Discussion 3: 17 comments

 Elmer Rasmuson Discusses Alaskan Identity

Watch this very short video of Elmer Rasmuson talking to school children about “what it means to be an Alaskan.”   Think about Rasmuson’s comments in context with some of the essays you’ve read this week.   Which of the writers you’ve read so far seem to capture your sense of what it means to be an Alaskan?


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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17 thoughts on “Discussion 3:

  • Misty

    The story that I thought showed what it is like to be an Alaskan “The Sourdough Expedition, 1910″(pg 172) Even though no one could prove that they had really climbed the mountain until three years later the fact that someone did prove that they had is pretty big. They had to be “Alaskan” tough, and stubborn for that matter, to climb up the harder slope with a pole. Even though the leader pulled a stupid move and fabricated some of the story the true version is just as cool. I really don’t see why he would lie about it since he was trying to disprove Dr. Cook’s story. That just made no sense to me.
    I also like the story taken from Sidney Huntington’s book “Shadow’s on the Koyukuk.” I have read part of that book before, and his brother Jimmy’s book “On the edge of Nowhere.” They are both examples of true Alaska’s. The fact that this story “No Man’s Land” talks about the killings that used to happen fascinate me because I have heard of that place before. It hardly makes sense that these two people fought so much when they shared a lot of culture.
    “Eggs” (pg 139) was also a nice look into another person’s culture. Being able to read about a culturural thing that is probably slowly dying out is very cool. I cannot imagine how scared the girl was being on that ledge. I know I would have been terrified.

  • Kari Firlik

    Which of the writers you’ve read so far seem to capture your sense of what it means to be an Alaskan?


    The breath taken beauty of the Alaskan land has captivated my very being. This picture was taken South of Fairbanks, two hours into the drive on Parks Highway. I was on my way to Anchorage, Alaska when my jaw dropped in astonishment on January 4, 2013. My thoughts were; look at these mountains, they were so big, as I saw that their was one mountain after another, and after another. The mountains just kept coming, each one mountain was different then that of another mountain. In the back of my mind, I knew that I would not be able to see this type of scenery for long, considering in this season the sun goes down around 3 o’clock.

    In my drive going South, while the sun escape behind the mountains ahead, there became a cold chill that entered in our 2010 Jeep Patriot. Heat was blasting in our vehicle and still down toward my feet there was cold draft that froze my toes. My family and I were in valley of the enormous snow mounted mountains. The temperature read about -60 degrees on my Iphone, I knew we weren’t in Nebraska anymore.

    When we stopped at a rest stop, which is only a half of a circle of road right off the shoulder of the highway amongst the wildlife to relieve the pain of urination that formed in our bladders, I was in full gear. I wore Columbia snow pants, Columbia winter coat, scarf, winter water resistant gloves, winter hat, artic water resistant boots, and underneath all that I had two pairs of socks on, under armor aerobic pants, and a heavy duty sweater that had a Texas Longhorns symbol on the front. As I stepped outside I could not bare the cold after a minute, I knew right then I was not in the right gear for this type of weather. It was almost like I was in a cultural shock because there were no gas stations, no toilet, the huge factor of carnivores being able to take me out in a vulnerable situation, such as me using squatting down to relieve myself was too much for me to bare. Including the fact that I did not know if my urination would freeze in me just squatting there. I simply could not do it. The task would just have to wait, four more hours. Well, you probably know what happen the rest of the drive. Yep, my husband heard every last word of me constantly saying that I have to use the restroom. “What a drive that was,” I said to my family as we reached Anchorage, Alaska. My family just gave me a glare.

    With this experience, I believe the author; Stuck Hudson captures the sense of being an Alaskan. In the short story, “Fairbanks to the Chandalar through Circle City and Fort Yukon” the author gives an experience of him traveling thru Alaska with his team of six dogs. This courageous man was ready to face and endure danger or pain thru the Alaska wilderness. He endured temperatures below -60 to come out alive in the end. This thought in general has me fascinated at the fact that human’s could survive in negative temperatures without losing a limb. One would think, “Only if they were experienced enough to endure negative degree weather, could they make it out alive”. This man had the experience to what its like to be a true Alaskan.

    This man would have to know how to survive in Alaska’s coldest temperatures. Hudson knew what to wear as clothing, what to bring on his trip, and most of all he knew where he was going. This man had to use the wilderness as a bathroom, have no fear of carnivores and moose attacks, when to rest and when to keep going, and what to do with his dogs feet if they got clumps of snow stuck between the pads.

