The Kenai Peninsula comes alive during summer. Tourists, fishermen, seasonal workers and year-round residents share highways and harbors from Homer to Seward. ADN's Tegan Hanlon and Marc Lester recently spent a week meeting some of the people who make the Peninsula unique. Here are some of their stories.

Jillian Malone helped organize the Alaska Heathenry solstice gathering on the beach in Ninilchik. Photographed on June 21, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

NINILCHIK — In an early-afternoon rainstorm on the longest day of the year, nine heathens gathered on the beach of this tiny fishing village for a dayslong celebration of Sunna, the Norse goddess of the sun.

"We were hoping to watch her passage through the sky today," said Jillian Malone, her long hair damp with rain. "Unfortunately we were not as blessed as we had hoped."

Next to her was an altar with flowers and wooden statuettes, flanked by torches. Nearby, a woman held her baby under a large, rainbow-colored umbrella by a smoldering campfire. A semicircle of tents sat behind her. Two children played together near the water's edge.

This was Alaska Heathenry's fourth annual midsummer gathering.

Malone, a soft-spoken organizer of the event, said she felt a bit hesitant to talk about it. "I just know how a lot of people feel about the pagans," she said. There are many misconceptions about heathenry, she said.

"The biggest confusion is that actually in the dictionary — it's so simple — the first meaning you get is someone who doesn't believe in God," she said. But a heathen, she said, "really is someone who believes in many gods. More specifically, the northern European gods."

Randy Harvey and Robert Love talk at the kitchen tent. Photographed on June 21, 2018.(Marc Lester / ADN)
Alaska Heathenry members camped on the beach in Ninilchik for their annual midsummer gathering on June 21, 2018. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Malone runs a private Facebook group called Alaska Heathenry as a hub for heathens to talk with one another. It's described online as a safe place where racism and hatred will not be tolerated.

"A lot of us, before we found Alaska Heathenry, felt like lone wolves," Malone said. "The comment that I get the most is they feel like they've found their pack."

The group's event on Ninilchik's shores would last for about three days, with people coming and going. Malone expected more people to arrive that night, a Friday. They still had a pig roast planned and "Viking games," such as races through the sand and a hammer toss — throwing a hammer as far as possible with one hand without spilling a horn full of mead held in the other hand.

"We like to show our enthusiasm just like the Vikings did, by raising our horns and hailing and screaming as loud as we can," Malone said. "If Christians can take their holidays, why can't we?"

The group also planned to dance on the beaches and simply talk with one another. Malone said she had asked those attending to limit cellphone use. "Actually visit," she said. "Hail the gods together."

Children play in the rain during the Alaska Heathenry gathering. (Marc Lester / ADN)
A sign directs members to the Alaska Heathenry camp on June 21, 2018.(Marc Lester / ADN)