HUSLIA -- It's not often that a newspaper publisher wants to write a public thank you note. This is one of those times.
I am lucky enough to be able to fly a Dispatch team every year in my airplane to cover the Iditarod from the air and on the ground.
And that is how we came to be visitors in the Interior village of Huslia last week. (By the way, I'm told that "Huslia" is of Norwegian derivation, meaning something like "houses on a bank high above the river.")
Huslia has set a new bar for hospitality and friendship. This village is home to 316 residents (the most recent of whom was born just last week) and unlike most Bush villages, its population is actually growing. Families are digging deeper roots and having more children here, and you can feel new life in the air.
More importantly for Iditarod, Huslia has a rich and storied history of dog mushing. The late, great sprint racer George Attla and some of his peers kept up a regular round of "carnivals" with dog races. So the present-day Iditarod mushers are real heroes to these children, who are in awe at being able to meet them.
The excitement has been palpable. As each musher arrives, crowds run out to cheer them in. (And this in minus-40 temps). Inside the magnificently hand-built, octagonal log community hall, there is more food than the eye can process. Every few minutes, it seems, another huge pot of moose soup, pan of moose roast, platter of baked salmon, or every conceivable variation on the theme, arrives to take its place on the crowded, 20-some-foot-long buffet table.
There is a constant parade of all ages in and out, day and night. It seems as if the village population has temporarily doubled: Members of the media are here, along with Iditarod volunteers, vets, and even a few, hardy tourists. Inside are mushers, fans, elders, squealing children. The food supply never gets low.
A huge, double-decker wood stove keeps all warm and provides a drying rack for mushers' frozen clothing. Elder ladies have set up tables with stunningly intricate beadwork and fur clothing for sale.
Scattered around the village, there is an unintended benefit (to the visitor) of having no cell phone service here. Residents communicate over CB radio. Left turned on everywhere, sets broadcast announcements ranging from "please remember to turn off the oven" to "someone needs a ride at the airport." One in particular struck me: "Thank you to everyone for all your hard work and cooking; we'll still be having lots more visitors for the next few days so it isn't over yet." Most times, no names are mentioned. It seems everyone knows one another's voices.
For this urbanite, there is so much to treasure in all these interactions. It reminds of us of how we all used to be, in a less crowded time. I am grateful. I know I speak for everyone who will never forget this visit to the village high on the Koyukok river bank.
Alice Rogoff is publisher of Alaska Dispatch News.