It’s been three months since I moved to Unalaska, and I think I finally have all those things that make a person a functional adult: a working cell phone (obtained Wednesday), a permanent home (got keys this week), a car (paid for about a month and a half ago), and Internet (wired two months ago, and yes these are my priorities in ascending order). I can’t quite figure out whether this all took me so long because this is a hard — and expensive — place to get established in or because I’m just not terribly on top of my game right now. Likely, a combination of both these things.
At any rate, all this has meant that more than anything else I’ve been feeling like an alien at summer camp. The island lends itself to that. The mountains are bald; there are almost no trees here. The few that exist are small and spindly, and they often protrude from the ground at 50° angles, as if just shoved down by a hurricane. The climate, the soil, and the winter darkness make it hard for big or sensitive things to grow around here. Plus, we do get our fair share of storms, and the winds can blow up to 200 miles per hour.
The island does get green, though. When the sun is out in the summertime, the place is pure fantasy novel. You hear people actually drop the words “fecund” and “verdant” in conversation to describe the change. The beach grass gets to be four feet tall. At first, lupins and chocolate lilies plaster the island, only to be replaced by rhododendrons and fireweed. There are also something like 18 different types of orchids here. My boyfriend visited me in July, and we would constantly argue over whether Unalaska looked more like Mordor or the Shire. He was often in the former camp, I was usually in the latter. Really, our assessment mostly depended on the presence of fog.
The waterfalls look like they’ve been ripped straight from an Irish Spring soap commercial. There are plenty of lakes, and streams choked with salmon. Even though the Bering Sea can look like a world-record-breaking vat of India ink, bits of Dutch Harbor are as turquoise as the Caribbean. It’s weird.
So needless to say, with all this strange beauty, I’ve been hiking and camping a lot. Plus, there isn’t exactly a ton of nightlife here, so starting a bonfire and a pitching a tent usually win out over going to the sports bar for the twelfth time that week. I’ve eaten more toasted marshmallows in the past three months than I have in the past decade. And while I haven’t been out on the water as much as I would like, I’ve still been on plenty of boats, which was not a usual occurrence in DC.
Now that it’s starting to get dark, this place will probably start to feel foreign to me in a whole different way. The tundra’s getting a reddish tint already. But, at least I’m established now. You can get away with being a little flighty and disconnected when the sun’s out until one in the morning, I think. When it’s cold and wet, being connected to the outside world and having a place to comfortably hole up is a little more important.