Alumnus has made his life in Homer, Alaska

By Terry Rensel ’91Terry on Snowshoes

 I live at the end of the road — literally. The continuous road system in North America ends here in Homer.

This is also the southern-most point in Alaska that you can drive to, and the farthest point west you can drive is just up the road in Anchor Point. Where the road ends, the

water begins. From here you can get on the ferry and go either the 20 miles across Kachemak Bay to Seldovia or the long trip to Kodiak and then out the Aleutian chain.

A SHORT JAUNT – Terry Rensel ’91 does some snowshoeing near the north fork of the Anchor River. He’s being accompanied by a friend’s dog.

The journey that brought me here to the end of the road hasn’t been the most direct. From Pitt-Bradford, my career has taken me back to my hometown of Erie, Pa., then Orlando, Fla., and Louisville, Ky., before finally bringing me here last April.

No one ever expects the road to take them where it does. That was certainly the case when, during my junior year of high school, I visited Pitt-Bradford on a lark. Five friends of mine were making a college visit, and they had an extra seat in the car. Since I figured it was a way to get out of a day of school, and a since road trip sounded like it might be a little fun, I accepted their invitation to tag along. A couple of nights before, I had gone to a college fair and met Pitt-Bradford’s admissions director, Mike Mulvihill, and when we showed up on campus, Mike welcomed us like we were family. I was pretty much hooked at that point.                        

In some ways, Homer gives me that same feeling of a close-knit community. This is a small town. The population is around 5,000, although if you widen the circle to include the general area, that number goes up to 10,000.

The speed of life here reflects our size. The traffic report, when there is one, consists of telling you if there’s a moose in the road or if someone’s horses have gotten loose.

The view out my office window looks across the bay right at the glacier. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had a yearling moose just outside that window eating the vegetation that was poking up out of the snow. The winter is also eagle season here, and they are as thick as pigeons in a city park. I was driving out the Spit recently and had an eagle flying along side of me in the other traffic lane. It was like we were drag racing down the road, as he was at eye level with me not more than 10 feet away, and keeping up with me. The natural wonders of this place never cease to amaze me.

We get almost 19 hours of daylight around summer solstice and about the same amount of darkness the week of winter solstice. This was my first winter here and, except for the darkness, it wasn’t much different than what I grew up with in Erie or experienced during my four years at Pitt-Bradford. 

 Young Moose
SO CLOSE TO NATURE – Terry Rensel stood on the porch of radio station KBBI and snapped this photo of a yearling moose that was foraging for food.
Still, life here is quite something else. Even though I am still on the road system and in a relatively populated area, I know people who live across the bay who are entirely “off the grid.” They have no electricity, phone, Internet, running water or indoor plumbing for that matter. They haul their water from a stream or spring, and if they even have mail service over there, it arrives by boat twice a week, weather permitting. Their main connection to the outside world is the radio, which impresses on me how important our job is here at the station where I work.  

Today was a picture postcard type of day: sunny, clear blue skies, not a cloud to be seen. On the other side of Cook Inlet are Mt. Iliamna, Redoubt and Augustine. Iliamna and Redoubt looked so close that if I didn’t know better, I would think that I could have reached out and touched them. Mt. Augustine is about 70 miles away and is hard to see, even during optimal conditions. Today was one of those days that you could see it, and the other night it stood out against the orange sky at sunset, a dark shadow rising out of the horizon, its peak cut off by the line of clouds extending across the sky out in front of a weather front moving up the Inlet.

We are in the early stages of what we here call “breakup” -- what most of the rest of the world calls “spring.” It could be anything from days on end of rain, with temperatures in the 40s, to a couple of inches of snow and temperatures in the 20s, or nice “Chamber of Commerce” days with sunny, blue skies right out of those postcards.

As everything thaws out, there will be a season of mud. This is also the time of year that the yearling moose, cut loose by their mothers who are preparing to give birth, come into town, looking for food. There is still plenty of snow on the ground outside of town and none here, so it is easy for them to find something to eat. As long as you don’t get between the mommas and the babies, and you don’t bother them when you come across them, you can stroll right past them. This week, I passed three different yearlings on my walk to work, walking about 8 feet away from the closest one without it even noticing that I was there.

I know that I am a very lucky person. Ever since I left Pitt-Bradford, I have been able to do not only something that I went to school for, but something I truly love doing. I’ve been able to do it in some great places, and now I get to do it in a place that is truly amazing and special. No matter what I say about it or how great the pictures are that I take, none of it does the land justice. It is a place that must be seen and experienced first hand.

If you want to visit, just keep driving until you reach the end of the road.