A Long Term Visitor to Alaska


I lived in Alaska for three years.  I never called myself Alaskan, although I loved the place very much.

With 650,000 people spread over 650,000 square miles, it’s a big piece of land but a small state.  There are only so many places you can go on the road system, keeping most Alaskans living close to the main arteries and connected to one another.  Outside the main arteries, rural, mainly Alaska Native communities fight hard against ecological, social and political obstacles to sustain their culture and way of life.

Alaska is what’s left of the American frontier, free and unbelievable in scale.  You can live the American dream there, now, among the woods and rivers and salmon.  It’s clichéd to say that it is beautiful there, but of course it is. It’s also huge. There aren’t many rules, and not a lot of government-per-square-mile to enforce them.

Alaska affords you the opportunity to live a modern but unfettered life, with tremendous access to wildness and wilderness.  The unique circumstances drive people to value different things in Alaska.  All over the country, you see political candidates judged on their ability to relate to the average man.  But this state is different.  Alaskans are not so worried about making sure that the governor knows the price of milk—they are considerably more concerned that the political candidates own Carhartts that are believably broken in.

It’s a specific and elusive identity, being Alaskan.  It means you’re the champion of something, and you’ve earned it.  You stand for something just by the choice you have made to live here—you stand for really American values—perseverance, adventure, and a Jay Gatsby ability to carve your identity out of a raw landscape.  Alaskans protect their exclusive identity, as they should.  They withstand unbelievable pressure to make a living that is often risky and unforgiving.   It is an achievement to call yourself Alaskan.

I don’t mind that I didn’t quite earn it. I will have to find other ways to be exceptional.

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2 responses to “A Long Term Visitor to Alaska

  1. Silly woman…it’s not that you didn’t earn it, it’s that you left it behind. It is yours for the taking when you return. And, oh yes, you WILL return.

  2. Oh, lady, you are so kind. And your words are ominous.

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