    When I look at this picture, I could not imagine what challenge Hudson had to face to accomplish his journey thru Alaska. I could not even get myself to go pee and I couldn’t stand to be outside in -60 degree weather. Hudson had many voyages and completed them successfully.

    I remember reading a book called, “Two Old Woman” by Velma Wallis. These two old woman were from Athabaska tribes in Fairbanks, Alaska. The two old woman were abandoned by their tribe because they were considered too old and of great concern of the tribe. The tribe had to make a decision to leave their loved ones behind because they would have less mouths to feed and they could keep up with their journey. The two old woman survived just fine being on their own, once they stopped feeling sorry for themselves. Survival is the key of being a true Alaskan. If I was put out in the Alaskan wilderness, I would not know what to do to survive. I believe these individuals knew what to do.

  • Patricia

    The author who captivated my sense of being Alaskan is Hudson Stuck. I really connected with the story because I admire mushers and like the Iditarod. The story, Fairbanks to the Chandalar through Circle City and Forth Yukon, is an excellent example to understand what entails being an Alaskan. The author states, “Waterproof footwear, therefore, becomes one of the “mushers” great concerns and difficulties. The best water-proof footwear is the Esquimau mukluk, not easily obtainable in the interior of Alaska, but the mukluk is an inconvenient footwear to put snow-shoes on. Rubber boots or shoes of any kind are most uncomfortable things to travel in.” (The Last New Land Stories of Alaska Past and Present, page159-160) This excerpt tells the reader the difficulties that Alaskans have to face due to its very cold weather. It mentions how uncomfortable is to use special gears for the feet but necessary to bear the cold weather. In addition the author mentions , quote “ The weather had grown steadily colder since we reached the Yukon slope, and for two days before reaching Circle the thermometer had stood 40 and 50 below zero.” (page 162) This quote is another example for the readers to understand how extreme can the Alaskan weather be. I have never experienced 40 or 50 below zero, I have experienced ten below zero. Both quotes express how strong and brave we Alaskan are though the story of a musher. Regardless of being mushers or not, we all need to have special clothing, footwear etc. and the author through this story perfectly gives the reader some information regarding the difficulties that Alaskans have. I am sure people from out of state and all over the world that read this story would consider Alaskan very brave people.

    • LaVonMarie


      I agree with you on why you choose those two authors. They had a very intimate knowledge of what type of gear, the weather and the environment required…down to even when to wear different boots. I compared it to the different coats that I assume most Alaskans own–one to wear at late night during the summer (the over worn but must have sweat shirt), the late spring, early fall coat, the 30 degrees above 0 that feels like summer after having been stuck in minus 20 weather for weeks coat (for my kids that means back to sweat shirts), the good columbia for the running around and then you pull out the heavy one. You know we all have that coat…when the wind cuts through everything, the snow sounds hollow and sreechy, you are layerd and layered well and still feel cold, and you breathe through your nose and it freezes together coat…yes that coat. I think that the authors who have this type of knowledge, and express those experiences through their writing are the ones who seem Alaskan to me as well.

  • aaron

    Being a true Alaskan requires an authentic passion for residing in such a demanding territory and having thick skin. My personal experience living in Alaska has been within the Interior region, between Fairbanks and Eagle. Having spent a lot of time outdoors (even in the “dead” of our very long, famously frigid winters) cross country skiing, hiking, and dog sledding, I could strongly identify with Mr. Hudson Stuck in his story “Fairbanks to the Chandalar through Circle City and Fort Yukon”. His knowledge of the terrain is obvious: “Our course lay for seventy-five miles through the Yukon Flats, which begin at Circle and extend for two hundred and fifty miles of the river’s course below that point. The Flats constitute the most difficult and dangerous part of the whole length of the Yukon River, summer or winter, and the section between Circle City and Fort Yukon is the most difficult and dangerous part of the Flats. Save for a “portage” or land trail of eighteen or twenty miles out of Circle, the trail is on the river itsef, which is split up into many channels without salient landmarks. The current is so swift that many stretches run open water far into the winter, and blow-holes are numerous. There is little travel on the Flats in winter, and a snow-storm accompanied by wind may obliterate what trail there is in an hour. The vehicle used in the Flats is not a sled but a toboggan, and our first mistake was in not conforming to local usage in this respect.” (Last New Land, pg. 163) I felt this passage best described their difficult situation and set the scene for what trials and tribulations which would ensue.

