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Back to Alaska

Lexie Hayes, one of our very first Homesteading Residents, recounts how she and her family — partner Colter, and daughter Jordan — changed everything to return education in Alaska… this time, in the Wilderness. 

It was one of those rare mornings when I woke up before Colter and was laying in bed, bored out of my mind, but not wanting to get up and wake him, too. So I did what any city-dweller would (we were in Lewiston, Idaho at the time…)and grabbed my phone and started scrolling through Facebook. An old friend had shared something that caught my eye, “Inian Islands Institute, Homesteading Residency – Call for Applicants”. I was immediately intrigued, in part because Colter and I had just started a business called Highway Homesteaders. Kismet?

There have been a couple of moments in my life that I can look back at and say “that’s when it happened; that’s when everything changed”. Seeing Deena’s post, following that link, was one of those moments. The more I read about the Institute’s mission, how they came to be, what skills and traits they were looking for in their caretakers, the more excited I became. “I believe in those things! I can help make this happen! I know how to do that!” I was practically vibrating when I finally broke down and rudely woke Colter up by shaking him and shoving my phone in his face. “Can we go back to Alaska?!? PLEASE??” Once he realized he wasn’t under attack he took my phone and started reading. Then he got up, went straight to the computer, and started his own study of Inian.

We had just moved from Alaska to Idaho (about three months earlier). We had just started a business we were ridiculously excited about (a week or two before I saw The Post). We were spending time with Colter’s family and loving it (he had been “hiding” in Alaska for the last decade). We had those and a dozen other reasons to not even consider applying for the job with Inian. But there were even more reasons to go for it.

Colter had recently left public education, not because he didn’t love his students or sharing knowledge, but because he was disheartened by the politics of the system. I too had been working in Alaska schools, and had been struggling to find my way since I had my daughter, Jordan, and decided to leave my dreams of commercial fishing behind. But both of us (well, Jordan, too) love being outside and engaging with the natural world. We love growing, foraging, cooking, preserving and basically everything to do with having food and sharing it. We dream of being the kinds of people who can look at ANY problem and fix, solve, or jerry-rig it. We know the satisfaction of creating with your own hands, providing for yourself, and want those experiences built in to our daily lives. We want to share our love of all of these things and to make those experiences available to anyone and everyone.

Colter and I quickly decided that the chance to do and share all these things we love was too good to pass up. We poured over our resumes and introductory letter, while also treating Jordan to skiing, hot springs, and family for spring break. The letters of recommendation that our friends and coworkers wrote left us in tears and feeling blessed. After learning we were actually in the running for the position, our conversations with Zach left us in a happy sort of daze. The entire application process was a truly wonderful and exciting experience. Learning we were to be the first ever Inian Island Institute’s homesteading residents was surreal. 

But the real work started soon after we accepted the job. Colter headed to the Hobbit Hole and got to work less than a month after we said yes. I stayed in Lewiston to settle things there and to pack up our junk. A couple weeks after Colter took off, Jordan and I, plus one dog (the other was already at the Hobbit Hole), two cats, and no less than nine totes of gear, were crammed into my car for the drive from Lewiston to Skagway to catch the ferry to Gustavus. We were only in Gustavus for a couple hours and almost all of that was moving gear from my car to the skiff we’d be taking to our new home. Zach brought us out and the trip was magical, other than one of the cats deciding she’d had enough of boats and latching onto my neck with her teeth. Coming through the gut, the small cut of water that admitted us to the inner cove, felt like coming home, even though it was the first time I’d ever been here. That comfortable, peaceful feeling hasn’t left me since. 

We pulled up to the outer dock and Colter welcomed us (very enthusiastically, he’d been alone for the last week and a half), gave us a tour, and we bid Zach goodbye. That night and the next day was the only time the three of us, Colter, Jordan and I, have as yet been alone at the Hobbit Hole. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed constant company ever since — an unbelievable work party, a community celebration, and one unique student group after the next. We look forward to welcoming many, many, many more wonderful visitors over the coming years.

You can read more about Lexie, Colter, and Jordan on our newly minted Staff Page. Now that we have grown to include multiple employees!

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