We have met and talked with a number of people here in Alaska, and, if generalizations can be made, Alaskans are an interesting group of people. Most have been very friendly and helpful, talkative and open and eager to share their stories with us. Many of the people that we have met came here from somewhere else…. and stayed. A fact that seems to have surprised even themselves. Some came in their youth, some in middle age - Some with family here, others with no attachments. Some came with a spouse, but a number of women I have met simply came by themselves. Some are looking for something, others are just looking to leave their old life far behind.
Many people came to Alaska at a time of transition in their life – early adulthood and “striking out on their own; after a divorce, and REALLY needing a change; or being ‘between jobs’ and deciding that there is no time like the present to seek an adventure.
One woman who was working at the Visitor’s center in Soldatna told a story of living in Denton, Tx, and working in a camper store when one day an older gentleman walked in. In visiting with him, she told him of her desire to go to Alaska. He then said “You never know what life will hold, so if you want to do something, you should just do it.” The woman said that this just hit her so profoundly that she gave her boss 2 weeks notice and headed to Alaska. That was 7 years ago.
What seems to draw people to Alaska is possibilities – for a fresh start or new adventures – and a desire for independence. The one common theme of Alaskans seem to be “don’t mess with me”. This is a place where one can still ‘get lost’ or live ‘off the grid’ and not have to deal with people telling you what to do.
Our Kayaking guide in Kachemak bay was one of a few born Alaskans we met. He and his wife lived in the cove in a house they had built themselves. They live off grid, cooking with propane, heating with wood heat, and using a generator for electricity. They collect rain water for bathing, etc, and haul fresh water from town (across the Bay, by boat). When I asked Rick’s wife, Dorle, what had drawn her to Alaska, she mentioned the freedom from rules and restrictions, like being able to just build your own place without the regulations. THIS is something that Fred and I can really relate to!
Hunting and fishing are a way of life here. It seems to be taken for granted that one would hunt or fish with so much available- and the fish or game is packed and frozen and eaten all winter. This is a part of the spirit of self sufficiency that seems to run in Alaskans – a desire to take care of oneself rather than relay on others (especially the government) to take care of you. We have also noticed a real respect for the land and environment. Everyone recycles and uses biodegradable products. Solar energy is being used in the Summer months, and conserving energy is encouraged. Alaska is also a very clean place, with most of the trash that we have seen being left by the tourists.
The Alaskan weather can create challenges, but the people who live here seem to deal with it matter of factly. It can be rainy (which we have experienced), yet the locals don’t even seem to bother with umbrellas. Everyone dresses in layers to deal with weather that can change moment to moment. The cold is dealt with by adding layers and heavy coats, the wet, by wearing rubber boots and rain gear. The winter is harsh, but it doesn’t keep people indoors. One ranger we talked with at Denali said that he had never missed a day of cross country skiing due to the cold. And his favorite skiing was by the moonlight.
There is a wildness in Alaska. Much of it is unsettled and unspoiled. The land is rugged and the climate can be harsh. This place demands a lot of those who stay, but in exchange, it offers breathtaking beauty and a place to just “be” in this world.