    The combined factors of very cold temperatures around -60 degrees, having a fourteen year-old boy as their guide, and using the wrong snow vehicle made the trip to Fort Yukon especially difficult—almost impossible. Given the conditions, Stuck is lucky to have survived after falling in the water and nearly freezing his feet off after being submerged up to his hips! “Under Providence I owe it to the mukluks I wore, tied tight around my knees, that I did not lose my life, or at least my feet” (Pg. 166) His imagery in this story of the arctic landscape is also superb. I really liked how Stuck described dry snow as crystalline particles; glittering myriads of diamond facets with every color of the prism and how he expounded on the aesthetics clear winter skies, both sunrise and sunset within such a short period of time that only a perfectly dry atmosphere permits. It really resonated with me because of my personal love for xeric biomes, both the deserts of lower latitudes and arctic regions.

  • Imaginary Chaos

    Which of the writers you’ve read so far seem to capture your sense of what it means to be an Alaskan?

    In a way each of these authors have given a glimpse of what it means to be an Alaskan, however just by reading these stories wouldn’t really give someone a true “sense” of what it mean to be an Alaskan. But if someone were to just go off of these stories to try and see or make “sense” of what it means to be an Alaskan, I think that the Athabascan Legend of “The Little Old Lady Who Lived Alone”, Betty John’s story “July 13th”, Sydney Huntington’s story “No Man’s Land” and Ruben Gaines story “Dogmusher” all best try to give a sense of what it’s like to live in Alaska; all the way from older days to somewhat present days.

    The Athabascan Legend of “The Little Old Lady Who Lived Alone” is a good example of what it used to be like living in Alaska by yourself. Even though this story takes place in a completely different region of Alaska than where I grew up it still brought back memories of some stories told by my grandparents when I was younger of some of what they said they used to do. The catching and drying of fish is one particular part that brought up memories. Also the part where she hits the water to scare away the fish brings back memories of stories that my grandparents would tell to make me and my brother believe that we had to be quiet when fishing.

    Betty John’s story “July 13th” is a really good story of what it’s like to live in Alaska from an outsider’s point of view. It is also a good story about the older days seal hunting and mating and it also showed the wisdom of some of the locals.

    Sidney Huntington’s story “No Man’s Land” does a great job describing what it’s like to walk home at night underneath the aurora, the moon and the hypnotizing sparkle of the moonlight on the snow. He also gave a great description of the icy winter air and how it feels on the lungs. I also find it quite ironic how they named that area No Man’s Land because that is one of the few names I often here people call Alaska.

    Ruben Gaines story “Dogmusher” is a wonderful short poem about what it’s like to be a dog musher. It is told succinctly as possible about the close bond between the dogs and the mushers. He describes them to brothers, and how when they are on the trail it is just them, “all the creatures left alive”. In someways that’s what it’s like to live in Alaska. We sometimes feel like we are “all the creatures left alive” because we are so remote from the rest of the United States. We are all related in someway or another too, so most Alaskan see each other as “brothers” or even “sisters”. “But loneliness and cold are just the price we pay for living as we want to…” This quote couldn’t be any more true. We, as Alaskan’s, can be put through a lot loneliness and cold, whether it’s out in the middle of the Bering Sea fishing to feed loved ones back home or whether it’s on the North Slope doing the same exact thing.The combination of all these stories and a few of the other stories best describe or give a slight sense of what it’s like to live in Alaska.

  • Chad Hinders

    What does it mean to be Alaskan? Fair enough question. However, the vast experiences of those roughly half a million souls stretched from Ketchikan to Barrow vary so greatly I don’t know if there is any fair way to truly capture what it means to truly be an Alaskan. However, the literature of the Great Land is one tool through which we can see themes which run throughout our experiences as Alaskans and give perspective to our shared adventures through the rugged and often unforgiving land we call home.

    Once again, the harshness of the landscape factors into the perspective one takes on life in Alaska. I believe that geography and topography of our land helps shape what being Alaskan means. Although authors may often imbue the landscape of Alaska with emotion, the land is indeed indifferent and unforgiving, and will take those that are unprepared or simply unlucky.

    I have felt the “flicker of panic” as Edna Wilder’s mother Nedercook did when being in an unexpectedly life threatening situation (LNL 141). That moment when you don’t know whether the back of your snowmachine is breaking through 6 inches or 6 feet of the frozen creek. The half-remembered prose of “To Build a Fire” in the back of your brain while wondering whether a simple choice whether to take a left or a right turn may have cost you you frozen feet or worse.

    However, I believe it is this imminent danger from our environment and the willingness to brave these challenges that truly helps shape the Alaskan character and binds us together as comrades who forego the possibly easier and more comfortable existence of those from the “Outside” in favor of one that brings us closer to not just existing, but really living a life that has meaning.

