Dearest Wanderstead Wife mentioned that she has been asked “why Alaska?”. Well, to be honest while Erin loves Alaska, it was my overwhelming need to go to Alaska that has us heading north for the second straight year, this time for the whole summer, so she felt it best if maybe I try to put some words to what pulls me so to Alaska.
Alaska is one of those mystical places. Of course you have seen the pictures of the huge towering mountains, the breaching whales, big bears and the iconic American Bald Eagle. How can you not be drawn to that. However, for me it is more than that. For as long as I can remember, Alaska has called to me. Not as a visitor but as a part of me. I yearn to be there; I yearned to be there before I had ever even been. Being born and raised in Northern California (I mean the real Northern California, with mountains and trees) and being raised in those mountains and trees, Alaska and its wilds has always spoken to me.
Pretty much from birth I have loved wildlife in all forms: fly or swim, run or jump, I love it. I also love the actual wild itself. Nothing makes me happier than blue oceans, green trees and tall mountains. To say that I am completely drawn to wildlife in its natural setting would be an understatement. While I appreciate the work that most of the respected and reputable zoos and wildlife parks do, I get very depressed seeing animals in confinement. I understand that some animals cannot be released or are bred in captivity, but honestly seeing these animals put on display for profit bothers me deeply. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are places like Monterey Bay Aquarium, the San Diego Zoo and others out there doing good things. But there are also the Sea Worlds out there too, and frankly they sicken me. While I am happy to take my children to Monterey Bay Aquarium to allow them to see animals in a very up close way, I am very quick to point out that the environment they are in is not natural. I guess I’m getting a little off topic here, but this is at the root of what makes Alaska so very special for me. It is one of the last pristine places that you can see animals on a regular basis in their natural habitat doing what animals do. Not crammed into a small “environment” and provided 3 hots and a cot, if you get what I’m saying.
While the wildlife is one aspect, there is also just jaw dropping, breath taking awe inspiring scenery to consider. There is nowhere, and I do mean nowhere, like Alaska. There are places that maybe have part of what Alaska has, but nowhere is it all in one state. Of course it helps that the state is bigger than most countries, but let’s face it, unless you’re into deserts, and I know some people are, there is nothing to compare Alaska to. Alaska turns even the mundane photographer into an Ansel Adams wannabe. Erin and I had an agreement when we boarded the plane for Alaska last summer. We agreed only to take pictures with one or all of us in it. The argument was that in 20 years we wouldn’t want to look at or even remember what mountain we took a picture of. How naive, how foolish, silly silly people. It took exactly 20 miles into our first day trip out for me to start trying to capture the splendor Alaska has on display. You can’t help it, you have to try to capture it to show the people back home. Sadly you can’t. You can try, you can take the pictures, sit people down and try to explain just how blue the sea is, or tall the mountain was or white the snow or any other adjective your brain can conjure up, but unless you can take it all in with your own eyes you can’t capture it. I was of course worried that Alaska wouldn’t live up to the 40+ years of expectations I had applied to it. What a fool I was. It didn’t live up to them, it shattered them. It consumed me. I didn’t sleep, hardly ate and was full of nervous energy the whole time I was in Alaska. Erin will go into more of the details of our first trip but let’s just say I tried to soak in every memory Alaska was willing to give me.
Lastly, there are the people. Or should I say the lack of them. For a state roughly a 3rd the size of the continental US, twice as large as Texas it has so few of those pesky two legged critters that seem to get into everything and mess it up. Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud to be a Californian, however there are just under 40 MILLION of us, (yes that’s right 40,000,000……) When you have that many people living in the same place, even somewhere as large and amazing as California, you are going to run into crowds. You are going to have to limit access to things, you are going to have to shut places off to the public. The sheer number of people have, and continue to, basically “love” California to death. So here is the difference: Alaska has 750,000 people. Alaska is still “open”. I of course worry that someday Alaska will also become crowded as more and more people fall in love with it, but it’s remote location and harsh winters seem to keep the crowds away and for me that is just fine. The people that are there are my kind of people. For the most part they are hardy, hardworking, resourceful and very proud of their state as they should be. When your Sunday best is your newest pair of Carhartts and the boots without the holes worn into the toes I am right at home.
Speaking to one of my friends from Alaska, of course about Alaska, he paid me one of the greatest compliments a man like me can receive. He said to me,
“You are an Alaskan who happens to have been born outside of Alaska”.
Alaska will always have my heart, I always struggle with the urge to drop everything and load up and head north. For now I will continue to live here in California but will always have my eyes looking north. Make no mistake about it, someday I will be a resident. So why Alaska? For me it isn’t why, it’s how can it not be Alaska.