Columns 2017

Alaska

My first summer visitors arrived last weekend. They arrived amidst the rain and clouds that have defined the summer in Southcentral so far. Of course, we’ve had our occasional sunny days. But they have been far outweighed by cool temps and rain since the beginning of June.

I realize that this weather is a bummer for many Alaskans who view the summer as their chance to squeeze six months of outdoor fun into two months of possible sunshine and above freezing weather. My heart goes out to them as they attempt to grill in a downpour, fish in weather making them wetter than the salmon they are netting, and hike on a damp, slippery forest floor.

As for me, I’ve reached an age when none of that bothers me anymore. Partly this is because I lived in Barrow for almost thirty years and, until climate change made rain a regular part of the summer up north, the worse summer weather we had was when it snowed on the Fourth of July. Partly this is because I have a firm belief that nature should be allowed to be nature – bugs should be allowed to crawl, insects should be allowed to fly, mosquitoes should be allowed to find caribou to harass – while I should be allowed to enjoy it all from inside my varmint free house.

But having visitors means getting out into Anchorage’s backyard and exploring its wonders no matter how much my body wants to sit on the couch and watch Big Bang reruns. Each time this happens, each time I get visitors I am obligated to amuse with Alaskan activities, I find myself once again awed by the state I admittedly have come to take for granted after forty-five years of residency. Each time one of my guests opens their mouth in total awe at some scenery that barely resonates with me anymore, I am reminded that there are places in this world where people don’t get up to magnificent mountains glowing in the light of sunrise. Each time a visitor sees a moose walking down my street and stops to stare in both wonder and fear, I remember that the moose neighbors I take for granted are wildlife they expect only to see in a zoo. Each time I take the glacier cruise – and at this point, trust me when I say I am getting way too intimate with some of those glaciers given how many times I’ve taken the cruise – I see the look on my guests’ faces as an otter floats buy munching on a clam or a whale breeches in the water. It’s a look that tells me I’ve let myself become much too complacent about the wonders of this state and the beauty and wildness it still possesses.

This has been a rough year for Alaskans. We have a legislature that can’t complete its most important task thus leaving our economy shaking like a 6.0 earthquake. Credit agencies threaten our borrowing ability because of our non-existent plan to put Alaska’s finances on a footing that isn’t found on oil company land. Legislation introduced in Washington could create health care nightmares for all but the luckiest and richest of Alaskans. North Korea developed a bomb that can reach us. Permafrost is melting and threatening the Arctic. If fires aren’t enveloping our homes then mudslides are. Volcanoes erupt… the list goes on and on.

Yet in the middle of all this, there is the physical presence we call Alaska; mountains that rival the Alps; rivers that rival the Amazon; wilderness that goes on unspoiled as far as the eye can see. All this is still out there for us. Alaska is still there to nurture our spirit and feed our souls with its awesome wonder.

This is what I want my visitors to see. This is what I want my guests to experience. This is what makes Alaska so Alaska – living cheek by jowl with nature and accepting it as the best way to live a full life.

So yes, I’ll be back on that glacier cruise. And we’ll head up to Talkeetna so I can point out where Denali would be if the clouds weren’t covering it. And then, just to be sure they understand that Alaskans do have a sense of humor about some of the absurdities of this amazing place, I’ll bring them to the Whale Fat Follies. Because when all is said and done, no one shows the beauty, humor, insanity and greatness of this state as well as that show does.

OK, fellow Alaskans, your break is over. Now go back to tending your summer guests.

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