    I have lost several colleagues and former students to the harsh weather and terrain of Alaskan life. The only solace this has given me has been the knowledge that their passing has made me cherish my own days and Alaskan experiences more deeply. Perhaps it is this omnipresent knowledge that life is so dear and can be taken at a moments notice that binds us together as a people. Being Alaskan is not easy. But, as Ruben Gaines says in his work Dogmusher, “loneliness and cold are just the price we pay, for living as we want to anyway” (LNL 171).

  • Cherie Lindquist

    Watch this very short video of Elmer Rasmuson talking to school children about “what it means to be an Alaskan.” Think about Rasmuson’s comments in context with some of the essays you’ve read this week. Which of the writers you’ve read so far seem to capture your sense of what it means to be an Alaskan?
    I think that everything I have read so far encompasses what it means to me to be Alaskan. Alaska is a beautiful and wild place. The remoteness of the land needs to be respected and treasured. There were many readings that I really connected with this week. The one I thought most connected to my view of Alaska was “Eggs” by Edna Wilder. I liked this story because I am sure that egg collecting goes back many generations. Even though egg collecting was dangerous, it was necessary for survival.
    In “Eggs” I could picture looking over the bluffs to see if eggs were in the nests. I felt the danger of lowering a young, excited girl over the edge to collect her first eggs. I could see the beautiful birds and land as she made her way across the narrow ledge to gather the eggs. Being an Alaskan is about being both smart and resourceful. It’s about finding a way to survive in the most breath taking and treacherous land on earth. I felt that “Eggs” encompassed my view of Alaska.

  • Caroline Streeter

    Which of the writers you’ve read so far seem to capture your sense of what it means to be an Alaskan?

    The story, “Eggs” from Edna Wilder, and the tale of the Sourdough’s expedition really caught my attention. Wilder’s tale of her mother’s first time securing eggs speaks to me as an Alaska Native and subsistence hunter. Sometimes so much hard work and persistence must be put in to harvesting something, which at the end of the day, does not yield vast results. This activity showed how all members of a family can contribute to the well-being and survival of the village, and at no small cost. This was a dangerous excursion, but vital.
    I had never heard of the Sourdough mountaineering group, yet found it an entertaining story that elucidates the essence of the pioneer spirit. This seemed to me an event that proved to others and the men themselves, just how Alaskan they really were. Growing up in Alaska, it is evident to me that the more adventurous the story, the more bragging rights one has to how Alaskan they are. On a personal note, Alaska is such a vast land that it would take a lifetime to measure. The number of unseen creeks, mountain ranges and valleys are places that individuals can be alone in solitude, but strong in their identity of communion with the land.

    I have read Sydney Huntington’s biography before, and dearly loved the stories he told. He lived an amazing life, and I can only strive to learn and see as much as he did of Alaska. This story was informative, telling of the century long disputes between Indians and Eskimos. This was appealing as other accounts of the disputes seem to gloss over the details and generalize the subject. Huntington’s account was as specific as to list nearby villages and river names. Alaska Native history is interesting, in-depth, and not to be reduced. To be an Alaskan means to travel the land, live off of and with it, and learn and interact with others. I want to see as many parts of this State as I can, and experience it as both a hunter and traveler.

    • Madara Post author

      I think you touch on two things that are pretty interesting in terms of subsistence cultures and urban cultures, 1: the idea that basic needs are not easy to meet, and 2: the idea that everyone, including children, have to contribute to the survival of a community.

  • Nikki

    I feel that each one of these stories captures in their own way what it means to be an Alaskan. They each had their own uniqueness and highlighted all aspects of being an Alaskan from the harsh winters, to the subsistence lifestyle.

    To start out with the first story I felt that the, “The Little Old Lady Who Lived Alone,” an Athabascan legend does an excellent job of showcasing the subsistence lifestyle. “In summer she set a net and caught a lot of fish. She cut them and hung them up and dried them, and then she out them in her grass cache…When winter came, she cooked, but she cooked only bones, even though she had plenty of food,”(pg.137). This little excerpt shows you the hard work that the old woman has to do in order to survive and make it through the winter. She chooses to eat the bones first to conserve all the food that she has caught in the summer. Around here when you shoot and kill an animal, we call it catching it. For example, I caught a moose yesterday. I like how in the story she goes out and struck the fish that was singing. She was probably trying to keep the singing fish from scaring off the other fishes.

