Today I interviewed a local writer, a longtime resident that these Alaska-types refer to as "old-timers" or "sourdoughs" though no self-respecting Alaskan outside the Chamber of Commerce uses that "s" word. He's just the type that grew up on a homestead, remembers the '64 earthquake ... a longtime resident. They're a minority in Alaska.
As often happens during a phone interview, he turned the tables on me toward the end.
"You new here?" he asked as I was trying to wrap things up.
"Yeah. I just moved here two months ago, from Idaho." (with the apologetic tone I tend to develop when I tell people just how new I am.)
"You like it here?"
"Sure. It's a beautiful place."
"It is. So why'd ya move here?"
(At this point it's getting close to lunch, and the conversation has rambled on for nearly a half hour.) "I don't know. To live in Alaska."
"Is that right?"
(silence from me. Of course that's the reason, the absolute truth, but it sounds a more than just a little silly when said out loud.)
"Yeah. Lots come up here just to be up here. Most are just trying to get away from something they left behind."
(a pause on both ends. I'm thinking he wants some kind of further justification from me, a good story to match his yarn about the time the Spit almost sunk into the sea. He's probably just reflecting on whether he wants a hamburger or spam helper for dinner.)
Finally I say, "Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me .... "
And so on.
The people are strange in Alaska. But they have a worldview colored by quiet truths few others would ever see. Maybe it's the drawn-out darkness and cold, the solitude and stark landscape that demands silent reflection. I don't know. I can't help but wonder if this stranger on the phone had me pegged all along.