The goal of a writer who wanders and writes about it, is to describe so aptly what they encounted that the reader feels present. They write so their reader can close their eyes and can touch the pyramids, taste the paella, hear the thunderous roar of Niagara Falls and smell the frangapanis.
Alaska is different. There are certainly many other places on this planet which are unlike anything that one experiences in their day to day life. But Alaska is a place where words cannot aptly convey the magnificence and vastness of what the eye sees. With nothing to compare it to, you are seeing with your eyes but cannot really compreend. The vastness and hugeness of the wilderness and the epicness of seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is just breathtaking. It is hard to put words to experience, nevertheless I will attempt…
Being in the wilderness changes a person. For the better of course! Unless you get eaten by a bear which is not all that uncommon and also very unfortunate. Carry bear spray, or a firearm. I’ve always been very against bearing arms but having come too close for a comfort to a grizzy and her cubs, I wouldn’t hesitate to be packing heat come next time I head to the Alaskan arctic where polar bears are rife.
Christened the gateway to Alaska, Anchorage is the largest urban city in the USA’s 49th state with just shy of 300,000 inhabitants. Surrounded by mountainous peaks, it’s a no frills, utilitarian sort of town built around the summer tourists stopping for a couple of days fanning out to the more exciting outposts of Nome, Denali National Park, Aleutian Islands, Seward and Kodiak island and rugged, hardy men passing through on their way to the oilfields of the North Slope. On the flight to Anchorage, I got chatting to a man enroute to his job working on the oil pipeline in Deadhorse up in the Arctic circle. Apparently the name pretty much sums up the appeal of visiting and past times include surviving polar bears, hyperthermia inducing temperatures and hard core drinking.
Apparent as soon as you hit the ground in Anchorage is the largeness and abundance of nature. Such long, brutal winters of temperatures down to -30 degrees celcius and nights lasting 30 days give way to a few short months of 24 hour sunlight and plants and flowers bloom with abandon. With such a pristine environment unspoilt by pollution and smog, everywhere one looks, a riot of colour assaults you. This is echoed at higher elevations where on the mountains, a variety of stunning wildflowers native to Alaska bloom and grow. We were each given Native Alaskan names and my sister was aptly named “Fireweed” , a tiny, pink flower; the most beautiful bloom found on the mountainous ranges of Alaska.
A wintry day in Denali National Park, Alaskan Interior.
In Alaska, the men to women ratio is 3:1 and in the winter months this jumps to 7:1. If that is attractive to some, be wary of the Alaskan saying regarding the menfolk found in this isolated and unforgiving state. “the odds are good but the goods are odd”. On a hair raising bus trip in Anchorage rife with the smell of old weed and whisky and locals, a man asked where I came from. I said New Zealand. He replied coyly “please send all New Zealand women to Alaska”.
We encountered hardy, adaptable women everywhere working jobs such as bush piloting, bus drivers, heavy machinery operators and deep sea fishing captains. Women in Alaska are treated with a huge amount of respect. No damsels in distress on the Last Frontier. My father, a feminist and raging fisherman even found it alittle unnerving when his deep sea halibut fishing adventure in 14ft swells of the Kenai fjords was captained by a compact lady called Tania whose husband worked a sales job in the city.
The rest of the Western world could learn a great deal about equality from observing gender roles in the 49th state.
Aialik Glacier- Kenai Fjords, Alaska.
Alaska became a bona fide American state in the 1959- the 49th. The rest of the country is referred to by locals at the Lower 48. In 1859, Alaska belonged to Russia and was sold to America for the paltry sum of $7.2 million USD, equating to 2 cents per acre. It was such a vast and isolated land and far too strenous for Russia’s already stretched coiffers post Crimean war to handle. It’s hard to imagine today that Alaska could have belonged to Russia. There still exists little outposts of Russian influence, especially in the Aleutian islands where churches are dotted amongst the pines and borsch can be found on the menus at local establishments. There also exists a secret surf spot called Icy Bay; a rocky outcrop of stones and 10 ft swells with mountains in the hinterlands. Only the toughest surfers can traverse these swells, if the strong undertow pulling you out to the pacific doesn’t put you off, the hypothermic water temperature will see you succumb to defeat.
The transaction was known as “Seward’s Folly” , “Seward’s Icebox” after William Seward, US Secretary of State at the time. A few years later, oil and gold were found on the North Slopes of Alaska and Sewards Folly became a huge pat on the back and vigorous hand shakes all round.
Coffee before Wildlife #denalinationalpark
You would be hard pressed to go to Alaska and not see wildlife. Moose and caribou stroll across highways and it is said that once you’re in Alaska, you’re in bear country. Their country, so you better be prepared. The state is choc full of bald eagles, bears, moose, caribou or reindeer, polar bears as you go further north, dall sheep, orcas, every variety of whale, otters, walruses and seals.