Saturday, October 18, 2008

In honor of Alaska Day...

I thought I'd write a post about what it's really like to live in rural Alaska. If you have any burning questions, post them to the comments and you know I'll answer them there. ☺

FYI, from what I understand, Alaska Day is the day that the paperwork got back to Alaska informing the locals that the land had been purchased by the USA. (The purchase was made in the spring--April I think--but it took them 6 months to get all the way out here to let us know!)












Ferries or seaplanes are the only way in or out of Pelican (the ferry that comes out here is actually about 1/4 the size of the one shown here, but I didn't have a photo of our ferry handy). The seaplane comes daily (weather permitting)--it comes 2-3 times a day in summer, but we may go as long as 2-3 weeks without a plane in winter weather. The ferry comes once a month Sep-Apr, and twice a month in summer.

I love living in Alaska, but you have to understand that there is more than one Alaska...the larger cities (Juneau, Anchorage, even Sitka and Ketchikan and Kenai) have ferries and jet airplanes on a daily or nearly-daily basis. They have paved roads, grocery stores, banks, libraries, restaurants, and even craft shops and movie theaters. Living in the bush is completely different.


we live over the firehall in a little apartment that was clearly an afterthought
the third picture here is the view out my front window...not quite as snazzy as the one from my bedroom (which can be seen here)!
Pelican has a population of around 70 people--and we are 4 of them. This is the kind of place where they would change the number on the sign ("Welcome to Pelican, pop: ___") for each birth or death...except there is no sign.
We have two bars (one of which is only open in summer), one cafe (also only open in summer, and then only for breakfast and lunch), and a general store which is one step up from a gas-station quick-mart. They carry a variety of canned goods and junk food, but very little produce. There is meat in the freezer but it's usually freezerburned, because almost everyone here catches their own meat (fish, crab, shrimp, and sitka deer).
We have a library which is open about 10 hours a week, alternating afternoons and evenings. All circulation is done by hand, and the librarian rarely has to ask names because she knows everyone. She counts every single person who enters the library in her statistics, and if you leave and come back again, she'll count you twice. If I read a book to my kiddo she counts it as a storytime. She has to justify to the state why they are funding us.
When we want groceries, we have four options: 1--go catch or shoot something. 2--travel into Juneau ($165 one way on the seaplane, or $50 on the ferry). 3--call up the grocery store and pay them $7 to pack our order into a box and have it shipped out on seaplanes for 60cents/lb. 4--call the stores and make orders, then pay Greg $15 plus 20cents/lb to bring it out to us on the ferry. We usually take a trip into Juneau in the summer and really stock up, then 4 or 5 months later have Greg bring a big load or two... We periodically will order some perishables via method 3, but as you can imagine this is really expensive.
I do all my baking with powdered milk and powdered eggs (one upside of this is that I have no guilt about letting my kids eat the cookie dough!) We can't go out to eat even if we want to, so there are no cop out dinners here. I do get a bit burned out, but Hubby is sweet enough to cook once a week or so, and on weekends I usually just tell everyone to fend for themselves in the leftovers in the fridge.

This is a temporate rainforest. Yup, over 100inches of precipitation a year. I had a bag of brown sugar that had gotten really dried out...I left it open in the cupboard and within a week it was as soft as could be. If I don't keep my white sugar in a sealed container, it gets clumpy from the moisture. If you leave a mat on the front porch, it grows things.

We pay extra shipping on almost everything we mailorder (even the people that offer free shipping for certain size orders still give us the $7 surcharge to get it to AK). Obviously very little is available in town, so here again it's either go into Juneau/Sitka, or else mail order. We are blessed to have daily mail delivery (via the seaplane)...unless of course the seaplane can't get out that day. If the plane is full they'll bring the letters but not the packages. My mother lives in Washington state--sometimes she sends something which gets here in three days...and sometimes it takes three weeks. I have given up trying to predict when something will arrive. FedEx, DHL, and those folks don't deliver out here--although they say they do. If you send us something via FedEx, for example, they will mail it to Anchorage and then drop it in the regular mail down to Pelican. UPS puts it on the seaplane (so we get hit with extra freight charges).
There are no paved roads--there is a boardwalk, and about a half mile of gravel (though it scarcely qualifies as a 'road'). We walk everywhere (a bike is speedy travel here). A few folks have electric golf carts which they drive...this has its downside as they move fast yet are silent, and can really sneak up on you.
Three people/vehicles within 20 feet of each other constitutes a traffic jam. After living here for a mere 3 months, I took a trip into Juneau. I was borrowing my cousin's car, and as I drove along I noticed that everyone was passing me--I thought I was going pretty fast until I looked down and noticed the speedometer at 35mph (in a 45mph zone). Um, well, it felt fast!!
If you go beyond the edge of town, you get this:


hiking (bushwhacking?) in the mighty Tongass National Forest (yes we are literally nestled in the edge of it)



There are two kinds of people who live in the wilderness like this: one kind is extremely friendly and hospital, realizing that we've got to take care of each other or we'll all freeze and starve--thankfully this is the majority. However there is also a distinct other population: people who live out here because they don't like people. They are more or less hermits and, well, it's best to just leave them alone.
For those who find Pelican too large a metropolis, the community of Sunnyside is a mile or so up the inlet--accessible only via boat--and has no services at all; just a few houses. For those who don't want even that, Phonograph is a mile beyond Sunnyside. (Sunnyside got its name because apparently it is sunnier than Pelican...uhhhh...)
Wolf with our boat--it's a lot more practical than having a car out here. In the background you can see the boardwalk...the light brown building on the left is the library.





this is my little sister with a fish she caught here this summer...it's a 'yelloweye' aka red snapper. It's half head, and quite an ugly fellow really. Gorgeous color though. (I prefer halibut anyday, but hey, ya eat what ya catch!)



