The Isle of Spruce Tip Eaters

Written by Joey Rovinsky

“…we reached the land of the Lotus-eater, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower…I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eater without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.”

For those of you who don’t get obscure references to material written three-thousand years ago, (like your friend that quotes George R. R. Martin does) this is a passage from Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus has just revealed his identity and has begun to tell the Phaeacians about his return from Troy. The above paragraph describes the entirety of his time on the island of the lotus-eaters. It’s one single paragraph out of the entire work that is the definition of an Epic. With all the wrath, lust, envy, pride, and whatever else Homer drones on about, I think he could have given a few more words toward the blandishment of sloth. To me, this passage contains an underlying thought experiment, an ethics question that Odysseus pays no mind. Is it right to force the men back to the boat and make them fast under benches? Grown-ass men, hardened warriors, were openly and bitterly weeping (which is a depressing way to describe crying but probably the most accurate) because Odysseus pulled them away from a fruit they tasted just once. Think about that for a second, for at least more than a paragraph. And what about the way Homer, and in turn Odysseus, treats the scenario, by skimming over it for the Phaeacians and quickly moving on, so as to downplay the significance of this fruit and its profound effect on dudes who would later fearlessly battle mythical creatures. Odysseus is using his divine position to force these men away from that which made them unfathomably happy because he believes his opinion-based declaration (remember, he only left the beach to force his men back on the boat) to be factual mandate. “What you tasted on that island made you want to live your life differently? Too bad, we’re going home to live how people are SUPPOSED to live.” Yikes, seasonal workers, did that sound familiar? Also keep in mind, these men never made it home, they died later on the journey while the Lotus-eaters may still to this day be alive and kicking and eating this crazy delicious fruit. The only possible fruit I can imagine like that is a watermelon filled with Skyline Chili. If that’s what the fruit of a lotus is, I get it. Odysseus can suck it, I’m staying, guys.

What Homer doesn’t extol on, we can surely infer. The Lotus-eaters lived on a beautiful island. The locals were against big government and prohibition. When people traveled to the island for more than a day or so, they usually stayed a very long time. There were a lot of beach bonfires surrounded by happy people, some of whom were playing subpar music. If cruise ships started visiting, the lotus-eaters would probably work as zipline guides, kayak guides, zodiac guides, bartenders, and crossing guards. Now we’re getting into familiar territory. Where the Island of Lotus Eaters had a fruit that made them never want to leave, the island of Revillagigedo in Alaska has something that keeps us seasonals coming back summer after summer. The easy answer is there are fun and rewarding jobs here. While this is true, I would add that these fun and rewarding jobs are easy to get. Not only that, but Ketchikan, Alaska is an easy place to get to and it’s an easy place to meet people. These are some of the reasons I refer to it as Level One of being a seasonal worker. If you’re not a dickbag, have some semblance of work ethic, know when to leave a shitty work situation for something better, and know which bar to go to at about six pm on Monday nights, you’re going to have at least a good summer. It’s hard to screw up and the cool thing is that if people who have been here before see someone screwing up, they usually point them back in the right direction. We are the Spruce Tip Eaters, the Salmonberry-eaters, and the people playing the subpar music around a beach bonfire. (There are rare exceptions to that subpar part)

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So the people, the work, and the call of the wild bring us back each summer. But what of the fall, winter, and spring? Most of us go home, or to college, or to ‘real jobs’ and mornings startled awake by frosted responsibilities in a bowl of milky anxious societal pressure. Family, coworkers, and classmates ask how it was and comment on our Facebook bragposts. It’s this moment that Ketchikan finds its ill-fated home in the brain as a summer bastion from supposed real life. Instead of the apathy of the Lotus-eaters, we Spruce Tip Eaters wax poetically of an adventurousness that can best be described as pedestrian. The comfort and camaraderie here is an entry-level introduction to a lifestyle that seems impossible albeit alluring. Like Leo DiCap’s Beach or Homer’s island, the seasonal life seems familiar yet mythical. Maybe not mythical, maybe fleeting. A shimmering mirage that can be seen for a short time only to evaporate and reveal the dull predictable reality it had been attempting to mask. I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be fleeting. I’m not going to get into the underlying humanity of how comfortable we feel playing follow-the-leader, and I realize I started sounding preachy long before I mentioned the movie The Beach, (what an unabashedly pretentious conversation killer THAT movie is) but Seasonals, when somebody says, I wish I could do that, the correct response is, ‘You can.’ The person in a friend group that tries the seasonal lifestyle first is brave, absolutely, but I believe it’s the second person, the one who says, ‘yea, I’ll go with you this time,’ those are the real MVPs. In Ketchikan, its the Ryan Deiningers, the Saraphina Redalieus, the Maria Currys, the Josh Kuwiks, and the Carson Wards. Those are the people who give legitimacy to the first person’s stories. The ‘see, I told you so’ friend among friends. If the goal was a summer of adventure and beauty, waking up in a storybook rainforest overlooking a channel of whales, porpoise, and cruise ships, they did it, they made it, and it’s possible. If the goal is to travel the world, meet the coolest people imaginable, never work a nine to five again, and be financially geo-independent, they found the best place to start.

