My boss – The Big Kahuna – is in Alaska. He gave a speech about Abraham Lincoln at University of Alaska-Anchorage yesterday in remembrance of Abe’s birthday. I have a fondness for both my boss and Abraham Lincoln, but I also have the most nostalgic and sentimental feelings about Alaska itself.
We moved there when I was 5. My dad had just joined the Air Force and it was his first duty station. Anchorage, Alaska. I was too young to understand what that meant. Moving from Southern California to Alaska. Most people thought that it was like moving to a foreign country.
No, everyone does NOT live in Igloos, although some still do. No, it is not dark all the time, although in December there is one day (Winter Solstice) where there may only be 2 hours of daylight (but to offset that, there is one day in summer where the sun never actually sets, it just glides across the horizon and begins to rise at its directed time). The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are incredibly magnificent and cannot possibly be captured in all their glory. They are breathtaking at times – it is actually as if God’s invisible hand paints with iridescent neon colors across the sky and you can only watch in wonder with “ooh’s” and “aah’s” like you’re watching 4th of July fireworks.
My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman while we lived there. I don’t like wild meat. It was not a good time for me in that area. He would catch salmon by the cooler full. He hunted moose and brought them home to clean. It’s not that I’m opposed to hunting or fishing for food. Not at all. BUT, I just don’t care for the taste of wild meat. My mom would do everything she could to get rid of the wild taste – but 99% of the time, I could either smell or taste the difference. And when you’ve had salmon 192 ways, it’s not so good. Don’t get me wrong – my mom was a fabulous cook – my tastebuds were just not ready for that. If you enjoy fish, please visit my friend Sara’s website for fresh-caught, wild Alaskan salmon.
It was really an adventure to grow up there. We lived in the relative safety of an air force base, but were so far removed from a lot of the rest of the world. My version of the 12 Days of Christmas song ended with “And a caribou in the deep freeze…” Summers were spent camping with my family, being chased by Alaska’s “state bird” the ravenous, ginormous mosquito. And, of course I was highly allergic to them. I would develop huge, hot welts on my arms, legs, and body – and I’ll never forget the couple of times I woke up with an eye swollen shut because one of the little buggers got me good… argh! But summers were amazing. Long, sunlight evenings – nice & cool, although it could get hot – but it was mostly just lovely. And the fruits & veggies that grow in the Matanuska Valley were so good & fresh – because of the long summer growing season and the layers of good volcanic ash and dirt that came to rest there in Alaska’s turbulent past…
Everything means something to the native American Indians & Eskimo people who live there. There are legends and stories about so many everyday things. As a child, I think I was completely charmed by that, and felt like I kinda lived in a fairy tale. The Alaska state flag is so simple, but has a lovely story behind its design. Then, there is a mountain officially named Mt. Susitna, but more commonly called “Sleeping Lady.” The legend is actually told in a children’s story book that I purchased when I visited Alaska in 2003. Maybe that’s why Greek & Roman mythology intrigued me – I grew up in the mythical land of “The Last Frontier.”
I can never be happy living in a flat land area. I grew up between towering mountains of the Alaska Range and the low smooth expanse of the Cook Inlet. I visited and climbed glaciers frozen into the middle of a lake as a little girl. My family would take long drives to look for moose, bear, elk, caribou or other wildlife that we could find. I drank directly from a creek that was a runoff from a mountain glacier. We visited the North Pole – North Pole, AK – and saw Santa’s reindeer.
My mom & I traveled there together in 2003 to visit my cousin, Shanna, who still lives there. Shanna is about 8 years younger than me, and when she was born, her dad (my uncle) was stationed at an AF Base near Fairbanks. Their family was OUR family to us in this state that is so far away from the “lower 48.” I hadn’t seen Shanna in way too long, and my mom & I had talked about going on a cruise together, but when she mentioned visiting Alaska, I jumped right on that. I was glad I did. The city of Anchorage itself has grown and expanded so much that there were parts I actually could not recognize.
But there were also the mountains. My mountains. And Sleeping Lady. And the moose that practically posed for my camera. And little coffee kiosks & drive-thrus EV-ER-Y-WHERE. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven… I really miss it now.