Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about what it would mean for me as a lesbian living in Alaska. Before making the decision to come to Alaska, I did a bit of research to see what the quality of life was in Alaska for gays and lesbians. I really didn’t find much information at all. Aside from a few personal accounts on some forums (some good, some bad), most of the information seemed to be about Anchorage. I read some old news stories about how Anchorage passed some laws years back that were anti-lgbt but then I also read some stuff that indicated there was a growing gay culture centered around Mad Myrna’s. There was also a Facebook page for Alaska Pride. However, all the information I found was for Anchorage, and I was moving to the Kenai Peninsula, for which there seemed to be no information so I came to the Peninsula with a “Let’s wait and see” plan of action.
After a year of living on the Peninsula, my “let’s wait and see” plan of action has revealed that the Kenai Peninsula is full of the friendliest bunch of strangers I’ve ever met. I have yet to encounter any issues living as a lesbian on the Kenai Peninsula and have found quite the opposite to be true. Generally speaking, people are kind and helpful. If you are stuck in a ditch you will have 4 people stop to ask if you need help. If you say yes, they will help. If you say no, they will wish you luck and continue on their way. Everyone seems willing to help others when needed but generally do not pry into personal business so I very much feel that being gay on the Kenai is perceived as “who you love is your business so who am I to judge.”
This perception, however, seemed to run contrary to Alaska’s gay marriage ban. If people really didn’t feel it was their business, how did Alaska end up with a gay marriage ban? From what I was told by some long time Alaska residents is that some right wing anti-lgbt groups shipped people in from the lower 48 to raise a big stink about it because they really couldn’t get Alaskans to raise a stink about it. The folks from the lower 48 held protests and organized an anti-lgbt movement that put pressure on lawmakers to follow suit with the states in the lower 48. I’m sure there is more to the story given that all the people I talked were supportive of equal rights for all people. They also told me a story of how a high school wanted to start a lgbt club and the anti-lgbt group raised a stink about it so rather than discriminate, the school just dissolved all student groups.
Another contradiction I found to the gay marriage ban is that of benefits. My partner will be joining me in Alaska soon. We will be married in San Francisco in about a month and then plan to live out our lives together on the Kenai. In preparation for our marriage, I asked about whether or not she would be considered my spouse in terms of medical insurance and other benefits I receive through work. I was told yes as long as I was married in a state where it was legal to marry, our marriage would be recognized.
I was a bit surprised by this but in hindsight, I don’t think I should have been. I am very out at work and in my personal life. I’ve never met anyone that expressed any issue to me. I have had a few awkward stares but even they were polite and pleasant people to talk to. Most of the people at work ask me about my partner. How is she doing? When will she be here? etc. They seem sincerely interested and eager to meet her. She has already been invited to more than a few dinner parties when she arrives.
I also am not the only gay person I know on the Kenai. I have met many gays and lesbians including co-workers, community members, students, etc. There seem to be a large number of gays and lesbians living on the Kena but there is nothing here that brings them all together like in Anchorage or other big cities. I don’t know if that is because there isn’t a need for an actual community because we feel so integrated and accepted in the larger Kenai community or because we really haven’t faced an issue that would bring us all together to support each other. I honestly don’t know. It could be as simple as no one has opened a gay establishment that could serve as the gathering place for the gay community on the Kenai.
Perhaps the prejudice is there but it remains hidden behind awkward smiles. Perhaps the folks on the Kenai really do consider it a private matter and respect that privacy. Perhaps all the continued hate rhetoric in the news leaves me looking for it where it doesn’t exist. Only time will really tell but I will say that the Kenai is full of the friendliest bunch of strangers I have ever met and don’t remain strangers for very long. In many ways, living on the Kenai has been an escape from the hate for me but I really can’t escape it when the news is still filled with it and I still have to go to another state to get married.
