I grew up in Alaska—in Noatak, Old Harbor, and Kodiak. During the years my parents taught in the village of Old Harbor, we’d drive up to Fairbanks for the summer, enjoying luxuries like fresh milk instead of powdered Milkmaid, and trips to the public library and swimming pool.
I studied journalism at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and have written freelance articles for newspapers around the state, as well as a monthly column for the Anchorage Daily News.
Then I earned a teaching degree, and taught kindergarten in rural New Mexico and third graders in Seattle before earning a masters degree in creative nonfiction through the UAA Low-Residency MFA program. There were a couple of half-year backpacking trips around the world in there too, and a lot of camping in the Southwest, where this Alaska girl might have emigrated permanently if I hadn’t married a salmon fisherman. Winters, I teach writing at Kodiak College and work at the college library—a humbling workplace for a writer.
We have two boys who are six and four, and a little sister who was just born in December. We have the world’s best chocolate lab, Schooner, and a puppy, Nettie, aka what were we thinking? We spend every summer at our setnet site in Uyak Bay, on the west side of Kodiak Island. From May to September, while Peter fishes, I spend the majority of the day on Amook Island with Liam and Luke—building, wrecking, running or digging. We make a lot of campfires and eat too many marshmallows. We spend a lot of time climbing around driftwood and like to cut the ear bones or eyeballs out of halibut and cod after they’ve been filleted. At low tide we hunt around tide pools for hermit crabs and eels and anemones. It sounds idyllic, and often is. Unless storms keep us in the cabin for too many hours, and then we bake, or read, or just make a huge mess of the cabin. Some days it’s hard putting mittens on in July, and fleece pants, wool socks, hooded sweatshirts and bug nets.
Many of the stories in my first book, which was released in February 2013 by the University of Alaska Press, are about finding balance in this way of life. The essay collection weaves Kodiak history and natural history with personal narratives about a year divided between two islands. The essays are humorous or reflective, depending on how bad the weather was as I was writing them.
There isn’t a lot of writing time out here, and I sometimes wish for warm summers or for my own time or for takeout. There are mornings though, when the kitchen window is open to sunlight and songbirds in the birch trees behind the cabin, and the boys are sitting at the table in their pajamas with Peter as he tells me how fishing was on the morning’s pick, and bacon is sizzling and I’m standing with a cup of hot coffee in one hand, adding frozen blueberry faces to the boys’ pancakes with the other, and I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line–I had everything I wanted and knew I would never be so happy again.