Columns 2003

Life’s hustle and bustle subdued in the bush

I recently heard a young woman, Alexandra Soprano, speak at the Alaska Press Women’s monthly luncheon.  She was part of the Rose Urban Rural Exchange Program of the Alaska Humanities Forum. Alexandra spent two weeks in a Bush village living with a local family and attending the local high school. The program works both ways with students from the Bush coming to live for two weeks in Anchorage homes.

The whole idea of the exchange is basically to broaden the perspective of everyone involved in it. It is based on the very true belief that there are two different worlds in Alaska, one in the Bush and one in the urban areas.  While most people who live in the Bush at one time or another find themselves forced to come to the city, whether for health care or a Costco run, the majority of urban dwellers in our great state rarely make the trip in the other direction.  And as this young lady rightfully pointed out, it can be quite an eye opener.

I think the one statement Alexandra made that struck home for me more than any other was when she said that in the Bush, she realized she had time to think. She was referring to the different rhythm of the Bush compared to the city.  The hustle and bustle is missing, the noise and distractions are limited to skidoo and ATV motors, and there’s no where to rush to because everywhere is pretty much right there.

It awakened in me a yearning for Barrow that I spend a lot of time trying to avoid.  It reminded me yet again of one of the things I loved most about village life.

Here in Anchorage it seems as though I am always on the run.  Even the simplest errand is never less than a 30 minute round trip car ride.  On days when I have lots of errands, I spend hours in the car running from one end of town to the other. 

In the Bush a trip to the store might also have taken me 30 minutes.  But it would have been because of all the people I ran into at the store with whom I stopped to visit.

The drive there would have also been different – slower, more relaxed, no exits to get to, no long lines in turn lanes, fewer moments questioning who the heck ever gave the bozo in front of me a license.

I like that in the Bush you can stop your car in the middle of the street, roll down the window and have a conversation with someone who was walking by.  Other cars cheerfully go around you while honking and waving.  Only in the Bush, they are using all their fingers in the wave.  Some Anchorage drivers do not seem to be aware that you can.

Everything in the Bush is paced slower, quieter, less structured and less rushed.  If you get there later rather than sooner, no one gets all that upset about it except maybe for some outsiders who just moved there and haven’t become attuned to the rhythm yet.

When I first moved to Barrow from New York City, I was horrified when I invited people to dinner at 6 and they strolled in at 9 or 10 with no real excuse for being late.  They didn’t feel they needed one.  As a nurse at the hospital there, I quickly learned that appointments in general, and morning appointments in specific, were an iffy proposition at best.  Life was following a rhythm not dictated by clocks and schedules.

In Barrow there is no movie theater so you don’t try to find time to get to the newest flick. There are only about five restaurants in the greater Barrow/Browerville area so choosing a restaurant is easy and getting there is never more than a five minute drive.  The post office is at best ten minutes away from anywhere and the airport is pretty much in the middle of town.

All this leads to a more relaxed life that allows for quiet moments of reflection and thought, moments frequently lost in the rush of city life.

I miss Barrow for a lot of reasons.  I think I miss the peace and quiet in which my mind could so often dwell most of all.