one more year to go. When they came back I got to hear all about the wild times in Nome: a lot of king crab, and just wild bars, and it just sounded like a something a young man would be interested in! ...I was.
WHEN I FIRST CAME TO ALASKA...
I got off the jet and it was a cool June day. ... I made my way to the Alaska Gold Company office to see if I could figure out where my buddy Gary lived, because I was going to move in with him for the summer. He was working, maybe it was even a night shift, but a couple of his friends happened to wander in. And they said, “Oh you're a friend of Gary's? Any friend of Gary’s is a friend of mine!" And he said, "Let’s go down and have some lunch.” We went to the Polar Cub, and I only had ten dollars, or 16 maybe. I spent ten bucks on that hamburger! Then, "Let's go to the B.O.T. and have a beer."... I was broke by that point. ... We eventually found Gary, and I moved in with my bag of goods, and immediately started work the next day. It was pouring rain that first day, and it was an outdoor job in the mud. It was kind of a record summer of wetness and rain. No sunshine. ... If a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds, everybody would drop their tools and try to run to get into the sun for that brief moment, as the ray ran across the thaw field. That was a kind of first impression.
FROST on your nose
My room was big enough to fit a bed. But to change clothes I had to either stand on the bed or stand outside the room. It was so small. We said we wanted to live in a tent down in Dry Creek, below Icy View, so we moved down there the winter of 1980. It was really cold. Your nose would be sticking out the sleeping bag and freezing, you’d get frost on your nose. It would make the skin on your nose and your upper lip totally raw from the frost.
"Coming from Idaho, with all the forest and trees, I didn't like it here at first, because there was no green. It seemed desolate. As time went on, I got to know the richness of the tundra: the plant life, and the miniature forests, and all the big skies and views."
a land of opportunity
Well, [those jobs at the Alaska Gold Company] were interesting. ...The pay was good, because we were working 7 days a week and a lot of overtime. ... I got to the point where I could have weekends off when I was working in the office. We did a lot of fishing and hunting. And getting out into the country, and exploring, and it was just a wonderful place to explore. But in 1983, a friend found out I studied architecture and wanted to me to design and build him a house. There was a challenge! So I got into doing that. I designed and built this guy’s house. It took a year. He was a dog musher. I got into dog mushing because of that friendship, and so then I got a dog team, and next thing I knew I had something to do in the winter here. We were exploring all over the region on dogs with a bunch of buddies, and friendship was pretty easy then. Just doing things I never could’ve imagined myself doing. As time went on, it became obvious: if you’d apply yourself here, then you could do just about any kind of job that was here. There was just a lot of opportunity. Things that would’ve been a lot harder to do elsewhere because of competition in the job market. That was a little bit of an anchor for me. It was obvious that the wilderness was a big draw. The third thing I always talk about is the community.
the Future of Nome
In the 1980s, Nome was doing a strategic plan, like a 10-year plan or something like that, and they predicted population growth here being at least double, or close to 10,000 people. But it has really stayed the same. It’s so hard to predict. I think, for people that stay here, it’s going to probably require some technological advance in transportation. It seems to me that it’s unsustainable the way it is now. There’s just no way with the energy input--unless some technological breakthrough comes along--that allows people to travel here and live here. And it seems to me that we are always looking for technological solutions, but we’re kind of running out of them. We’re starting to do so much damage, because we’re relying on technology to solve our problems rather than good common sense. So I'm kind of a bit pessimistic about the future. ... You know, with climate change, the permafrost is going to melt; I don't know what that’s gonna do. The sea levels are going to rise, and that’ll probably flood the airport in 50 years, maybe? So they’d have to move that; you know there’d be a lot of questions: "Do I have to move [the] town? Is it worth it?" ... Things will have to change socially, in society, to make things sustainable.