Alaska, to the outside world


Reflection of Alaskan Literature

Alaskan literature has flourished in the last hundred years, and even before that legends and folklore were abundant among native peoples.  One common thing I have noticed is that authors of Alaskan literature are most influenced by the land.  They may write about the landscape, wildlife, or the weather and seasonal changes in Alaska.  Within these three items are a number of categories that can give inspiration or create an experience that must be shared on paper.  An experience while fishing for salmon, or the view of an Alaskan forest could be the moment an author needs to create a great work.

Most literature I’ve read and reflected on have been from novels or stories about Alaska.  Now, I wanted the opportunity to reflect on poetry of Alaska.  Blaze by Peggy Shumaker gives an image of a forest just before winter begins (Shumaker).  I was reminded of when summer was just ending in Alaska.  The days are getting shorter, temperatures are getting colder, and that moment when everyone can smell the snow and ice in the air before it falls.  There are a number of authors who have written about Alaska, and how the landscape affects them.  The landscape can bring on moments of happiness, when the land is at its most beautiful time and gives plenty of resources to those who want it.  The landscape can also take away everything and be brutal; reminding everyone who has ever experienced this aspect that Alaska will never be a tame land. 


Photo: Self. Fairbanks at about between 12-2pm, December. 

A second poem reflecting of Alaskan moments is every single day by John Straley.  Straley uses one word to evoke a multitude of memories from it, which I found that Alaska would have plenty of single words or phrases that would hold a conversation for hours.  Straley wrote “king salmon” and wrote of fishing and the memories that took place (Straley).  When I read the word king salmon I thought of my grandpa’s kings that he would catch on the Yukon River.  We would eat grilled salmon, smoked salmon, salmon jerky, salmon burgers.  Oh, there are so many wonderful ways to eat salmon.  I also remember learning how to head, gut, and filet 70-pound kings during a summer job at a sport fish processing store.  That is a proud skill I still am able to apply today whenever I need it. 


Photo: Self

It’s a good skill for authors to be able to create moments for the readers that they remember or are able to relate with.  This can be common for Alaskan readers as many have experienced in some way what contemporary authors have written about.  Even non-Alaskan are able to gain insight into Alaska’s unique land and the impact it has on who has lived there and who has seen all of its many characters. 

Shumaker, Peggy (with Kesler Woodward). “Blaze.” Blackbird Archive. Spring 2004, vol 3, no 1.   
http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v3n1/poetry/shumaker_p/blaze.htm

Straley, John. “every single day”. The Rising and the Rain. University of Alaska Press. 2008.
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/239706


Seasons

Alaska generally has three seasons: summer, winter, and break-up.  Not everyone may realize this at first, but in fact it’s mostly true.  Summer is the land of the midnight sun.  This is the most enjoyable part of the year, and I remember staying out all hours of the day and night sometimes, to the point where time doesn’t seem to exist.  Everything is green, temperatures are warm, and all animals are in their most active state.  Fall seasons don’t really make it in Alaska.  Most regions are usually hit too quickly with cold weather, and before you know it, it’s snowing inches upon inches.  Spring seasons aren’t really seen in Alaska either.  That’s when break-up usually occurs, and is most agreeably the ugliest season out of the three.  Snow and ice begins to melt, causing rivers and oceans to swell with chunks of ice, huge ice potholes form in all of the roads, and all of the dead grass begins to thaw and rot causing a huge stink in the air.   Every season does have its own character, and ask any Alaskan and I’m sure they could tell a story or more about any of the three seasons.


http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/despite-record-snows-anchorages-breakup-smooth-so-far?page=full

Having lived in so many places around Alaska and the lower 48, I could say that Alaskan’s can handle winter better than anywhere I’ve ever been.  I’ve only seen studded tires and block heater so abundant in Alaska, and nowhere else.  Even the system of snow removal is the most efficient I’ve ever seen.  The town I lived in on the Kenai Peninsula had five trucks to keep the roads relatively clear and safe.  Snow plows were used to shove new snow into the middle and sides of the roads.  Snow blowers and dump trucks dove side by side and the snow blower sucked up the plowed snow and blew it into the dump truck, which then takes it out of the city.  The snow and ice grater trucks use a long shovel with grated teeth to dig into the ice and create grooves, so that the cars have more to grip on while driving on icy roads.  Lastly, there was a truck that would scatter dirt on the roads to add more friction for drivers.  Salt used to be added to the roads, but this has grown less favorable as it corrodes the metal on cars. 


