Sunday, 15 September 2013

What's in a Nome?

I'm sitting in Mark's Soap & Suds on the main street of Nome, Alaska. When Larry returns with our overloaded laundry bag, we'll be able to do our laundry, write this Blog and have a drink. We got here just as it opened after our visit by US Customs. Its hours are 3pm until 2am ... so even if I suffer from an unacustomed fit of Writer's Bloque I have lots of time to recover.

On our way here we passed right by what used to be the Soviet Block ... the mid-channel island of Diomede in the Bering Strait just off Dezhnev Point in Eastern Siberia. I felt a bit of pre-Wall chill. My father was a child refugee to Canada in the 1920s. He was born in western Siberia, and I still remember my mother's anxiety in the late 50's that the Soviets would forcibly repatriate him whenever he attended international scientific conferences. Even so, it was nice to see some brand-new names ... not the ever-familiar Nelsons, Cooks, Richmonds etc etc which have haunted us in all our travels. Of course, Cook WAS responsible for naming most of the world. And I find (in reading the "Nome Nugget") that the name Nome was actually a mistake made by the British Admiralty in the 1850s when they read what was meant to be C NAME? They were meant to re-name it,  but ignored the question mark and assumed the badly-printed 'a' was an 'o'. Since then, it's been Nome.

Of course, all the territory used to be Russian and apart from C Prince of Wales (which retains it's British name) there's a mix here ... Chukchi Sea, Ratmanov and Vrangelya Islands (Russian). And of course - Seward - one important name around here. He was Abe Lincoln's Secretary of State back in the 1860s and is known for "Seward's Folly" ... this was because of his purchase from the Russians of the whole of the huge state of Alaska for the sum of $7.2 million (about $.02 an acre). Of course, his decision (considering the oil and mineral discoveries let alone gold) has been fully vindicated.

Nome was the center of a huge gold-rush after its discovery here in 1898. WE had a lot of trouble getting here - imagine how difficult it must have been the the late 19thC? 20,000 wealth-seekers flocked here because gold (1899) was $20/oz ... and the GOLD RUSH CONTINUES today ... with gold at $1500/oz in today's money, there are literally dozens of gold-seekers here. The size and variety of craft are unusual ... but most of them look somewhat haphazard. However, since each of them have to be safety-passed by the Coast Guard, they are all navigable. Each unit has one or two sifter/sorters to go through the sand and one diver who vacuums up the bottom of the sea. The individulas trying their luck seem to be rugged individualists, and the names of their craft follow suit: "Bulhed" (sic), "Pioneer Pump", Casa de Paga ...  I mentioned to Larry that diving for gold for one of these outfits might be a good job for us next summer ... at least it would be better than sailing the NWP!

ps our seal "Sonny" is no longer worried about polar bears - now he's watching for brown/grizzly bears. He finds the fragrance of Pam's scarf reassuring just as I did (Pam is a librarian at the Cambridge Bay school)
Morgan, Jean-Gil and Nick from 'Acalephe' say good-bye


"Sonny" watches for bears

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