UNALAKLEET — A year and a half ago, I moved to my hometown of Unalakleet. After 20 years, I decided that moving to the close-knit family community would bring me joy. I sold my cute, full-of-character Nome house, complete with a claw-foot tub, wood stove, and wood countertops from the old Anchor Bar. I shipped the truck, packed my ulus and grass baskets, gave away my waffle maker and trusted I was doing the next right thing.
Unalakleet is a town of about 700 people with no road access and more relatives than friends. I know who most everyone is in the community. While I was looking forward to watching my niece and nephews play basketball, going to their birthday parties, and being immersed in the loving and caring community, I knew one thing.
I would not date.
Not that I had a rich and vibrant dating life in Nome. In fact, there were zero prospects in what they call the Gold Rush town. So I conceded, with trust, that quantity does not equal quality and maybe, just maybe, the right kind of person would breeze through my little fishing town. I am, after all, a proud and fairly capable village girl. And what I wanted was a proud and fairly capable village boy.
The first summer home, I started building my house. A 16-by-24-foot two-story structure with windows welcoming in sunlight and birch trees, I planned this little cabin house for me, my kids and our small dog, Pushkin. Everything was planned. I was beginning to be OK with the idea of being that tough single lady who fills her own freezers with fish, caribou and berries. The family lady who helps with the seals, moose and dryfish. And daily returning to the hill house with the birch trees welcoming me home.
Then I got a letter in the mail. "You seem like an interesting person and someone I'd like to get to know," he said. The guy I briefly met had gone king salmon fishing with my dad that summer. I knew he lived in a small community to the north and loved it. "You seem like an interesting person, yourself, and someone I'd like to get to know," I told him.
Although transplanted, his Instagram life showed me that he liked fish and seal oil. And being at camp. This might be a village kid.
That fall our letters turned into emails. While I knew this guy also grew up in the Covenant church — something really important to me — I learned through email village dating that this man also has a boat. And he loves the pace of rural Alaska life. Shortly after these initial emails, I told my closest friend, "Greta, just watch. There will be a wedding on Besboro (Island) next summer." Although I said it with a smile and a laugh, I wasn't kidding.
When it quickly became time for me to see this man face to face, we realized one sobering truth about rural Alaska dating. "You literally live $1,000 away," he said. That means three flights and a day and a half of travel. But we did it. We bought tickets and I went up north, hopped off the Caravan and onto his Honda.
We went on long walks with his dog, Runner. We went boating. And camping. And picnicked on gravel bars on that great river. We did all the simple, everyday things we love doing. Drank coffee. Ate moose soup. Visited elder friends. Had supper with mutual friends. We did them with smiles on our faces, together. And the night before I left, he unknowingly sealed the deal.
Best akutaq ever
He did the smoothest thing a man can do. He fed me frozen trout, seal oil, muktuk, seal meat and hand-whipped akutaq. The best akutaq I've ever had. I hopped back on a Caravan knowing I was done searching. This man was it.
Today I find myself getting ready for another trip up north. We'll eat more quaq, seal oil and moose soup. While he's working I hope to ice fish for trout. Maybe we'll go caribou hunting. We'll have meals with our mutual friends. And we'll plan the addition being made to the Myugiaq House. I guess this village boy is done searching, too.
Laureli Ivanoff lives in Unalakleet where she's raising her two children, Joe and Sidney. They eat a lot of fish and are very proud of their Yorkiepoo named Pushkin.