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.
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.
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.