When I moved to Alaska, I became enchanted by this place.  For the entire first year I lived here, I was completely in love with the mountains and ocean and the quirky community.  A few months ago that honeymoon period began to dissolve and things started to really bother me: things like the inescapable prevalence of drugs and public drunkenness, the utter lack of privacy in such a small town, and how a carton of orange juice is so expensive that it’s not even worth buying.  By December, I was already sick of winter, I had had my first (and hopefully last) dinner with a drug dealer, and I was rapidly planning an exit strategy.

In December I spent 2 weeks traveling in Europe.  To me, one of the best things about traveling is getting a glimpse into what life is like in other places.  I’ve always wanted to live in Europe.  Going to the opera in Vienna and Berlin, walking through Christmas markets and palaces was amazing, but I looked around at the locals and realized that I had no idea what life was like for them.  Having been in a city for two days, how could I know what it’s like to live there for years surrounded by these sights and sounds?  In fact, I thought of this town where I live, and realized that I hardly even know what’s it’s like to live here.

A friend of mine said once about her stint in the Peace Corps: “the first year, you can’t get anything done because you’re just learning how to live.  The second year is when you can begin to work.”  Living in rural Alaska is not as difficult as learning how to live in rural Africa, but there is so much to know about this community, the people who live here, the social dynamics, the local issues, and the natural setting.  I’ve been here for a year and a half and I’m still learning new things.  And there are so many things I don’t know: I don’t know what it feels like to walk down Main Street of a town where I’ve lived for years.  I don’t know what it’s like to watch nature change day by day and season after season, year after year.  I don’t know what it’s like to love a place after all the novelty is gone.  I want to know these things, and I want to know them here.  I want to root myself here.

Rootedness has always been one of the things that I value most.  I don’t want to simply drift along the surface of things, propelled by whims and passing fancies.  I want my uprootings, when they occur, to be purposeful, not incidental displacements caused by a passing wind.

A couple of weeks ago I was returning from a short trip, and it was the first time that I’ve come home and wished that I could immediately be on the next plane going anywhere else.  But I looked at the snow-covered spruce trees in the dark night, and they were familiar to me.  They were immediately recognizable as the forest of home.  That didn’t make me feel any better about coming back to a shitty winter and other shitty situations, but I did realize exactly why I want to make a commitment to this place: because I want to have my unhappy times in the same place where I have my happy times.

Sometimes I feel perfectly at home here, but sometimes I have a niggling feeling of wanting to look for something better.  Sometimes I downright hate it.  I don’t know if I really belong in Alaska.  I lament the opportunities I’m missing to explore the world and try a breadth of things.  But I choose to dig deep and root myself here, to stop caring so much about my social fitness for a place and stop thinking that somewhere out there is the “perfect” place for me.  Every day that I spend here, even the bad days and maybe especially the bad days, I become more rooted here.  Every day I know this place a little better—and myself, in relation to it—like adding pages to a flip book that magnifies my life here in ever-increasing detail.  I probably won’t be here forever, but for a few years at least, I commit myself to this community.  I commit myself to think of this as home.  Even in the shittiest winter.


4 thoughts on “Rootedness

  1. DeoVacuus

    I understand your desire for “rootedness”, but why plant yourself somewhere you hate much of the time?

  2. Lily Post author

    I don’t hate it that much of the time. Besides, Alaska is a land of extremes. It’s paradise and hell and not much in between.

  3. Andrew

    Hey Lily,
    I’m a former Wheaton student born and raised in Anchorage, AK. I lost my faith after my first year at Wheaton and am now in the amazing state of Oregon at the U of Oregon. I have to say first off that I realize how it must be difficult to live in the AK as an outsider. The winters are cold and dark and if you don’t know of things to do you can get bogged down. But you can make that “extreme” of hell into a paradise, believe me. Go skate skiing, go to Alyeska or Hatchers Pass and downhill ski, go snowshoeing in the Chugach. I’m sorry that you’ve had some shitty times recently, especially since you are in the place I love most. My home. The AK. For me it has never lost it’s novelty or luster. When I would get out of school for lunch in high school at 10:30 on freezing, crystal clear days I could watch the sun coming up over the mountain peaks of the Chugach and no matter how shitty of a morning I’d had, I would immediately realize that those mountains were so much bigger than me and my insignificant problems. You’ll realize that most people feel that way in Alaska. About the drugs…I’m not sure which drugs you’ve encountered, but growing up in the AK, as bad as this may seem, drugs are part of the Pacific North West/ Alaska’s culture. I’m not sure where you’re from, but the West Coast is firmly rooted in the counter culture. Weed is legal to own in Alaska, Washinton, Oregon, BC and Cali. A lot of people take ecstasy, mushrooms, acid, and other psychedelics. These are considered to be non-addictive and “good” drugs. Drugs that alter perception and can provide the user with insights that under normal circumstances they wouldn’t be able to tap into. Drugs that bring you even closer to the beautiful nature that is already surrounding you. Drugs that in moderation and balance can be used to benefit. There’s really nothing I love more than riding the chair lift at Alyeska and sharing a bowl with a friend on clear, sunny, powder days. That said, yes there is a horrible problem of alcoholism and drug ABUSE in Alaska. There is a prevalence “bad” drugs that are addictive, the kind that ruin lives. I’d put alcohol in this category with cocaine, meth, heroin, and opiates among others. Given the rural nature of many of Alaska’s communities the state is prone to have issues such as this. I know of friends living in the Mat-Su valley (an especially notable place for bad drugs) that have had their best friends die from overdosing on Oxy. It is utterly depressing. I do believe it is and will get better. The state has been cracking down on “hard” drugs like meth and confiscating labs. I hope that things get better for you while your there. Are you living close to Anchorage? You said that you were in rural Alaska…I suppose that’s not Alaska. I will coming home next week for my Spring Break and would love to meet you and grab coffee or something. Please shoot me an email if you would like to. Best, Andrew

  4. Andrew

    *That third to last sentence should read: You said that you were in rural Alaska…I suppose that’s not Anchorage.

    And another thing, from reading some of your earlier posts it sounds like your hippy friends make it awkward for you when they smoke and you don’t. I’m just speculating here, but in any case it’s horrible that you would be made to feel that way. Doing drugs is a personal choice that is all inclusive and if the offer is rejected no judgment should be passed. I’m sorry if you felt excluded or if someone pushed you to do something that you didn’t want to. That’s not right.


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