A post contributed by KNOM Volunteer alumnus, Ryan Conarro:
Looking down the shoreline from the end of Nome’s Front Street, you can see a ribbon of pavement stretching toward Cape Nome: the Council Road. Waves crash, driftwood gathers, and a fleet of gold dredges buzzes away. Along the road stretch miles of electrical cable on wooden poles. This month, I was happy to enjoy this view—and many others in Nometown—visiting Nome as a Teacher Leader in the Basic Arts Institute, a summer course for Alaska teachers.
I remember being struck by those electric lines when I first arrived to Nome as a 2001 KNOM volunteer. Where did they go, I wondered. How far did they reach? My initial sense of isolation and vulnerability was somehow epitomized by those lonely wooden poles. It was a big adjustment for me, a sub/urban boy from Georgia by way of New York University. I remember being struck, too, by the dozens of Nomeites who said to me, “Oh, I was a KNOM volunteer back in 1980-whatever, and I never left.” What had I gotten myself into?
I did leave Nome in 2002. But Nome didn’t leave me. And I didn’t stay away from Alaska for long. After a year back in New York, I moved to Juneau in 2003, where I’ve made my home working with the regional theatre and traveling with the state arts council’s school residency program.
Every time I visit rural Alaska, I call on skills I learned in the KNOM News Department: Introduce yourself. Remember people’s names. Wait, and listen. Bring a bite to eat and to share. Have another cup of coffee. Help with the chores. Taste whatever food is offered. Remember that you’re a foreigner—you have everything to learn here.
When Paul Korchin, then-KNOM News Director, met me in Boston for my interview for my volunteer position, I remember how he gently re-framed my perspective on this whole KNOM thing. I’d mentioned how eager I was to “take a year off” and volunteer. Paul said, “You might find that this isn’t a ‘year off,’ but a whole new direction for you.”
Of course he was right. During my year with KNOM, I got to visit many of the villages in the Bering Strait region. And I watched the seasons change along the Council Road—those electrical poles enduring wind and snow and spray. This month, spending time in Nome again, walking along the road looking at the power lines, I realized something: during my time living here, those poles stopped evoking isolation and loneliness in me. Instead, they began to stir a sense of adventure in me—a wish to follow them into unknown territory, beyond what seemed possible—and, at the same time, a feeling of strength and comfort in my own skin, here at the edge of the continent and of the familiar.
It’s a way of living life that I learned at KNOM and that I carry with me everywhere. Whenever I get to come back to Nome—and whenever I encounter any new place—I want to venture out along that open road: meeting people, listening, sharing chores and coffee. I bring a spare tire, a little extra gas, and a lot of faith in whatever lies waiting beyond the end of the power lines.