Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weathering Winter in Western Alaska

Looks like those happy summer days of fishing, berry picking and sunshine are retreating under the blanket of cold that is enveloping our region, tucking us in for a long chilly nap. 

Winter in Alaska can be an isolating time for people, especially here in our region where we become literally isolated by our geography and climate.   Isolation can do funny things to people, and unfortunately it often goes hand-in-hand with a spike in substance abuse, domestic violence, depression and even suicide.

When I think of the long days of darkness ahead and I start to feel my spirits sinking, I like to remind myself that people have been weathering out the winters for hundreds of years on the Seward Peninsula.  What was their trick? I do believe it was keeping busy.  With all the bountiful harvest of berries, fish and meat put up for the winter it was time to get busy with indoor projects.  Traditionally that may have meant sewing a new parky or pair of mukluks, carving ivory, tools and frames for skin boats, and many other projects that kept the day-to-day living and subsistence endeavors alive.  Winter was a time to make good food, good music, tell stories and enjoy the company of family. Many here in our region still use winter as a time to do these things, but many do not.

Unfortunately, with the down time winter presents, many find themselves bored, restless and cramped inside.  They solve this problem by heading down town to drown these miserable feelings in alcohol.  I can’t think of a more isolating substance than alcohol; an altered state of consciousness, and the decisions and actions that go with it, have the potential to alienate us from our neighbors, friends and families. When we finally sober up and come back to reality, we have to face our decisions, the people we hurt, and the fact that all our money is gone. Talk about depressing.

This winter I would encourage all of us to find a constructive outlet, and do something productive that brings joy to our body and spirit.  Luckily for us, Nome is replete with fun activities to do in the winter if you know where to look.  If you need a physical outlet, head down to the Rec and snag a workout and sauna. Join a city-league team for camaraderie and competition, or venture out to Nome Beltz and cheer on our local youth as they compete. If you want to challenge your brain, consider taking a class at NWC.  Not only are there a variety of challenging and useful academic classes offered there, you can also learn some traditional art forms like skin sewing, beading or carving.  You can tinker in plywood sculpture, pottery, or printmaking or learn how to fix your snowmachine yourself.  Taking a class is a great way to meet and mingle with people from outside your usual social circle. The Nome Arts Council keeps things hoppin’ all winter long with live music at open mike nights, and keep your ear to the ground for cultural celebrations that feature some of the amazing, talented drummers and dancers from the region.  These are just a few of the fun things happening in Nome.  So listen to the radio, check out the paper, and the bulletin boards around town for more info.

Most importantly, use this down time to spend some quality time with your loved ones.  If you know of someone who lives alone and has no family here, reach out to them and make them feel included.  We are a community, lets put the focus on togetherness and shut out isolation this winter.

1 comment: