Discussion 5 10 comments


Hiya folks, I just want to remind you all that you should be posting to your personal blogs regularly. I usually try to give some feedback on the writing and the overall shape your blogs are taking and some of you only have one post on your site!

Do a couple of things for me:

1) Think about ways that you can incorporate more multimedia into your posts. The ability to embed videos, to link to other interesting sites, and the addition of photos makes blogging far more interesting for all of us than your typical double spaced papers in the form of a Word doc. Think of your blog as your own creative endeavor. Here are a few Alaskan writers who have blogs that you might find interesting:

Sherry Simpson’s site (not a blog but you can get a feel for the visual appeal)

Heather Lende’s blog (this is a really interesting one to keep up with)

David Crouse’s site (also not a blog, but visually interesting)

There are plenty of others, and these are not necessarily the best examples of what blogs or websites can be, but think about your own blog in the context of other published Alaskan writers.

2) If your blog posts aren’t showing up under “Student Blogs” in the menu above, please email me and let’s make sure it does!

3) If you’re quoting and citing extensively in the comments of these discussion pages, don’t be afraid to back off a little on that part and add in some of your own reflections and ideas. Part of being a good reader is the ability to contextualize what you’re reading with what you already know. Save the quotes and citations for the midterm!

Your Discussion question:

I’m interested to know what you all think about the idea of “Wilderness” in Alaska. How close are you to it? Is it out your back door? Do you have daily interactions with it? What do you think of those who come to Alaska unprepared to “commune with nature”? Do you think those who are unfamiliar with Alaska have a skewed perception of what wilderness is?


About Madara Mason

Madara Mason's hats include painter, graphic designer, Instructional Designer, faculty educator, English Instructor, food blogger, and Oxford Comma Aficionado. If she's not in front of an easel, she's in front of a screen, or in front of a classroom. Her motto is "If you're not having fun, you're probably doing it wrong."

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10 thoughts on “Discussion 5

  • Nikki

    Wilderness to me is everything that is out my front and back door. The cold, crisp, fresh air that I breathe every single day when I walk on the freshly, snow covered ground. It is the small willows that surround my home, and the winter birds that are chirping away in the alders. The wilderness is everything to me. Without the tundra covered in snow I would not be able to ski, or snowshoe. The vast, open spaces allow me to roam and explore the land. It is out my back door, my front door. I try to soak up as much fresh air as possible, and now that the days are getting longer my excitement builds up. I live in a beautiful area, with wide, open tundra spaces. The mountains are in a distant but not far enough to enjoy their beauty. Our trees are small, and dainty but nonetheless still lovely. Without the nutrient enriched ground my potatoes wouldn’t grow, or flowers. Without the tundra I wouldn’t be able to fill my freezer with salmon berries, black berries, blue berries, and tundra greens. Without the mighty Kuskokwim River I would not be able to fill my freezer with salmon. Wilderness is everything to me.

    Those that come to Alaska unprepared, it is there loss. If they do not do the research, understand the weather changes, the costs of living, and cold, long winters than they are missing out on all the magnificence of Alaska and all it has to offer. Many read the stories of the beauties of Alaska, but do not understand what -60 degrees feels like. They may not picture themselves in a place where temperatures are -60 everyday for a month. Or the sun shines a maximum of 5 hours. If they do not understand that, they will be disappointed.

    I wouldn’t say that those who are unfamiliar with Alaska’s wilderness have a skewed perception of what wilderness really is. They just don’t fully understand what Alaska wilderness entails. The bone chilling temperatures, the lack of daylight, the wild animals, and the depression that could come with all those elements; they may know wilderness from their home but knowing Alaska’s wilderness is another story. How do you explain to an individual from Texas what -60 degrees feels like with wind blowing in your face, burning your skin, and tearing your eyes? Now, tell them to imagine that for a month straight. When you take your gloves off for a minute, you can’t feel your fingertips. That’s Alaskan wilderness for you at its finest, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