On a rainy Sunday on the Arctic Bar porch last year, as we sat over our Whizcafe, (Jamison and coffee, or Jim Beam, sugar, and coffee) I got serious with the other two The Seasonal creators, I told them that if this was the lifestyle we wanted, we would have to fight every day for it. When you fight every day for something, some nights you go to bed a loser. Some nights it’s on a cockroach-infested sailboat in the Virgin Islands. Some nights it’s in an uncomfortable cot in Southeast Asia surrounded by 15 loud and smelly Europeans. But just like my Dad always says, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. The wins do start piling up. The lessons get easier to learn. The $500 a week snorkel guide job becomes a $5,000 a month job leading boat tours. Then comes the captain’s license. Or start commercial fishing. Maybe start a new tour. The owners of these tours, our bosses, are humans like the rest of us. They had the balls or the financial ability to take every next step from where we are to where they are and beyond. Are you still pissed I referred to our adventurousness as pedestrian? I am. But I can’t deny it. The stories we repeat back home are to us what those medals the cruise ship tourists wear when they come off the boat are to them: Worthless to anyone who knows any better. When I go home, I show off pictures of me climbing Deer Mountain, or standing over a fifty-three pound halibut, or a video of me doing a backflip while ziplining. It takes two hours to hike Deer Mountain, ten minutes to reel up that halibut, and it was my first and only try at the backflip. If one of the tourists from the Ruby Princess planned their day correctly, they could do everything I told my friends back home about in an afternoon. Those same friends tell me they’re totally coming to visit next summer and those same friends don’t have enough PTO or can’t make time or are going to Myrtle Beach for the twentieth time or don’t have enough for the plane ride up here that next summer. To come up here for a week would be counterproductive, to quote a friend of mine from less than a week ago, “going up there for a week would keep me from reaching my year-long financial goal.” (This is after I told him I would pay for the flight)

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We hear about anti-intellectualism all the time lately, hostility towards intellectual pursuits expressed by holding education and enlightenment in contempt. The culture in Ketchikan, Alaska doesn’t allow for that shit to survive. Rolling coal, bumfights, and strict creationism die in the channel before they ever make it to shore. Even the level of ignorance on Tinder is infinitesimal (I’m told, bartenders don’t need Tinder) compared to a normal place with this demographic in terms of age makeup. Almost exclusively, we are more intelligent, open-minded, and kind than any other cross-section of our generation. That sort of anti-intellectualism is easy to kill, though. Like a redneck baby humpback in Nichols’ Passage versus a pod of Chuck Palahniuk-reading orcas. If we can kill the small stuff without ruffling a feather, when do we combine our powers and Captain Planet the big stuff? What if we started building the world to work for us instead of molding ourselves in an image that works for the world? If we stop being so damn pedestrian and start creating more than we consume, we won’t have to go to a job interview, the exec writing the checks will knock on our door. I taught myself how to use Adobe Illustrator and now you visit a website that my friends and I created. We all came to Ketchikan for adventure, to open our minds and our horizons, but there needs to come a moment where it changes from the destination to a waypoint on a longer journey. The truth is if we’re ever going to take back our reality, it’s going to be with a mindset like the one born and bred in the summers of Ketchikan, Alaska.

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It’s easy to leave here and think about it as a dream: The summer we bucked convention and did something crazy. It was fun but it wasn’t real life. I’m glad I did it while I was young. Though the sentiment is appallingly popular, the nuanced implication is resoundingly negative. I’m guilty of it, too. Why do we think this can’t work? Maybe we just haven’t met a bodhisattva of the Seasonal lifestyle yet. Maybe we have and they look different than we would expect. They look and act different than us. I’m guessing this article has three types of readers, those still upset I called them pedestrian, those who have succeeded and are smiling because I might be on to something, and those, like me, who will fight every single day to make it work. To all three I say this: Thank you for reading this. Be the person making the first sign at a protest, not the person sharing the meme. Don’t get in $80,000 of debt for a job that makes $30,000 a year. Read Paulo Coelho but don’t believe him. Listen to Margaret Atwood’s warnings in The Handmaiden’s Tale. “If two men agree on everything, you can be sure only one of them is doing the thinking.” Most importantly, go eat a Spruce Tip and please don’t ever be your own Odysseus.

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