Wasilla | manley hot springs
What first brought me to Alaska
What first brought me to Alaska...? When I was finishing up college, I had dreams of either going to Africa or Alaska. And as I graduated college I spent the winter with my boyfriend at that time, where he grew up in New Hampshire. And we were trying to figure out what we were going to do for the summer, and ran across an article for the Kantishna Roadhouse, which was at that time privately owned by gold miners, 90 miles inside the Denali National Park. So we contacted the owner, and pursued employment, both of us did. I had a degree in environmental education. I wanted to be a naturalist. They were miners that owned Kantishna Roadhouse, so they were very hesitant to have anything to do with somebody who had a degree in environmental education! So I really had to sell myself to get an initial position as a maid there. I just wanted a foot in the door, because I knew that my degree was not a definition of who I was, or what I was like, and that they would like me if they could just see me... and that I would become a naturalist! So originally my position in Denali Park at Kantishna was as a maid-- but by the end of the summer, I did pick up as a naturalist. And continued that work out on the west end of the park at Kantishna, where it's not privately owned anymore. So there's a lot of politics that went on. ... It was the miners versus the environmentalists kind of situation. There was a lot of tension. ... So I worked up there for two years as a naturalist and then, because I worked for them, when I wanted to go on to be a naturalist with the National Park Service, they didn't want anything to do with me, because I had been with "the other side."
"Wow, this is the land of broken toys up here... And I fit in. "
putting down roots
I ended up getting picked up with the National Park Service, and then through that, got ... introduced to sled dogs and mushing. And I fell in love with that, and did a lot of reading. At that time, Susan Butcher had won the Iditarod; mushing was huge; and so I wanted to become an Alaskan resident and become the first woman to win the Yukon Quest! So I became a dog handler in the winter, worked for the Park Service in the summer. And I got out to Manley [Hot Springs], because Manley was a place where people subsistence and commercial fished for fish, and part of that was for dog food supply. And I got out to Manley and ended up getting pregnant and, um, there is a lot of sordid history. ... Then I put roots down in Manley Hot Springs and worked as a teacher aide there, and was encouraged to go on and get my teaching certificate. And so I did that. And that's what I do now. Because you can't really be a park ranger and raise a family very easily!
Why I stayed
...But what made me stay was: I had spent my entire life feeling like a big misfit. And when I came here to Alaska, I didn't feel like that any more. I was like, “Wow, this is the land of broken toys up here, and I fit in.” So I stayed. And I don't know why it makes me cry, but I stayed. Because this is the first place that I started to learn to love myself.