Transition from the Bush to big city a raucous affair

Louise Freeman
A cabin of the old Native village of Eagle sits among ice after the Yukon River flooded in early May 2009.
SAM HARREL / Fairbanks Daily News Miner via The Associated Press

When I tell people I moved to Anchorage from Eagle three weeks ago, they gasp. What used to be a relatively unheard of village in the Bush is now known to everyone, thanks to the huge flood that splashed photos of waterlogged, ice-choked Eagle across the pages of the Anchorage Daily News.

I left Eagle, I explain, the day before the flood. It's been quite an adjustment, moving from the Bush to the big city, going from a community of 130 to one of about 300,000.

One thing that has surprised me about the city is the sheer number of sounds, not only so many -- and so loud! -- but so great a variety of them.

At our cabin outside of Eagle, the types of sounds one could hear every day could be counted on one hand: vehicles on the road, mail plane, chain saws, barking dogs and bird song.

No motorcycles gunning at the stoplight, no ambulance siren wailing, no train in the distance, no car with loud bass thrumming, not even the buzzing of a neighbor's automatic drill or weedwhacker or their kids playing electric guitar in the garage or basketball in the driveway.

The noise bothers me so much that even simple ear plugs won't suffice.

When I have to take the bus, I've resorted to wearing ear protection muffs -- the kind people use at a shooting range -- just so I can stand to wait at the bus stop and not leap out of my skin every time a truck roars by or a car horn honks.

I'm still getting used to cell phones, though I doubt one ever gets used to someone carrying on a private conversation as if you weren't standing right there in line with them at the post office.

Eagle is still (fortunately, in my mind) without a cell phone tower, although it is scheduled to get one soon.

In such a small place, however, people might have to change how they use cell phones, because the person who overheard the private conversation would spread the news all about town immediately; he or she wouldn't need a phone -- cell or otherwise -- to do it.

On the plus side, a simple trip to the grocery store is like wandering through a cornucopia of delights. Ice cream in more than one flavor! Dairy products whose expiration date hasn't already passed! Bananas without black spots! Crisp lettuce! Blackberries, kiwis, asparagus, artichokes!

I marvel at the (over) abundance of choices for everything from cereal to soup.

And at the prices, often half as much as in Eagle. Occasionally, overwhelmed by a whole aisle of cereal, I long for the tiny general store in Eagle where, yes, a can of mushroom soup costs two dollars, but where you can sometimes rummage around in the hardware section and unearth a dusty spool of thread marked with an old price tag of twenty-five cents.

That store -- alas! -- is gone now, victim of the flood, bulldozed off its foundations by the house-sized chunks of ice pushed up onto Front Street by the massive ice dam that formed up and downriver from Eagle.

Ice that smashed boats and crushed trucks, reduced fishwheels to kindling and picked up the mighty Yukon Queen tour boat like a Tinker Toy and deposited it in the trees.

Knowing Eagle has changed irrevocably makes it easier, somehow, to have left.

The old Eagle is no longer there. The city, new to me, lies here before me, waiting to be explored.

So you may see me standing on a street corner one of these days, waiting for a bus.

I'll be the one wearing the bright blue ear muffs. Just remember -- please don't honk.

Eagle writer Louise Freeman is spending some of the summer in Anchorage.