  • Kari

    I recently moved to Eielson AFB; ten minutes outside of Northpole, Alaska, in June of 2012. Coming from a city girl, that lived in Omaha, Nebraska; I felt like I was in the middle nowhere land when I arrived in the state of Alaska. Immediately upon arrival at Fairbanks Airport, I knew I was not in Nebraska anymore. I flew over mountains, wetlands, and lots of trees. I noticed that there was houses surrounded by woody perennial pines, and the roadway leading from one place to another took on a bent, curling, and distorted figure. “How was I supposed to know where I was going on these roads of wonder,” was my thought. It was a big eye opener, once I was in the front entrance of the Fairbanks Airport, where the baggage claim was. My husband was standing by a stuffed bear in a cubed glass, which was bigger than he was. There were other wilderness animal displays and moose prints that tracked across the tile floors, for an experience that we were in the great outdoors of Alaskan territory.
    Upon arrival to our government housing on Eielson AFB, I noticed there was plugs sticking out of our neighbors vehicles, there was heating vents inside our house that outline our floor base in every room, there was a heated garage dial in the garage, and come night time it was still bright outside. As I drove to the store, there was outlets protruding from the cement in the parking lot. “This should be fun winter,” was my sarcasm thought.
    As I was getting use to the brightness of the sun, I was suddenly distracted by darkness that was hovering over the sky, almost like the dark cloud was swallowing the idealized narrow beam light that was produced by the sun. As I opened my backdoor, my idealistic reality of the small society that I lived in, was no match for the reality of the present cause of Alaskan’s wilderness. The smell of smoke and ashes that fell from the sky, was almost unbearable. The heat of the smoke was drying out my corneas, my inhalation and exhalation of air from my lungs became compacted with substance, and it was getting harder to breathe.
    The first Alaskan winter is now here; ice frost online the inside of windows of the front and back door, frozen key lock to our mailbox, fingers burn when touching medal objects, such as, door knobs and gas station pump handles, melted snow puddles inside our heated garage that created a steam room, cannot be outside for more than 20 minutes in our winter clothes that we bought for the negative degree temperatures. In my belief of Alaska’s wilderness, surrounds the everyday residents in its environment, it has a way of creeping into what is supposed to be a normal society within this operational base at Eielson AFB, Alaska. There are a number of individuals that come to be stationed in Alaska for military operations, and no one has endured this type of environment that can sway emotional disruptions in their daily life. I would say enduring long winters of darkness can put a tamper on personalities that are not cultivated to this particular setting.
    I was an individual that didn’t know the reality of wilderness, until I got here. I have only had small glimpses of Alaskan’s wilderness, and I know I could not endure the full reality of the wilderness that surrounds me. I have become enclosed into a hamster’s life; I feel like with the skills that I have obtained over the years, is not useful to the skills of that of a true Alaskan, and I am running around in the preset ball that I placed my life in.

    • LaVon Marie

      I think this is really, really an excellent point when you said “In my belief of Alaska’s wilderness, surrounds the everyday residents in its environment, it has a way of creeping into what is supposed to be a normal society within this operational base at Eilson AFB, Alaska.” The reason why I like is because as you spoke of those things, I realized that those had become so normal to me, that I no longer thought of them as part of the wilderness, the land and how it does effect what is supposed to be a “normal society” and perhaps that is exactly what makes us so unique is that we think this as normal. This is our life and we accept it, work around it and adapt to it. Made me think a little of how wilderness…is only thought of as land…but yet it could be more than just that…I guess.

  • Misty

    Coming from a culture that has stories about people that turn out to be animals in there human form has always fascinated me. I believe that all living thing should be treated with respect. Though I myself sometimes forget that. When I returned to Anvik last summer I discovered nature had come a little to close and went to the bathroom on the table. I don’t like being that close to nature, unless I am in a tent. Walking through the woods and listening for an animal in the distance is a relaxing past time. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t try it more often. Wearing mukluks make me feel just a little bit closer to the land. If only in my imagination. I listen to Raven’s cry and hear another pick it up, they talk but I do not understand.

    Many people don’t understand Alaska. Across the forty states they complain about snow storms, we Alaskan’s sit back and think to ourselves “That’s are usual weather in the winter.” They complain about it being -10 while we rejoice when it hits it here. To us -10 is heat wave. I just hope none of them decide to come our way. Because they wouldn’t understand the beauty in the cold. They would only feel the cold. It would freeze up there imaginations. Unless they were made of tougher stuff. Stuff that didn’t care, that bucked up and looked around and noticed that it isn’t so bad. Alaska in the winter is just covered in a blanket. A white down of snow.

