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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lost Towns

Being fond of atypical things myself, the humble town of Unalaska recently caught my eye. I came across it a few months ago while browsing the world, gazing up toward the frozen north. You never know what you’re going to find if you just look around to see what’s out there. It’s a place in Alaska, so I’m thinking what… the two cancel each other out? The postal address would say “Unalaska, Alaska”, which is kind of like saying “Negative, Positive,” “Backward, Forward,” “Undo, Redo,” like two opposing forces. But maybe on second thought it’s all about yin and yang. Perhaps Unalaska covers that other end of the spectrum that Alaska doesn’t, and they're a complement to one another.

The whole persona of Unalaska struck me as unusually unabashed in its scope. You’ve got to be pretty confident to call yourself Un-anything. I did find out later that I was mispronouncing the name. It’s actually a long ‘u’ sound, which is too bad, because anything with ‘un’ ought to be like the UnCola or Alice in Wonderland’s Unbirthday. (By the way, a very happy unbirthday to all of you out there who weren’t born on this day) Also, the second ‘a’ is the short sound, as in ‘ash’. But that makes sense, because ‘banana’ is the same way.

Unalaska is more than just a blip on the map — it’s a highly interesting blip. It’s very isolated from the world due to its unique circumstances. It surrounds itself in a group of small islands in Alaska’s archipelago, which I like to say any chance I get since it’s such a fun word. The archipelago is known as the Aleutian Islands, which consists of over 300 separate land masses, protruding 1,200 miles from the Alaskan Peninsula. So Unalaska could be misperceived as an Aleutian, but the further you discover about it, it becomes evident that it’s more real than any place on earth.

Unalaska is a port town, so ships come calling there often. Unalaska is so friendly that ocean craft of all types just gravitate toward it. It’s true that Unalaska is the 11th largest city in Alaska, however at an unassuming 3,800 people, it makes Palin’s Wasilla look like a noisy metropolis. There are only three cities in Alaska with more than 10,000 people, and I’m sure Juneau all of them.

From where I live in Oregon all the way to Unalaska, it's 3,696 miles, taking 3 days and 23 hours of traveling time to get there. And this is already starting from the west coast. That almost seems like a lifetime away, as if it’s a whole other surreal existence. The part of the trek just going through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada is 1,800 miles alone. After you get into Alaska and go past Anchorage, there are still ferry rides of 606 miles, 105 miles and 197 miles before finally reaching Unalaska.

So in order to get to Unalaska, you have to really want to go there, otherwise you could be easily distracted on the way. In short, nobody shows up there by accident. Everybody who’s there is there because that’s where their karma took them. There aren’t too many stragglers coming in on the ice floes.

It’s also interesting to note that going from Oregon to New York is shorter than going to Unalaska — by about 700 miles. But then anybody can go to New York. Where’s the adventure in that?

What would you do if you lived in Unalaska? The island is only 10 miles across, so there’s nowhere to speak of to drive. You could travel by boat to the neighboring islands, but there’s not much on them. Maybe you’d spend more time on the finer things in life instead of frivolous pursuits. You’d probably have a lot of good friends. For the heck of it, I’m thinking someday it would be fun to end up in Unalaska. There’s something pure about the whiteness of that region, and I have a feeling it would serve to cleanse the soul.

It’s just amazing to me that people live their lives in a locale such as this. They carry on in anonymity, the rest of the world oblivious to its majesty. And it’s comforting to know that there are completely out-of-the-way places like this where people can thrive. It gives one a sense of global community, and a tender sharing of Mother Earth.

Unalaska’s official website:
Wikipedia article on Unalaska:


Sean said...

I have a feeling it would serve to cleanse the soul.

I have a feeling it would lead to alcohol abuse.

Natasha said...

I'm glad that you left no comment on Unalaska unsaid. No stone unturned. Because I hung on every gripping word. Because it's Alaska. And you know who's from Alaska, right? Ya, I know you know.

Fascinating stuff.

Tugidam said...

Actually you did pretty good on Unalaska. A couple of items that will give you a better picture: The island is the second largest in the archipelago - some 90 miles long, and sixty miles wide at its widest point. There may be a spot where it is only a mile wide. The picture you show of the bays and the mountains - that straight stretch of asphalt to the left of the marker is the runway - surrounded by mountains and water and all of 3905 feet long. We are the number one fishing port in the USA and have been for many years. And our school district for our 400 students is one of the top 100 in the nation. It's a great place to live. Shhhh...don't tell anyone.


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