But I counted all the people yesterday!
July 10, 2012 3:07 PM   Subscribe

I am moving to a remote island in the middle of nowhere, and I need hobbies.

I will most likely be un- or underemployed (which is ok—Mr. Blues has a job out there) and I am used to having work and/or school and/or volunteer work take up almost all my time. Hobby-like things I’ve done in the past (like water polo and orienteering) are out because of logistical impossibilities—no pool, notoriously harsh weather, and lots of UXO. I read a lot and that’s a given—but I feel that I’ll want to do something productive rather than passive.

I will definitely be developing a gym/physical conditioning routine, and I imagine I’ll need to spend a fair amount of time doing domestic work like baking bread (I do enjoy cooking and baking, which I suppose is kind of like a hobby?) However, with no pets and no children that stuff just takes a limited amount of time. I also will likely join the volunteer rescue squad, but with a population hovering around 200 I can’t imagine that’s a huge time commitment. I would take some online classes but the internet is quite spotty and I’m concerned that it would make it too difficult—for instance, I don’t think you can stream anything at all. So, I will have a lot of free time.

I definitely plan to enjoy the opportunity to just be, but after a few days of that I think I’ll need something to keep me busy. I’d like to come out of the experience with a new or refined skill. Something that would have income generating potential would be fantastic, but not necessary. I need to be able to ship any materials out there and can’t count on having things like lots of fresh food for elaborate cooking. I have tried to knit in the past, but I am absolutely hopeless at it. I’m afraid that other similar handicrafts would have similar results, but am open to trying. I have a pretty flexible budget for things that require start-up costs—say up to $750—but I’d prefer not to spend a ton of money on something untested that totally flops (i.e. buying all! the! yarn!)

Please give me your hobby ideas!
posted by charmcityblues to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (70 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Could you describe the climate a bit more?
posted by phrontist at 3:10 PM on July 10, 2012

Best answer: If you are moving to a really small remote community they will find stuff for you to do. Trust me! You'll end up some kind of combo volunteer librarian, radio DJ, tutor, gardener, rescuer, wood carrier before you know it.
posted by fshgrl at 3:11 PM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Every small island I've spent time on has had a disproportionate percentage of painters, for whatever reason (my guess is that island living has a tendency to make you very, very aware of your physical surroundings, in a way that makes translating them into art more tempting than normal). $750 would get you set up with a pretty good starter easel and collection of paints and brushes.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:14 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is totally nerdy, but something that interests me personally. It sounds like you'll be in an area with extremely low radio frequency interference. There are lots of ways to take advantage of this. DXing refers to using a radio to receive distant stations, typically taking advantage of signals bounced off the ionosphere back to earth. As a personal example, I used an off-the-shelf radio to receive and identify a station from New Orleans while in San Francisco.

Shortwave radio listening is on the decline but still possible. Transmissions in North America are increasingly rare and religious-focused, but international broadcasters exist in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa (that I know of off the top of my head).

Amateur radio offers the ability to transmit, and not just receive. This can be done within a small region using FM, or with much greater range using high-frequency AM. If any of these topics interest you, let me know if you'd like more details.
posted by germdisco at 3:14 PM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Learn to play guitar? You could buy a decent inexpensive acoustic for about $200. I know you say internet is spotty, but justinguitar.com is a great free online resource (videos posted on youtube) and he also has DVD's for sale. There is also the Learn & Master Guitar DVD set.
posted by puritycontrol at 3:15 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

This sounds military or scientific -- is there a machine shop? Because, and granted I am biased, light machining can be pretty fun.
posted by aramaic at 3:15 PM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

If I were in your shoes, I'd definitely bring a banjo or guitar and learn to play it.

You could also keep a blog- I would read it!
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:16 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Any interest in learning a valuable foreign language which could parlay into lucrative translation opportunities? Major downside: no one to practice with. Though I bet you could find a foreign language email-pal pretty easily.

A friend of mine works designing and building stained glass windows -- churches, historic buildings, one-offs for rich clients. Of course, getting glass would be a problem but most of the equipment is fairly portable. You could make windows for your neighbors! I think it is one of those niche things, though, where if you get good enough you can be valuable in another economy.

Another friend of mine learned to carve in porcelain. She sells her beautiful sculpture to rich people. Of course, you've got shipping logistics and getting known. Though her big break came when a photo of a piece of hers went viral online and really connected with a few art buyers, dealers and art appreciators.