    Other people come to Alaska in the summer. They see the beauty of our flowers. They come hunting for our animals. But they don’t seem to have the right to see Alaska so naked and beautiful without her blanket. They didn’t stick by her when she had a cold. They are not there to help her pull her blanket off and begin to dress for the year. Still they come, tramping up and down her beautiful earth. Some think they can brave her winters and decide to stay. Sometimes they are right, they survive and stay to become a true Alaskan. But others cannot. They pack up and leave as soon as it drops to -20. You have to have fire in your veins to remain being an Alaskan. You have to see her, feel her, to know her. Alaska can never be explained.

  • Patricia

    I lived in Dillingham for seven years and during all those years I had the opportunity to see one bear very close to my house. He stayed some minutes close to the deck looking for food and spent time feeding from some plants. It seems that he was hurt because was limping. He left after fifteen minutes and I was scared. The bear left and I thought he was not going to return but unfortunately he returned so my husband and I looked through the window hoping he would leave. He left after ten more minutes. In addition, I had the opportunity to see again by the deck of my house a moose that also was there eating plants but did not spend too much time compared to the experience I had with the bear. In addition, I saw a fox in town. I was so surprised to see a fox that for a moment kind of looked like a dog. I think he was looking for food. I have also seen squirrels crossing the roads, which makes me sad because they can get hurt. When going to the lake (twenty minutes from town) my family was able to see while driving all the beautiful Alaskan scenery: mountains covered with snow, trees, blue sky and a marvelous lake. I currently live in a very small community and have less than a year living here. So far the interaction I had was seeing white and black birds and a moose close to my house. I believe that if people want to come to Alaska they need to be aware that it is very easy to find different animals in town, close to town and even close to houses. I am sure that people that are unfamiliar to Alaska may have some problems understanding wilderness. In addition, people unfamiliar with wilderness may not be able to understand why so many people rely on salmon or why they always hunt moose. Wilderness also entails that Alaska has many rural areas and that Alaska is not totally urbanized like other states. Alaska’s natural beauty is everywhere we look. For example, a person that goes to Anchorage and is unfamiliar with wilderness will have a difficult time understanding why moose can be found in the roads. It is important to mention that Alaska’s weather is part of the wilderness. Temperatures under zero, special boots, jackets etc. is also part of Alaska’s wilderness. The different authors from the book “The Last New Land Stories of the Past and Present” that we are reading, describes the beauty of Alaska’s scenery and also includes the different accessories needed to bear the strong cold weather which is the reason I consider gloves, jackets part of Alaska’s wilderness.

  • LaVon Marie

    When I hear the word wilderness, I instantly have images that come to mind. It’s vast expanses of land where nature is allowed to live out her cycles which it has been known to do in that environment for millennia. Where we allow rivers to follow their natural courses, fires burn, trees, plants and animals live and die without intervention by humankind. The land is not necessarily untouched by us, but when we enter the wilderness we are one the same level as the wilderness, one with it. We allow ourselves to “commune with nature” and when we leave, we take all but our footprints back with us. To me, that is what wilderness means. There are sections of wilderness that we can go in and pull resources from, and what we do take, does not harm or alter the wilderness (dead wood, harvesting plants, hunting for food and so forth). In my mind it is not wild, or untamed, but wilderness exists perfectly as its purpose designed it to exist. However, I know that this is not always the same idea that many have of wilderness.

    To some it is wild, untamed, dangerous (which it is, and so when we enter it, we keep a certain respect…we are no longer master but part of nature’s cycle). Some may view it as forever untouchable. Many view wilderness as their last playground, to use however they feel, regardless of what impact it may cause. Others view wilderness as yet more land that needs to be developed and brought under control, its resources stripped.

    Wilderness exists right behind my back yard. My neighborhood sits along the Eagle River about a mile into the entrance of Eagle River Valley. Chugiak State park surrounds our entire area. Although you can find endless trails that have formed from many taking to the natural paths of animal paths, it is still the wilderness. Within 20 minutes of hiking past the Eagle River Visitor center, there is no further man made structures, no city or town noises. Just vast forests, mountains and glaciers are all that surrounds you. The beauty of wilderness can exist even in one’s back yard here in Alaska…that is what makes Alaska so unique.

