On the Waterfront: Engstrom shares a child's fantastic vision of Alaska

Posted: Friday, April 08, 2005

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

"There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold."

Robert Service penned those words almost a century ago to express the unique and wonderful experience of living in Alaska, the Klondike and Yukon.

I would like to offer the thoughts of another Alaskan. His name is Matt Youngquist. He lived in Juneau about 30 years ago and wrote an essay as a young grade-school pupil that was published in a booklet that shared the poems and ideas of his classmates.

His picture of Alaska is as fantastic as I have ever heard or seen. It certainly rivals - and I think surpasses - Robert Service, who was only telling of the immolation of Sam McGee.

Here is Matt's tale in his own words:

"In Alaska we plant and harvest two crops of icicles a day, and yet still have time to hunt for whales. We don't use harpoons; the whales leap out of the ocean, and, before they come down, the Taku winds freeze the sea solid.

"I forgot to mention the great fishing we have. We put out a volleyball net, and, sure enough, the Taku wind blows the fish into the net to last us a year.

"It gets hot up here though. On some days we only have to wear a sweater, two parkas, eleven hats and twenty-three pairs of mittens. In fact the only way you can keep warm is to let a polar bear eat you.

"We like to hunt seals. All we do is grab our ice skates and an icicle, and touch it with the icicle, and the poor thing boils to death.

"We use walrus tusks for toothpicks and brush our teeth with evergreens. They're a little bit big, but they're great for swatting gol darned ice skeeters.

"We bowl with hailstones at icicles set up as pins, and kiddies make mile-high snowmen."

Lest one thinks it is only cold in Alaska, Matt concludes his essay with a reflection on warmer days.

"In summer the carrots grow so fast they spear moles underground, so we get mole-meat with our carrots at dinner."

Now isn't that an imagination that rivals the bard of the Yukon.

Still we're beguiled by the words of Sam McGee as he's being cremated on the marge of Lake Lebarge and cries out, "Close the door. This is the first time I've been warm since I left Tennessee."

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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