BY HANNAH FLEACE
For several days now, I’ve been looking for a word. I need a word to describe the summer or explain what I’ve learned, to make it final, a period to the end of this summer. As a writer, this is entirely frustrating. As a human, I want to get it right. In school they tell us, if you don’t know, start at the beginning.
When I found out I was moving to Alaska for three months my mother was fairly certain I was bear food. My father could just picture me tumbling down a mountain. My boyfriend was worried about the aforementioned things and that fact that “mail order brides” is the most googled phrase in Alaska. My brothers wanted to come. I was just stoked.
In my heart of hearts, I thought my summer in Skagway would be like Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, “Eat, Pray, Love.” I, the protagonist, tired of monotony and flat ground, would drop my cozy life in the Midwest for an adventure in a place where the sun fights its setting. I was fully prepared to write the stories of a haggard people fighting for justice against . . . well I didn’t know exactly, but I was ready.
When I told people in the lower 48 that I was traveling to Alaska, their eyes widened in reverence. To the rest of the United States, Alaska is the estranged brother who left the family six years ago to climb Everest. You haven’t talked to him in as long but you love to tell people about him because who does that.
My expectations were not met – in the very best way. This town of spindly pines and lapping ocean waters draws generous, remarkable and interesting people from all over the world. I feel privileged to know so many of them.
I worked closely with Elise Giordano and Katie Kollasch. Katie and I spent the majority of our days troubleshooting technology and talking about life – I’ve taken to calling her Katie Mama.
Elise and I spent the summer cultivating a repertoire of inside jokes, adventuring on trails, shopping in Whitehorse and exploring the Yukon Territory. We covered marathons, meetings and a river race together. Although young and relatively new to editing and producing a paper, Elise makes the people of Skagway her priority. Through a change in ownership and juggling a photography business, she never forgets whom she is writing for. She reminded me why we do journalism and that no matter where you go – the community is the most important part of a paper.
Of course, one does not come to Alaska for all work and no play. I mushed with a team of sled dogs, climbed – okay, crawled up AB Mountain and explored Laughton Glacier which was one of the best experiences of my life. I made two really good friends in Kylee Pulsipher and Makeney Staley, the kind of girls you stay friends with long after goodbye.
But more valuable than any journalism experience I could’ve acquired, was the thing I learned about myself this summer. I am braver than I thought. I left my comfort zone. I left my “role” in society to a new reality. I had to trust strangers and answer questions I’d never thought to ask. I had to rely on myself.
What I think is the most special about it all is that I am not alone. Thousands of seasonal employees do this same thing. Skagway seems to me, a place packed with coming-of-age stories assisted by those who left their homes for this wilderness and never went back. This town, these mountains, this place, holds something powerful. Fundamental? Irrevocable? What is the word for when you find something you didn’t know was lost?
I hope I am not the only one who spent the summer happily exploring mountains and meeting great humans. I’m thankful for this community that opened up and let me in. I’m grateful to Elise and Jeff and Katie for being a mixed-mashed family of sorts. And to Alaska – raw and beautiful – a good place for a becoming.