So much has changed in the past five months that I regularly have to stop, close my eyes, take a deep breath and then open my eyes to the amazing world outside my window just to remind myself that, yes, I am indeed finally an Alaskan. I spent my first four and a half decades living urban in numerous towns spread out across Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. Born and raised in SE Michigan (Dearborn) I attended Michigan State University and graduated with a BS in Food Science. I went to work in food manufacturing for the first 18 years of my working life before changing careers into IT in 1996. I lived a comfortable life chasing jobs and promotions yet I always felt something was missing. When the bottom fell out of the IT job market in 2006 I was left with few options and in ’07, after spending the better part of 18 months looking for work, I formally retired. As my folks aged and fell into ill-health I split time between my home in West Chester, Ohio (a northern suburb of Cincinnati) and Dearborn, Michigan (a western suburb of Detroit). After Dad passed and Mom began to succumb to the devil that is Alzheimer’s I sold my hone in West Chester and moved into the family home as a care-taker while visiting Mom at her assisted living facility. It was during this time I learned the real joy of volunteering as I gave 30 to 40 hours a month to Mom’s facility and worked with the memory impaired residents. I came to realize that I derived more joy and satisfaction from this volunteering than I’d ever received from all my almost 30 years of working in corporate America; a sad statement on the real worth of those positions. When Mom passed I continued to volunteer and assess where my life was heading; I had no good answer.
In the fall of 1996 I’d orchestrated a back packing trip with two college buddies to Alaska; it was three weeks of wonder and amazement for me and I returned well and truly bitten by the ‘Alaska bug’. From that point forward I tried to find work in the state but couldn’t overcome the discrimination most Alaskan businesses have against hiring people from the lower 48. It is based in fact as most new hires from the lower 48 come up to Alaska, go into the first winter, freak out because of the cold and dark and cannot get back to the lower 48 quickly enough. I knew this wouldn’t be an issue for me but was never able to make it believable to the firms I spoke with regarding Alaskan employment. When Mom passed and the family settled the trust I knew it was time to make a choice. I recognized I was leading a nice, comfortable life but it was also ‘comfortably numb’ and that didn’t feel right. In January of 2012 with the help of my good friend and financial adviser (Kev) I was able to determine that I could retire to Alaska. From that point forward I held on to that dream and worked to make it happen. I was leaving a wonderful network of friends and a great volunteering position (I could take my two dogs with me when I volunteered as they acted as ‘therapy dogs’) and striking out to live in someplace I’d visited maybe 12 times previously so of course there were concerns but I’d felt the call of Alaska and I had no choice but to answer her. With the indispensable help of a college buddy – one of the two I’d first visited Alaska with way back in 1996 – I moved my household and two canine companions 4,243 miles from Northville, Michigan to Talkeetna, Alaska in just nine and a half days. That drive was truly an adventure and was just the start of my current adventure of living rural in south central Alaska.
I’m now learning how to not just survive but thrive in rural south central Alaska and its been every bit the adventure I expected…and then some! Of course I knew the scenery in this area was awesome and unlike any I’d witnessed in the lower 48. And I knew that living in rural Talkeetna I’d be living in close proximity to large mammals like moose, grizzlies and black bears. But I wasn’t truly prepared for the spiritual/psychic changes that this shift would generate; I’m still amazed when I see the changes wrought upon me by this amazing state of existence. Yes, its isolated especially compared to what I was used to but there’s a magic in being able to go all day and not hear one man-made noise generated by anyone but me! The immense silence that surrounds this area has a presence all its own and it is so calming, so soothing and so friendly. I’ve rarely seen such clear air and at no time is that more impressive than during a cloudless winter night; the sky is awash in stars and the Milky Way is always visible. It takes just a few minutes of watching the sky to see a meteor blazing to its death across the night sky. The pace of life in such a rural setting is so much less harried than any I experienced in the lower 48; up here I truly can take the time to smell the flowers! To live in such an amazing place is indeed an honor and the fulfillment of a sixteen year old dream. Without question its been an adventure to this point and my sincerest hope is that this amazing adventure continues..!