I arrived in Nome four weeks ago, and have been getting settled into my role as Music Director at KNOM. This first post is a little bit more serious than I had planned, but it stems from a very basic part of my experience here so far: from Anchorage to Nome to Woolley Lagoon, people in Alaska are so darn friendly! I’m a city girl from downtown Chicago and am constantly amazed by how nice everyone is here. I love it!
On the plane from Anchorage to Nome, I sat next to a man who moved to Alaska when he was in his early twenties. Now in his mid-fifties, he was eager to tell me about transitioning from the Lower 48. A lot of people, he said, come up here alone. They have to build their own families when they get here. In Alaska, everyone knows their neighbors.
I’ve thought about this observation in the three weeks that I’ve lived in Nome. It seems that the connection between people in Western Alaska goes beyond immediate neighbors: this neighbor connection spreads across the state: neighbors participate in the community of the state.
I have never been part of such a close-knit community. In my hometown of Chicago, communities are more proximate but also more restricted: the term “community” may refer to teams, co-ops, condo associations, or churches, but outside certain meeting times and locations it is difficult to discern an overarching Chicagoland community. In Western Alaska, “community” refers to people who live far apart from one another, yet who are extremely connected despite this distance.
Airport Pizza, I believe, serves as a microcosm of community spirit in Western Alaska. Although it is located in Nome, it will fly pizzas to villages that order their pies. It seems like a huge amount of resources to put into a small, simple pizza delivery, and yet Airport Pizza has built its entire financial structure on being able to provide this service. It doesn’t matter that pizza is not necessarily nutritious or directly needed for survival, or that these orders only benefit a small number of people. Airport Pizza deliveries are for improving the quality of life of Western Alaskans, and fostering communication between Nome and the surrounding villages. Furthermore, Nomeites gladly pay more for their own pizza so that Airport Pizza can continue to provide this service. This payment is not an act of charity, however: it is a recognition that if they do not pay more, then Airport Pizza will not be able to deliver to the villages and the community connection will be lost. This is community empowerment.
So, I have thrown myself into being a good community member. Communities have shared histories, and in rural Alaska, many of those histories have to do with the land. Around Nome, both the natural landscape and the surrounding villages and camps are a source of conversation and shared experience. I have been hiking and exploring as much as I can so that I, too, can participate in that common memory. The weather has been gorgeous for hikes on Anvil Mountain, Newton Peak, Salmon Lake, and Copper Canyon, and I was warmly welcomed in Woolley Lagoon. Thank you for the tremendous welcome over the past few weeks. I look forward to learning as much as I can and being a member of this wonderful community.