Five choice samples from Halpern’s journalistic beat of “outlandish and often hellish [places] inhabited by a handful of stalwarts who refused to leave.”
Sometimes it’s just one stalwart, like Jack Thompson, sole resident of Royal Gardens, Hawaii, a little lava-encircled island with plenty more lava creeping its way. Then there’s Thad Knight, who stayed put when Hurricane Floyd inundated Princeville, North Carolina, arguably the first incorporated black town in the US. After Knight come the residents of Whittier, Alaska, living in a claustrophobic and otherworldly 14-story high-rise nestled in the tongue of a glacier—people who, in one resident’s words, “came here running from something.” At first glance, Malibu, California, hardly seems outlandish and hellish—that is, until fire season starts, marking a clear distinction between those who run and those who stay to guard the homestead against the wind-whipped flames. Lastly, there’s the fellow who rides the mean storms off the Gulf of Mexico on a spit of land in the south of Louisiana. What we have here, Halpern suggests, are people with genuine pride of place and sense of home, not despite of but in response to the strange and daring environs: “Perhaps, over the years, their intimacy with danger and their ability to survive created a deep sense of pride and belonging.” They are individualistic, self-reliant, respectful of nature (except for Princeville, their landscapes are marked by sheer magnificence), and, often as not, happy to be free of government and society. These are people linked inextricably to the places they live, devoted and hardy, a little rough around the edges, humorous and stoic, capable of making their own definitions of heaven on earth.
Throwbacks, maybe, but Halpern is “impressed by their fierce pioneer spirit, clearly atavistic, but proudly unyielding.” You will be, too. (12 b&w photos)