Vista volunteer offers early impressions of life on peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2002

"You're going where now?"

That was usually the reaction I got when I told people back in my hometown of Philadelphia that I would be moving to Alaska -- and in the middle of winter no less. The idea of coming to Alaska has always lived in my mind somewhere, usually towards the back. One day, last fall, it sprung to the front and before I knew it, I was signed on with VISTA and buying long underwear. The preparations were interesting, to say the least. Into the local outfitter I would go and ask them for their heaviest coat, warmest boots, woolliest socks.

"No, warmer I'm going to Alaska, you see."

More Gore-Tex! More 300-weight fleece! More thick socks! More space-age polymers to keep out that cold!

Autumn turned to winter and the big day got closer and closer. Before I knew it all my worldly possessions were boxed up and either shoved in the basement or shipped by the good people at UPS.

Cashier at the UPS office, Willow Grove, PA: "You're going where now?"

Finally, after all the preparations, it was January 25, departure day. Philadelphia to Chicago to Portland (where I would spend some time training) and then to Seattle to Anchorage to Kenai.

The day I left Philadelphia it was sunny and 65 degrees. When I landed in Kenai, it was 20 degrees and snowing.

"I was going where now?"

So now I've been here for two-and-a-half months. It's not dark when I head to work anymore. I've gotten used to seeing moose all over town and having my hair freeze in April. I still get excited when I have a clear view of Redoubt in the morning. I'm still awestruck every time I head over bridge access on a sunny day and catch sight of the mountains reaching from horizon to horizon and clear up to the sky.

I've fallen in love with this place, the raw natural beauty, the friendly people, the fresh air, the open space. I miss some things about Philadelphia. I'd kill a man for a good cheese steak or a bottle of Yuengling lager. I miss my friends and sometimes even my family. I miss concerts and clubs and the subway and the Phillies games in the 700 level with a cold beer and a hot dog. Still, I can leave all that behind me for a chance to see a grizzly bear (from far away) or to catch a barn-door-sized halibut. I'd forsake cheese steaks for life in exchange for Wayne Deutchlander's caribou stroganoff. I'd give up that funky little rowhouse in Fairmount to live quietly in the woods with an eagle nest in my backyard and a good pile of wood stacked for the winter. I'd swear off wild nights at Sugar Mom's or the Grape Street Pub for a night of music at the Soldotna Senior Center or dancing at Alice's Champagne Palace. I'll never take the subway again as long as I got my thumb and people will still pull over for me, a dangerous proposition down east.

My friends call me sometimes, and being such wonderful friends, they ask me when I'll be home. With a lump in my throat and a bittersweet taste in my mouth, I tell them, "I think I finally am."

Bob Scott is Kenai Peninsula College's most recent Vista volunteer. He has been working in the Learning Center daily since his arrival in January. He has taken his responsibility as a staff person very seriously and has tutored students, organized the Foster Grandparents Program and helped with the Literacy Project. Since arriving on the peninsula, he also has assisted Habitat for Humanity by volunteering on the weekends.

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