Postcard from Homer, Alaska

Posted 22 January, 2008 by janette in Alaska

Graham and I first came to Homer in July 2005, when my best friend from kindergarten, Nancy, decided to move to Alaska. We drove with her all the way from California to Homer, a 3,600 mile road trip.

Homer is a town of two seasons. Life in summer revolves around the fishing industry and the “spit”, a thin, sandy peninsula that juts out of the southern end of town 4.5 miles into Kachemak Bay (pictured above). Brawls break out regularly at the Salty Dawg Saloon (left), and the locals try to make as much money from fishing and from the influx of tourists as they can, to see them through the slow winter. Tourists flock to see the migrating orcas and humpback whales, as well as to catch giant halibut and the plentiful salmon. While we were here, we joined the “spit rats”, people who camp out on the windy beach all summer and work the fishing or tourist trades. The sun rarely dips below the horizon, and the town’s population more than doubles.

I’ve finally been able to come back to see what Homer is like in the winter. I expected to spend half my time bracing myself against the elements, looking for ways to endure the long, frozen nights, and encountering only awkward, backwoods-types when we ventured into town. I think of northern winter days as short, grey, and drizzly, mostly because of the time we spent in London. For that reason, I had ruled out living anywhere further north, because I reckoned it would only get more miserable!

When my 8 year old travelling companion and I boarded the plane for Anchorage in Seattle, I noticed that people kept bumping into me, as if they were unused to sharing small spaces with other people. Eyes were shifty and flannel shirts were padded. “Oh no,” I thought, “here we go back in time.”

Our final leg, from Anchorage to Homer, was on a 10 seater plane. There was a snow storm, and the plane was delayed until we could get more than a mile visibility. We eventually disembarked into horizontally blowing snow. The plane had 3 very glum looking “Old Believers“, a Russian Orthodox sect. (I found out later they had just suffered a tragedy in their community.) The rest of the people joked and chatted away as if they’d known each other for years. But you could tell by their questions that they’d only just met. And we were as welcome as anyone to join in the fun.

This general camaraderie has lasted for 10 days now. I’m still not entirely used to strangers coming right and making friends with me for no apparent reason, but it’s certainly growing on me. Even the ones who believe they’re wanted by the CIA have their charm. I’ve also hung out with some great characters up here:

Nancy, my aformentioned best friend, who, despite her affinity for chaos, always seems to make a great life for herself. She has the most spectacular view, in a beautiful house that she rents for hardly anything.

Lilli, her daughter, whom I haven’t hung out with since she was a toddler, and thinks she’d quite like to live out her life in Homer, except for when she goes to Harvard. She has a friend named Charity, whom I liked from the beginning, when I overheard her retelling a funny scene from Spinal Tap. Lilli and her other friend, Anita, can’t get enough of the latest Hannah Montana CD.

Friday, an Iron Chef winner, who always matches his bandannas to his t-shirt, and makes amazing fortresses on the beach. He has taught his very clever dog, Karma, complex tricks, like fetching Lilli’s boots out of a pile of other shoes, or waiting until he snaps his fingers (not to be confused with his decoy clapping, yelling, or begging) to eat the dog biscuit that he’s balanced on her nose. Karma’s also great for hitching a lift on a sled.

Jamie, who chops all the wood to heat her little red cabin, and does awesome fire poi.

Laurie, who lives in the tiniest, cutest cabin and hauls all her own water. Her halibut tacos are delicious. She’s dating the butcher, Chad, who is teaching his 10 year old son, Blade (get it? the butcher’s son’s name is Blade?), how to pair food and wine. Blade told me about the importance of leaving a bit of steak in your mouth when you sip your wine, so the meat proteins can have their effect on the wine.

Michael, the musician and DJ with the a great long beard and considers himself on the run from the government. I met him when we were out to see a local band called Salem. (They put on a great show.)

I thought I might get bored during these long evenings, so I brought lots of books and my beloved computer. But it was pretty much nonstop action until Lilli and I got sick. We’ve been out to see the eagle lady feeding the eagles. We’ve been to the very cool cafe/bakery far too many times. We’ve been extreme tubing. We’ve had a bonfire when it was 0F outside. We’ve been to the snow-surrounded hot tub at the very end of the spit. We’ve had our pick of live music, with there being at least 3 choices every weekend night. We’ve reluctantly missed the karaoke. (I’ve lost my voice to this cold.) We’ve been sledding down the long hill beside the house. We’ve been cross-country skiing. We’ve been to the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. And we’ve generally cooked up a storm.

And then there’s all the weather-related excitement, like spending 20 minutes yesterday trying to coax a 2-wheel drive Hyundai up a slushy steep driveway, and seeing how long I can stand 4F temperatures to get that shot of the sunrise.

So here I am at the end of day 10, sitting by the library fire, already knowing how much I’ll miss this place. It’s 28F outside, which no longer seems cold – I don’t even bother with a hat and gloves anymore. I have a sledding party and halibut tacos to look forward to this evening, before a long ride back to California. At least now I know that northern living can actually rock, as long as you avoid the grey, drizzly areas!

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