Outsiders help us see "inside" Alaska

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 19:00

We long-time Alaskans believe we know our state fairly well, but the observations of outsiders can sometimes make us more appreciative what we have here.

I recently e-mailed a friend who lives on the north shore of Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands and told her about how green popped out in our trees over a two-day period — an explosion of growth. A resident of Hawaii nearly all of her life, where trees are green year-round, she says she never experienced the emergence of green like we do — not until Hurricane Iniki in 1992. She said the hurricane blew all the leaves off the trees and that it was strange sight for everyone to see them grow back.

Recent visitors from Oklahoma were jittery because they come from tornado-ravaged Moore, to the south of Oklahoma City. But once they learned their relatives and friends were alright, some with only house foundations remaining, they began to take in Alaska’s extremely rapid transition to summer — in other words, over a three-day period that began about May 24.

“We can’t believe all the daylight,” they declared. “How can you go to bed at night with the sun blaring in your window?”

“You don’t,” I replied. “You work and recreate yourself to death outside and after about a week of that you crash and burn, rejuvenate, and then start over again.”

“I don’t want to go home,” one exclaimed. “It isn’t just about all the damage I’m coming home to. It’s so beautiful here and people are so nice. I want to come back.”

And I know she will. In my lifetime I’ve seen a lot of folks come back. You can tell by the look in their eyes. I’ve seen the look in babies when they spot something really interesting. It’s a laser-focused, intense, probing look. In Star Trek vernacular, they’re “scanning.” They’re not only curious about a big new world around them, with its new sights and sounds, but are very self-aware. They are trying to understand why they are so fascinated. The last part takes more time. It takes experience, such as living here.

But in living here for long periods of time, we oftentimes lose that childlike fascination. A hiking friend might say: “You ought to get a photo of that sunset.” And I’ll reply: “Nah, it needs a glacier in the front and maybe a moose in the foreground.”

“There’s a moose,” he might reply.

“Nah, needs to be a bull with a big rack.”

That’s how we sometimes become — I think the word is “inured” — to Alaska’s specialness and the beauty that surrounds us. That is until someone from a big city in the lower 48 comes along and observes: “Where are all the people?” or “You have moose and other wildlife venture right into town?”

My Kauaian friend travelled here a few years ago and on a hike up Twin Peaks trail, she spotted several flowers and plants that I’d been oblivious to on previous hikes.

I took a friend from Houston, Texas on a hike up onto the Matanuska Glacier and he was completely dazzled by the experience of being amidst so much ice.

Seeing Alaska through others’ eyes — the Hawaiian, the Oklahoman, the Texan — deepens my appreciation of where we live. Tourist impact in the summer can be rather heavy in certain locales, but visitors bring a fresh, new perspective to those of us who think we’ve experienced it all.

Like Spring, with green popping out in the trees over two days and the Fiddlehead Ferns in my back yard shooting up six inches in less time than that, visitors bring a much needed renewal.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and columnist who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: [email protected].

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