Cordova, AK Snowpocolypse 2012; photo taken by my mom

Sherry Simpson wrote an essay called The Way Winter Comes, and she describes in it the different aspects of winter.  Weather conditions vary in Alaska, from cold and wet along the coast, to cold and dry in the interior landscape (Simpson).  Alaskans have to know how to dress for the right conditions, and Simpson has called it a “cruel science” to know just how to dress as so not to freeze from too little, or sweat and then freeze from too much (Simpson).  Now living in Texas, I haven’t had to once yet open my winter box to dig out any hats, gloves, mittens, or scarves.  I almost miss the cold, as it is almost a way to show that I’m still brave and strong enough to face the elements.  It’s a way to remind myself of that old way of human survival and that Alaskans are quite a resilient species. 


18in of snow
Cordova, AK Snowpocolypse 2012; photo taken by my mom

Simpson, Sherry. “The Way Winter Comes.”   
http://freezeproject.org/alaska/writing/featured-writers/the-way-winter-comes-by-sherry-simpson/


Modern Alaska

Alaska has changed significantly in the last 100 years.  It has transformed from a land being first discovered by the Russians, to a federal territory, and to a state.  All the while the population has increased and politics and the government have altered the way Alaska is regulated for residents and commercializing.   Rights for Alaskan natives have changed over the years and also rights for Alaskans to own land or how hunting and fished can be regulated.  Alaskans have also learned how Alaska can be unpredictable in its ways of weather and other natural disasters.  Alaska has a wide range of volcanoes, on land and below the ocean, and also sits along the tectonic plates of the earth, making it susceptible to earthquakes.  Many current authors of Alaska have taken into account their own experiences of the changes in Alaska and also the current and past issues that Alaska has encountered. 


http://www.vibrationdata.com/earthquakes/alaska.htm

Like in many parts of the world, Alaska has become more prepared in technology and equipped for unprecedented events such as natural disasters like earth quakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.  In January of 2006 I remember Mount Augustine erupting which is just across the bay from Home, Alaska.  My sister and I had to drive up to Anchorage early to stay in the airport to avoid being delayed by ash in the air so we could fly to the Lower 48 for college.  I also remember small earth quakes that would happen occasionally, but were common enough that most people weren’t too fazed by them. Sometimes I would wake to the house shaking, and sometimes I wouldn’t even feel any amount of shaking but would see the plants moving back and forth.  Kim Rich wrote about her experience of the 1964 Good Friday earth quake in Anchorage in Shattered Dreams from Jonny’s Girl.  The earthquake measured 8.4-8.7 on the Richter scale, which is the largest in North America history (Rich, 695).  Some towns were almost completely destroyed by tsunamis, and the city Valdez relocated itself to higher ground.  The city Seward created a tsunami alarm, which notifies residents to run up the steep mountain that the city is situated right under.  Also due to increases in technology, tsunamis and other large disruptions in the earth can be detected much earlier and also safer building and homes are being built to withstand harsher disruptions. 


http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/350203/alaskas_augustine_volcano_showing_more_unrest/


http://www.alaska-in-pictures.com/historic-seward-alaska-4233-pictures.htm

Susan Swinger wrote about her time trucking through Alaska in The Man All Covered with Mouths excerpted from Stalking the Ice Dragon: An Alaskan Journey.  Alaskan’s have experienced multiple issues over cooperation and control of the land with the federal government.  In Swinger’s account of such issues, the town of Coldfoot, Alaska wasn’t allowed to buy or build homes on any land as the federal government controlled it and the residents of the town had to live in trailers instead (Swinger, 717).  Also during that time of strong government control, the town was promised a village supply post but was only given a large hole in the ground instead for years (Swinger, 718).  The supply post was very much needed as travelers had to go 340 miles from the Yukon River to Prudoe Bay without any options to stop for gas, food, or any other leisure (Swinger, 718). 


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg13/id/5830/rec/23

Swinger also notes the decrease in population of larger mammals since the early 1900s, especially of grizzly bears and wolves.  Due to hunting, grizzlies now only exist in Alaska, Siberia, and Canada (Swinger, 727).  The wolf population in Alaska has decreased to approximately 6,000, which is 15,000 less just more than ten years ago (Swinger, 728).   Another author concerned with the animal populations is Nancy Lord.  Her essay Two Worlds, One Whale discusses the population of the Cook Inlet beluga whale, which has shrunk from approximately 1000 to about 350 since 1999 (Lord).  This has been attributed to differences in their habitat by pollution, increased boat traffic and oil and gas activity, but most notably the increase in Native population and hunting in the Anchorage and Cook Inlet area (Lord).  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) allows Alaska natives to hunt whales for their own use and also for “trade and barter” (Lord).  However, while this may support smaller villages, the 20,000 native populations in the Anchorage area have shown that the hunted animal population cannot sustain such a large human mass for survival and food exchange (Lord). 


