Several people have asked me why I haven’t written much about myself in this blog. It’s hard to change directions when I’ve established an operating mode of observing/reporting for my blog content. However, I’ve decided that perhaps I should branch out and share a few of my own opinions.
It is interesting, though I started this site with one idea in mind, the blog gods have taken over and sent it in another direction entirely. Originally I intended it to be a collection of Alaskan stories and descriptions of jewelry and gift items that I sell. Then the blog tweaked at my head and said, “Interview some of the amazing folks in Gustavus and put their stories in here.” So I began doing just that, and am thankful that I did so. Gustavus is such a remarkable place, partly because of its location, but more because of the unique collection of souls who have gathered here.
Writing these articles has brought me to an important realization about this place. First of all, I love small towns. Big cities might offer a much wider range of available activities and facilities, but there is more of everything else in the city as well — more people, more traffic, more stress and confusion, more chances for accidents or sickness. In comparison, I might sum up the differences in the Gustavus lifestyle in three words: More personal freedom. Because it is a small town where everyone knows and for the most part gets along with other residents, the community is close-knit. People care about each other and watch out for each other. I do believe this is the place for which I have been searching, and have found it, thanks to my son, who found it first and brought me here to see for myself.
Many years ago while I lived in Kodiak, my husband, Les Kelso, got a job in the cannery in the village of Ouzinkie on nearby Spruce Island, We claimed a piece of land there through the last BLM land trustee, and moved. When Les and I separated, he went to Hawaii and I garnered help from my friends and built a cabin on my homesite claim. I lived there for 20 years.
I became the GED teacher for the community, found fellow musicians and played music regularly, both for ourselves and for the village, and started a group involved in locating, identifying, and using wild plants, either for medicine or food. I became known as the Weird White Woman in the Woods, teaching village adults and learning from them as well.
I observed their lifestyle with interest. Ouzinkie, population of about 250 at that time, Native except for 10 people, had originally been settled by 3 major families. Husbands or wives might come from another Alaskan town, slowly building the population. However, family ties remained very strong. I was envious of the closeness of village families. In times of need or of celebration, they came together and joined forces from a position of strength. If crisis hit, they were there for each other.
As a white person not married to a villager I was on the outside looking in. More than once I suggested to a village friend that they should adopt me. In my youth I had a large family, but now had almost no one, and certainly no one close at hand. I longed for a community of people who were like-minded and who felt like family.
Then, in 2011, I came to Gustavus. My original motivation was to be nearer to my Juneau-based son, as he was my closest remaining relative. I had trouble adjusting to the new place, as I missed beautiful Kodiak. Granted, the land here was flat, though surrounded by mountains. The lack of hills made it much easier for me to get around, as age was sneaking up on me. As I started becoming involved with the community — playing music; writing; selling at our Saturday market in summer — I realized I’d found a place where I no longer had to be on the outside, looking in. As I developed more close relationships I could see that I may just have found the place I’d been looking for. Here are friends who welcome me into their homes and lives. Here are people who come together to present a united front in times of crisis. Here are people who will be there, should tragedy or tribulation try to take us down. In times of adversity they will help their neighbors in any way they can, and in return, I will do the same for them. Gustavus artist Lou Cacioppo says that Gustavus is a tribe. Many small Alaskan settlements are tribal in nature. As such, these “tribes” preserve a sense of community that takes precedence over personal desires. In these troubled times I feel fortunate to live in a small community of like-minded souls who will band together to care for each other. Gustavus, you have become my family — may we move forward into the future together.