I’ve recently been travelling in the Midwest, and it reminded me of the seven basic questions people always ask when I say I’m from Alaska.
We’ll start with one of my favorites, The Uninformed. “So do you live in igloos? Do you know Eskimos? Does it snow all the time?”
Ugh. No. And please don’t call all Alaska Natives “Eskimos,” as that usage is a — wait, never mind. Yes. Yes we do, and we ride polar bears to school and we all wear furry parkas all the time. The downsides are cleaning polar bear stables, trying to transfer dollars into beaver pelts for currency, and the 45 days of pure darkness (on account of the vampires). The upside is that our Coca-Cola is never warm.
The Somewhat Informed. “So it’s just like Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch, right?”
No! No it is not. I mean, for truckers and commercial fishermen, it might be a little like those shows, but as we all know, reality TV is just a distant second cousin of reality. I’ve never watched the shows, but I often wish what people knew about Alaska wasn’t just drama and danger. But if they made a show about trying to keep ravens out of your trash, no one would watch it.
The Tourist. “Oh I’ve been there on a cruise.”
As much as part of me wants to raise my nose at this kind of travel, it’s honestly the closest a lot of people are going to get to the fresh, tree-combed air and large horizons of uninhabited mountainsides of Alaska, so I get it. A lot of times people will follow this up, saying they wish they could have spent more time at each port, which sometimes I take as an opportunity to invite them to take our marine highway system if they ever want to return.
The Traveler. “I want to travel to Alaska someday!”
Yes you do! And I hope you make it up here. But where do you mean? Remember, Alaska is a state that, put on a map of the contiguous U.S., stretches from Minnesota to Georgia to Nevada. It’s good to have a plan! Are you into temperate rainforests? Bitterly sheer, icy mountain ranges? Vast expanses of taiga? Pleasant forests of cottonwood? You’ll have a much better trip if you do the research first about which part you want to see. You might be surprised!
The McCandless. “I want to go out alone in the Alaskan wilderness by myself and live off the land.”
Now, I do have respect for this, in the sense that it’s a tradition. There has been a looming zeitgeist of a Thoreau-ish drive for independence in colonial America since before John Hancock put down his John Hancock. It’s often framed in terms of proving oneself, of decrying a capitalist mentality, or maybe just being “macho.” But many fail to grasp that so much of their perceived outdoorsmanship is not always transferable to this “wilderness,” and they often end up requiring rescue resources. Sometimes they don’t make it out at all.
The Distant Relative. “My brother’s niece’s mother lives in Alaska!”
Do they live in Juneau? What’s their first and last name? Can I see a picture of their face so I know if I saw them at Fred Meyer? Wait — don’t go! It’s not as creepy as it sounds! Do they have a Honda CRV?
The Climate Curious. I’ve gotten two main comments about climate change. The first one is “I bet Alaskans think global warming is ridiculous!” and the other is “You’re from Alaska? What is climate change like?” I think that what a lot of people don’t realize is that climate change isn’t something you can always feel in terms of temperature and snowfall, since those fluctuate pretty rapidly over cycles that are several years long, and that it’s not just the problem of polar bears in Barrow, but that it’s truly a global concern that affects many aspects of life all over the globe.
And lastly, a bonus. I call this one The 2008. I think we’re all happy we don’t have to answer this one anymore: “What do you think of Sarah Palin?”
• Guy About Town appears the first and third Sunday of every month and includes seasonal musings on what changes and what doesn’t in a small town. Guy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.