Is this a warm-weather island? How about boat building? Making beautiful and lightweight kayak-type vessels could turn into something lucrative later. I bet you'd have lots of mentors, too.
posted by amanda at 3:18 PM on July 10, 2012

Would you be interested in getting a dog? Or are there other limitations to prevent that? (i.e. allergies, etc, or you just plan aren't an animal person). Raising a puppy is time consuming and rewarding, and depending on how long you are there, a great companion for doing other things. As he got older you could work with training him on awesome stuff like agility or flyball!
posted by Quincy at 3:20 PM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: Great suggestions thus far!

More details on the weather / general environment: "“frequent cyclonic winds with gusts in excess of 100 knots, fog storms, an average accumulated snowfall of 100 inches, earthquakes, a nearby active volcano, rain more than 260 days per year, and tsunamis, and [is] in an area saturated with active bombs and infested with large rats."

This is an island in the Aleutians, so definitely not warm. For privacy reasons I'd prefer not to say exactly which one, so if you can figure it out please don't post the name. Thanks!
posted by charmcityblues at 3:22 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Assuming the island is either pretty or interestingly bleak: photography?
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:22 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna go ahead and suggest gardening, even though something about your post screams ANTARCTICA to me.
posted by scratch at 3:22 PM on July 10, 2012

Stupid did not preview...OK, forget gardening.
posted by scratch at 3:23 PM on July 10, 2012

I was thinking of Japanese brush-painting. Not too materials-intensive, and lends itself well to slow practice, reading of instruction books, finding your own way slowly...
posted by acm at 3:24 PM on July 10, 2012

I live on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. Art is your friend. Or take up an instrument. You indicate that the climate is harsh, I am assuming you mean cold? How about weaving? Spinning your own wool? Oil painting? As for pottery, it is a great craft, but it requires an infrastructure (kiln, studio, clay) you many not have access to.

On my small island I do:

textile crafts (dolls, quilts, bags)
simple wood working (doll house)
jewelery making (nothing elaborate, mostly wire, needle weaving, and bead work.
paper crafts

All the components are easy to ship in, except for the pottery. I go to a studio for that. I would also reconsider knitting or crochet.
posted by fifilaru at 3:26 PM on July 10, 2012

Cross stitching or embroidery - cheap, can get kits, can do small projects (ornaments, book marks, pillows).

I know this sounds super nerdy but what about math or physics? Get some textbooks and work through them slowly but surely? (You can probably buy older student and teacher editions online.)
posted by adorap0621 at 3:26 PM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was going to say Amateur Radio also.
Banjo / Uke
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:34 PM on July 10, 2012

Remote is an excellent opportunity for astronomy (dark skies). Take large binoculars (weather may preclude telescopes).
posted by lathrop at 3:38 PM on July 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

writing, prose or poetry
a musical instrument

Knitting I have tried repeatedly and can't grok it, so I hear you. Crochet is owned by my eldest sister and thus no appeal. I've enjoyed embroidery, though. Bonus: portable.

Hand-quilting small projects might be something. Bonus: something warm on your lap when it's cold outside.
posted by ambrosia at 3:40 PM on July 10, 2012

Best answer: So I am sure I know where it is (my father considered transferring there when I was a teenager). I know internet is spotty but maybe you could do a blog about it. It seems like a really interesting experience AND you can blog about the different aspects of living someplace like that- trying to cook with limited ingredients, learning knitting and crafting, finding things to do in lousy weather, fighting rats... and it looks so beautiful there. I think that blog with amazing photos. I would be interested in that blog. And if you find some craft you are great at...ETSY seller!
posted by beccaj at 3:41 PM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Looks like an interesting place! Maybe you could write a local history/guide book? Do some local research? That's what I would do ...
posted by carter at 3:46 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stupid did not preview...OK, forget gardening.

No. DEFINITELY gardening. You will have a lot of free time and you sound pretty goal-oriented, so why not take on the unlikely challenge of a greenhouse project? The 200 people on the island will love you for the fresh local out-of-season veggies and flavorful fresh-herb-infused sauces you share with them.