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg2/id/940/rec/2

Alaska may continue to change in the future, hopefully for the better.  It’s been my experience that Alaskans have a true love for their state and will work to preserve it in its human and native rights, natural landscape and wildlife population.  For that great love, I believe that Alaska will always be the Last Frontier.   

 

Lord, Nancy. “Two Worlds, One Whale.” 2000. 
http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200007/belugawhale.asp

Rich, Kim. “Shattered Dreams, from Jonny’s Girl.” The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 695. Print.

Swinger, Susan. “The Man All Covered with Mouths, from Stalking the Ice Dragon: An Alaskan Journey.” The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 717. Print


Coexisting Cultures in Alaska

When thinking about the predominant cultures that first sculpted Alaska, the top three that come to mind are the Alaskan Native people, Russian immigrants, and the mainly white American population that followed after the Russians.  The Alaska Natives begin the base of Alaska’s culture with their native traditions, spiritual beliefs, and amazing ability to utilize and survive the Alaskan landscape and wildlife.  Then Russian immigrants came to Alaska, bringing their own cultures and religion.  Afterwards, many immigrants came to be homesteaders of the new land.  Many other cultures are growing within the state today, some that I’ve had interaction with include Hispanic, African American, Russian, Macedonian, Asian cultures, Hawaiian Samoan, and Filipino.  Many of the cultures I have interacted with were with fellow students during high school.  While many students shared the Western American culture and identity, we also learned and experienced the lives and beliefs of those who embraced more than one type of culture. 


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg13/id/2103/rec/40

The interaction between different communities and populations across Alaska also calls for a widespread education system.  Much of the Alaskan population is spread out in different tribes and villages, so reaching education out to everyone can be more of a challenge to Alaska than it would be in the lower 48.  I want to acknowledge the University of Alaska along with its three major campuses, Anchorage, Sitka, and Fairbanks and the university’s ability to create such a wide and sustainable long distance education program.  The ability to allow almost any student in the Alaskan region to take courses online in almost any subject is remarkable.  I have taken some long distance courses through the University of Alaska long distance education program, and have always been impressed at the quality of the classes and commitment of the professor to their courses.  Alaska is a huge state, and it aids in educating the spread-put population by providing these courses to those who might otherwise have a difficult time receiving a higher education. 

University of Alaska Logo
http://www.gov.state.ak.us/ASCC/partners.php

Besides the interaction of different cultures within Alaska, I also began thinking about my own family’s culture and the interaction with Alaska.  My grandpa could be known as a pioneer of Alaska, having utilized Alaska’s many resources through trapping, hunting, agriculture, and fishing.  He was long-time friends with some of the natives in Circle City.  Here he was able to be partners with a friend who was an Alaskan Native where they could fish commercially on the Yukon River using traditional fishing wheels.  This is an example of the benefit between friendship and the values and advantages of interaction between different cultures.


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg13/id/5015/rec/4


Connecting with the wilderness

Every Alaskan probably has their own personal connection with the wilderness.  For some, they rely on the wilderness for survival and to live in areas away from large populations.  Others may prefer larger towns and cities that are more accommodating to humans, though wildlife can still infiltrate throughout these more populated areas.  I lived on the Kenai Peninsula, an area below Anchorage that is booming with wildlife, populated towns, and tourism.  My experiences with the Alaskan wilderness are weighted also by my experiences with friends and family.  We would travel between Anchorage, Seward, Soldotna, Kenai, and Homer doing different activities like camping near rivers and creeks or on the beach, clamming, or just exploring other towns.  The Kenai Peninsula is also very popular for tourists as they often rent RV’s to camp and see different wildlife, and also hunting and fishing.  At the peak of the season rivers will be lined with fishermen, and charters will be moving constantly through the deeper rivers and oceans.  One summer I worked at a sport fishing shop for tourists to have their catches processed.  There I learned how to head and gut salmon, some reaching 70lbs like the King Salmon.  We would also filet, pack and vac, freeze, and then ship to almost anywhere for the tourists.  It was actually one of the most fun jobs I ever had growing up, and taught me a skill that I still use today. 


