First impressions of Nome


I came from the land of the brome
To the subarctic city of Nome.
Where the story is told
Of how they dredge up the gold
But the weather is warmer than home

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. Right now I’m in Nome, Alaska.

Nome, Alaska sits 102 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The 161 mile distance prevents seeing Russia from here, even on a clear day. As I write, the Nome thermometer at 9 degrees registers 10 degrees warmer than my home town’s current temp.

Before the gold rush, Natives had temporary habitation here. But the yellow metal brought 20,000 people to Nome in 1899. The placer gold ran so rich through the beach that the extracted mineral depressed worldwide gold prices. Wyatt Earp came here to “mine the miners;” making money at gambling and alcohol, and left a rich man, in 1906.

The 100 year storm washed away most of the beach gold early last century. Dredging the Bering Sea bottom for that gold continues as a major economic activity here. The newspaper, the Nome Nugget (Alaska’s oldest newspaper) this week carries ads for 3 competing gold buyers.

At one time Alaska’s largest city, Nome now has 4500 inhabitants, about half Native. Correctly observing the pejorative nature of the term Eskimo, they prefer the word Inuit, Inupiat, or Yupik, depending on their language.

Perhaps owing to the recent passage of the Christmas holiday, the mood here contrasts with that of Barrow (see previous posts from 2010 and 2011). Nome feels more economically active and commercial. Barrow’s heart beats to the rhythm of the whaling seasons.

In town only 48 hours now, I’ve been to been to two grocery stores and two restaurants. Koreans run both eateries, but one touts its Japanese menu and the other its Chinese fare and its pizza.

I’ve also learned about the polar vortex.

Fluids of different densities, like air of different temperatures, mix poorly. As the air near the pole, in the polar vortex warms and loses its contrast to the air further south, it mixes better, and the warm air can travel north and the cold air can travel south. Thus the recent violent storms attributed to the “polar vortex” really find their cause in the weakening polar vortex. And the temp at home frequently exceeds the temp in Nome.

I declined my agency’s offer of a rental car. My apartment sits over a garage half a mile from the hospital and a mile from the furthest grocery store. I walked around Nome yesterday and the day before, getting my bearings, and breathing in the mood of the city. The commercial district, Front Street, features a lot of liquor stores, most of them closed. But I also found a theater, several restaurants, a couple of stores selling native art work, and a couple of churches. Despite the above 0 temperature, the wind made me glad of my long underwear and my Arctic grade parka with the wolverine ruff.

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One Response to “First impressions of Nome”

  1. Terry Says:

    Back to my home state 😉

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