Also write a book.
posted by headnsouth at 3:48 PM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

My ex-boyfriend's dad was on an FAA station out there. He became one hell of a rabbit hunter. Rats don't taste so good but the local bird population will be elated.
posted by Foam Pants at 4:00 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, please blog! And come back here and post your blog. I love that stuff -- everyone loves that stuff!
posted by amanda at 4:04 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty positive I know where you're headed. If I'm right, you're a military family - perhaps there's a way to get in touch with the base wives' club, etc to see how people keep busy that far from the rest of the world.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:05 PM on July 10, 2012

You'll have a computer but spotty internet ... the weather offers substantial incentives to staying indoors ... and you'd like a marketable skill to come out of this hobby?

A really solid solution to that might be to download a bunch of books and software related to learning to program and/or learning to use complex applications of interest to you.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:05 PM on July 10, 2012

Oh man. This is my current escape fantasy; I'm jealous.

In mine, I take the Great Books, plus a copy of every math class offered on MIT OpenCourseWare, plus a set of kettlebells and never leave the island until I understand substantially all of modern philosophy, mathematics plus have a body fit for a Soviet athletic propaganda poster. But hey, that's just me.
posted by downing street memo at 4:10 PM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

I've been there. Bird watching for sure!Lots of cool birds.

I have 2 main suggestions: bring cross country skis and bring a couple of good quality folding or imflatable sea kayaks (keeper or incept). Or if you don't feel comfortable sea kayaking see if you can buy a skiff from whoever is leaving. Bring lots of camping gear. Right there you have 3 new hobbies: skiing, boating and small engine repair.

It's a friendly place and you can kill a lot of time boating, fishing, berry picking and volunteering.
posted by fshgrl at 4:10 PM on July 10, 2012

I love the greenhouse idea. There is SO MUCH to learn about plants, you'd likely never exhaust different aspects to explore. Plus, aside from the greenhouse setup, you need seeds, pretty much. Those are cheap and easy to ship :)

Any chance of having livestock? Goats are a wonderful animal in almost any climate. Taking care of them will require some time, then you could also learn what all you could do with their milk.
posted by wwartorff at 4:12 PM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: We're actually not a military family anymore, but those of you guessing that location are correct (things have changed quite a bit since the base closed!)

Would love a pet, but I'm concerned about the lack of availability of veterinary care. Flights are currently in the neighborhood of $1200 without pets, so an emergency would be a very expensive proposition.

Will definitely look into blogging, gardening, radio stuff (more info please!), languages (maybe time to invest in Rosetta Stone?) and arts.

I knew you guys could help!
posted by charmcityblues at 4:14 PM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: Fshgrl: fantastic! I had no idea there was berry picking. And we love sea kayaking-- I had thought that the waters would be way too rough. Thank you!
posted by charmcityblues at 4:16 PM on July 10, 2012

Rat taxidermy?
posted by zengargoyle at 4:22 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you're going to be somewhere remote, where any stuff you need needs to be shipped in, then I suggest a really useful hobby would be something in the line of learning how to fix things, diagnose things, basic electrical repairs, basic mechanical makeshifting, something like that.

They're lifelong useful skills which empower you, and to an extent can offer potential for income generation, but more likely income saving potential.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:23 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might also think about things that could include some of the other 200 people - do you have any skills that might warrant a weekly class or meeting? Philosophy discussions, book club, baking classes,etc. And it doesn't need to be "I teach, you learn" it could just be weekly community get-together and/or we all bake something at my house.
posted by CathyG at 4:32 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd be willing to bet there's old-fashioned correspondence schools (by mail rather than requiring internet access) still up and running. I wouldn't count on them for a bona fide degree, but for, you know, guided instruction and learning things in a series of exercises and some kind of contact with the outside world, I bet they'd be perfect.

If outdoor gardening is out/crazy, what about indoor gardening with hydroponics and such? That'd be really interesting and good fodder for a blog, aside from living on a crazy island. And I'd imagine you could sell your extra produce/whatever at a premium in a place like that. If you do that, you could also learn canning and preserving to supplement your own food supplies and sell the rest to people.

And if you can't cook with fresh food, can you figure out how to make wilderness-type food? Someone who made good jerky/trail mix/granola/long-lasting things like that strikes me as someone handy to have around in that kind of environment. (Someone above me mentions berries and I bet there's fish for fish jerky waiting to be caught).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:33 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, there's tons of info on doing a hydroponic garden with 2L bottles and simple supplies. Even if you're only growing cooking herbs and maybe a few flowers (African violets? pansies?), I imagine that would be awesome in a harsh area. You could pick up some seeds which are easy to transport, and a few cuttings (wrap in slightly moist paper towel and then put in a zip baggie).

