The Alaskaepoedia: Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the Last Frontier … and less
Nickname: “The 49th State,” “Land of the Midnight Sun,” “Home of the Vanity License Plate”
State motto: North to the Future
State 1980s time-travel movie: Back to the Future
State flower: Forget-me-somethingorother…
State souvenir: Bear claw salad tongs; anything with fireweed in it/on it
State bird: Willow ptarmigan
State Palin daughter: Willow Bianca
State fossil: Woolly mammoth; Don Young
State sport: Dog mushing (as in racing a sled team)
State pastime: Dog mushing (as in stepping on one of the many piles that reappear with spring thaw)
Alaska ranks as the largest state in the United States by area (also by per capita ice cream consumption — seriously, Google it). At the same time, it is the least densely populated, although you’d hardly know it from the checkout lines at Walmart on PFD day.
As per 2010 census data, 710,231 people reside in Alaska, approximately half of them within the Anchorage metro area (each trying to make a left turn onto Northern Lights from Lake Otis at rush hour).
Located in the extreme northwest corner of the North American continent, Alaska is bordered by Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and, just on the other side of Sarah Palin’s 14-foot privacy wall, Russia. Technically, Alaska is considered part of the continental United States, but not part of the contiguous U.S. As such, a $5 Foot-Long at Subway costs $8.
With the extension of the Aleutian Islands into the eastern hemisphere, Alaska is considered both the easternmost and westernmost state in the union. It is also considered ineligible for shipping by IKEA.
Derived from the Aleut word alaxsxaq, Alaska means “Great Country,” “Great Land” or “Great Place to Set a Reality Series.”
The United States purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867. Price: $7.2 million. In today’s dollars, that’s $113 million. To put that in perspective, Tiger Woods earned almost that much in 2010 — and that’s after all the stuff with the crashed SUV and the porn star paternity suits.
The acquisition of Alaska came to be known as “Seward’s Folly,” which, some 125 years later, lent its name to a 5-lb. ham-bacon-cheese caribou burger at the West Rib Pub and Grill in Talkeetna.
Historically known as the Alaska Territory, prior to statehood, the “Alaska Territory” is also what you call that swath of exposed lower back/upper butt you get when you don’t firmly belt your Carhartts.
Today, Alaska remains a nature lover’s dream, boasting 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline, multiple active volcanoes, mountain chains, glaciers, abundant wildlife, and some three million lakes. Interestingly enough, no Whole Foods. Not even a Trader Joe’s.
While no officially defined borders exist, Alaska consists of six generally accepted regions, seven if you count Don Young’s forehead. That thing goes on for miles.
Southcentral: Containing Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and the Kenai Peninsula, plus the Prince William Sound area, this is Alaska’s most populous region, although that’s a lot like being the hottest girl at a Dungeons & Dragons tournament.
Southeast: The warmest part of the state, although, again, hottest girl, Dungeons and Dragons tournament. It’s also the rainiest. How rainy? The salmon wear Grundéns.
Interior: The largest region of Alaska, most of it is uninhabited wilderness. Where people do live, they grow giant cabbages and rip up and down frozen rivers on snowmobiles, which, for some reason, Alaskans call snow “machines.” That’s the first thing you learn when you get to Interior Alaska, aside from the fact that you didn’t bring nearly enough thermal underwear.
Southwest: Sparsely inhabited region stretching 500 miles inland from the Bering Sea. This is a huge, complex, and relatively unknown area, much like all the user agreements Apple makes you click on whenever you update your software.
North Slope: Mostly tundra dotted with small villages, this area is known for its massive petroleum reserves and massive caribou herds, which often seem at cross purposes with each other. For several months each winter, the sun does not rise, making this region a vampire’s dream; for several months each summer, the sun does not set, making it a vampire’s nightmare. Alaskan zombies are unaffected.
Climate: Cold, wet and dark turning to cold, wet and light in the “summer.”
History: Alaskan history goes a little something like this: Paleolithic people cross land bridge from Asia. For the next 50,000-65,000 years, not a lot happens. Then the Russians discover fur. Then the Americans discover gold. Then a multi-national conglomerate discovers oil. Then Sarah Palin discovers she’s been nominated to run for vice president. Then Olive Garden applies for a building permit in Anchorage. And there you have it.
• Alaska celebrates its own state holidays, Seward Day and Alaska Day, as well as Tax Day (April 15), in that Alaskans don’t pay state income tax. Also, in Alaska, Groundhog Day is Marmot Day. Officially. By act of Legislature. Under penalty of torture. Just kidding (wink, wink).
• The people, places, and animals of Alaska make it the ideal location for shooting reality television (also, shooting wolves out of a low-flying airplane). Currently in the works: a reality show about Alaskans who do nothing but sit around watching Alaska-based reality shows; it’s called “Deadliest Couch.”
• The state of Alaska is not the only Alaska. Alaska can refer to: Alaska, Ind. (also known as Sheasville, for some reason); Alaska, Wisc.; Alaska, Mich.; Alaska Township, Minn., with a population of 197 and single-digit average winter temperatures (no wonder they named it “Alaska”); Alaska, N.M.; two different Alaskas in Pennsylvania (each with its own Dairy Queen); Alaska, a village in the province of Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe. You know what they say: what happens in Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe, stays in Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe.
• “Alaskaepoedia” is a new recurring segment of “Slack Tide,” which runs every other Sunday in Neighbors. Future installments will run periodically throughout the year. Read more of Geoff Kirsch’s work at www.geoffkirsch.com.