Living in the Kodiak wilderness is not a lifestyle most people would choose. Over the years, many of my high-school and college friends have visited me here, and some say to me, “You are so lucky! I’d love to live here!” Others, though, give me a bewildered look and ask, “How can you stand to live out here all by yourselves?” A few of my friends even seem to pity me, which amuses me, since I think I am lucky to live and work in the wilderness. People either tend to romanticize a peaceful life away from civilization, or they picture it as a type of prison. From my perspective, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Living in the wilderness is much easier today than it was even fifteen years ago. We no longer have to depend on spotty radio signals to communicate with Kodiak, as we did when I first moved here. We have a satellite phone, satellite internet, even satellite television. We are fortunate to receive essential air service once a week in the winter that brings us our mail, freight and groceries. When I need to order something from the grocery store, I simply e-mail my order to the store, they fill it, deliver it to the airlines, and we receive it on our next mail flight.
The scenery on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is spectacular during every season, and we often have deer, eagles, and foxes in our yard, and whales, seals, sea otters, and sometimes sea lions in the cove in front of our house. The quiet is complete, especially in the winter, and I don’t miss the hustle and bustle of the holidays. We work hard from April through November, so those peaceful, winter days are a nice change of pace, and should the mood strike me, I can always spend a day shopping on the internet.
Living in the wilderness does have its drawbacks, though, and this life isn’t always easy. I miss having close friends, and most of the friends I do have, can’t relate to my lifestyle. I miss attending concerts, plays, movies, and other cultural events, and I definitely miss going out to dinner. My husband, Mike, grew up in the wilderness, and he said the hardest part as a kid was the lack of friends and the social awkwardness he and his siblings felt when they did go to town and were around other children.
From a practical standpoint, you must be a jack of all trades if you live in the wilderness. From fixing our outboard to our computer, if we can’t figure out how to do it, we’re out of luck, at least until we can get the broken item to a repairman in town. If it breaks, we either have to fix it or buy a new one. If our internet goes out, we’ve lost our main source of communication, including the internet provider who could help us fix the problem. Calling help lines on a satellite phone is expensive and frustrating, since the call is often dropped before we can talk to a live human.
We are also on our own if we have a fire or need immediate help from law enforcement. The troopers will arrive eventually, but they are a long distance away and can’t provide immediate support. We can call the Coast Guard if we have a serious injury or a medical emergency, but again, it takes time for them to deploy and get to us, so we make sure we have the knowledge, training, and equipment to deal with most medical emergencies. You can’t depend on others when you choose to live so far away from civilization.
It is often frustrating to me that the rest of the world doesn’t understand where or how I live. Try ordering something without a street address! We receive a mail plane once a week, and the post office has issued us a postal code that even they do not recognize. I am constantly trying to convince online stores that I will receive their merchandise if they mail it to the address I have provided. Some tell me I’m wrong, my address does not exist, and they will not ship to it. We even run into problems with businesses and doctors in Kodiak. I once spent $1000 on a trip to town for a blood test that could have easily been ordered during my doctor’s visit the previous week. It is also frustrating to make an appointment months in advance only to have to cancel it at the last minute, because the weather is too bad to fly to town.
There are pros and cons to living in the wilderness, just as there are pros and cons to living anywhere. Our lifestyle is different, but for the most part, I enjoy it. I love welcoming people during our summer trips and showing them around our world. Many are anxious when they first arrive, unsure of what to expect, and it’s fun to watch them relax as they leave the problems of the outside world behind them and become in tune with the rhythms of our world. I know living in the remote wilderness of Kodiak Island is not a lifestyle most people would embrace, but that’s one of the reasons it’s so special to me.