Alaska: State & State of Mind

The genesis of this piece involved a response to a dear friend’s lamentations concerning his move from Alaska after nineteen years and his burning desire to return to ‘The Last Frontier’ even after spending a year in the lower 48.  After he read it he saw the potential for the response to become the foundation for a blog posting.  After some brief consideration I, too, saw this potential; for his creative eye and his suggestion I cannot thank him enough!  While I’ve written on a number of different topics in the three and a half years I’ve been blogging the basis for this blog was ‘to document the learnings and experiences of one man who lived his entire previous fifty nine and a half years in the suburban lower 48 before picking up his home, saying goodbye to friends and moving to semi-rural south central Alaska.’  Given this foundation a reflection on this amazing lifestyle and why some folks ‘just do it’ seemed very apropos.

Only those whose souls have been scored by the raw majesty and awesome power of Alaska can truly understand the potent pull exerted by the amazing geography and abundance of wild animals. There are a lot of negatives to living in ‘The Great Land’ but once smitten we tend to look at them as ‘inconveniences’; kinda like the price we pay to live in such spectacular and amazing settings so alive with wildlife and so blessed with such an abundance of stunning scenery. Sadly, medical insurance is one such major ‘inconvenience’ and one which has cost me dearly since late March of 2015. I’ve even had times when I tried to imagine living someplace outside Alyeska. It was those times that reaffirmed my need to remain here in ‘The Last Frontier’ mainly because I couldn’t envision living any other place. I should’ve known this would be the case as I have no real wont to be anyplace other than Alaska and I make this statement as I go into the summer which is one of my least favorite seasons – I think I dislike break-up more – thanks to the continual light, the hordes of mosquitoes and similar hordes of tourists.

Alaska is definitely not for everyone and probably not for even a sizeable amount of people for as I’ve told so many people; “Things are just different up here”.  In a nutshell and unless one lives in Anchorage and rarely travels beyond its confines – and what a sin that would be – one must be able to handle many more potentially serious issues than a ‘typical’ person in the lower 48.  The fact that hypothermia is the number one killer in Alaska (not bears, wolves and/or moose as most tourists believe…) speaks to this concept.  A simple hike on a backwoods trail can turn deadly when the weather suddenly shifts from sunshine to cold rain and one has to make the return trek cold and wet on slippery rocks and suddenly voluminous creeks.

During my time in the lower 48 I visited almost all 48 states; rarely did I find places where it is so easy to venture just a few dozen miles outside a large population center and suddenly be ‘in the middle of nowhere’.  In my experience this is true in Maine, northern Michigan, Montana and a number of the states in the southwest.  But even in the aforementioned one can usually get a cell signal.  This is far from true in Alaska thanks to a minimal population which doesn’t support cell tower densities so common in the lower 48 and so many tall mountain chains.  This can be an annoyance to a problem in the summer; it can be deadly in the winter.  Therefore, it takes a different mind-set when traveling outside larger towns.  One must be prepared for all kinds of potential weather related issues (road closures, rapid flooding, high winds, brutal cold and immense snowfalls) as well as those involving a lack of ‘typical’ services like gas stations, towing services, mechanical expertise and similar.

By nature, Alaskans tend to be fiercely independent and more self-sufficient than most of the population in the lower 48.  The latter is almost a requirement as the low population density means goods and services are fewer and much further between.  While western style medicine is fairly good in and around Anchorage or Fairbanks it is much less so in semi-rural to rural areas.  Such locations are lucky if they have a small clinic and such clinics often have only physician’s assistants on staff.  There is a distinct lack of medications beyond the very basics.  As an example when I fell and severely fractured my left radius and ulna at the elbow the local clinic had nothing to give me for the pain, not even Tylenol III!  In addition, they had no splint large enough for my use so they improvised a splint and I drove myself to Mat-Su Regional in south Wasilla (against their wishes).  I was lucky our clinic had a small x-ray machine with which they confirmed my fractures.

