Saturday , May 25 2024

Frozen on the Ocean, Frozen in time

The way people in this world live their lives is changing every day. There is always a new app, a new car, or a new activity that people will gravitate to. In big cities there are always new jobs, new people, or new food.  This concept of change seems to have exponentially accelerated over the past decade with the advent of smart phones and social media. However, there are still some little known places in the world where life has not really changed for hundreds of years. The place I will tell you about is a small village of 68 people, according to the most recent census in 2010, on the Alaska Peninsula out in the Bering Sea called Pilot Point, Alaska.

Pilot Point is a small fishing village that, according to my grandfather, reached its height from the mid 1930s to early 1950s when a fish cannery was built and the industry was firing on all cylinders. During that time he estimated the population ballooned up to 200 people, and they had to build dorms to house all of the seasonal cannery workers. Since then the fish runs have slowed, and the natural shoreline has moved out some 100 feet, thus making the dock unusable for fishing vessels, and therefore the cannery not necessary. Instead of rebuilding the dock farther out in the bay, the people and fisherman decided to use the harbor of another nearby village. Since then the population has dwindled down to present day 68.

My grandfather moved to this tiny village in the late 40s after his father was having trouble finding work after World War II. They were living in Seattle at the time and my great grandmother saw an ad in the paper for the need of a school teacher in Pilot Point. With almost no information about Alaska and especially Pilot Point, they were off for a new adventure. She was the town teacher and my great grandfather was the town handy man. She taught all the kids in the village in a one room school house from grades K-12, if they made it that far. When the men were physically able to fish around the age of 14, they did, and often times never came back to school.

Back then life was simple. You fished extremely hard for 2 months during the summer when the salmon were running, and then the other 10 months out of the year you waited for the salmon to run in again. For fun, kids would do this such things as tie plywood to their arms, run down a hill, and try to fly like the planes that flew in. There was not much to do for anyone besides hunt and fish.

The planes were high on the children’s minds because they were the lifeblood of this tiny village. There were no paved roads to this town or in this town. If anybody in the village needed anything it was flown in by small Cessna planes at an exorbitant cost. This includes any sort of household product, canned food, mail. Planes were so important, my great uncle told me, if you wanted to meet a girl you had to learn to fly. So he did, and met his wife in the next village over. There were only 2 things that weren’t flown in. Those were gasoline and natural gas. Those two essential items were brought in by barge once a year during the summer. The ships could not make the trek in the Bering Sea during the winter months, so they to come just one time while the weather was decent to fill up the city’s tanks. The cars, four wheelers, and snowmobiles of the residents were filled as needed from the tank with no gas station attendant to collect your money.

In fact there was not even a single store with a cash register in the village. No restaurant to get a burger. No convenience store, no office buildings, no gym, no bar, no movie theater, no nothing. The only buildings in this town, that wasn’t a house, were the school, the church, and the cannery. Not even a liquor store, as alcohol is banned from most villages. Luckily for the adults, one of the locals made a great moonshine.

That was life in the village of Pilot Point in the 40s and 50s. People fished, they hunted some caribou, they ate, and they slept. There wasn’t much going on there. To this day nothing that I have described about life in the 40s has changed in 2015. Life has changed so dramatically over the past 75 years for so many of the 6 billion people on this earth. So many different new cars, planes, electronics, medical procedures, even new countries! However, life has not changed at all for the people of Pilot Point. In 2015 there is still no store, no cash register, no gym, and no alcohol. They still fish 2 months out of the year and wait for the fish the other 10 months. Their lives have gotten a little more comfortable in the last 75 years. My uncle that still lives in the village now has running water, a radio in his house and car so incoming pilots can alert him when the mail arrives, and satellite TV so he can watch his favorite football games Sunday morning. Although he does have a slight problem with his car, reverse is broken, so he doesn’t drive it down his driveway because pushing it back to the main street would be impossible.  Nothing about the lifestyle my grandfather experienced in the 1940s has changed for my uncle and cousins in 2015, and it most likely won’t in my lifetime.

It is unimaginable to think about all the experiences we have at our fingertips every single day, the new experiences that come up every single day, and to think that people living on the Alaska Peninsula have none of that and most likely never will. They have no idea what a Tesla is, or Chipotle, or what going to a concert with your friends is like. They have probably never been somewhere where they didn’t know every single person in the room. Life has gotten a little more comfortable in 75 years, but the life has not changed.

About Chris Schierhorn

Chris is 25 year old public accountant and CPA originally from Anchorage, AK. He moved to Texas in 2010 where he attended University of Dallas and played baseball. He likes all things sports, outdoors, and travel. He spends his free time on weekends helping coach a U12 baseball team.

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