What’s your image of Alaska? For me, maybe because I’ve never been, it boils down to cliche and branding.
Grizzly bears scooping up salmon, the endless summer sun and dark winter days, dogs slogging it out in this sled race or that. Thinking we’d make it to Alaska one day, Meg and I now mostly run neutral on that theory; living in redwood county with its own variations and requirements — river that need ogling, snowy mountains that beg to be hiked, the rough ocean to ponder; and all manner of activity — kayaking, fishing, hiking, plus the quotidian tasks of rural responsibility. We are probably about as close to Alaska as we are ever going to get.
The cliche of place also extends to people. What do you think of when you think of Alaskans? For me, mostly silly. Men that shoot moose before breakfast. Ladies that easily out drink the men. Four-wheelers that ride feet off the ground. Gargantuan pot holes that swallow small foreign-made automobiles. And those grizzlies.
In a way it’s too bad our cliched version of the place will never be asked to stand up against the reality (as it was with New Orleans where we lived for two years; years which broke down the predominately false images of that city). But now we have some reliable information.
Beth and Paul arrived from Alaska and quickly the cliches started to tumble. There was no shooting and only a reasonable amount of liquor consumed. Their presence attracted no bears. I didn’t have to defend the honor of my wife against them thar heathen from the permafrost.
Real people with…jobs in advertising? public relations? journalism? People with hobbies not afflictions, Alaska was looking a whole lot more normal. Need more epiphanies? One: The rivers, being glacier-fed not spring, generally run more obscure (want a clean-running river, you gotta come to the Smith). Two: the place isn’t pristine…the state has issues with garbage like any jurisdiction or municipality. Three: not all dogs sleep on the ice and pull weighty sleds…some sleep on beds of foam and eat food from a can, and are loved and coddled like those in the lower 48. Four: the tastes of Alaskans can run toward the eclectic, it’s not all game and wild-caught fish (Paul is an expert when it comes to Trappist Ale from Europe). I could go on.
In our three days of conversation and meals together Beth and Paul destroyed cliches and replaced the detritus with fact and empiricism. I can’t decide if this new information made Alaska more or less attractive to Meg and I. What I do know is we have some good friends to reconnect with when we bust a move north to check it out for ourselves.