You could try writing a book or short story. Sit down and write half a page a day, every day, even if you have no ideas and end up throwing out that day's page you will eventually get somewhere. How about creating audiobooks (preferably using out-of-copyright work so that you can share it with the world)? Or if you're more math/science brain, you could make, say, a children's puzzle book.
posted by anaelith at 4:54 PM on July 10, 2012

I’d like to come out of the experience with a new or refined skill.

Sorry if I missed this, but how long are you planning to be there? Indefinitely, or a 2 year shift, or something else?
posted by jacalata at 5:00 PM on July 10, 2012

I'm of the opinion crochet is easier to pick up than knitting. A dishcloth takes an hour or so once you learn the basics. You could easily crank out blankets while watching whole seasons of TV shows at once on DVD or otherwise - which is something I do every winter, when I'm happy to be draped in warm yarn; then I'm doing something productive while I watch TV, yet able to mindlessly work at my project since it doesn't require all my attention. No need to buy the fancy expensive yarn for this either. You can find nice blends that will provide you with enough material to make a lap throw for well under $50. If you wanted something to sell, you could make scarves or hats, which work up quickly, and would sell for enough each to mostly justify the effort you put into making them.
posted by flex at 5:03 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know your moral compass, but with an area described as "infested with rats" I would take up shooting as a hobby. Shooting and/or trapping. Otherwise not only will the island be infested with rats, but likely your home - which is on said island - will also be infested with rats.

Gardening, while a great way to spend time, presents certain difficulties in 100 knot winds. You'll want to focus on sturdy crops that will withstand wind, acidic soil, and salt spray: kale, carrots, potatoes and peas (a good, reinforced lattice goes a long way) are probably some good starts...

Beachcombing and making found art is pretty fun.

If winters are really 100 inches of snowfall, I'd also recommend a solid indoor hobby - learn a language...
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:05 PM on July 10, 2012

Not only is there great kayaking in the Aleutians there are hot springs everywhere! Many trips are fly in or boat in but if you have boats people will invite you on trips, right? I know you can paddle near town in good weather, don't know how far you can go. You can fish/ shrimp/ crab from a kayak too.
posted by fshgrl at 5:16 PM on July 10, 2012

I'll ad another vote for embroidery, I especially like cross stitch. Knitting never did it for me either. Cross stitch is easy to learn, very time consuming, doesn't take much space, and is easy to ship.

Kayaking is also one of my favorite activities, it's zen on water. You ight be able to find a used one where you're going as opposed to shipping one in.
posted by Requiax at 5:40 PM on July 10, 2012

I was going to suggest weaving, since you can take a small loom like an inkle loom or do card weaving, but that requires materials like lots of yarn...

Related to weaving is basket making, which Google tells me was a major part of the native art tradition there. Maybe you could find someone who would be willing to teach you some components of that craft - the bonus is that they use materials already present in the area and learning things from someone else is more social. Plus, if you could find someone with the skills and the inclination to teach, you'd be learning a craft/skill in a tradition that is fading out and that most people would never have the opportunity to learn.
posted by newg at 5:45 PM on July 10, 2012

If you're going where I think you're going - you're going to one of the most sought-after amateur radio locations in the world. Unfortunately, you're far enough away from anywhere else that simple (cheap) FM transmitter won't work too well. That means HF kit (and all the licensing it entails). It's not hard to get your license, but the kit would take all of your $750 just for starters.

I suspect a greenhouse would blow away on that island ...
posted by scruss at 6:05 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Being without a car, I immediately took up moth photography. Now I also photograph some other bugs, lots of amphibians, reptiles (just don't get bit, okay?), flowers, interesting leaves etc. But mostly just moths.

I see a moth, take as interestingly angled and flattering pics as possible and move on. I'll try once or twice more to take better pics if it's in a more flattering light, different position, etc.

