Stories From a Small Town

Growing up in the shadow of San Francisco and only traveling to rural America off of highway exits en route to other cities or National Parks, I had come to assume that quintessential small-town America had faded away sometime between the advent of McDonalds and Amazon Prime. My time as a Wilderness Fellow, living in various remote Alaskan fishing villages has happily proved me wrong.

In Hoonah, a native village of 600, evenings were long, bright and occupied with bushwhacks to inlets for swimming and foraging (and swatting aggressive black flies!). We dined on crab that we caught and roasted beach asparagus (a salty plant that grows in the intertidal zone) that we picked. On Wednesday nights, the town gathered at The Lodge for trivia. A group of strangers accepted me to their team and from then on, we greeted each other with hugs during our frequent run-ins. The eclectic town of long-time residents, cruise ship workers, and seasonal Forest Service employees felt welcoming and comfortable, and I wondered how small-town Alaskans could be so friendly.

After four weeks in Hoonah, I moved to Yakutat, a similarly sized village predominantly defined by sport and commercial fishing. This town was as welcoming as the last. Only on days when I had particularly poor luck could I walk the entire six miles from the beach to town without being offered a ride several times. The sense of community in these small towns is strong. People look out for each other, even for newcomers like me. The consideration I saw was born of people knowing each other’s lives and the inherent empathy that follows. Even when I leave Southeast, and it will be impossible to know everyone’s story, I hope to retain and spread the heartfelt hellos to passersby and genuine curiosity in the simple question, “how are you?” When we can connect with people on our basic similarities, maybe we can foster a community of compassion and respect in both small towns and big cities.


Katie Ebinger is a Wilderness Fellow in USFS Region 10 working on the Pleasant/Lemusurier/ Inian Islands and Russell Fjords Wildernesses

Katie studied Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As an undergraduate, she participated in and designed studies aimed at assessing biodiversity and increasing restoration success in Colorado grasslands, Louisiana marshes, and Florida coral reefs. She loves exploring terrestrial and marine environments and hopes to work in a scientific discipline that can directly inform conservation. She plans to return to school for joint masters and law degrees in environmental law to create policies that serve people and the environment.
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