Happy Alaska Day!!

14 comments:

Samurai Mom said...

Question: What do you do about church?
Comment: That picture from your window reminds me of the view from our house on the lake in Montana which was our first home.

Becky said...

Holy smokes, you're amazing! You are right: my Alaska is a lot different than your Alaska. You're my new hero!!

Brightonwoman said...

Ah, see, I knew I was bound to forget something!
We attend church via speakerphone (one a 'polycom' which is what offices use for conference calls--the branch sent it out to us since our little phone runs out of battery really fast if we leave it on speaker for an hour). We call in 25min into the meeting--we do the sacrament on our own, and then call in to listen to the talks, announcements, and to join the closing song/prayer. There are about 25ppl in the branch 'home' during the winter (65 in summer) and there are about 6 families like ours that call in. The boundaries of our branch are pretty huge, since we meet via phone!
We mostly don't do sunday school or RS/EQ...we can call in for those (and sometimes do) but we used to always call for pimary so the phone line was in use...now the only other primary kids have moved (they were brothers) so now it's just us...so we kinda do our own thing.
Every 2-3 weeks we go straight from sacrament meeting up to the little local interdenominational meeting (where they sing some songs, read some Bible verses, and discuss them, then have a potluck). We decided we needed more in-person fellowship so we decided to join the other local Christians. There's a kind of fulfillment in having the personal connection part of the time, even if our understandings of scripture don't always wholly align with theirs.

Brightonwoman said...

I forgot to mention...that little store we have? In the summer it's open daily, but come September they shift into winter hours: M/W/F from 12-5. Yup, three days a week and only in the afternoons.
Planning ahead is not a luxury here, it's a need.

Indicentally, we are blessed to have our own post office, but you should know that it's about the size of the average walk-in closet.

Tulip's Talking said...

Thank you so much for sharing such an interesting story, one that I have thought of a million times. DH and I have discussed moving to Alaska (though I don't believe it will ever happen) living closely to the way you have described your life.

You can wear shorts and a short sleeved shirt there? WOW!

This has been such an adventure that I will be asking DH to read this too.

Why did you move there, and where from?

I realize, in order to answer my questions you will need to be able to contact me. Easily enough I think by clicking on the link from this post and then going to my shop...Tulip's (I have two shops) and sending a convo.

Looking forward to chatting.

~Lily

Brightonwoman said...

Tulip, I will answer here too...
We moved here from Utah in summer 2007 because DH got a job here (he's a school teacher). It was a substantial raise from his prior job, and we were pretty broke so we jumped at it.
Whether it's warm enough for shorts and short sleeves is really a personal thing...my son never has paid attention to what he's wearing--he'll come home shivering and assure me that it was warm enough for shorts... I don't wear shorts personally (ever--never have) but I do wear tee-shirts through much of the summer. It gets into the 70s and even occasionally 80s here in the summer.

Brightonwoman said...

This webpage has an abundance of info about Pelican: http://www.city-data.com/city/Pelican-Alaska.html

Carrie said...

Is your husband the only teacher in the town? What does he teach? I can't imagine there are many children in a town that small.

Brightonwoman said...

There are two teachers--one for elementary and one for secondary. Hubby teaches grades 6-12, all subjects. He has 10 students. (There are only 4 students in elementary.) So, yes, the school has 14 students. If they drop below 10 they would have to close, but as it is they have sufficient enrollment to be on state payroll and all that.

nicole said...

Wow! I had no idea you were in such a secluded area. What an interesting post. It is so fascinating to see the blessings and difficulties of living up there. Thank goodness for blogging and the internet to help keep you in touch, huh? In some ways I think I would LOVE living that way. Despite how inconvenient it must be at times, I imagine that it would force you to spend more time with family and focus on what's really important in this life, because there wouldn't be many options out there to distract you. I would also love being part of a community where everyone knew each other and took care of one another (well, except for the hermits ;)) If you had a choice, do you think you would want to stay there?

Wenderful in Colorado said...

Ooh, I missed Alaska Day! I guess I was really spoiled living in Eagle River, AK. Costco was so nice.

Glad you found my blog.

storybeader said...

I wish I lived on the water! Grew up sailing with my family, and miss the ocean...

Birrd said...

My husband and I really enjoyed reading this. He dreams of moving to Alaska. Thanks for sharing!

E and G said...

I just now found this entry - and really enjoyed reading about your life in Alaska!

Helps me realize I shouldn't take grocery stores or gas stations for granted, but also a little jealous you get to live in a such a beautiful area and spend so much time with your family.

What happens when a baby is born? Or if there is a medical appointment, etc?

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