    I love to share this with visitors who come to visit our family. I relive the joy of discovery and awe every time I watch them experience Alaska for the first time. We always take time to explain the dangers and how one must always be completely prepared before heading into the wilderness (personally, my feeling is this when it comes to being prepared in Alaska: short hikes around the parks, a drive along the highway, a camping trip to a popular campgrounds, a quick fishing trip to the local river…whatever it is one is setting out to do, we should always be prepared due to how weather can be in Alaska and the possibility of animal attacks). So I must admit that although I understand the desire of those who want to adventure into the wilderness, I find myself irritated with the lack of respect and their unpreparedness that some adventurers have when they come. The very least, one should have extensive experience or at least a thorough knowledge of the wilderness they are about to encounter before entering it. Honestly, I think that true no matter where wilderness exists. I would have no idea how to survive in the swamps of Florida, or the deserts of Africa–to me that is also wilderness. I have lived here all my life and have spent countless hours in picking berries, camping miles from nowhere, hiking, exploring and still do not consider myself anywhere near an expert on Alaskan wilderness. However, one describes wilderness, I believe that every person should enter it understanding that they are no longer its master, but part of nature and very much at the mercy of that wilderness.

  • Imaginary Chaos

    I think there’s different types of “wilderness” in Alaska. Like the difference between living in a say a dry cabin in the middle of nowhere and constantly being around the wilderness or living in a home not too far from the city and having one or more moose or squirrels and other animals often visiting the area or even living in a rural area where you are away from the busy city life and are constantly around the wilderness of Alaska. There’s also the uninhabited areas of Alaska deep in the wild where it would be considered extremely unsafe because of bears or wolves.

    Here in Fairbanks, living on campus I would say that the only “Alaskan Wilderness” I am close to is the frigid cold and seeing the occasional squirrel (which isn’t even really considered that “big” of a thing here in Alaska). So technically, living here there aren’t really daily interactions with Alaskan wilderness that I can think of. Back home is slightly a different story. There’s Alaskan wilderness is what can be considered in “the backyard”. I’m from a small island on the Aleutian Chain and on the island there are wild bison (not close to town but just outside of town) and there are wild bison on neighboring islands as well, there are also large amounts of Bald Eagles. I say that the wilderness is often seen “in the backyard” because you can look out your kitchen window or living room window and quite often see whales close to the island. During the summer people are always having interactions with the wilderness out on the ocean, fishing or whale watching. There aren’t any bears on the island I’m from but there are bears on other islands in the area.

    What do you think of those who come to Alaska unprepared to “commune with nature”? I think these types of people have a serious death-wish. Take for example Christopher McCandless, he went into the Alaskan wilderness on some sort of “odyssey” and look what happened to him. He was a fool. If you are going to go out into the Alaskan Wilderness completely unprepared you should at least realize that there’s a slim chance of making it out alive, or in one piece. I don’t think that anyone should ever go out into the wilderness unprepared. There should be studies done, extreme planning for arriving and leaving, mapping out of the area, and knowing exactly what you’re getting yourself into and what you will need/do to survive.

    Do you think those who are unfamiliar with Alaska have a skewed perception of what wilderness is? I think that there are some people who have a very skewed perception of what Alaskan wilderness is. If you ask (some but not all) people in the lower 48 where they think Alaskans live, most that I have encountered usually think we all live in igloos and have pet polar bears. But there are others that don’t have that skewed of a perception of what the wilderness is, probably because it’s not too much different than living in a heavily forested area in the lower 48 where there would be deer or bears, it’s just colder. It could also be that they just don’t understand exactly what the Alaskan Wilderness is. But it’s also difficult to say because there are a lot of Alaskans who haven’t been out of state before so it goes both ways, there could be skewed perceptions of wilderness that is found the Lower 48 too.