I arrived on the Kenai in the middle of winter but despite the snow and the cold, I kept up my normal routine of taking regular walks. During the week, it would be quite dark outside so I tended to reserve my walks for the weekend when I could go out mid-day and take in the sights. There was a lake at the end of the street where I lived in Sterling, Alaska. It was my favorite place to go. The walk to the lake was refreshing and the view of the lake was utterly beautiful. While my first trip to the lake was a brief walk to the edge of the lake, the snow covered lake surrounded by a curtain of trees and set against the back drop of Mt. Redoubt in the far distance kept bringing me back.
At first, I tried to walk around the lake. The snow covering the frozen lake made it difficult to figure out where the edge of the lake was and without a path around the lake, I often found myself wondering if I was walking on land or the frozen water. I began walking and the more I walked, the more I realized that there was more to the lake than I could see. The tree line folded into the lake and obscured a good portion of the lake. Once I made it around the tree line, I realized that the lake was quite huge. Still, I was determined to hike through the snow and make my way around the expansive body of frozen water.
That was until my Alaska noob mind started running full force in noob mode.
Even though I had stayed as close to the tree line as possible, I knew I had to be walking on the ice and as I walked, images of the ice cracking under my feet and then giving way to send me plunging below into the frigid water kept popping up. Now, I knew that the weeks of below freezing temperatures froze the lake up pretty good, and I was only walking along the edge so at most, if the ice did crack or break, nothing more than my feet would get wet. Still, it was a good hike back to the house, and I was pretty sure that walking back with cold wet feet in freezing temperatures would probably mean I wouldn’t get to keep my feet so after a few more steps forward, I decided the best course of action was to head back.
I made several more trips back to the lake and each time, I would start out to walk around the lake. After a short time, those noob thoughts would send me back home. I watched the season change on those weekly walks. I watched the snow drifts get smaller and the ice on the road turn to pools of water. I saw the buds on the trees grow into leaves and the white blanket give way to brown grass crushed by the weight of the winter snow. I then watched as the grass turned green and began to stand tall again to give everything an Alaskan summer appearance.
I could now see where the water met the land or more like the trees met the water. The tree line extend right up to the water and in some places into the water. The only path around the lake was to walk through the trees so after pausing for a few moments to watch the herrings that scuttled nearby, I began my walk. I ducked under branches and stepped over fallen trees. I slid down muddy slops and stepped over sitting puddles of water. I found a lot of moose tracks and bird tracks as well as big piles of moose poop. I also discovered an impassable stretch of mud.
The first few steps into the mud were slippery but after a few more, I found my steps were sinking into the mud. They sunk more and more with each step I took until it became very difficult to free my foot from the mud to take the next step. This once again triggered the noob safety alarm in my head that turned me around and sent me home.
As the summer moved on, the mud dried. One day after work, I was restless and with the sun still shining, decided to try again to walk around the lake. I made my way to the lake and again ducked the tree branches and stepped over logs to get to the mud hole. The perpetual sun had dried the mud allowing me to continue on my way. At least until I rounded the point along the lake where the trees folded into the lake. I took a moment to view the lake from a perspective I had not been able to before. It was quite beautiful but I was in search of wildlife to shoot with my camera on this trip. I searched the treeline for wildlife and after finding none glanced at my watch before continuing on. Much to my surprise, it was almost 1130 pm. It was 1130 pm and I still had over an hour walk to get home. I also had to be up at 6 am for work the next morning so once again, I was turned back before making it around the lake.
Living on the Kenai comes with its fair share of danger and I don’t just mean the type of danger that comes from the weather elements. Although the cold is not to be trifled with, I’m talking the bigger dangers that exist on the Kena like the wildlife, earthquakes, active volcanoes and the mosquitoes.
There is an abundant amount of wildlife on the Kenai. Everything from bears, moose, coyotes and other furry creatures with sharp teeth but nothing is scarier than the beavers. While I have never met a beaver I didn’t like, I have heard that Alaskan beavers are capable of eating small dogs, neutering larger ones and in general making the largest of dogs whimper in utter fear. There apparently is nothing more dangerous on the Kenai than an angry beaver.
