Generosity good for both body, soul — no matter if the gift is small, large

When Bruce and I moved to Anchor Point in 1978, it was a very different place than it is today. It required a degree of self-sufficiency we were unfamiliar with coming from urban areas in Ohio and Florida. After spending three years in Anchorage, in the midst of the pre-pipeline wild-west atmosphere, we both shared a vision of living off the land with a big garden, a woodstove and a house we built ourselves.  

A friend had purchased a large chunk of land directly above the Anchor River and pushed a road into the center, naming it Try Again Avenue.  Bruce had purchased a 5-acre piece and erected a teepee on it, using poles from the infamous Kenai burn. 

It is said that ignorance is bliss, and in our case, our youthful drive and shared dream helped us settle in. We pulled a 28-foot travel trailer onto the property, drilled a well, built a lean-to on the front of the trailer to hang winter gear and house our larger upgraded refrigerator and dug a hole for the outhouse.

We cooked and heated with a small woodstove. Spring and summer bloomed with abundance and sunshine and rhubarb pies and jam. We worked where and when we could, Bruce driving back roads looking for houses and buildings that needed to be wired. I worked weekends as a cocktail waitress at the Anchor River Inn and weekdays at a ceramic shop and later at an indoor tomato growing venture. We met and became friends and neighbors with an amazing array of people, mostly young and craving an unconventional lifestyle like us. 

It didn’t take us long to start realizing success in our environment depended on an enormous amount of work in the summer to prepare for winter and we struggled to find that balance the first few challenging winters. I recall barely making it from paycheck to paycheck and getting out of our car in the cold and darkness of winter and spotting a $10 bill frozen in the ice. We couldn’t believe our luck and chipped away at the ice until we freed that money. We bought a bag of rice and a six pack of beer with that 10 dollars. We laugh about it now but the kindness and generosity of our friends and neighbors made the difference in us sticking it out or giving up and retreating to a much easier lifestyle and more forgiving climate.

I remember our second winter being asked to house-sit at a double wide trailer in the trailer park across from the Anchor River Inn. It belonged to the owners of the ceramic shop where I worked. Since we were waking up in the morning with our bedding firmly frozen to the inside of our bedroom in our small travel trailer, we felt like we were moving to a mansion. Instead of stoking the wood fire during the night, we would simply turn up a thermostat in the living room. When the owners left, they encouraged us to help ourselves to any of the food available and I remember we opened the chest freezer and found it plugged full of Weight Watcher frozen dinners. We had hit the jackpot. We made it through that winter eating Weight Watcher stuffed peppers almost every night. 

 As our neighbors became friends, we started sharing everything. We organized shovel brigades and filled in pot holes on our road. We milked goats and weeded gardens for each other.  A group of women took ballet classes at the unheated Community Center building, looking at the insulation of newspaper and spruce cones showing through where the interior walls had degraded over time, as we stretched over a makeshift barre every Monday and Wednesday. 

I remember our closest neighbor hurrying through the field that divided our property, looking for a squash flower so he could pollinate one of his zucchini plants. I remember waking up one very snowy morning with two feet of new snow and seeing a neighbor plowing out our road with a tractor so I could get to work on time.

Another friend taught me how to knit and I managed to finish a sweater for Bruce while I sat in her living room and drank tea and laughed. We traded fish for moose, electrical work for firewood, took meals to families to celebrate newborn babies. 

We chipped in as best we could where we could. We became a community and thrived in a network of giving and receiving. I believe this made the difference in staying or leaving and modeled a philanthropic philosophy that has carried me through my adult life. I have never lived anywhere since that time that I did not get to know and interact with my neighbors.

I think we sometimes feel we need to do a grand gesture of some kind or give a particular sum of money to be considered philanthropic and make a difference. But we can each think back to an instance of giving or receiving a small gesture and how it made us feel. Connected. Loved. Cared For. Cherished. Important. 

The science of generosity confirms that the simplest forms of philanthropy, both informal and non-traditional, say giving to a homeless person on the street or helping a stranger with directions, can be as rewarding as higher levels of philanthropy. Giving has a strong, positive impact on happiness. And being generous isn’t linear, it’s circular. The happier and healthier you are, the more generous you are likely to be, creating an upward spiral, inspiring all areas of your life, both physically and emotionally.

And the dynamics of generosity are such that people who practice expanding their giving seem to expand their circle of people beyond their comfortable or most intimate and begin to help what they perceive as “the other.” They help beyond their tribe. 

And giving is contagious, setting up a chain reaction inspiring others to be generous as well.

Now more than ever, as Alaska and Homer face budgetary restrictions, we all need to support each other and be as generous as possible. Homer has a large variety of organizations that support our community.  Lend a hand to your neighbors, serve on a board, be a Big Brother or Sister, share your expertise with a local non-profit. 

As Douglas M. Lawson states, “Philanthropy is the mystical mingling of a joyous giver, an artful asker, and a grateful recipient.”

Sometimes I sit in front of my fireplace, in my comfortable home, looking out at the beauty of the Spit and mountains across the bay and I think about all the people and events that have brought me to the place I am in my life. So many blessings to count and so many people to thank. The dance continues.

Polly Prindle-Hess is co-owner of Puffin Electric Inc.