An eventful first week in Seward, Alaska

A new job, a new home, a few bear attacks, and musings about the wonders of butter

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We’ve been in Seward for a little over a week, and it’s been an eventful few days.  Here are the highlights:

I started my job.  

You won’t hear much about my work as a speech pathologist.  I’m bound by privacy laws and a code of ethics, so I won’t be regaling you with stories about my patients’ experiences, no matter how dramatic or Alaskan they may be.

But what I can tell you is that it’s been a fantastic first week, and I think I’m going to love it there.  The entire team has welcomed me with an enthusiasm that’s made my head swell, and the job will be challenging, fast-paced, and stimulating.  I’ll be covering the outpatient clinic, nursing home, and hospital and working with patients of all ages, from geriatric elders to teeny tiny toddlers.

Oh, and this is the view from my office:

Totally the reason why I accepted the job offer
Totally the reason why I accepted the job offer
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How will I ever get any work done when I have this to look at all day?
We found a place to live! 

My employer has graciously put us in temporary housing for a month, in this adorable, historic home:

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But we started looking for accommodations as soon as we arrived and quickly discovered just how difficult it is to find something permanent in Seward.  It’s a small town, so inherently there are fewer options.  The apartments are all subsidized.  And, since Seward is a tourist town, many locals rent their places seasonally; winter prices are therefore reasonable, and the homes are often gorgeous, but the leases only go through the spring.  When the tourists return, rental rates skyrocket.  Seeing as Seward depends on tourism, these summer rentals help the local economy greatly, but it didn’t help us any!

So what did we do?  We turned to Craigslist of course, but even that was hit or miss.  The first two houses we toured (“cottages,” according to the ads) were rough inside and out–and that’s being tactful.   I tried my hardest to picture living in each of them; we have pretty simple needs and very few belongings, and we could’ve made it work, but I’m glad we didn’t have to.  Another place popped up the next day, a 2-bedroom, one bath, immaculate duplex, with storage space(!), and we snagged it.  We move in later this month.

The bears are still very much awake.

Dale and I walk along the waterfront every evening, and the first time we went for a stroll, I asked Dale, “Should we be carrying bear spray?”

He laughed and said, “Not in town, silly.”

The next morning, I went to my pre-employment health screening, where the nurse promptly told me, “We had a bear mauling this morning.”

A man had been walking at the airport–not too far from where we’d been the night before, I might add–and his dog apparently agitated the bear and then brought it, like a gift, back to the man.  He sustained some injuries but will fortunately make a full recovery.  I haven’t heard what, if anything, will be done to the bear, a mama with two cubs.

Grizzly Bear on trail to Russian River, Kenai Peninsula, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.
NOT the bear in question  (Source: Seward City News)

And then Wednesday, we received report around mid-afternoon of another bear attack, this time by a black bear.  The attack took place close to work, and we were instructed to stay indoors.  The schools, which are all nearby, were placed on lockdown.  The victim, a young man, was charged by the bear but fortunately not seriously injured. (Note: the newspaper reports that the police, concerned with discrepancies in the boy’s story, questioned whether a bear attack actually occurred.  I’ll let you read the article and decide for yourselves, but it certainly made for an exciting afternoon!)

The Black Bear of Lake Louise
Again, not the culprit, just a random, gratuitous photo of a black bear (Source: Seward City News)

“I thought bear attacks were supposed to be extremely rare!” I told my co-workers.

“They are,” several people insisted, but one person explained that the salmon run was so poor this year that Alaska’s governor requested that several regions of Alaska be declared federal disaster areas.  On top of that, the berry crop was low.  Combine limited food sources with a warmer-than-average autumn, and you have some hungry, cranky bears.

Everyone is ready for the first big snowstorm of the season so that the bears will get the message: it’s time to hibernate.  In the meantime, we’ll be taking bear spray on our daily walks!

We discovered Costco.

Groceries in Seward are expensive.  Take butter for example.  We love butter, and, not just any butter: Kerrygold butter.

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These golden blocks of goodness have such a rich flavor and texture that I can eat it straight.  (Don’t knock it till you try it.)  Alas, in Alaska, Kerrygold is almost as expensive as real gold, so when we crossed the border into the Last Frontier, we figured our Kerrygold days were behind us.

Then we discovered the wonders of Costco, the mega store where most items are sold in packages so large we could sell the surplus on Ebay.  Not only is Costco’s Kerrygold cheaper than anywhere else in Alaska, but it’s less than we were paying in Texas.  Oh yes.  Life got a little more colorful when we realized that we could still afford to eat our brands of choice in Alaska.  Of course, we have to make the pilgrimage to Anchorage every few weeks and load up the car, but we’ll do so with glee in our hearts.

We’re adjusting to the shorter days.  

Seward is far enough south that we’ll never face round-the-clock darkness, but we still lose a few minutes of daylight each day.  Today, sunrise was at 9:32 AM and sunset, 5:49 PM.  It’s definitely strange to go to my 8:00-5:00 job when it’s still pitch black outside, but I look forward to January, when I’ll be able to watch the afternoon sunset from my office.

We’re in love!

We are in a honeymoon stage, a period of unabashed, gushy love for Seward.  Everyone is just so darned friendly.  We met a woman on the street during one of our walks, and when we told her we were new to town, she gave us huge hugs as a welcome.  From what we’ve experienced so far, there is a true spirit of community here.  Many of my co-workers came from other places with no intention of staying long-term, but they found themselves so happy that they decided to stay.  I can see why.

And of course there’s the scenery, which has captured our hearts more than anything else. We had a week of non-stop rain and watched with fascination as the snow on the mountains crept lower each day.  The rain finally cleared and the last few days have been nothing but blue skies and sun, and seeing the mountains in all their glory…well, it’s show-stopping.

I stand at my window and look at the scenery every chance I get, and since I’m privy to the mountains’ moods, I know at a moment’s notice when they’re of a mind to show off.  Yesterday was one of those days; the peaks stretched out before me, and the fresh snow sat in crisp contrast to the blue sky.

I called Dale at lunch and told him, “Have you been outside yet?”  When he said no, I ordered him to go for a walk.  A short time later I received this text from him (my responses are in blue):

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It’s home.


Random Notes:

  • From what I can tell, the Seward City News, which I linked to when discussing the bear attacks, is truly a community affair.  Anyone can submit an article for publication.  I’ve been checking it most days and have come across some fascinating articles, including one about a dog being rescued from a lagoon; then there’s the injured moose roaming around town, which someone nicknamed One Eye, and I also learned that the Whittier Tunnel was closed (we wrote about this unique tunnel in a previous blog post).
  • More on that brown bear attack: reportedly, when the bear charged, the man lay on his belly and protected his neck; the bear then rolled the man over (they do that to get to the torso and internal organs), but the man promptly punched the bear in the face, and the bear then retreated.  Note that some of this is word-of-mouth, but if you read online responses from townspeople, it seems totally in character that this tough Alaskan, a teacher and wrestling coach at the high school, punched a bear in the face.
  • And no, Kerrygold did not pay us to talk lovingly about their product, but if they ever decide to, we’ll take our payment in butter, please.