Saturday, November 05, 2005

Latitude 59


This is my requisite “Northern Exposure” shot - moose in the front yard. I took it this morning on my two-mile (OK, quarter-mile) hike to get the mail. Now all I need is a bear chomping on some salmon, a bright green streak of aurora borealis and someone in a bikini standing next to a snowman - and I’ll have completed the circle of Alaska cliches.

Speaking of cliches, being a “Cheechako” (that’s these Alaska-types’ term for people like me), I’ve spent a fair amount of time explaining some of the more popular Alaska cliches to the people “Outside” (that’s these Alaska-types’ term for all y’all.) And because some (you know who you are, Grandpa) keep bringing up the same myths every time I speak to them, I thought I’d try to debunk a few right now.

1. It’s not dark 24 hours a day here. Not on Dec. 21, not even in Fairbanks. Because Alaska is a very large place stretched across a very round part of the earth (well - aren’t they all), there’s a lot of latitude to cover. Yes, parts of Alaska are dark for weeks on end. Not too many people live in those parts. Down here in Homer, our shortest day is about five hours long. However, in the dead of winter, the sun is never very high on the horizon.

2. Alaska is not universally frigid. Sure, frigid is a relative term (my co-workers from Fairbanks think Homer is downright balmy.) Alaska is just “colder.” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

3. Alaska is NOT a liberal state. For some reason people think because there’s trees and glaciers here, Alaska must be a state full of hippies. Not so. Alaskans are more adamant about privatization, public land capitalization and state rights than any place I’ve ever lived, and I’ve lived in Texas.

4. Most Alaskans do not drive dog teams to work, shoot grizzly bears for dinner or squat over streams all day panning for gold. They live normal, predictable, semi-urban lives just like everyone else. I know this one should seem obvious, but I spent a lot of my youth explaining to non-Utahns that Mormons don’t have horns.

5. Alaskans do not hibernate. Well, most don’t. My mom has been particularly worried about the fact that I don’t have television, and I’ve spoken to others who’ve asked me “what the heck” am I going to do all winter (you know who you are, Grandpa). The answer is, same thing you are - go to work, read books, waste time on the computer (like now), go to movies and concerts, hike (with snowshoes or cross-country skis) and ride my bike. Speaking of ... it just hit 20 degrees! I think I’ll go right now. (And for those who keep reading, um, disregard yesterday’s first paragraph.)