I've lived in Alaska for 17 years, but I'd never been to Nome. With distances as vast as this state's, I haven't been many places, but hope to change that. First off, props to my husband's architecture firm who completed the Richard Foster Building in Nome last year. It houses the Carrie McLain Memorial Museum, the Kegoayah Kozga Public Library and the Katirvik Cultural Center -- three entities with individual histories and voices that united to create a space of beauty and heritage. We came to attend the grand re-opening, now that all the museum exhibits are fully installed.
This structure, like others built on permafrost, is erected on stilts. Unlike other places in the world, stilts in the Arctic have little to do with one hundred-year flood plains and everything to do with drifting snow and -- more importantly -- the heat generated from the building itself, which will melt the permafrost beneath.
Think about that for a bit, then consider the large-scale consequences. Of course, the most blatant destruction doesn't point fingers at single buildings, but, in part, to the actions of an entire world.
Maybe Nome sounds familiar, but you aren't sure why. If I explain it's the official finish line to the 1,000-mile long Iditarod sled dog race, this might jog your memory of its recent history, but the area's deeper culture spans thousands of years. If you study the map below, it begins to build a picture of Alaska that most people don't fully understand. What I've seen on some language maps referred to as "Eskimo" doesn't exist on this one. And what might seem like an empty, stark landscape is full of culture and tradition that resonates in the various arts practiced by its inhabitants, native and non native.
The work of Alaskan artist, Sonja Kelliher-Combs, hangs prominently in the Katirvik Cultural Center's entryway, with additional work in the gathering room. Sonja grew up in Nome, but is now based in Anchorage. Her work is immediately identifiable and much desired; I feel even more of a pull to it now that I've been to the landscape of her childhood. (Please visit her website and body of work. Hers was some of the first Alaskan art I encountered 17 years ago at the Decker/Morris Gallery when I moved to Anchorage from Vancouver, Canada, and thought, "Hang on, this place might be ok").
Her work still punches me in the gut.
I was so honored to bring my children to Nome, even if it was for a short time. I'm honored they have the privilege of growing up in Alaska, honored we get to live and work here, inspired by land, culture and an extreme, changing climate.
Children who come from this place will be forced to solve problems we can't yet imagine. Crossing cultural divides with grace and empathy is a major piece of their future. Understanding consequences is another. Taking risks is another part of the equation.
Some of the largest storms in the world begin in the Bering Sea, but consider the origins of the greatest sea change.
If you think this post prods at a lot , you're correct. I'm thinking about all all of this, all the time.