In addition to the wildlife, there are the earthquakes. Earthquakes are fairly common on the Peninsula. In fact, this year is the 50th Anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake that cut off all access to Seward and dropped Homer Spit by 6 foot, which demonstrates the danger of earthquakes. However, the largest earthquake I’ve experienced since coming to Alaska was a 4.4. The rest of the earthquakes that have happened have either been too far away to notice or just felt like the earth farted.
Then there are the volcanoes. The Kenai is home to four active volcanoes–Mt. Spurr, Mt. Redoubt, Mt. Illiamna and St. Augustine. They sit on the western side of the Peninsula and are all visible by driving from Soldotna to Homer. They are as beautiful as they are dangerous. When you look at them from a distance, the beauty seems to shroud the danger that lurks inside them. Mt. Redoubt seems to be the one that likes to burp its stuff up the most although from the stories I heard, the last time Mt. Redoubt burped, the wind was blowing in the direction of Russia so all the fall out headed that way instead of heading east.
Despite the angry beavers and other wildlife, the earthquakes and active volcanoes, nothing compares to the dangers of the mosquitoes. There are 27 species of mosquito on the Kenai and they all come alive at the same time–summer time. What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers and it has been reported that a swarm of mosquitoes is capable of carrying off a small moose or baby bear.
In all seriousness, Alaska, like any rural area, has its dangers. The important thing to remember is be smart, be safe and be prepared which applies anywhere and everywhere. As an Alaskan Noob, I have experienced a bit of a learning curve but I’ve also found that most of the people on the Kenai are very willing to help when needed whether it is offering advice, sharing some insight or actually lending a hand. Alaska is home to the friendliest bunch of strangers you will ever meet but if that’s not enough, you can follow the guidelines for preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse published by the Center for Disease Control.
I’ve always enjoyed a good beer but had not drank alcohol in years before arriving in Alaska. One man got me back into the swing of drinking beer again and that man was Bill Howell, author of Beer on the Last Frontier and the great Alaskan Beer Blog. Bill introduced me to Alaskan craft beers and since that time, I have slowly been making my way through them. Bill’s books and blog can explain about all the Alaskan craft beers and the industry a lot better than I can but I can tell you what I like.
Never having had much interest in craft beers before, I took Bill’s suggestion and started with Kassiks. He said that Kassiks is a good introduction to craft beers, and I should start with Beaver Tail Blonde. Well, the name of the beer won me over instantly–Beaver Tail Blonde, I mean who doesn’t enjoy some good Beaver Tail once in a while. Oh how I loved the Beaver Tail. It was nice , crisp very stimulating in my mouth. I also tried Kassiks Morning Wood, Dolly Varden and Big Nutz. I enjoyed the Dolly Varden even though it was a lot smoother than the Beaver Tail. However, I kept going back to the Beaver Tail Blonde, no doubt because I enjoy a good Beaver Tail more than Morning Wood or Big Nutz.
The next brew I tried after Kassiks was St. Elias. You can only get St. Elias beer at St. Elias but you can also get an amazing pizza to go with the beer. St. Elias is one, if not my favorite, eating establishment for a good meal and a good brew. It also happens to be where I took my honey on our first date–a bit of pizza, a bit of brew, a bit of….
I had been seeing Alaskan beer everywhere I went. The Alaskan Brewing Company is located in Juneau but you will find it everywhere across Alaska. I actually was reluctant to try it because I found it everywhere I went so it seemed less special than the other craft beers Bill was teaching me about. Nevertheless, they had a nice sample box that gave me a taste of a variety of their different brews so I gave it a shot. It was good and I didn’t find a beer I didn’t like but after finishing the sample box off, I went back to enjoying Beaver Tail.
After a few months of enjoying lots of Beaver Tail, I ventured out again and tried some beer from The Kenai River Brewing Company. OMG!!! The selection I had to choose from was a bit overwhelming at first so I went with the IPA and purchased some Sunken Island but quickly found myself wanting to try it all. I actually found that my favorite was Naptown Nut Brown….(please don’t tell Dolly Varden that I actually prefer a Naptown Nut over a nice set of ….).
