Seasonality hinders leadership potential

Commentary paid for by Burl Sheldon


April 7, 2022

Skagway’s former Mayor, Stan Selmer, once opined on the record: “The more that happens here in summer the less that happens here in winter.” Mayor Stan appreciated (grudgingly) Skagway’s high level of summer commerce, but spoke to the dark side of seasonality—extreme transience that hollowed out his beloved hometown, October through mid-April. Most folks enjoy the rejuvenating effect of taking a break and vacating. I sure do. But I’ve come to view one aspect of modernity as a curse: ultra-mobility and the seasonal life-style. Seasonality constrains an essential human resource, our leadership capacity, and it has global implications.

I like the sound of the Haines Chamber of Commerce project “Small Business Bootcamp,” helping folks kick-start a business. I am on the fence about intentionally attracting “location-neutral” residents. That sounds like a crew with fairly whimsical attachments. On net, I’m unsure about giving more economic leverage to location-neutral anything. A location-positive ethic, the opposite, is offering local preferences, shopping local, or choosing brick-and-mortar vendors over Amazon, for instance. Indeed, location-neutral relates to the concerns being voiced about multinational mining here and elsewhere where trans-national firms have global reach and impact, but no one locus of true human responsibility.

My rambling here is about the challenge of leadership and what it takes to maintain a strong community. Our snowbird friends may be no less dear and can Zoom to the meeting, but won’t be helping with the non-virtual schlepping and bodily participation—the steady presence that lots of community engagements require to reach their potential. Those darn every week commitments aren’t for the snowbird. Part-time, whimsical attachments are a negative consequence of ultra-mobility and seasonality.

Those who stick-and-stay keep the fires alight; those who don’t enjoy the seasonal benefits often without the burden or the ethic of commitment. Seasonal folks also pay sales tax part time. General Fund cultural perks like an excellent library, a swimming pool, performing arts and a quality historical museum—services that are important to their seasonal attachment and enjoyment—don’t receive the snowbird’s full support. Yet, should the powers that be chose to shudder these cultural facilities, lookout! The sucking sound, audible from Skagway, will be even more location-neutral snowbirds taking wing to winter elsewhere.

Here in an ultra-mobile world, may all find a purpose and a place to drop the hook. I am grateful for you who choose to stay for the long dark, the schlepping, shoveling, and sharing toil and love. Wallace Stegner called them “stickers”—folks who stay rooted, “and love the life they have made and the place they have made it,” constructing durable, complex relationships and meaning in presence. Ultimately, for Haines to cultivate greater capacity for leadership, we’ll need to encourage more who “stick” and fewer to fly the coop.


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