Saturday, March 23, 2013

I {heart} AK

I opened my window this morning to the sight of no less than 20 boats shooting across the bay, like it's the Memorial Day weekend tourist influx. Only it's the second half of March and 25 degrees outside with snow clouds rolling in.  People have asked me countless times just what it is that we like so much about living in Alaska.  It's hard to put into words, but I think I have finally figured it out.  Seeing all of those people freezing out on the bay at 8:30 on a late winter Saturday morning, participating in the Winter King Salmon Tournament, perfectly depicts the Alaskan spirit that we have come to love so much.

Alaskans aren't afraid of a little weather.  If they were, they'd be one miserable house-bound lot.  Style here revolves around being protected from the elements.  Instead of DKNY and Coach and Calvin Klein, it's Patagonia and Bogs and Xtra-Tuf.  If Alaskans want to add a little flair to their everyday, they do it with the color of their down jacket or embellished back pockets of their Silver jeans.  No one is afraid of getting a little dirty.  In fact, it's pretty impossible to get in and out of your car without transferring some of the road filth from it to your clothing.  It's the same out on the water.  If there's a fishing season going on, you can bet that there are boats out there working in all but the very, very worst kind of weather.  If you've ever watched Deadliest Catch, you've seen it yourself.  That is probably the most realistic of the Alaskan reality shows out there.

Just another day on the USCGC HICKORY
Alaskans drive in pretty much any weather, too.  Here in Homer, we spent the better part of the winter driving around on sheets of ice.  I felt like I was auditioning for an episode of Ice Road Truckers at times.  Since we can't use chemicals on our roads to melt the ice and snow (for the safety of the wildlife), road maintenance in the winter can be pretty sketchy.  But we still take the 220-mile drive from Homer to Anchorage, keeping in the back of our minds that we can always turn around and head home if it gets too difficult.

The appreciation that Alaskans have for their natural resources is just amazing.  Animals are still hunted more for food than for the trophy to hang on the wall (although a new caribou rack for the den is always a nice bonus).  All kinds of plants are consumed and preserved in the summertime.  Did you know that you can, in fact, make pesto from stinging nettles, when they first they sprout in the spring?  Catching big fish is nice, but filling your freezer with salmon and halibut is more important than how much each one weighs.  The farmers' market parking lot runs out of space in the summer, full of people buying locally-grown produce and handmade items.  Protecting natural resources is also very important here.  With the drilling that Shell is hoping to start in the Arctic, and the presence of a jack-up rig right here on the Homer Spit, Alaskans are very vocal about protecting their shorelines and ocean-dwelling creatures from the potential dangers of oil drilling.

People here aren't afraid of a little hard work, and the fact that you have a job at all far outweighs the prestige of your position.  No one really cares whether you are a coffee barista or deckhand, or bank manager or real estate agent.  Own your own business?  Fantastic.  And thanks for creating jobs for more Alaskans.  Females are viewed for the most part capable of doing any job that men can do.  I know several female fishing boat captains, North Slope workers, and bush pilots.  Alaskan women are tough, and Alaskan men seem to appreciate that.

Perhaps the best thing about Alaskans is their sense of community and helping each other out all the time.  I can't tell you how many times just in the past two years we have lived in Homer that a family has had a house fire or medical emergency, and the community has stepped up to organize fundraisers and household goods drives to help out their neighbors.  There is always an auction or yard sale going on to benefit one local organization or another, and opportunities abound for volunteers looking to help out.  Local businesses consistently support all of these efforts with donations of goods and services.

While I could live here my whole life and never tire of the view of the mountains and the bay, the eagles soaring overhead and moose wandering the neighborhood, it's the Alaskan community that I will miss most when we leave.  And that's what will, hopefully, one day bring us back.

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