Still, I went back to Beaver Tail Blonde and as of yet, haven’t strayed much more. I just can’t seem to get enough Beaver Tail which keeps stalling my plans to try some beer from Homer Brewing Company and Anchorage’s Midnight Sun Brewing Company. Eventually, I will get to them. I mean, I plan to spend the rest of my life in Alaska so I have plenty of time to try all the Alaskan craft beers and still enjoy the Beaver Tail Blonde.
As a noob in Alaska, I was enamored by everything I saw–the winter-wonderland landscapes, the snow covered mountains, how blue everything looked as the sun began to set. I took long walks in the snow with my camera, snapping pictures of everything I could to send back to share with family and friends. One thing kept eluding my camera though–moose.
It’s not that I didn’t see moose. I saw them quite frequently. I saw them on the side of the road, in the parking lot at work, in my front yard, at the post office and just about everywhere I went. The problem was that every time I pointed my camera at the moose, it would turn around leaving me with a picture of a moose butt. I spent my entire first winter loading pictures of moose butts on my Facebook page because the moose just would not cooperate with me.
Then in July, when the construction of Kenai Peninsula College’s new residence hall was nearly complete and we were able to start moving in, I had my chance. Two moose families moved into the area to eat the lush grass around the residence hall. Bonzai and her offspring Ed and Shenzai and her baby Fred. After a short while Crazy Charlie joined Bonzai. Crazy Charlie was just a baby as well and it quickly became apparent that Bonzai had sort of adopted Crazy Charlie.
They stayed for the entire summer and visited the residence hall every day, grazing on the grass for hours. Shenzai and Fred often kept to themselves in the back of the hall while Bonzai, Ed and Crazy Charlie were more bold and snacked on the grass in front. After hours of snacking, they would lay down in the shade of the building and nap for a bit before wandering off. We would put up signs around the hall informing students about the moose outside. The students gave the moose a wide berth walking to and from classes, occasionally stopping to take a picture and the moose were patient and tolerant of everyone’s coming and goings. They had essentially become residents of the hall and everyone was actually a bit sad when they stopped coming around.
That’s one of the things I love about Alaska–instead of pushing the wildlife out of the area, humans and wildlife are able to co-exist in the same space so its common place to see Moose and other wildlife in and around your home, work and neighborhood. Yes, they can destroy things and they can be dangerous so signs like these are not uncommon.
But by being smart, respecting the wildlife, keeping your distance and being aware you can keep yourself safe and still enjoy the experience of a visit by a moose, which is something I have yet to get tired of.
I have lived on the Kenai Peninsula for a year now so does that mean I’m no longer an Alaskan “noob”?
After a year living on the Kenai, I feel like I have successfully made my way through some rite of passage that makes me a full fledged Alaskan now. I can’t pull one experience out of all the experiences I’ve collected and say, that was it, that was the point in which I lost my noobness, but with the passing of the one year anniversary of my arrival in Alaska and all that I have seen and done, I have to believe my noobness is gone.
I drove the Alaskan Highway in the middle of winter. I took a ride on the Alaskan Marine Highway, visited Homer, Seward, Anchorage and many other places and named the moose that regularly visit me at work and home. I watched a lynx hunt rabbits in my front yard, hiked in snow deeper than my knees and came within feet of touching a glacier. I learned the difference between dip net fishing and set net fishing as well as learned that a bit of yarn works well as bait for Salmon. I explored the world of Alaskan craft beer, shoveled snow off my roof and became use to the regular earthquakes. I found my favorite restaurants, tried moose meat for the first time and eaten my share of salmon and halibut.
I’m loving life on the Kenai but have I lost my noobness when there is still so much to do and see and experience on the Kenai? In a strange way, I really hope not because all that the Kenai has to offer is new and I never want to lose that feeling of utter awe that washes over me each time I see and experience some new aspect of the Kenai’s natural beauty.