East Nashville's big brother shares his family's journey to the frontier amid the aftermath of tornadoes and the uncertainty of the pandemic.
March 3rd, 2020, the day the tornado ripped through East Nashville, we spent the day clearing debris, cutting trees, tarping roofs, delivering water, and helping where needed just like everyone else in the neighborhood who was able. It was the last normal day for so many people that we knew. It was also the last normal day for our family. A month before, my wife Angie & I had flown to one of the most remote towns in America so she could interview for a position at a regional hospital out on the Alaskan tundra.
Bethel was far colder than anywhere we had ever been before and we got there on the tail end of a blizzard, which sounded really exotic, and Jack London-y. I guess they liked us, because that Tuesday, March 4th, when we were settling into a big dinner and a cold beer at our friends Jess & Brian’s house, Angie got the call that they wanted her to come work for them.
The next three months were a flurry of packing up our 24 years of life in Nashville. It wasn’t easy. Our girls had only ever known life as Eastsiders, and we had truly become a part of the fabric of the neighborhood. We bought a shipping container and packed it with things we thought we might want to come back to, and parked it on my brother’s property in Georgia. We sold our home of 15 years, said our goodbyes, and headed out.
Our original plan was to make it a 5-week RV road trip out west and then north through Canada and on to Anchorage where we would fly to Bethel. The day after ordering our passports the Canadian border shut down as well as just about every restaurant, hotel, state & national park in the US.
The risk wasn’t worth it. So, after a couple of stops in Seattle & Anchorage, we arrived in the tiny town on the tundra. It was a very warm day, and the mosquitos were everywhere. My wife’s contact at the hospital met us at the airport, which consists of exactly one Alaska Airlines gate, where we loaded two kids, two very confused dogs, a guitar, a banjo, and countless bags.
After a short ride down the one main road in town, we arrived at our new home for at least the next three years. We got all of our bags loaded in the house and for the first time in months, we were done. Done planning, preparing, wondering, moving. We had no deadlines and we had two weeks with nothing to do.
Angie & I stood in the kitchen & we cried on each other shoulders for the first time as the realization of what we had done came crashing down around us in the silence of a new house. Our girls excitedly ran from room to room of this smaller, more rustic new home claiming their bedrooms and exploring all the nooks & crannies.
The days crept by as we had no television, radio, games, internet access, car, friends and we were on a strict 14-day quarantine. The nights were just as long and just as sunny. We got here at the height of both mosquito season and peak sunlight. It made for some very long nights as we were on the most uncomfortable mattresses ever invented, the dogs were confused & paced all night, and there were many windows without blackout curtains.
Eventually, we began to settle in and form a routine of sorts. Our quarantine lifted, the local provider was able to come out & hook up the internet & cable for us. Internet on the tundra is a pretty valuable commodity in that the max plan offered is 200 gigs of data a month for a whopping $300. For a family that was accustomed to watching all of our television via streaming services and scrolling more than we should on the internet, this came as a challenge. As of this writing, we’re almost 4 months in and we’re still figuring it out.
Fast forward and we are in the same boat as so many Americans, but with a substantially better view from our back porch than we did before. The car arrived, we got those curtains, along with all the other furniture, fixtures, and kitchenware that was sorely lacking. The girls have made friends, Angie went to work, I started school (again). We’ve now spent two seasons here on the edge of America, and we’re heading into the long winter, the river should be frozen enough to drive on any day now, and we will soon find ourselves ice fishing, hunting, gathering firewood, and learning new ways to entertain ourselves through the long nights and very short days.