Here’s a photo from ‘A Normal Life,’ Me, as a singer/guitar player at the Alaska State Folk Festival, circa 1979. I began my college years in Juneau in the late ‘70’s- a time of vast changes in Alaska. In college, I majored in music, studying classical guitar and voice. On the side, I began singing and playing the guitar, mostly at parties or yearly at the Alaska State Folk Festival.
During my first time at the Folk Festival, I performed solo. For several years after, I performed as part of a trio/band the ‘Maintainers.’ The group was founded by me, a high school friend and a guy we knew who played electric guitar and came from a big city Outside (We liked the irony of using an electric instrument at the otherwise all-acoustic event). Back then, the Folk Festival was a huge event in small town Juneau. The Capital of Alaska, a mix of blue-collar fishermen and urban, state employees, had only about 25,000 residents. But it felt much bigger. With the trans-Alaska pipeline newly completed and oil flowing through it, the State was flush with money. Juneau was the place to be as the state of Alaska was suddenly thrust into an oil boom. Juneau is located inland as part of what’s known as ‘Southeast Alaska,’ the archipelago of largely uninhabited wilderness and a handful of fishing towns, accessible only by air or water.
Back then Juneau, with its picturesque setting amid towering mountains, was a magnet for young people looking to live ‘back to nature.’ The town was full idealistic young people - new college grads hoping to score a job with the state or the State Legislature. The other group was young people hoping to live off the land in the biggest nature state in the union!
I was there for both reasons. First, I moved to Juneau after graduating high school with hopes of getting a job as a so-called ‘Page’ in the State House of Representatives. After doing that for ended up being two legislative sessions, I enrolled at the University of Alaska, Southeast.
Among those with long roots in the Klondike-era city was a group of about a half dozen young men, new high school grads, all from Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods. This adorable group of shaggy haired boys from Ferris Bueller Land had just finished stints working as loggers and when I met them. Us nature-like girls were in heaven! One would eventually become a longtime serious relationship. With them and others - we couldn’t have had more fun- throwing potluck gatherings at newly erected cabins on undeveloped land only recently acquired. Or we spent weekends closing down the local watering holes. During this vibrant period of my life, I would eventually own my own ‘back-to-nature’ home, what we all called a ‘float house,’ a popular new kind of smaller dwelling hippies without property were building. Most were located along Douglas Island, with its historic namesake town at one end, and a mostly wild land along the ‘north’ end. That’s where me and my friends parked our float houses, or those who bought land, built cabins- all with no modern amenities such as electricity, running water or flush toilets.
We had outhouses, carried our own fresh water, paid for showers at the laundromat, and heated our homes with wood using wood stoves bought in town.
Despite our rugged lifestyle, at least for a short time, we all thought we had found Nirvana.
Kim possesses an M.F.A. in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University. She continues to write and teach at University of Louisiana Lafayette.