When I was a kid, I remember hearing stories about mountain men who lived in the Alaskan wilderness. They were almost mythical, those men. I felt the same disconnect about them as I felt about the Yeti. In my mind’s eye, they wore flannel shirts and long, gnarled beards with bits of tundra poking from the tangles. My favorite shows on TV at the time were Grizzly Adams and Little House on the Prairie, and as kids tend to do, I merged what I heard with what I saw on TV and drew my conclusions from that. The stories told of men who wrestled grizzlies and caught salmon with bare hands, only venturing into town to find “a good woman”. One with generous birthing hips and a good aim and a desire to shit under the stars and drink river water and hang dry their husband’s long underwear.
In the tales, they were always here because they were running away from something. Usually the government. Alaskans have always been known to be more accepting of people on the fringe of society, and for the most part, I’m proud of this. In 2002, a family emerged in the national news who seemed to confirm what I’d come to believe to be true. The patriarch went by “Papa Pilgrim”; his family, the Pilgrim Family.
The Pilgrim Family held darker secrets beneath the surface than some paranoid belief in government conspiracies. No one would know how dark for several years, though. In the beginning, people seemed supportive of one man’s choice to move his family off the grid. Now, everyone knows about the horrors the patriarch bestowed on his wife and children out there in the woods. It was scary. And it was tragic. And it looked an awful lot like something I’d seen before.
I moved to McGrath, Alaska in 1998. My boyfriend, Doug, had been begging me and I’d eventually agreed; I was 25 years old and moving in no particular direction and so I went North. Doug met me at the plane and took me straight to his best friend’s home and when he introduced the two of us, I was immediately terrified. I didn’t know right then why he scared me so much.
But I know why now. It was his eyes. They hated me.
And it’s scary when Evil hates you.
to be continued