You can see all there is to see bird-wise within a couple years (depending on the square mileage, dense brush, etc). You can document the plant life quickly enough depending on your feverish dedication and time put into the hobby. But you will almost never run out of insects. JUST with the moths, I've been seeing an average of 1 to 2 new moths almost every night and I go out 4 to 5 nights a week.
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:10 PM on July 10, 2012

Write a fiction novel based on the location and everything you discover there.
posted by Vaike at 6:15 PM on July 10, 2012

Also, I did a lot of research in regards to learning a language on my own and read a ton of bad things about Rosetta Stone. Personally I would suggest Pimsleur. However, it may depend on the language you are learning.
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:53 PM on July 10, 2012

Cross stitch is easy to learn, very time consuming, doesn't take much space, and is easy to ship.

+1. It's also cheap. Most kits are in the $20 range and will keep you busy for weeks. Buying patterns and cloth averages out even less, and even if you decide you need All The Thread Colors, they are about 40 cents per skein.

(I realized recently that my project stash is way bigger than my free time, and would actually be happy to send you a few. MeMail me if you're interested.)
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:56 PM on July 10, 2012

You mention 100" average snowfall, but depending upon where you're at, you might be surprised to learn you can actually garden outside. Cold & cool weather vegetable crops like cabbage, greens, carrots, etc. can do fantastically well in the location to which I suspect you may be relocating. The loooooooong summer days with lots of sunlight do crazy amazing things for vegetable gardens.
posted by muirne81 at 6:56 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Edit: I should have added, you might be surprised to learn you can actually garden outside if you're going where I think you're going. Sorry about that -- didn't mean for my first comment to sound snarky. I hope you start a blog because this adventure sounds absolutely fascinating!!
posted by muirne81 at 6:59 PM on July 10, 2012

Oh, I'm betting you'd also be a hot commodity for the people of this site, due to your remote location. You can take part in the main point of the site, which is receiving 5 postcards from somewhere in the world for every 5 sent. However, if you've an eye for getting as many postcards from as many countries as possible, I'd recommend you participate in the forum games, such as round robins, lotteries, participating in "roaming gnomes", etc.
posted by DisreputableDog at 7:01 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Aleutian islands?

If I was compelled to live there, I'd start a comprehensive botanical survey and try to set up experiments growing non-native plants (in a greenhouse/non-dispersal setting) just to see what I can get to grow in that environment.

As for the survey, there are probably lots of botanical questions that haven't been answered (much less asked) yet. Maybe google "botany" "botanist" and local geographical terms. There are probably people who are studying stuff/taxa in your area who aren't able to get to there personally, routinely. You could be the local scientist's cat's paw. Wouldn't pay extravagantly, but there could be a little money and maybe vouchers to travel.

Alternatively, are there indigenous people around? Same thing with anthropologists and linguists. People who could use people-on-the-ground and might be able to send some compensation your way.
posted by porpoise at 7:49 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm amazed no one has suggested brewing beer. Cheap, neighborly, and lots of fun.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:52 PM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Jacalta: we'll be there for at least a year, possibly more.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:26 PM on July 10, 2012

On the handiwork front, I suggest needlepoint. It's more expensive than say cross-stitch because you usually use wool yarn. It is easy to do (one stitch), so there isn't really a big learning curve. There is a wide variety of things you can make with needlepoint: pillows, bookmarks, eyeglass cases, tote bags, etc.

There's also jewellery making. The supplies are very light: beads, chains, earring wires, etc.

I really like the idea of basket weaving from local resources due to the historic aspect of it.

To those suggesting a greenhouse: the winds in the islands may be too destructive for a glass greenhouse. You can do greenhouses with vinyl/plastic windows/sheets, but those would need to be replaced fairly often as well.
posted by deborah at 9:01 PM on July 10, 2012

Having lived on an equatorial island, I can suggest the following:

1) Fresh greens will most likely be in scarce supply. I suggest investigating hydroponics to grow as much as you can of the following: arugula, basil, coriander and parsley. Basically you want quick growing things that you can grow in trays and that you can cycle batches of so as to keep your supply of greens and herbs as continuous as possible. Sprouts are also an easy and space-efficient way of getting some crunch into your diet. ALL of this will take up plenty of time. Bring lots of seeds with you and identify a way of getting more posted to you if possible.

2) You will need far more books than you think you will. An ipad or e-reader will be your lifeline. Load it up with an order of magnitude more books than you think you will need.

3) Yoga DVDs will be a wonderful way of expanding your exercise routine - take as many as you can (at least 5, 10 would be better).

