Going Home Again … to Tanana, Alaska
It was time to return. With my two daughters, each under the age of five, I set off to visit my mother in Tanana, Alaska, the place where I was born and raised. Located just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, it’s not an easy village to get to, but with its natural beauty it’s not an easy place to forget.
I’d last been home in 2003, but much of Tanana remains the same. There’s still the local store where you can buy food, household items, etc. There’s still a small school serving the few children growing up in this remote region of the world. There are still giant snowplows, towering as they stand near the side of the road, ready to battle the snow that inevitably and unceasingly blankets the area.
But there are changes, too. Now everyone uses a cell, and either buys their food at the local store or has it shipped in from Fairbanks, and the traditional ways aren’t practiced by many people. Few people speak the Athabaskan language of the Native American people who are indigenous to this area, and few people hunt for their food. With the road to Tanana currently under construction, soon every tourist will be able to hop in their car and visit.
Is it possible to feel like you’ve come home but also feel like a stranger? I felt those opposing emotions during my eight-week stay in the place where I grew up and became a young woman.
My mom is still the charming, eccentric, intense woman she’s always been. She’s just the type of woman you’d expect to find in Tanana: a rugged individualist who knows how to survive and thrive in a place where you can go months without seeing more than the same few people.
I viewed my mom through a different lens on my return. Instead of feeling the contentiousness that had been the constant theme of our relationship in the past, this time I felt gratitude. Now I too am a mother, and I admire her for her perseverance and strength. She was a single mother who raised my sisters and I in a remote place without any family or support. In the past there were times I didn’t want to be anything like my mother. Now I hope to be as good a mom as she is, and I forgive her for her shortcomings. I learned a great deal about love, forgiveness, and what’s truly important to me during my visit back home.
Ultimately, I felt a sense of belonging as I returned to Tanana. I felt pride that I was able to have my children take steps on the same frozen ground where I had taken my first steps. It felt like a circle was being closed back together, like I was complete again. That’s something I think you can only feel when you’re truly home.
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