Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Alaskan Education

There is a reason why people new to Alaska are called "Cheechakos". Beside the fact that the very word in itself sounds weenie (yes, I just said "weenie"), the word means "greenhorn". And every person who sets foot on the frozen soil of Alaska, thinking that he or she will conquer the Great White North, is a greenhorn. Just look at Chris McCandless (whose legacy, by the way, is spearheading an influx of idealistic Cheechakos who are desiring to visit the decrepit blue bus he lived and died in thinking he too could conquer Alaska). In To The Wild? I'll show you the wild, just visit downtown Anchorage on a Saturday night when Darwin's Theory empties out. Another story entirely.
At any rate, I promised to relay what we learned those first few months in Alaska. 1) Everyone who moves to Alaska has moxie, and it ain't just because of the cold weather. Granted, plugging in your car so that the diesel doesn't turn to jell-o by morning, and being sure to keep exposed body parts away from frozen metal is enough to shrink even the most brave resolve, but truly, Alaskans are a different breed of American. And in fact, when we talk about the U.S., it is in that time-honored word "Outside". Everything else that happens in the States (as some of my more elderly friends say it) might as well happen on the moon. And we like it. No, Alaskans are the type of people who may run over a moose on the way to work and keep going, after they call the local food bank to let them know that dinner is on its way, just as soon as the State Patrol finishes loading it onto the flatbed.
2) We like the sun. A lot. When summer arrives, sometime in June, we rush outside and don't come back in until the termination dust appears on the hills in August. Yes, that means only two months of summer, with toasty temperatures upwards of 70 degrees. There is a saying that Alaskans are tired in the winter because it is dark most of the time, and we are tired in the summer because we never go to bed. Try getting a toddler to go nighty-night when the sun is shining in his window and the neighbor kids are playing basketball outside his window. But on the upside, beer tastes mighty good on top of a mountain at midnight.
3) There are animals here. Big animals, whose life goal seems to be either to disrupt your daily routine, or at best, scare the crap out of a person. Many of you have heard about my moose interactions (for that was what they were). I seem to attract them like bears to garbage cans. Moose are interesting; during the summer they and their calves, along with slacker teenage moose from last year's deliveries hang out in the woods outside of town, snacking on foliage and hiding out from the hunters who start to appear in late August. However, during the winter months the two-ton ungulates make tracks to the neighborhoods of Anchorage, feasting on leftover Halloween pumpkins and rose bushes, seemingly unaware, or not caring, that they are standing on the front porch to do it. The most frightening encounter with moose is while driving, when they wander along the roadway waiting for the right time to cross the street. The problem is that we humans never know when they perceive the "right time" to be. Thus the moose-car collisions are an all-too frequent and sometimes deadly occurrence.
Alaska is not for the faint-of-heart; as the wife of a friend found out when she came up to live and found herself practically prisoner in her own home because she a) refused to drive in the snow and b) did not want to get out and walk our some 200 miles of trails because she feared getting attacked. Hmmm, maybe ask for moxie for Christmas?


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