D.C. teenager searching for different environment finds Homer — and more

Editor’s Note: Annie Rosenthal worked as an intern/staff writer at the Homer News from September through December on a gap year between high school and college. She plans to pursue a career in journalism.

 


When I graduated from a large public high school in Washington, D.C., in June and decided to take a year off before college, I had one goal for the fall: to put myself in an entirely different environment and commit fully to learning about it.

Six months later, on my last night in Homer, walking across the snowy parking lot of West Homer Elementary School after an evening of contra dancing, I paused to look up at the glittering sky. Over the past four months, I’d flown into a Native village in a two-person plane and floated in the midst of dozens of breaching humpbacks. I’d learned more than I knew there was to know about halibut, celebrated the Jewish holidays with the local contingent of the Frozen Chosen, met a heck of a lot of interesting, engaged people, and began to understand the ebb and flow of a weekly paper.

I was entirely sure that I couldn’t have landed in a better place.

Arriving in Homer after two weeks spent driving across the country in late August, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I packed bear spray and warm clothes and prepared myself for a community wary of sharing its stories with a teenage outsider.

What I found instead was an infinitely beautiful, complicated, wacky town that pulled me in with the world’s friendliest long arms. While Homer didn’t feel quite as foreign as I had expected it to, there was plenty that surprised me.

Some of that was adjusting to small-town livin’: running into people I knew at Safeway and K Bay and the gas station within a week of arriving in town. Realizing with a thrill that I never had to wash my car and that dressing up meant changing from XtraTufs to clogs.

But I think a lot of what fascinated and drew me in was unique to Homer. This town seems to encourage people to be multi-faceted in a way that my city didn’t. Nature is 100 percent in your face, and that means people have to be capable: good at dealing with wildlife and weather, knowledgeable about fish and trees and tides. The proximity of wilderness also seems to make people thoughtful and artistic — or at least attract such folks. There’s less pressure in Homer to declare your exclusive allegiance to either science or art. In D.C., your odds of meeting a fisherman-poet-Iditarod winner-homeless youth advocate are slim to none. In Homer, I wouldn’t even bat an eye at such an introduction.  

One thing that D.C. and Homer have in common is that both are points of convergence, serving as gathering places for people from elsewhere. While D.C. isn’t just the bubbling cauldron of ambition and political backstabbing that TV makes it out to be (more than 650,000 of us live in the District and don’t get a vote in Congress), employment is what brings outsiders to the city. In Homer, it seems that the magnet is the land itself. Jobs don’t define humans of Homer in the same way they do in D.C. — people come to town for the place and the community, and find ways to pay the bills once they arrive. 

While politics are intensely polarizing in the District, Homerites seem to live by their own standards and base their beliefs on experience. Some of my favorite people in town shared almost none of my political views, and friends came in all sizes, ages, and backgrounds.

My sincerest thanks to the staff of the Homer News for patiently showing me the ropes and making life easy and interesting these past few months. Lori, Michael, Aaron, Alder, Deirdre, Gary — I couldn’t have asked for a kinder, warmer, more thoughtful and supportive group of people to work with. I’ll always be grateful to Lori for taking a chance and hiring a 17-year-old two months out of high school. 

I considered staying on in Homer for the rest of my gap year — packing up and heading out of a place that already felt like home so soon was tough. But I worried seriously that if I stuck around, I’d never leave. After the holidays, I plan to spend some time working on a farm and then head to the southwest to volunteer with migrant kids near the border.

A week out of Alaska I’m getting used to waking up to daylight and experiencing major mountain withdrawal. The other day I said “hi” to a stranger on the street and experienced the twang of rejection when they didn’t reciprocate. I’m sure I’ll be back soon.

In the meantime, keep in touch! My email is annie.rw.rosenthal@gmail.com. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who answered my questions, made me feel welcome, and helped to create such an incredible environment.

Happy holidays, Homer, and thank you for everything.

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