By Connie Leinbach
A familiar face not seen on the island in three months showed up Monday in its usual place.
Islander Dale Mutro, a former postal worker at the Ocracoke post office who took a two-year job as postmaster in Unalakleet, Alaska, returned to the island for a week’s visit.
As he walked into the Ocracoke post office Monday, he promptly went behind the counter to greet his colleague Celeste Brooks, postmaster.
Unalakleet (pronounced “you-na-kleet”) is a village of about 600 mostly native Inupiat people, across from the Seward Peninsula and close to the Arctic Circle.
There are no roads to this village that’s a stop on the Iditarod dog-sled race trail.
“The rest stop is behind the post office,” he said. “So, I’ll be right there.” (The Iditarod, a cross-Alaska race, begins March 5. Click here to view the website.) There’s also the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race that begins February 20 and goes from Nome to Fairbanks.
Mutro arrived there in early August on an almost two-hour flight from Anchorage.
“The village is about no bigger than the point of Ocracoke,” he said. There is one small grocery store about the size of the Variety Store and one gas pump. People work at the fish cannery, for Northern Air Cargo or are commercial fishermen.
“There are 315 post office boxes,” he said, and he just about knows most everyone and their box number, just like he (along with Brooks and Melissa Sharber) knows all of the Ocracoke islanders’ box numbers. “Their bulletin board is bigger than this one.”
So far, he loves this new experience.
“It’s like Ocracoke was 40 years ago,” he said about the town that has a few paved roads and no road going into it.
“I don’t have to worry about ferries not leaving, or tolling, or the S-curves, or the Bonner Bridge, or getting a ticket,” he said.
He’s enjoying the relative freedom of fewer rules and regulations in a frontier place.
“I can be free to just be,” he said, noting that he gets around on a four-wheeler. Cars can be shipped there on cargo planes, he said.
Getting to work is easy.
“I live across the street from the post office—from about here to Howard’s Pub,” he said.
The view from his almost-waterfront apartment on the backside of a pizza place includes the wide Norton Sound, which opens up to the Bering Sea beyond.
“There’s miles and miles of big scenery,” he said.
In the other direction are the already snow-covered mountains.
“There’s no air conditioning in the post office,” he said, since the hottest it got in August was 70 degrees.
Already he’s gone salmon fishing twice and wild blueberry picking.
When he left there was three inches of snow on the ground, but that’s only a prelude of what is to come.
“It will be below zero next week,” he said, and it will get to 30 and 40 (degrees) below zero in the winter to come.
While doesn’t miss Ocracoke, he misses his family (his wife, Jaren, is a Hyde County deputy sheriff) and his animals.
“I’m having a good time,” he said. “I feel like I fit in.”
Mutro continues Ocracoke’s Alaska connection. Susan and James Paul moved to Palmer (outside of Anchorage) this year, and Joanie O’Neal and Joseph Rammuni and Lauren Strohl have lived there.
To read about Joanie’s experiences teaching and being an administrator in Alaska, click here.