At 18, when I moved out of my parents’ house and moved to San Francisco, I had my first taste of feeling really alive. I remember days when I would walk around the city and I felt this incredible high. I didn’t know it then, but it would be a taste I would always crave…life. When I moved away from the city, I let myself fall into a rut some might call “The American Dream.” Marriage, large house, child, career track and decades down the road a retirement plan hanging like a piece of magical fruit that would make the hours, days, weeks and years slogging through a job I didn’t particularly like all worth it.
From time to time I, experienced flashes of the feeling I’d experienced in San Francisco. But hemmed in by the walls of the rut I was in, these flashes only left me feeling antsy. I needed to do something. I thought it was an itch to travel. So I quelled the feeling by planning little trips. I distracted myself with little projects and little classes. The choice of the diminutive word “little” is with purpose. The activities were small gestures designed mainly to let me avoid looking at the larger sense of dissatisfaction with my life. The BIG need.
Up here in Shishmaref, Sundays are devoted to tasks like laundry and baking–tasks that allow me to engage in reflective thinking. Lately I’ve begun to notice that the antsy feeling is gone. The need for something vibrant in my life is satisfied. When I saw Shishmaref from the sky for the first time, tears came to my eyes. I felt alive. I felt like I was doing something. Over the past few weeks, I have realized that I have always felt I was meant to live an extraordinary life. The life I initially chose for myself as a young adult couldn’t have been a worse fit. I was not meant to live a life of safe routines. This is not to say I’m an extremist and want to live on the edge. But it does mean that I enjoy doing things off the beaten path. Generations ago, living in Shishmaref would have been hard. Living in Shishmaref now is extraordinary–not extreme, but out of the ordinary. I am experiencing a life that isn’t usual. I still walk my laundry to the machines every weekend (today I had to plow through fresh, powdery, knee-high snow), and take out the trash (and then burn it at the dump every couple of months) and shop for groceries (in a sparsely appointed store that would fit many times over in the Safeway where I used to shop)…This life is very un-rut like. I feel like I’m living the life that I was intended to live.
We took a big risk moving up to the Alaska bush. We (foolishly) accepted the first two jobs we were offered without doing much research. Our haste contributed to a year that at times has been rocky. But in taking this risk, we discovered that we love living in the bush. We feel alive here. Moreover, working up here puts an infinite number of summer adventures at our fingertips.
With risk comes the chance to lose, and to lose big. But by taking a risk, there is the opposing chance…the chance to win, and to win big. I feel like I am winning…really big.
That taste I had of life many years ago in San Francisco is now part of my regular diet. It manifests itself in feelings of happiness, freedom, adventure and love. There is a contentment that penetrates to the marrow of my bones. It almost feels as though my heart has struck a new rhythm. A smile comes to my face more often. I feel lucky to finally be living an extraordinary life.
What a beautiful post. I’m glad you’ve found happiness, even if you had to go so far.
We have so much in common! My husband and I work in First Nations Fly In Northern Reserves too. Though in Canada, not Alaska. Our first (or my first as he had been in a couple before we married) was just outside a polar bear reserve and we had bears in the community constantly. We are now on the other side of our journey and looking forward to returning to the South after several years and several different communities, Cree, Metis and Dene. I wish you well on your journey.
Are the villagers Inupiat up there?
At the moment we are on a Dene reserve.