Right now I’m house-sitting a small dog named Sparky and six zebra finches. They and the house they live in belong to an old woman down the street. I’ve watered her plants, slept in her guest bed, walked her dog and laying on a couch with a dog snuggled against my side for three weeks.
This is the longest I’ve ever house sat for anyone. But housesitting is a common temporary occupation in Nome, especially for the KNOM volunteers. Lower 48ers tend to leave on a biannual basis and when they leave it’s often for a long stretch, two to three weeks, to make the expensive flights and Arctic winters away from family worth it. So they need a young person who wants to live somewhere else for a while and with no family of their own to tie them to their own place to stay over for weeks at a time. KNOM volunteers fit the bill.
Housesitting is a great thing to do. Besides getting a little vacation of my own I get to see how a certain demographic of Nomeites live. As a KNOM volunteer I’m often stuck in the KNOM bubble, shuffle between the house and the station next door on our 1 acre lot. It’s nice to get out and see how others live in this community I’m sharing.
We’ve housesat for all sorts of houses and living things, small houses on the middle of the tundra with outhouses, big dogs, small dogs, cats named George. We’ve slept on other people’s couches, learned how other people organize their kitchens, thumbed through their books, lived among their photos of their loved ones. And wondered if that’s an awkward thing to do.
When you house sit, especially when you can’t figure out how to use the TV and forget your book at home and there’s no internet, you start thinking about housesitting. And you realize strange thing about belonging. What does it mean for something to belong to someone?
But is it strange? At what point does something belong to someone? Not that I’m going to take anything from these people—I still respect American property rights—I just mean, you just realize the temporary nature of everything. I mean when I think about it, all of us KNOM volunteers are just house-sitters for a year or two. The Volunteer house continually cycles through new young occupants, reusing beds, towels others have used, rooms others have decorated and slept in and farted in for years at a time. We’re all really just house sitting, doing the best to take care of what we have until we move on.
But the beautiful thing is the things we leave behind are never really lost. We may never touch them again. But another person may find them. In our absence we give another person the chance to do their best to take care of them, to learn how to treasure the utensils, rooms, and people we have loved.
Of course they might do awful things. They might throw the things we liked away, ignore them, or break them. and there’s nothing we can do about it, really, but hope for the best.
Perhaps that’s the most remarkable thing about house-sitting. It’s driven by necessity but fueled by trust. And since we’re all always coming and going and needing and leaving the same basic things (plates, rooms, people) that survive better when they’re taken care of, and since we’re all hoping others will care of the things we loved when we’re gone, our temporary residence necessitates trust.