This is Giant Iron Pterodactyl Man; I think of him as GITMo. He guards the trailhead to Homestead, an amazingly scenic cross-country trail system that begins just a half-mile from my house. I walked by this thing at least five times before I first noticed it. Is that a testament to GITMo’s flawless integration into his environment, or a telling symptom of too much time in Homer? I suspect it might be the latter. Alaska attracts some strange people; strange people build strange things. It doesn’t take long before the topless mermaid statues and 10-foot burning baskets blend in like Starbucks on a Seattle boulevard.
I’ve been thinking lately about how different this place is from the place I grew up. It’s not just GITMo and the mermaid. It’s not just the art patrons showing up at a $75-a- ticket gala in evening gowns and rubber boots, or the environmental art that appears on a nearly daily basis somewhere along the Spit. It’s not what Homer is ... but what it refuses to be.
I come from the perspective of another lost soul from Everytown, U.S.A., growing up in a sea of suburban housing peppered with strip malls and parking lots. And now I live in a seaside community in rural Alaska, in a town that has been in a three-year fight to keep Fred Meyer away. We have exactly two chain stores - Safeway and McDonalds, if you don’t count an Arby’s in a gas station - in a retail community of more than 5,000 people. And, if I’m not mistaken, those stores came in fighting for their spot, too. And part of me believes this is great. That this is the way America actually used to be - locals dominating the local market. Buy Alaska! Feed your neighbor! It’s the American Dream. But a large part of me is nostalgic for the Kmarts and single-tract housing of my youth. Sometimes, it’s not always about what you love, but about what you know.