4) Instead of just working on a language, give yourself a book to translate out of this new language? Not something too hard. For example, I've used a version of Winnie the Pooh in Latin, along with Roman poetry. I suggest choosing a book you want to translate and bring both the foreign language and english version with you.

5) Relearn your calculus (or other maths) - it's actually quite fun IF you bring the right text with you.

6) Bring an instrument and lots of sheet music. LOTS AND LOTS OF SHEET MUSIC. Get yourself a stack of Fake Books. You'll be in high demand.

6) THIS IS THE BIGGEST ONE: You will get SO BORED OF FOOD. There are ways to make the limited supplies you have interesting, but it means planning ahead. Bring the cooking tools you need to make the things you like. For example, on one island, I had almost everything I needed to make the best sashimi in the world... except a knife that was capable of cutting anything (I could mince the tuna, but that wasn't very appetising). Bring lots and lots of spices. Bring hot sauces. Bring jars of kimchi or cans of sauerkraut. If you're planning on gardening, plan on pickling things too. If you were to go all out you could fill your time easily on gardening and pickling and...

7) Bring a homebrew kit. THIS IS ALSO THE BIGGEST ONE.

8) This is probably most important in terms of socialising... if there are families there then get involved with the school and the children of the village. They'll most likely be the life blood of the place and if you give back to the school, then it's a wonderful way to join the community.

Good luck and feel free to memail me!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 9:57 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Along the radio lines, did you see the Phi on the blue the other day? You could learn a lot about electronics, if going the traditional radio kit route.
posted by knile at 3:01 AM on July 11, 2012

I haven't seen anyone recommend this, but if it were me and I had a computer (even if internet access were limited), I'd take the opportunity to learn a programming language or two. If you've never programmed before I'd probably start with something simple yet immediately rewarding, like Visual Basic or Real Basic, but other options are Java or Python (which is nice because it's free). Or probably other people here will chime in with other language suggestions, if you have a particular kind of thing you might like to program.

Although learning to program is helped by being able to download libraries and ask for help from the internet, I learned several languages the "old fashioned way", from books and just messing around and trying things. So if you have little or no internet access it is still totally doable. It is really fun (for certain people), if you get good you end up with a marketable and highly sought-after skill, and best of all, once you know how to program you can do things like program games for yourself that you can then play, or software for yourself that you can then use.

And you don't need many materials -- just make sure you've got the language set up on your computer before you go, and have 3 or 4 different reference books at different levels of complexity for each language, and you're off!
posted by forza at 5:37 AM on July 11, 2012

Response by poster: So a few people have mentioned programming (and also techy sounding radio-related things). I'd be super interested in trying, but I'm not sure I have the base skills necessary-- I am very much at the "user-only" end of the scale. I can't even really do basic HTML beyond bolding and italics and such.

It would be a great skill-set to pick up, though-- and would help eliminate my nightmares about being in a Connecticut Yankee-type situation and totally unable to hack a grandfather clock into a supercomputer or whatever.

Are there resources that you can recommend for true beginners?
posted by charmcityblues at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2012

Another vote for cross stitch. The kits are great for someone just learning, and all you'd need to buy is a needle and some fray check.

My grandfather had a HAM radio that he loved! I don't know anything about it myself, though. Except people can put their call/license number on their car's license plate, and they'll make the character of a zero with a slash through it for those types of plates. W0BVO was my grandfather's call number. I miss him :(
posted by wwartorff at 7:49 AM on July 11, 2012

I lived on a different Aleutian island for a little while and gardening outdoors is going to be impossible.
You are going to want a hobby that doesn't involve a lot of physical materials since everything is crazy expensive to ship and order.
The people suggesting computer-related ideas are on the right track, I think.
Start a blog, try programming, read a lot online.

The things you'll have to work with on the island if you want to do some craft-type thing are a lot of rocks, water, grass/moss, fishing nets. No real wood to speak of so whittling won't do it.

You could also get into cooking- watch online videos for techniques, get rally good at one region's specialties, etc. If you do this, get the spices and oils you might need before you move. And anything kind if rare (like black chickpeas or wild rice or something), since they are going to be scarce/expensive.
posted by rmless at 10:27 AM on July 11, 2012

I'm a bit surprised nobody mentioned meditation or juggling.
posted by vecchio at 10:29 PM on July 11, 2012

Photography and sketching (pencil! Paper! Very low investment!).

