Editorial: An introduction
January 6, 2022
I was nineteen when I first rode the M/V Columbia up to Petersburg, back in 2003, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I parked myself on the ferry's starboard side and watched the landscape grow wilder the further north we sailed. The scenery was more spectacular than anything I had ever seen: Mountains plunged into the sea and mist ribboned through forested shores. As we passed through the Wrangell Narrows the trees seemed close enough to reach out and touch.
A passenger near me was plucking a beautiful melody on his classical guitar the moment the town's harbors came into view. He said his name was "Stick" and, just like me, he was coming to Petersburg for a job at PFI. His music made the scene feel like it was pulled straight from Tolkien's imagination. I stepped off the ferry with all my earthly possessions stuffed into one canvas bag. Halfway to the PFI bunkhouse I stopped to catch my breath, and in the air above me I watched a huge raven tangle with an eagle. I remember, in that moment, feeling washed through with gratitude to have somehow found my way to a place as unbelievable as Petersburg.
In the weeks before cannery season got up to full speed, when I had a little free time, I'd get a coffee and a copy of the Petersburg Pilot and sit on the benches overlooking North Harbor. I'd watch the clouds roll across Petersburg Mountain, and I'd watch the townsfolk, who struck me as perhaps the most hardworking, no-nonsense people I'd ever been around. The place felt almost too charming to be real.
Of course, once we started working 100-hour weeks at PFI things felt plenty real. 2003 turned out to be PFI's busiest canning season of all time, and the summer passed by in an exhausting blur. I considered sticking around town that fall, but wanderlust won out and I set off for other adventures.
Three years later I came back to Petersburg ready to do it all again at PFI, but Mother Nature had other plans. 2006 was a lousy year for pink salmon, and, thanks to all my waiting around in the bar for the season to pick up, by summer's end I didn't even have enough money to leave town. Thankfully, I opened up the pages of the Petersburg Pilot and found an opportunity on the classifieds page: The Pilot itself was hiring. I figured I'd work a few months and maybe stick around for a winter, just to see what it was like.
I started training on the page layout and enjoyed it tremendously. Soon, photography was added to my duties. I attended practically every community event to snap pictures for the paper, and that's how I began to understand the town. Ron asked me to start writing some stories: sports and features. I was daunted at first and felt I didn't really know how to write, but Anne and Ron were encouraging. I got to know people around town and got involved with volunteering at KFSK and with the Mitkof Mummers.
More and more, year by year, thanks to working at the Pilot, I came to appreciate how this town operates. It comes down to dedicated folks from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs working together, in their jobs and as volunteers. That is what makes every single thing we rely on in this town possible. Neighbors working together. That's it.
Look at the volunteer power on the roof of the schools and public buildings this week: Before the weight of winter could do its worst, dozens of volunteers rushed in to help remove the ice and snow. Look at how, this week, when heavy snow caved in the roof of a single mother's home, donations for the family started flowing in fast in the form of deposits at the account set up at First Bank, through GoFundMe, and through Chamber of Commerce gift certificates. Folks here are eager to rise to the occasion, work together, and help. Petersburg life is a community effort.
The last few years have been eye-opening, often frustrating and stressful for everyone. I've come to appreciate the paradox in Petersburg that we're a town full of strong-willed independent spirits whose quality of life is, nevertheless, deeply interdependent. Geographically we're isolated from the rest of the world, but not from each other. Our decisions affect each other's lives, so we are obligated to stay well-informed enough to make those decisions responsibly. Even when we disagree, we're obliged to find a way to compromise and work together. Every single person here, in this small town on this small island, is each other's neighbor. Our lives are all tangled together like roots in the forest.
I'm proud of the community life of this town, and I'm proud of the way this newspaper serves Petersburg. I'm pleased that, by stepping in as your new publisher, the accountability and the production jobs are kept local. As your newspaper of record, we're tasked with producing the ongoing first draft of Petersburg's history. We work nonstop so folks can better understand the issues of the day. And, in the interest of better understanding each other, we hold space for your opinions. I invite you to put forward your vision for the public interest on these pages.
I wanted to write you this unusually long-winded editorial to introduce myself a little more and to express my appreciation and commitment to this place we all call home. Like everything in Petersburg, the Pilot is a community effort. This paper is made possible, not just by the hard work of its staff, but by the participation of its readers, contributors, subscribers, and advertisers. Thank you all for your continuing support and involvement.
And I want to say thank you to Ron and Anne Loesch for dedicating a combined 99 years of hard work to community journalism in Petersburg. You've built a top-quality newspaper, changed many lives for the better, and made a profound community contribution. Thank you for entrusting me to carry this institution forward.