http://www.wildnatureimages.com/Combat_Fishing_Photos.htm

When thinking about my interactions with the wilderness I also thought about the little adventures that separate Alaska from the rest of the world.  When living at home, our house was by a lake.  During the summer, the lake was popular for fishing and boating, but still relatively quiet.  I always had to be cautious for moose, and more than once or twice I let the dogs outside without checking only to see them running under a moose’s hooves and miraculously avoiding getting trampled.  Also more than once I was late to school because a moose was the obstacle between me and my car. Living by a lake also produced large mosquito populations.  Dubbed as Alaska’s “State Bird” I remember how horribly thick the swarms of mosquitoes would be.  At the peak of hatching there would be clouds of monster mosquitoes attacking you.  Stepping outside, I would sprint like an Olympian to get to my car, though it still would save from being bitten.  During the winter, the ditches filled with snow on the side of the road, and if you aren’t careful a car will easily slide in sideways.  Luckily, we always had friends or neighbors willing to help out when I got my car stuck. 


http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/alaskas-hibernating-snow-mosquitoes-awaken-chomp-soon


Photo: self

A fun activity that locals do on the Kenai Peninsula do is going clamming.  I’ve gone with friends and family, and we drive towards Homer, where there are multiple areas one can park and then hike down to the beach.  When a minus tide occurs, hundreds of clam holes appear, and the razor clams were the most abundant in this area.  Clam shovels or clam guns are the tools to use when going for razor clams.  As soon as a clam shovel is dug into the sand, a razor clam will shoot farther down with great speed, so a volunteer had to be ready to start digging with their hands to grab the razor clam.  Clam guns are a little bit like cheating.  They are a hollow cylinder, and all one has to do is center it over a clam hole, push the clam gun into the sand and pull up, which then just sucks up the razor clam and all surrounding sand out.  It’s a dirty job digging for clams, but always proves to be a good time. 


photo:self


photo: self

It’s these experiences that create my connection to the Alaskan wilderness.  To me, the Kenai Peninsula is one of the most beautiful areas.  I love mountains, and there are plenty to be viewed in this landscape.  The interior of Alaska, such as near Fairbanks where I spend a lot of time with family, is more in the valley and is much flatter compared to the southern area where I lived.  I find Fairbanks beautiful too, but there is always something new to find in the landscape of a mountain.  Mountains are probably one of the features I miss most of all after living in the central United States for the past few years.  They always seem to brighten my mind, and can also create a sense of peacefulness. 


photo: self


photo: self


Alaskan Wilderness

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As stated in previous posts, the Alaskan wilderness can be an unforgiving land.  Many Alaskans that live in the wilderness try to live alongside with nature as best as human beings can.  Most do have to do some obstruction to the land to survive there however, such as cutting logs for homes, and gardening and hunting for food.  Alaska’s wilderness does have boundaries because of the extreme conditions that can occur there, so it can be very difficult if almost impossible to live directly alongside nature there.  Despite the hardships that can be possibly encountered in Alaska, I have learned from most Alaskans that they want to preserve the Alaskan wilderness and keep it from becoming too over-populated and industrialized.  One could obtain this ideal from Alaska’s nickname “The Last Frontier”. 


http://www.alaskaleatheronline.com/servlet/the-108/Reflective-Alaska-The-Last/Detail

Scholar William Cronon gives an argument about the concept of wilderness and man’s effort to protect it.  He explains that human’s behavior and efforts to conserve wilderness thus gives the logic “…if wild nature is the only thing worth saving, and if our mere presence destroys it, then the sole solution to our own unnaturalness, the only way to protect sacred wilderness from profane humanity, would seem to be suicide” (Cronon).  While this logic is extreme, it does make a point as to what conversationalists and other organizations try to convey, that humans contribute to the destruction of nature and the wildlife that lives in it.  I do believe this to be true, and agree that human beings should be more conscience of their actions and how it affects the environment.