Get a book to identify birds Bird list.

Geology and volcanology.

There is an environmental group on the island working on cleanup - good for volunteering.

Learn an instrument (guitar, ukulele!).

Origami! (stack of paper, online/book instruction) - Also excellent for quirky, light, decorations.

Get so many books, fiction and non-fiction (ebooks, preferably), that it's not funny. Allow your own desires to determine the direction.

Get a copy of something like Living out Loud/Wreck This Journal/Etc by Keri Smith for art ideas when you're snowed in.


Get a coloring book if going straight to sketching is intimidating.

Get a coloring book and a temporary window art kit and make fake stained glass windows!

For figuring out your own interests:

Write a list, every day, of 10 things you think you might like to do on the island. You can repeat ones from previous days, but you can't include anything that you're not excited about *right now* (so, some days, the pushup challenge is on the list, other days, so very, very not!).
You'll usually get a couple of new ideas each day, and it is relevant noticing the ideas that are still interesting day after day, and which ones wane over time. Might help for planning what to take with you.
posted by Elysum at 11:52 PM on July 11, 2012

American Radio Relay League has books on amateur radio.

Get a copy of something like Living out Loud/Wreck This Journal/Etc by Keri Smith for art ideas when you're snowed in.
This Book Will Change Your Life.
posted by knile at 4:13 AM on July 12, 2012

"I would take some online classes but the internet is quite spotty and I’m concerned that it would make it too difficult—for instance, I don’t think you can stream anything at all."

Yeah, as Downing Street Memo mentioned - you can download courseware ahead of time and bring it with you.

There is a TON of stuff on iTunes U, plenty of video (and audio) you can download directly from MIT's OpenCourseWare, and lots of Khan Academy videos. Just download them before you go, and you'll have lots of great mental stimulation to keep you busy.

Similarly, you can download lots of archived podcasts for lighter listening.

Also, like Elysum, I strongly recommend sketching - and maybe bring a starter watercolor set with you. Taking the time to draw the things around you - even if you think you're not very good at first - gives you a whole new relationship to your landscape.

Have fun!
posted by kristi at 9:25 AM on July 12, 2012

The idea of learning to program didn't grab you, so maybe this idea doesn't suit you. But enormous, very high paying opportunities are opening up for people who have some computer literacy accompanied by applied math skills. Google "big data" and you'll see what I mean. I think the demand is going to be large enough that a degree is not going to be necessary if you have those skills.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 2:57 PM on July 12, 2012

Oh, and you asked about programming, for absolute beginners!

Here is where you can download the IDE (Editor) for Python. A very easy to learn programming language - Google uses it! Although, it is saturated with Monty Python jokes, of course.

Here is a one page, super short introduction to Python:

Download the editor, and then try entering/copying everything in green in the above tutorial (except for the Fiesta Spam Recipe!) into the Python Editor, and run it.
Don't just read the tutorial, copy and paste it in, and you'll understand how it works.

Voila. Instant programming.

Not sure if it's something you'd be into, but hey, the above will only take half an hour, and it takes away some of the mystery of programming. :)
posted by Elysum at 5:42 PM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Echoing the birding. Please! For me. People travel to the Aleutians just for the birds. Get a good pair of binoculars before you go and some bird books. Plus I bet there are a bunch of people there who would be happy to show you the rare and interesting birds that show up there. Photography of said birds would also be a project.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:29 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the birding - learning to ID gulls is plenty time-consuming. And you'll be in a great place to take advantage of seeing the Asian and Siberian species that get blown off course.

And maybe you can find someone to teach you how to make the beautiful baskets that Aleut natives are justifiably famous for.
posted by rtha at 7:09 PM on July 14, 2012

Reupholstering old furniture. This can be as complex or as easy as you make it depending on what you decide to upholster and the results are very impressive. It's reasonably labour intensive but you can learn everything from YouTube videos and buy what you need online. I've just started and I'm not handy in the least and am having good results.
posted by Jubey at 4:24 PM on August 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks again to all for the advice! I'm at the airport in Anchorage, about to take off for parts unknown.

I'll come back and update once I've gotten my bearings and started in on projects (other than the blog, which is live!)
posted by charmcityblues at 2:04 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

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