Alaska's People

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July 14th 2010
Published: July 14th 2010
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Typical taxi...note the meter is turned off.
The people who inhabit Alaska’s isolated (and even not-so-isolated) locales are uniquely qualified for their independence. Alaskans tend to be fiercely self-reliant, largely a consequence of the recently initiated and still largely unfinished process of settling this state.
There are still homesteaders here. Real homesteaders. Who knew that those kind of people even existed? I know a particularly feisty 90-year-old woman who walked with her husband 50 miles to claim a property (and found the town in which I now live) on a nice place on a river they spotted from his airplane. She celebrated her birthday with an 18-mile backpacking trip into the mountains. This woman hand-dug her 25-foot-deep well, one coffee can at a time, because she had narrower shoulders than her husband and thus had to dig less. All of the homesteaders built log cabins on their 160-acre plots, and this type of structure is by no means a novelty even today. By necessity they insulated these cabins with anything they could get their hand on— from fiberglass foam to newspaper.
What’s more, ATVs are a well-accepted method of transportation. Not just for recreation up here, by necessity every major road has a four-wheeler track along side of it. These delightfully rural, rugged, and fun vehicles turn into comets with dusty tails as they fly down the roadsides. And when borrowing a cup of sugar from the next-door neighbor would mean a 20-minute walk, I can see the value of a four-wheeler.
With this independent streak also come some pretty conservative political sentiments, some of which manifest themselves in the obvious ways, and some which are rather surprising. Perhaps the most striking product of this system, at least to outsiders, is the prevalence of guns. There are gun-rights states and then there’s Alaska. Very loose licensing and concealed carry laws mean guns are easy to attain and carried many places. Even a lily-liveredvegetariancollege-boypussyliberal like me can see the value of firearms for outdoorsman, as they are a necessary precaution against bears (if not, as Alaskans claim, against politicians also). Oddly, Alaskans prefer this bear-ly safe situation to environs with spiders or snakes where guns aren’t necessary to protect oneself from the animals. But other times this independent conservatism manifests itself as libertarianism, such as in Alaskan marijuana laws, which are virtually non-existent. Don’t get too excited Ghosh, the same taboos against its use exist in Alaska as Outside, but it is the only state in the Union where possession of 4 ounces in a private home is legal.
No one ends up in Alaska unless they are running from something, be it people or history or society. It’s a good thing that most of the people that do end up here know how to handle themselves in such and untamed place, and the ones that don’t, well they can at least get baked.


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