I have seen a vast difference of how humans perceive their environment, especially when comparing living in Dallas, Texas to living in and traveling around Alaska.  While I understand and acknowledge that what I have perceived may not always be the case in comparing human perception of wilderness from Texas to Alaska, my own experiences have developed a personal opinion.  From living in Alaska, I have sensed the eagerness to protect the Alaskan lifestyle and wilderness.  There is a separation of Alaska and the rest of the world that is liked and wanted by Alaskans.  This reminds me of John Haines’s poetry and his dislike of the fast-paced, industrialized world that is expressed in his writings (Haines, 208).  In Texas, I have noticed a much more fast-paced life, where people are more centered in on themselves than on their surroundings.  Perhaps this is due to living in a city and not in the country, which I know much of Texas is composed of.  Regardless, I have seen the materialism here, and a human’s arrogance of the lifestyle they live in and take for granted.  I have noted simple efforts such as recycling that are being used full force in other cities, are barely being utilized at all in where I live and work in Dallas, TX.  I remember having to explain friends and coworkers there such things as driving or preparing for winter climates, or how when an animal is killed in the wilderness, they cannot easily be carried back and taken to a butcher shop. 


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg21/id/11466/rec/290

When protecting the wilderness, human beings may also need to take different approaches in their own lifestyles.  Cronon states, “It means looking at the part of nature we intend to turn toward our own ends and asking whether we can use it again and again and again—sustainably—without its being diminished in the process” (Cronan).  This a considerably large lifestyle change, especially for most populations in the lower 48.  Alaskans living in the wilderness may have some idea as for a sustainable lifestyle as they already live within nature and respect the countryside. 

“We need to honor the Other within and the Other next door as much as we do the exotic Other that lives far away—a lesson that applies as much to people as it does to (other) natural things. In particular, we need to discover a common middle ground in which all of these things, from the city to the wilderness, can somehow be encompassed in the word “home.” Home, after all, is the place where finally we make our living. It is the place for which we take responsibility, the place we try to sustain so we can pass on what is best in it (and in ourselves) to our children (Cronon).”


Denali National Park; Photo taken by self.

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” 1995.  http://www.williamcronon.net/writing/Trouble_with_Wilderness_Main.html.

Haines, John. “The Way We Live.” The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 208. Print.


Alaska’s food resource

Alaska is a large piece of land that yields many resources.  Alaska can give resources such as gold or oil for profit for those who search underground to find it.  Alaska also has the ability to yield enough resources for a sustainable lifestyle.  Its land can supply trees to build homes and fires, fresh water for drinking and washing, and also a large variety of fish, game and produce to feed those that choose to live in the wilderness.  Many areas of the United States have hunting, but Alaska could arguably have the most variety of hunting resources such as moose, deer, caribou, bear, Dall sheep, mountain goat, elk, bison, muskox, and other small game.  Eskimos living closing to the ocean also had the ability to hunt for larger game in the ocean including seal and whale.  Much of Alaskan literature involves the resources sought and used from the land including hunting the large game that inhabits the oceans and wilderness.

                    http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg2/id/9873/rec/1

An excerpt called Moon of the Returning Sun from Shadow of the Hunter by Richard K. Nelson describes an Eskimo’s journey to hunt seal across the frozen shores.   This story was interesting as it was placed during the winter when Alaska is in its coldest season and the sun barley appears over the horizon in most places.  I found this intriguing as most Alaskan stories I’ve read have been placed in the warmer seasons when human and wildlife activity is more frequent, but Moon of the Returning Sun reminds us that some hunting must still be done in the colder months in order to survive (Nelson, 394).  The story tells of Sakaik, a hunter who traveled on the landfast ice and pack ice on the ocean to find the breathing holes of seals (Nelson, 395).  Once a breathing hole has been found that has not iced over from neglect, it’s a waiting game for the seal that can take hours (Nelson, 404).  Sakiak’s catch of the seal showed the benefit of his knowledge of hunting and patience.


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg2/id/1754/rec/15

Other tales of hunting also show the means of survival for the meat of the big game animals, but also of the sport and thrill of killing these large animals.  In the excerpt Moose: Season of the Painted Leaves from Shadows on the Tundra by Tom Walker, tells of Walker’s time as a guide hunting for moose.  The excerpt shows Walker’s ability to easily live in the Alaskan wilderness and also his appreciation for what he hunts and his love of nature.  In Dall from Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston, the hunt for Dall sheep can be rewarding for the meat and the trophy of the full-curled horns, but also can be exhausting work (Houston, 438).  Unlike in the previous stories when hunters did have to travel long distances but could be concealed by forest or ice, Houston and her fellow hunters spent long hours tracking Dall sheep and belly crawling across the wet, open tundra as so not to be seen by the Dall sheep (Houston, 440). 


