My family moved to Homer for the winters when my sister and I were old enough to require real schooling. We were timid and uncertain away from the wild Aleutians. But there was already a common language forming between us and a freckled girl form a fish camp in Ugashik, a brother and sister from an Area M drifter, the spirited daughter of a Dillingham setnetting family. Together we were children of a seasonal tradition, returning with our families each summer in search of salmon, the fish that sustained us and defined our collective lives.
I saved my crew share through high school. My mom helped me open a bank account, and my dad emphasized the importance of financial independence. They encouraged my sister and me to put the money we saved toward college tuition.
I thought I didn’t have a chance at college. My family didn’t come from prestige. I had gaps in my educating from homeschooling for eight years in bush Alaska. I read about different colleges in a hand-me-down catalog and dog-eared pages that looked like they might be a good fit, but I had never been to these places, and I couldn’t claim to know what I was looking for. When it came time to write the applications essays, though, I realized that I did, at least, have a story. And where did this story come from? From those salmon that my parents came to Alaska in search of, that I return to search for each summer.
When I arrived at an East Coast college I found myself a curiosity, and I was proud to be an Alaskan. I felt pride for other Alaskans, who I knew to be hard-working and humble. I developed a new admiration for the life I’d left behind, specifically the culture of fishing that seemed obsolete on this other coast.