Why I live where I live

UNALAKLEET — My great-great grandpa was a mythical figure to me. A man I read about in books. A person built in that historical, not really real way.

But on a November day while visiting Chicago a few years ago, I looked at my great-great grandpa Stefan’s drawing and he became a human being. A hundred years ago, Stefan drew Unalakleet when studying at North Park College. I walked those Chicago streets and I imagine he missed home, being in a strange place — a feeling I’ve often experienced.

Stefan drew Unalakleet cradled in the Unalakleet River Valley by the hills to the north and south. By Norton Sound to the west and the very river that flows from the east. For some reason, seeing his drawing made me realize he breathed. He laughed. Cried. Sang. Spoke. Walked on this earth. And I felt connection to a man I’d never met. He loved his home.

After studying, Stefan returned to Unalakleet. About a year ago, I returned home. After 20 years of living elsewhere, the love of home — and the family and friends who make it — drew me back.

And today, when my hands get cold while ice fishing for trout, I think about my Dad, who loves being on the frozen river during nice days. When picking berries, I think of my Mom, who took me out, even when I complained and qivited over how long we’d be out in the boring tundra. When cutting pinks for drying I think of my auntie Abuz, who made cutting fish so much fun with her laughter and stories. When cutting blubber for oil, for some reason, I think of my great-great-grandmother Amelia and wonder if she made her seal oil clear, a little yellow or really yellow. When I pick beach greens I think of my grandma and the afternoon I spent with her cutting a mountain of succulent greens for her achaaqthluk.

I feel connection to all these people who breathed, laughed, cried, sang and spoke at their home. My home.

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