Like many rural areas, the south side of Kachemak Bay doesn’t get traditional mail service. Instead, its communities rely on a mail boat to deliver to small postal drop offs. It’s the kind of job that attracts a special type of person who’s willing to make the trek across the bay, rain or shine, snow or ice, twice a week, every week, year-round. There the mailman takes the shape of a 60-something ex-fisherman who’s been on the job for nearly 30 years.
Dave Seaman lives up to his name. He’s a lanky 60-something fisherman. He wears durable pants and old sweaters and sets his week around the mail.
“I wouldn’t know what day it was if it wasn’t Tuesday or Friday to hang it on.”
We meet at the Homer post office to pick up the mail. He doesn’t really like town. That’s why he lives across Kachemak Bay in Little Tutka, his one stop on today’s mail route.
When he shows up, he brusquely walks in the back door, punches his time card, and heads straight for a tray marked ‘RED MOUNTAIN,’ the name given to the mail drop for Little Tutka back in the day of the old chrome mine, which has since shut down.
In recent years, the name has been reduced to the code RDO, a casualty of modern technology.
“It switched over to machine sorting. So everything in the mail here goes to Anchorage to machine sort it. So we lost our Red Mountain address which everyone loved.”
He tosses mail in different piles. He knows to forward a few letters to Homer addresses for Tutka residents summering in town.
“Oh I know everybody. I know where they are in the summer and in the winter and everything else.”
He stuffs everything into a large yellow mail bag and hightails it out the door.
“Alright, that’s it. Got all our stuff. We can go, head across the bay. The fun part begins.”
We head down to the harbor and onto his old, green and white beast of a boat. As soon as we’re out on open water, he relaxes and starts to smile.
“I started it in 1987 so that makes almost 30 years, yep. And it’s kind of the thing that holds my whole life in line, really.”
Less than an hour later, we arrive in Little Tutka Bay. Seaman grounds the front of his boat on the rocks and like a seafaring Santa Claus, tosses the mail sack over his shoulder and jumps off the bow. *AMBI*
The mail shed is a shack-like cabin haphazardly perched on a steep incline not too far above the water.
“Well you stumble up the beach and then you climb up on a rock and then you go up on top of this log and then there you are- you’re right in the back door, which the bear tore off.”
Inside the shack, there’s a big fish tote.
He’s lucky that today there’s only a handful of mail. He once served as the de facto moving company for a family coming from Bethel, hauling everything from the boat to the shack.
“That was fun. That was the biggest collection of Blaz-o boxes I’ve ever seen.”
Once he’s done, he hops down. Back on the beach Seaman stops and looks around.
“Listen, there’s no noise here. There’s no noise here, no noise of tires on the highway. That’s the main thing. It’s just quiet and beautiful. I lived over here for 20 years when I first got to the Homer area, raised a family here and always missed it when we moved to town to put the kids in school and all that. So I lived 20 years in town and now I’m back. This is my home.”
He and his job make sense for each other. When he’s not working he builds boats and lives in a small cabin off a lagoon. He says his job pays for his boat habit, keeps him connected to his neighbors and friends, and allows him to give back to his community.
“If I didn’t have somewhere I had to go, I’d stay back here and never go out, probably, turn into a hermit. It’s just fun. I’d probably do it for nothing, but don’t tell them I said that.”
And he believes in mail. It’s more personal, perhaps more genuine, it’s managed to hang on through the hustle and bustle of modern life. Little Tutka resident Gregor Welpton agrees.
“David provides a vital link for us here. He’s the guy who, no matter what’s going on in the bay, in the middle of winter, or in the beautiful days of summer, goes across and provides the link for us to pay our bills and get what comes in the mail.”
Back on the shore, it’s time to head out. Seaman still has some letters for his neighbors, like Gregor, that he’ll hand deliver on his way back home to his little cabin.
We haul ourselves back onto the bow of his boat. As he starts it up, he bemoans the loss of the old Little Tutka mailing address once again – Red Mountain via Homer replaced by plain old RDO, the code for the nearest air strip, miles away.
“It’s not a really good fit but it’s what we got. Maybe we could get it changed back. I always thought it would be fun to have our own zip code and get a stamp so we could be one of those places that people collect postal stamps from. Maybe that would put us on the map. No…I don’t want us on the map. What am I saying?”
He says he’ll do this job until the day he dies, providing an important connection for the folks who live out here, hoping they won’t have to get too much more connected, though, as the years go by.