Without wildlife, Anchorage is not Alaska

There’s an old joke we used to tell on Anchorage when I lived in the bush. We’d say that Anchorage was as close as you could get to Alaska without actually being there. The more complaints I read in the paper about the moose and bears we share our world with here, the more I realize that maybe that wasn’t a joke.

I moved to Alaska from the most urbanized part of America – that great megalopolis that starts in Boston and ends in Washington D.C.  The only wildlife you see along that corridor are the deer eating on the side of the road on the Garden State Parkway or Pennsylvania Turnpike.  They have become so numerous that they are considered a hazard to traffic now.

This could, of course, have something to do with the fact that all their natural predators were wiped out years ago but the deer were just so, well cute, that they were allowed to thrive. And thrive they did – to the point where they are now starving because there isn’t enough vegetation left in Jersey to support them. Which will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever driven in Jersey.

The idea of a limited hunt has been raised in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  I’m not sure where that idea stands now but I know that for a long time people were protesting it because no one could stand the thought that someone might kill Bambi’s mom.  Better they should starve to death. At least you don’t have to see that happen unless the deer accidentally stumbled out onto the highway while in the last throes of starvation.  In which case it would get creamed by some gambler doing 90mph down the expressway heading for his destiny in Atlantic City, so no one would know it had been starving to death anyway.

As I was growing up on the East Coast, these deer constituted my whole view of nature and wildlife unless I counted the seagulls and pigeons on the Boardwalk or the crabs on the beach.  All other animals were where they properly belonged, in the Philadelphia Zoo behind bars.

So when I came to Alaska, part of the allure was that I would be coming to a place where people and nature were co-existing in some fashion or another. I was coming to a place where wolves, fox, eagles, moose and bear could be found literally outside your front door.  It was part of the mystique and magic that the word Alaska conjured up in the head of a young woman who thought a stray dog was an encounter with nature.

I moved to Barrow and found nature literally outside my front door. And I learned about the reality of nature. I learned that the meat I ate at dinner came from animals that looked very much like Bambi and if I wanted dinner, I would get over any squeamishness I felt about that.  I learned that polar bears had been using the land I now lived on for hundreds of thousands of years as a short cut from the Beaufort to the Chukchi Sea.  I learned that they still were doing that and I would have to adjust if I wanted to share their world.  It was an adjustment worth making.

Now some people in Anchorage want to take away one of the few remaining links this city has with Alaska.  Take away the moose that wander our streets and you might as well live in any middle-sized city anywhere in the lower 48. If you want a city of box stores, a limited downtown, ugly urban sprawl as realized through acres upon acres of toaster houses with no distinguishing social value – an urban slice of white bread covered in mayonnaise – then move to any thousands of safe places in the lower 48.

But this is Alaska. And in Alaska we do things differently than they do outside.  Or at least I thought we did.  I thought we learned to co-exist with nature.  I thought we knew how to live with moose and bear, eagles and geese.  Take them away and Anchorage becomes Anywhere, USA.

And no one in their right mine would go through a winter with 111 inches of snow to live in Anywhere USA.