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!