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Gustavus - Turn your watches back

  • Author: Kim Heacox
  • Updated: January 25, 2017
  • Published January 25, 2017

The National Park Service’s vessel is tied up at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay National Park. The park and the community of Gustavus are close neighbors. (Anne Raup / ADN archive 2005)

Editors' note: We asked 14 of Alaska's best writers spread across the state — from Tenakee Springs to Dutch Harbor to Utqiagvik — to grapple with a question we all face in our lives: Why do I live where I live? This piece is part of that collection.

GUSTAVUS — Awhile back my neighbor Sean posted on Facebook, "Most schools confiscate knives … at our school we pass them out — even to the kindergartners." That way kids from every class could gather together to butcher a moose. When I first arrived here by small air taxi in 1979, the pilot said, "Welcome to Gustavus, you can turn your watches back 100 years."

People wave as they drive by, and stop in the middle of the road to have a little talk. Many of us live happily without television, building codes or local law enforcement. I suppose Gustavus is what America was: rural, friendly, slow and surrounded by wild country. In this case, 3.3-million-acre Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, where many of the town's residents work as scientists and educators.

Others are here to reinvent themselves. One aging hippy told me from the seat of his riding lawnmower that a book published on the town's early pioneer history, "Hope and Hard Work," is due for a sequel, "Dope and Yard Work."

Things aren't perfect here — it can rain every day for a month — but neither are they deeply flawed. We come for the place, the tidewater glaciers, humpback whales and coastal brown bears. But we stay because of the people, the self-reliance, the sense of family and friendship, the wild strawberries and kelp salsa, the simple gestures and potluck dinners, the music, children and good times. We stay because we are grateful and inspired.

Author Kim Heacox's most recent books are the novel "Jimmy Bluefeather" and the Denali memoir "Rhythm of the Wild."

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