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Frontier Individualism

Teller Road screenshot

Taken on the Teller road, an unpaved state highway that is not quite wide enough to allow for passing.

Yesterday, Zach came across an article by Gene Weingarten from the May 1, 2005 edition of the Washington Post Magazine in which Weingarten describes Nome as “the last outpost, Babylon on the Bering, famously dissolute, said to be home to the desperate, the disillusioned, the hollow-eyed, the surrendered, the exiles, the castaways, the cutthroats, the half dead and the fully juiced. Nome, the end of the Earth.” While we agreed that this description is patronizing, romantic, and uninformed, the passage nevertheless prompted a period of reflection during Sunday breakfast in the Volunteer House: to which category do we belong, and which categories do our friends fall into?

It took us only a short time to conclude that most of the people we know here is of the “fully juiced” variety, with a few cutthroats (a mostly figurative description) sprinkled in here and there. It would be difficult to be successful in this small but incredibly vibrant town, in which everyone is responsible for upholding community wellness, if you weren’t fully juiced. I come from Chicago, a city of six million people, where anyone can disappear into the masses. In Chicago, you can walk down your own block and see people who have been your neighbors for years for the first time. You can keep your head down and no one will care. In Nome, though, there is no anonymity: every action and inaction is noted. This personal and social recognition can open the door to a huge variety of opportunities: everyone knows who you are and something about you, and knows someone who knows someone who can help you organize an event or lend you a piece of outdoor gear.

This recognition leads to accountability, which makes Nome a particularly great place for young people to live. In Chicago, my BA from Notre Dame qualifies me for entry-level office work; in Nome, there are twenty-three year olds running departments at major corporations. Young people are considered seriously for their talents and experiences, and those who are “fully juiced” recognize that working in Nome is an excellent way to advance their career and thrive while taking on more responsibility. They are rewarded when they do well, and are encouraged to continue to excel. Young people who are not “fully juiced” get burnt out quickly and leave after just a short time; anyone with staying power is active, hardworking, and ambitious. These are the people that we know because they have proactively reached out to us as part of their wish to improve the community, and we are so grateful to have met such amazing individuals.

We decided that we, too, are fully juiced. For now. Maybe February will make us a little more hollow-eyed, but with the help of our new friends, I think we’ll be all right.