I’ve offered up but a few of the differences between life in the lower 48 and that in semi-rural Alaska; there are a myriad more especially if one is living partially or completely off the grid.  Anyone doing so will confirm that such a lifestyle requires a load of energy in tandem with a broad knowledge of many areas – carpentry, plumbing, electrical, outdoor survival, food handling to mention just a few – just to survive, let alone thrive.  To someone with no interest in living in such a ‘basic’ manner those who do so seem ‘extreme’.  While I would not be comfortable in such circumstances – I really want my broadband connection, indoor plumbing and hot water – I can appreciate the lifestyle and would even be willing to try it for a time.  But then I am someone who gave up all the conveniences and ease of suburban living in the lower 48 for a somewhat more austere existence in semi-rural south central Alaska.

During my almost four years of living seven miles south of the village of Talkeetna and a half mile east of ‘The Spur’ I’ve changed in many ways; most of them for the better.  I’ve come to appreciate living on ‘Talkeetna time’, to not sweat the small stuff and to completely embrace the ‘great silence’ which surrounds me most of the year.  My lifestyle has slowed considerably and stress is something which has dropped away as well.  I love drinking a cup of coffee in my wooden rocking chair on my front porch as the sun slowly climbs above the boreal forest on a crisp October morning; watching Nature unfold about my place at any time of the day or night is a treat.  I love the fact that moose, bear and foxes are visitors to my property; I try to live in harmony with them.  I am so much more in touch with Nature because it surrounds me and drives so much of what I can, and cannot, do on any given day.  Deep within my soul I completely understand that Alaska is both a state and a state of mind…

Sure, there are ‘inconveniences’ to this life but then I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a ‘perfect existence’.  As someone bitten by ‘the Alaska bug’ the country is part of my soul now and I so love her fierce independence and incredible majesty.  And I truly respect her for to fail to do so is to invite danger and even death.  Many would consider living over sixty miles from a full service grocery store, questionable electrical service, water from a well and a septic field to be far too ‘basic’; so be it.  I remember working for a large corporation, existing on the road almost ten months a year, living in crowded suburbs of large cities, being concerned about crime and spending days every year in traffic jams; compared to my current existence this seems like a form of corporate sponsored insanity.  No thank you; I love living in ‘The Great Land’ and cannot imagine life anywhere else!

Timbers Bald Eagle

A solitary Bald Eagle surveys the Halibut Cove area in Kachemak Bay State Park & Preserve. This majestic raptor truly symbolizes Alaskan independence and self-sufficiency!

Will the Sheep Ever Look Up..?

Across the past few months I’ve been quite intrigued, not to mention disturbed, by the ongoing miasma of miscommunications from our federal government; you know, the same one that is charged with protecting the country from all threats foreign and domestic.  Of course this administration has never been able to put forth a coherent, unified message unless it is lying but then this can be said of many of the recent administrations.  Still and all I believe the Obama administration has done the best job of torturing the truth in recent memory and there may well be a fairly straightforward reason for this observation.  Could it be this administration has sensed that the American public has finally been dumbed down to the point they are incapable of thinking for themselves when dealing with complex issues like foreign or fiscal policies?

I’m sure most of us have seen the videos of folks visiting college campuses, large cities or recreational areas and asking randomly selected people very simple and straightforward questions regarding the American government, American history and/or American leaders only to see truly epic idiocy when those questioned could even conjure up an answer.  Initially such videos were funny but very soon many people found them to be alarming; how could college students fail to know who fought in the Civil War or who lost World War II?  Given the crush of the 24 x 7 news cycle how could someone fail to identify Joe Biden as the VP or Bill Clinton as a former president?  The really sad versions of these programs then demonstrate that these same folks can name any current Hollywood member by their picture, recite the string of boyfriends and girlfriends for the same as well as their current and past acting efforts.  Somewhere something went horribly wrong with this country’s educational standards and we are now seeing the fruit of this sowing.

