Dear 2014-2015 KNOM Volunteer Applicants,
Laura won’t admit it, but I know you exist.
If you’re like me, you’ve been following KNOM online and bugging the KNOM staff for weeks, and if you’re like Anna Rose, you might not even know that KNOM is a thing for another few months. If this is your first visit to the blog, welcome! And if you’ve been here many times before, thanks for reading. Either way, this post is for you.
On Sunday I hit my six-month tenure here in Nome. This anniversary was cause for reflection, especially because I had the flu and was stuck in bed all weekend. Some questions I considered as I changed from one set of pajamas to another: Am I really on the kind of adventure I was hoping for? What have I learned here in Nome? Because here’s the deal, 2014-2015 Hopefuls: no matter how much you plan for your trip up to Western Alaska, you will never be able to anticipate everything.
So. Check yes for adventure. In the past six months I’ve traveled to Wales, Teller, Fairbanks, Savoonga, and Koyuk. I’ve seen an incredible variety in dance performances, have ridden on snow machines (what you, Future Applicants, call “snowmobiles”), gone on a sled dog run, have sledded down a mountain, and hiked through the tundra. I’ve eaten moose, caribou meat, caribou fat, reindeer, walrus blubber, muktuk (raw bowhead whale), agutuk (Eskimo Ice Cream), salmon berries, seal oil, blackmeat, antelope, and swan. I’ve skipped rocks on the Bering Sea and have sat directly behind the pilot in a tiny bush plane. You, Class of 2015, will do these things too, as long as you seek out such experiences.
You will also meet absolutely incredible people. Western Alaska has some of the friendliest, most outgoing folks I’ve ever met. The amount that has been shared with the current volunteers has been astounding, and I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the incredible community in which I live. You will not be able to do a year in Nome alone, and you don’t have to.
And, dear Applicant, you will learn a lot outside of the Standard Alaska Adventure expectation set that you come up with. In the past six months I’ve taken up running, have learned to crochet a hat, and can now bungle my way through sewing skirts and dresses (thanks, Laureli!). I’ve completed advocate training for domestic violence shelter maintenance and crisis calls, and have also gained a more nuanced understanding of US gun control policy. And I’ve gained technical skills, like learning how to use Audition, Lightroom, and NexGen radio software.
The most surprising thing that I have learned here, though, is that climate change is real. I had some conception that climate change was occurring before I came to Alaska, of course, but it was an intellectual understanding. I didn’t really get environmental action groups, or what the big hullaballoo about choosing local. But now I do. Because here, in Alaska, climate change has very real consequences.
It’s not always called climate change. Sometimes it takes the form of, “The foxes never used to come into town during the winter – they always used to have enough food out on the tundra,” or reports that the sea ice conditions were too poor to go walrus hunting last year. Even if no one says the words “global warming” the Bering Sea didn’t freeze until December, and at 50 degrees there’s breakup in January. While the Midwest and East Coast are stuck in the Polar Vortex, people’s crab pots are drifting out to sea and falling into the ocean because the ice, which is usually feet thick by this time of year, is melting. Environmental change is causing erosion, starvation, and loss of life and property at an observable rate here in Western Alaska, and much of our work at KNOM is dedicated to directly and indirectly tracking these trends.
You, too, will be surprised at what you find here, Future Volunteer. Prepare for adventure, prepare to learn, and prepare to explore. I promise that you will be challenged in ways you never imagined.
Best of luck,