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Facing climate change, Unalakleet will endure

  • Author: Laureli Ivanoff
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 16, 2014

NOME -- It's raining. And it's November.

I don't know what to think about rain in November. Or December, for that matter. Or the lack of sea ice in the fall and early winter. I don't know what to think about new willows popping up on the hills where we pick blueberries in summer. Or cottonwoods here in Nome -- a place not too long ago described as treeless.

I don't know what to think about my house shifting every other season and needing to hire Roger Thompson to level it. Or the 5-foot-deep hole in my backyard that I don't want to pay to get filled.

I do know I'd rather not think about melting permafrost. I don't know what to think about our snowless winter last year. Or the snow we got in June that other year. I don't even know if I should buy a snowmachine.

Will we get snow and if we do, will it stay? I live in the subarctic. We used to count on snow and the cold. Not today, and it's weird.

I'm not complaining. Maybe I am complaining. If I am, I don't know whom I'm complaining to. I do know when I start to think about it, I get worried and feel small. My grandpa says we didn't have moose up here like we do today. Or beavers. Or as many bears. We definitely didn't have coyotes.

I'm pretty sure grandpa's home won't be habitable in 20 years. Our storms get more and more fierce. Every year we feel threatened and hope for the best.

Hope and plan. For the days the ocean takes over the place we played manamanaa and kick-the-can as kids. For the days the storms become too reliable and too much for our houses. Our churches. Our school. I've accepted that my childhood home of Unalakleet will look very different in 25 years. It's bitter, but it's reality. We can't control a lot, but knowing what we can control helps replace worry with hope.

Because I do know for certain what makes home. It's not the buildings. The roads. Or the remnants of Covenant High School. It's the people. People coming together and caring for each other. Celebrating. Grieving. Living. Together.

We may worry, but we are hopefully defiant and I like it. We are too in love with home and that's something the ocean can't take. I know this, seeing the people in Unalakleet gathering for the yearly auction, for the Cantata, for church, wrestling tournaments, the lighting of the community tree and the New Year's fireworks. I see the faces at home, so secure with who they are and where they come from. I see love for the river, the Whaleback Mountains east of Unalakleet and the water to the west that brings the salmon, the seal and the unforgettable sunsets. Our feet will find different ground because the smiling eyes of the people at home won't allow the yearly threats to dissolve our community. On the hillside, new houses are being built. There are plans to build infrastructure to an inland water source. The new fuel tank farm is already on higher ground. It will look different. It will take work and cause some heartache, but our home will remain.

It is November and it is raining. I do know when the ocean covers the sand spit where Unalakleet now sits, we'll be OK. We'll be OK as long as the ocean continues to bring the salmon, the seal and the sunsets and we continue to gather as families and a community. For now, the ocean will hint to us and we'll continue to accept and prepare. Our houses and the place we make home may look different, but Unalakleet will remain. Even with coyotes.

Laureli Ivanoff lives in Nome, where she's raising her two children, Joe and Sidney. They eat a lot of fish and are very proud of their yorkipoo named Pushkin.

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