Life in Nome is shaped by seasons and celebrations. Winter and summer are very different prospects here. The landscape changes dramatically and affects even the basics. Things you take for granted in other places – like getting out of town for a weekend drive – just aren’t possible here for half the year. Roads are closed and the Bering Sea locks Nome in its frozen grasp.
But being so isolated has inspired a tradition of community celebration and independence that’s more than a century old. Before aviation made travel easier, if you didn’t make it onto the last boat out of Norton Sound, then you were spending the winter. And you did it with hundreds of other hardy souls who craved entertainment, sport and festive events to pass long, dark winter days.
Nome is shaped also by comings and goings. During its very first months as a community, Nome was transformed by the arrival of thousands of newcomers, from all over the world. They built the city, later leaving by the thousands when the weather and the outlook for getting rich both turned harsh.
Back then, 95% of the community was white. Today, it’s about 50% Alaska Native. The history and culture of the Native people of the Bering Straits Region goes back thousands of years. As Nome has evolved as a community, its residents – descendants of gold rush adventurers, Alaska Natives, and newcomers – have learned from each other to blend old traditions with new.
There’s no better way to get a sense of this community than by picking up a copy of The Nome Nugget, the self-proclaimed “oldest newspaper in Alaska.” The Nugget offers engaging photographs of Nome activities and celebrations, reporting on local politics and developments in the area, short op-eds on current themes, historic photographs, and letters from readers in Nome and the surrounding area. A Unalakleet Elder named Karen often writes in, always ending with grandmotherly words of wisdom. “Eat your greens” and “Dress for the weather” are two of her common pieces of advice, although she always seems to say them in a different way. “You’re not superhuman, so dress accordingly,” she wrote once. “Remember the stinkweed. It really is good for you.”
This simple advice to an entire readership symbolizes perhaps Nome’s greatest strength: the knowledge that to survive here, you must take care of each other.
Another resident wrote a thank-you to the community on a local online message board. “You pull together for city-wide celebrations, parades, and to aid one another in times of need. You check on your neighbors, respond to search and rescue operations, support children and families in need directly and through the organizations here. You make noise to our local decision makers in order to make our city’s functions truly representative. You open your hearts and homes to the stranded and helpless. You respect and support law enforcement personnel, who are our neighbors. You show up for jury duty.” All this, said the writer, makes Nome a caring, loving, and neighborly place to live.