It is no secret the ‘higher education system’ is staffed largely by academics with strongly liberal views and these are the folks we pay exorbitant monies to educate our college enrolled children.  What has happened across the past 50 years that we now regularly churn out college graduates who are clueless regarding the basic workings of the government that controls the country of their births?  I’m sure there are a myriad of factors which play into this scenario but regardless of what the motivation the fault has to fall directly upon these institutions of ‘higher learning’ and, by default, their staffs.  Sure, it is still possible to get a quality college education but it seems as though this is now the exception rather than the rule.  Just what could be driving this inexorable flow to the mundane and ill-educated..?

Without question tenure is a major player; once attained it is virtually impossible to remove a tenured professor regardless of performance, histrionics or lack of commitment.  But I find it hard to believe a majority of the instructors in our collegiate system are sub-par in terms of teaching abilities.  So just what is happening – and has been happening for at least the past decade – that’s given us college graduates total devoid of a basic background in civics, economics and politics?  I feel that for whatever reason – and I suspect PC is at the root of this belief – maybe 40 years ago colleges began to move away from teaching critical thinking in favor of indoctrinating the students into the necessity of having a ‘world view’ and empathy towards all races and cultures.  After all, if one does think critically about ISIS any sane person will have an extremely difficult time dredging up much empathy for brutal beheadings and the raping of children all based upon the sick perversion of a theocracy.

But back to my original question:  could the current administration have decided the American public is so incapable of rational, critical thought that they can now be led about by their collective noses?  I think this is a definite possibility and I need only look at this week’s swirling direct disagreement by administration members regarding the ISIS threat to support my belief.  Earlier in the week we’ve heard Obama and Kerry (that’s the president of the US and the Secretary of State for you the clueless) both come out and tell us we are safer now than at any time in the past.  Yet following on the heels of these statements the former counterterrorism adviser at the Department of Homeland Security John Cohen said; “The West is facing the most complex and severe terrorist threat we have certainly seen since 9/11”.  Then, a few days later, the FBI’s top counterterrorism official – Assistant Director Michael Steinbach – gave this chilling assessment of America’s attempts to stop ISIS from spreading its ability to recruit new members online; “We are losing the battle”.  All this has been covered, however briefly, in the so called ‘mainstream media’ yet as of this writing there’s been little to no reaction.

How can ‘We the People’ accept such diametrically opposed evaluations of our nation’s safety?  Where is the reaction from the public demanding an honest, credible analysis of our situation?  Without question the failure by the ‘lame-stream media’ to really cover these discrepancies has contributed but this also highlights another supporting observation regarding my concerns about the American public’s inability to think for themselves; if the lame-stream media doesn’t cover it it’s not worth knowing..??  Apparently a majority of Americans cannot read this information and develop their own thoughts, evaluations and perceptions; they must have the so called ‘journalists’ – and I use this term very loosely and with the deepest disrespect – tell them what to think and believe?  If the federal government is looking to push more and more people unto its dole then seeing how clueless the public has become must really put a smile on its face.  This, coupled with the data showing 47% of ALL American households now receive some form of government assistance – and, no, this does not include social security or Medicaid – certainly backs up the suggestion that the American people are losing their ability to think and function independently of governmental support.  Is this what we want to foster in upcoming generations..?

I try to be optimistic but seeing what this administration has done across the last six years – and previous administrations since World War II – I find little to inspire hope.  In a way much of our population has come to mirror the narcissist in the White House; we have time only for our cell phones, ‘selfies’, reading ‘People’ magazine and giving no thought as to where our country is heading.  I would like to think that maybe, just maybe, the horror of ISIS might give us a rallying point but when we have a President and Secretary of State telling us we are safe and the ISIS threat is mainly something manufactured by the likes of Fox News I guess we prefer to accept that view.  And why shouldn’t we..??  After all, this is the administration that gave us ‘Fast & Furious’, Benghazi’, the ‘lead from the rear’ philosophy which worked so well in the recent Middle Eastern conflicts, the Obama Care roll out and similar; what could go wrong..?!?!  Not that I needed another reason to be pleased with my retirement to semi-rural south central Alaska but at least up here people are aware, prize individual strength and the ability to fend for one’s self.  In a way it shouldn’t be a surprise that ‘The Last Frontier’ should be one of the last states to still mirror so much of what made America great…