    In Edna Wilder’s story “Eggs,” it also shows the subsistence lifestyle and all dangers that come with living off the land. Egg hunting was always one of my favorite things to do in the summer because you never knew which kind of egg you would come across. My favorite eggs to find were swan eggs. You had to be careful when egg hunting because you didn’t want the mother to swoop down and attack you. The women and children also participated but they were out collecting the wild vegetables such as onions or wild sorrels.

    In Betty John’s story, “July 13th,” you can feel the hardships. “I know these days are difficult. The killing season should be ended, but because we have had extremely bad weather at times, it has been prolonged. Fortunately it has been cool enough to keep the pelts from rioting, which they usually begin to do about now,” (pg 144). Last winter was one of the worst winters that we have endured. For an entire month it was 40 degrees below zero which made it difficult for hunters to travel to the Yukon River to hunt moose. But this is Alaska and we are known for the unpredictable weather and it does affect our subsistence lifestyles.

    And lastly I feel that Hudson Stuck’s story “Fairbanks to the Chandalar through Circle City and Fort Yukon,” does a great job of describing the harsh winter, deadly temperatures, the use of dog sledding and the care of the dogs, traditional native wear such as the mukluks, tough trail conditions, the ignorance, the gorgeous Alaskan scenery, beautiful sunrise and sunset, and the sounds of that lonely raven flying above them. I can feel those negative temperatures because they are all too familiar to my hometown. I have seen the tough trail conditions while traveling on snowmachine around this area. I know that sound all too well of the raven flying above. Overall I felt that all writers do an excellent job of displaying the beauties of Alaska, and also reminds me of why I live here.

    • Madara Post author

      I love that linguistic difference you point out: “kill” vs. “catch”. I’d be interested to hear your opinions on what that reveals about the way folks in Bethel think a bit differently about subsistence. I hear people say I “got” a moose, but I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed anyone in Fairbanks say “caught.”

  • LaVonMarie

    I held off commenting till I could watch the video, as I am curious as to what children of Alaska consider “what it means to be Alaskan” but the video seems to not be working. It might be easy to say that at some point all the authors in some way or another manage to capture the essence of what it means to be Alaskan, but there are many authors included in this book who only briefly visited Alaska. Yet, their experiences and ability to describe the beauty of Alaska, the demands the environment can place on one who lives here such as Luois L’Amour and his fictional story of the captain in Sitka. Before each story in The Last New Land, I read the brief bio on each author, I find myself anticipating the stories written by those who actually stayed and made Alaska their home. The richness of their experiences in Alaska is expressed through the detail of their words and it is recognizable to me since Alaska is also my home. Although I have never mushed in 50 below zero (I actually have never mushed period; however I do know what 40 below feels like and how it can rip the air straight out of your lungs) such as the stories of Charles D. Brower in “Fifty Years Below Zero” and Hudson Stuck’s story “Of Land, Sea, and Air” entail, it is their respect of the land, the experiences and near miss death experiences through Alaska’s wilderness speaks to me of someone who is intimate with the land, weather, seasons of Alaska and makes them Alaskan.

    However, this raises an interesting question. Anyone who resides in Alaska and has made it their home considers themselves to be Alaskan. They tell people so, write about it in their blogs and comments on various social sites, and yet I know plenty of people who stare in horror of the idea of spending an afternoon on the banks of the Russian River, and the farthest they have traveled into the wilderness of Alaska is the path they take through a snowy parking lot to the doors of the nearest mall. So then, what is it exactly that makes someone Alaskan? Does one have to have intimate experience of the inherent dangers of the wilderness of Alaska to be considered Alaskan? I have rolled this question around in my head as I have read through the stories of these different authors, and I believe that in my mind, the stories that seem to resonate with me the most, is any of the authors who actually made Alaska their lifelong home. There seems to be a clarity, a truth that only another Alaskan would recognize, whether we have or have not experienced a trek to the top of Denali, or mushed at 50 below, survived the stifling swarms of mosquitoes for the solitude of a summer’s week trip into Alaska’s bush, or that our wildest experience in Alaska is surviving the long dark months and the endless summer nights from the comforts of our manicured urban lawns. What is it to be Alaskan? It is what you as an Alaskan makes it to be. For every author in this book, those that had a relationship with this place, it is within their words of experiences, the details that describe their relationship with the land and their obvious respect the land demands and through their words you can sense that Alaska is their home.

    • Madara Post author

      Sorry, about the video. I thought I had it working, but there seems to be something wrong with the plugins for this site.

      I think your insights on Alaskan identity are shared by lots of us!