“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.” If that figure immediately transports you to the famous number from the musical “Rent,” you’ve caught my drift.
A favorite among graduating high school seniors, the song pretty well captures the feeling of trying to sum up an entire year, or an entire experience. According to the song, a year can be measured in love.
But how does one measure a whole chapter of life? Specifically, over five years spent as a journalist on the Kenai Peninsula. In just a few days, I will no longer be Homer News Reporter Megan Pacer. I’ll be a digital producer for Alaska’s News Source in Anchorage. In fact, by the time readers see this column, I will have already worked my last day in Homer.
So how does one measure a chapter of life? In miles hiked through Cooper Landing and across Kachemak Bay, or in cups of coffee hurriedly ordered from the peninsula’s countless drive-through stands? In sunset walks along Bishop’s Beach? In inches of writing in a newspaper, telling other people’s stories?
A journalist would tell me to measure my time here in the number of Election Night pizza slices I’ve consumed, the number of prison letters I’ve received or the number of overtime hours I’ve clocked.
A Homerite might tell me to measure it in the number of brilliant pink sunrises I’ve seen climb over the bay, the number of laps I’ve skied at Lookout Mountain and McNeil Canyon or the number of tsunami warnings I’ve endured.
Maybe the reason I’m having so much trouble settling on the appropriate metric is that my experience on the peninsula has been immeasurable.
I feel like if I gathered up my years on the central peninsula and in Homer and took them to appraisers with the “Antiques Roadshow,” even they would have a pretty hard time giving me an accurate assessment. I imagine bundling up all those years, friendships, newspapers, sights and experiences, and spreading them out across a table before a seasoned, gray-bearded expert.
He picks through my articles, my camping trips, my meals shared with friends, my mountain summits and my hours spent talking with people across the Kenai Peninsula. Pouring over it all in the hopes of finding some indication of worth, he eventually gathers it together again and hands the bundle back to me.
While the greater peninsula has been my home since 2015, I must confess to playing favorites. It wasn’t until I moved to Homer in 2017 that I knew in my soul I wouldn’t be leaving Alaska. The views of Grewingk Glacier, Poot Peak and Grace Ridge would be enough to hold any person here spellbound for years. But beyond that, Homer has shown me the core of what it means to be an Alaskan — a real one.
An Alaskan is not afraid of the elements or the inconveniences that come with living at the end of the road or without access to many things people are used to in the Lower 48. When faced with a shortage of fresh produce or high costs of energy, Alaskans improvise with beach coal and high tunnels to simply make their own. A person who moves to Alaska and likes it is independent, but acutely aware of the importance the social safety net plays in times of need or natural disaster, which strike more often than we’d like to think. Real Alaskans are not only opinionated and fiercely passionate (no matter which side of an issue they fall on), but are willing to follow that up with work to make their communities better. Real Alaskans respect the land they live and work on, and the people who stewarded it from the beginning.
All of this Homer taught me, and more. The more I learned and the more I saw, the more I knew this was a place I could fold myself into. The fabric of an Alaska community is patchwork — highly variable in its colors and textures. You won’t find it in a high-end shop, but it’ll weather the years better than anything that shop would sell.
I’m able to leave Homer now because I know, as spirited as its politics can sometimes seem, it’s a sturdy town with a steady course. I can’t imagine staying away forever, but as a friend recently put it: Homer won’t begrudge me an adventure.
For now, I’m trading my cozy dry cabin for running water, East End Road for the streets of Spenard, and the Kenai Mountains for the Chugach.
I’m not sure how I’ll make my way back one day, but I’m as confident as the little Prius dodging potholes on Kachemak Drive that I will.
Until then, “I’ll catch ya back at Kachemak Bay.”