Never take Alaska for granted
I’m probably preaching to the choir, because when I recently asked several people where they would like to live if they could live anywhere in the world, most of them quickly responded: “Alaska.”
But still, it’s sometimes easy to forget just what we have here.
The cynical might say, “Yeah…about six months of cold and dark.”
If that’s the way people felt about it, I wonder why nearly half of those who live here once and relocate, return at some point. Again, that’s my own informal survey after living in Alaska more than six decades.
For me, it’s no exaggeration to say Alaska has some of the same properties as the universe. There is seemingly infinite space, no precise center (I don’t use human population or political locus to define the state’s center); unbounded mysteries, eternal beauty and dynamism – it’s constantly changing. .With that combination, plus a fascinating array of fauna, fauna, topography and climatic conditions, I can’t think of any other place I’d like to live.
Grass isn’t greener: I’ve travelled quite a bit, from Europe to South America and through most of the U.S. There are some places that I’ve really liked visiting, such as Naples, Italy; Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina; or the Hawaiian island of Kauai. But I wouldn’t’ want to take up permanent residence at any of these places.
It’s always a wakeup call for people who have become dissatisfied with life in Alaska but haven’t travelled outside our state. They make one trip to a congested city in the lower 48 and retreat, horror-stricken, back to the 49th State. I’ve seen it over and over again.
Alaska’s uniqueness: Just what makes Alaska so exceptional? I can’t avoid the obvious, such as clean air, clean water, lots of physical space, natural beauty, abundant wildlife, outdoor recreation, friendly people, and who can forget: Permanent Fund wealth. Yet we know there is much more, and it’s sometimes hard to define. Maybe it’s an ideal, or even a dream. Alaska is a big place where big things seem possible.
Alaskans are the kind of people who built the Alcan Highway and the trans Alaska pipeline and contemplate things like a trans Alaska gas pipeline; LNG exports to Asia and railroads to Siberia. This indefatigable spirit seems to be in the DNA of most Alaskans, not by heredity, but through exposure to the environment. Living here causes some kind of mutation. We inexplicably become bolder, braver, more John Wayne-audacious than our counterparts in the lower 48.
There is energy here, but it’s not only buried in the ground in the form of oil, minerals and other natural resources. It is in the people.
I love the mountains and forests, crisp fall mornings and moonlit winter nights. But mostly, I am in love with Alaska because of its people. They fuel my optimism, even when I’m feeling uncertain about the rest of the nation and the world.
These days it seems like someone pushed the economic “Pause” button on Alaska. But knowing Alaska the way I do, and the people who live here, I am confident that at some point we’ll move forward.
We’ll rally around a big dream and embark on that big project. It’s just a matter of time.
On an airline flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks not long ago, I had a window seat, and as we passed by Mt. McKinley, my nose was pressed up against the glass as I ogled North America’s highest peak. My seatmate asked, “First time in Alaska?”
“Yes,” I lied.
For me, and for many of us, Alaska has something new to show us every day of the year, year after year, no matter how long we live here.
It’s no secret. Alaska is that proverbial fountain of youth. It renews us. We should never take it for granted.
Frank E. Baker is a lifetime Alaskan and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.