In August 2003, I wrote my mom a long, handwritten letter on the plane back from Bethel, a rural city off the road system and the only place I had lived in the state up to that point.
I cried as I explained why I was in love with Alaska and why I was going to live there no matter what. Fat little tears smudged the ink on the page, and I knew I wasn't ever going back to the East Coast or anywhere else "Outside."
Not if I could help it, anyway.
I miss my friends and my family, of course. Many of them (mostly those who haven't visited yet or who only know about Alaska from Sarah Palin and reality TV) want to know why I stay here.
I stay because the people here will do anything for you, when you ask for what you need, and sometimes even when you don't.
I stay because I get to do things professionally that I could never do anywhere else at this point in my career.
I stay because the open wilderness is literally right outside my door, even if I get out in it a whole lot less often than I would like to.
I stay because the women here are my idols in competency: they drive boats and grow things and have a million practical skills I can only aspire to.
I stay because my kids are happy and rooted here now.
I stay because the weather is bad most of the time, but when it's good, in winter or summer, it's amazing.
I stay because no one here really seems to care where you went to school, or what you do for work, or how much money you make, or what you paid for your house, or what you are wearing.
I stay for my friends here, and for my kids' friends.
I stay because it's big enough to get lost and small enough to make a difference.
I stay because of the community and the authenticity of the people and the wildness of this place.
Nowhere is perfect, and nothing is forever. I don't suffer any delusions that Alaska is either one of those things. But it's as close to both as anywhere I've ever been, and that's why I stay.