  • Chad Hinders

    I believe that the entire concept of “wilderness” is a false precept based upon Western ideals of man’s separation from the natural environment. One man’s “wilderness” is another man’s backyard. The fact that we have defined some areas as civilized and others as untamed is indicative of our split from the natural world that continues to widen every year.
    Now that I live in a cozy little house in Seward, the “wilderness” seems much more remote than it once did. However, I guess that is just a matter of perspective. Friends from Outside are amazed when I tell them that a moose is eating crabapples in my front yard or that a bear wandered into my shed overnight. However, even though two national parks are in my backyard and mountains ring my neighborhood, it certainly does not feel like I am in “The Wild”. It was when I lived out in Chevak and Nome that the land seemed much more accessible. It was when I could walk out your my door, jump on a snowmachine and roar 200 miles in almost any direction without seeing another soul that I really felt the “wilderness” was truly outside my back door. Ironically though, it was also where I discovered the concept of “wilderness” was truly a construct of my upbringing.
    Although the tundra outside my back door was an unknown wilderness to me, it certainly wasn’t to my friends who had been raised there. The land was no more wild and unfamiliar to them, than the cul-de-sac I grew up on in the Midwest. That’s when I realized that the idea of “wilderness” simply meant a land that was unfamiliar and devoid of the civilizing touches of European society like roads, industry, and McDonalds. All of Alaska’s land is home to a variety of Native people who look upon the terrain as home and the source of their livelihood and survival, not something foreign and “wild”. This realization rocked my worldview to the core. However, it made the wilderness seem much more inviting and less unfamiliar. When put into the perspective that although the land was wild to me, it was home to someone else it seemed less frightening. The wilderness of the Koyukuk were not wild to Sidney Huntington, but home, calling out to him through “great Vs of and birds and their wild calls” calling him home away (LNL 343).
    My interactions with the land around me have become more pedestrian every year. After moving to town and settling down to family life and work, I rarely get time to really get out and explore. Surprisingly, I am quite happy with that arrangement. I enjoy short walks out in the woods with my kids more than epic hikes in the woods and weekend fishing trips with friends and family are now more rewarding to a week of hunting moose in the tundra. I have been domesticated and I love it. I think this is because I know see all of Alaska as my home and not some wild land to be conquered and explored.
    However, it seems like every year there is at least one or more cases of someone getting lost or disappearing in Alaska’s wilderness after they have set out to commune with nature. Last year runner Mike LeMaitre disappeared on the 4th of July in the middle of the biggest event in Alaska, the running of the Mt. Marathon race. It seems incomprehensible that anyone could disappear in the middle of such a big event in what is basically Seward’s backyard, but he did. It is events like these that illustrate what can happen to those that are unaware, unprepared, or just unlucky in Alaska’s wilderness. It is this danger and untamed aspect to the land that brings so many here to visit, and for the fortunate few that live here, it is this land that forms the backdrop to all of our adventures whether they be backpacking in the Arctic wilderness or taking a stroll on the beach with your kids.

    • LaVon Marie

      I am really liking some of these comments on what defines wilderness, and once again, I find yours very intriguing. I agree with your sentiment that man is separated from nature…but I never thought about how defining wilderness would create a further separation. I will have really take some time to consider your point of view. I kind of like it. I have to say, after reading some of these, I guess my perception of wilderness, was rather standard and not so unique.

  • aaron

    I don’t always live in Alaska, but when I do, I prefer to be in the wilderness. *chuckles* But seriously… one doesn’t consciously decide upon moving to the farthest reaches of North America in order to seek out comfort. The experiences that occur in outlandish places stay with you forever. To people across America– “the lower 48”, Outside or what have you, as well as internationally, being in Alaska is basically an interesting story in and of itself. This explains the countless reality television shows dedicated to documenting life of residents in the Last Frontier and the throngs of tourists who intrepidly (or so they might think) visit for a brief period throughout the year, although most often in the summer.

    Going outside to commune with nature on a daily basis has proved to effective in staving off seasonal affective disorder and/or depression during the winter months. For me, this typically consists of cross country skiing/skijoring for about 5-10 miles when the sunlight graces us with its presence, however briefly that may be at latitude 65. The last time I was in Fairbanks was December 16th of last year so that is the world that I remember most immediately before plunging into the tropical rain forest once again. I enjoy climatic extremes and Interior Alaska is certainly a great place for that. Fort Yukon “takes the cake” with a temperature variation of -78 to 100 degrees fahrenheit (178 degrees difference between January and June!) Of course, this chaos to the physical senses acts as a disincentive to colonize in such a place and tends to keep people out, much to the enjoyment of many antisocial Sourdoughs.

    Those who are unfamiliar with Alaska do have a skewed perception of what wilderness is, in my opinion, namely because such few places have such dramatically large parcels of land devoid of human development. The sound of wind whispering through trees, birds and squirrels chirping act as a simple reminder of what exists outside our economic sphere of influence. Without it, the new breed of mankind colloquially known as Homo urbanus knows only of sky scrapers and deleterious shopping malls, stretching off in all directions. Being exposed to the elements in a communion with nature is so important in reminding us of our innate reliance upon the natural resources around us. The existence value of wilderness cannot be overstated.