Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our Love Affair With Rural Alaska

With the final confirmation of the death of Former Senator Ted Stevens (R), Alaska's 60-year servant to the state and most recently one of its most controversial, Alaska is currently swinging between disbelief and shock.

Like him or not, "Uncle Ted" at the very least placed Alaska on the map in more ways than one. At the most, he helped make us what we are today.

Stevens and eight others were aboard a plane owned by GCI Communications, and was on his way to a fishing lodge in the Dillingham, Alaska area, along Lake Nerka near the Nushagak River. This was not an unusual activity for Stevens nor his compaanions, including former NASA Chief Sean O'Keefe, who survived. Visiting rural Alaska is as much a part of life up here as breathing, especially during fishing season. We travel by boat and small plane often, reaching areas with no road access, most especially in the area of the crash.

Yukon and I have been to Dillingham, a small community in western Alaska where five species of Pacific Salmon make their way up nearby rivers, an area so pristine that you would question its very existence if never able to stand on its sandy beaches or see its endless forests.

We don't think, much, about what might happen, because we know as Alaskans it could happen. At any time. One in five residents of Alaska is a licensed pilot, and, live here long enough, we will know someone who perishes while flying, including another former legislator, Nicholas Begich, whose son Mark won Steven's seat two years ago. This is the second person we have known.

The tenuous balance between life and death in Alaska is fragile and constant, and a vital part of our existence. We chose it.

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