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg13/id/9119/rec/2


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/24024/rec/14

While Alaska has many resources, it does not give them up easily.  The stories of the hunters can show that it can take patience, diligence, strength, and knowledge to use Alaska’s resources to one’s advantage and survival.  The big game in Alaska may be seen as a trophy for some, but those large animals also require respect as most can be quite dangerous, but also deliver a large amount of food for survival. 


Nelson, Richard K.. “Moon of the Returning Sun.” From “Shadow of the Hunter.” The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 394. Print.

Walker, Tom. “Moose: Season of the Painted Leaves.” From “Shadows on the Tundra.” The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 415. Print.

Houston, Pam. “Dall.” From “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 435. Print.


Lost

Alaska’s landscape can always bring about different thoughts and reactions to people to experience it.  The season, weather, and type of landscape can shape the ways people perceive Alaska, and also how Alaska actually shapes the person.  A visitor of Alaska may see its beauty in the summer, and the lush green scenery and abundant wildlife may shape an experience they will never forget.  Or, a new homesteader may experience their first winter, and being shaped into a stronger, more resilient Alaskan who knows what to do in sub-zero temperatures and long blizzards.  How a person individually describes Alaska may give some insight as to how the Great Land has shaped their perspective on the landscape.  An excerpt called Lost from John Haines’s memoir The Stars, The Snow, The Fire gives some insight as to how he has been shaped as an Alaskan.  This excerpt shows the darker side of Alaska that Haines has also reflected in some of his poetry. 

Alaska is a big piece of land, to say the least.  Much of it is not inhabited, and Lost focuses on those who seem to have been swallowed by the landscape, never to be found.  Sometimes bodies are found, though time can lag for years before this occurs.  A man disappeared from a trapline and was never found (Haines 277).  But, two or three years later some leg bones and fabric were found though these were unidentifiable, so it could have been the man who disappeared from the trapline or not (Haines 277-278).  Haines reflects on the idea of being lost, and while he has never been lost before he describes that moment that some of us get by becoming confused  and second guessing one’s route (Haines 278).  He considers how many possibilities there are to travel through the woods, and which one to take (Haines 278).  Being lost is a possibility that every outdoorsman needs to consider, and also the possibility of becoming lost and then disappearing. 

http://alaska.org/bigalaska/howbigalaska.htm

Alaska can be an unforgiving land, and Haines brings to light this unsettling thought.  He describes how when trapping he was “…suddenly aware of something that did not care if I lived” (Haines 279).  He compared the anxious feeling of hearing the ice crack while traveling on a frozen river, and “how swiftly the solid bottom of one’s life can go” (Haines 279).  He considers how easy it could be to disappear into the Alaskan landscape, whether becoming a part of the river, buried under silt, or lost in the wilderness, miles from home (Haines, 279).  To disappear can mean to be lost, because until one reappears, there can’t be any resolve or understanding of how one can suddenly become lost to the world and just another part of the landscape. 

http://www.usarak.army.mil/alaskapost/Archives2008/080912/Sep12Story19.asp

Haines, John. “Lost.” From “The Stars, The Snow, The Fire.” The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 277. Print.


John Haines Poetry

John Haines (1924-2011) has been known to be one of Alaska’s most prominent writers, having created multiple collections of poetry about Alaska’s wilderness and lifestyle.  After reading some of his poetry, I noted his attention to detail and dark descriptions of his writings.  Biographies and articles noted his frustrations with politics and the conflicts of the growing world, and also the joys of a simpler Alaskan life (Caldwell).  Two of his poems that caught my attention most were The Way We Live and Ice Child.


http://www.newsminer.com/view/full_story/12161168/article-Friends-recall-the-many-sides-of-John-Haines—former-Alaska-poet-laureate?

The Way We Live touches on Haines’s view of the outside world and humankind, calling it a “…overfed beast/set loose from its cage” (Haines 208).  This explanation of humanity would explain why Haines then proceeds to say how a man would crave a more simple life, one that takes away materialistic objects and only warrants the necessities of living.  Many of the literature of Alaska encompasses the Alaskan lifestyle of setting out on one’s own and living off the land.  An excerpt “The Birth of a Cabin” from the novel One Man’s Wilderness by Richard Proenneke and Sam Keith, describes Proenneke’s process of building his log cabin and living in the wilderness, which he still continues today (Proenneke 220).  He maintains a simple lifestyle far from more modern means of civilization and communication, which does give off some attraction with its seemingly drama free lifestyle that we in towns and cities encounter everyday and the duty of only having to live and take care of oneself. 


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/9407/rec/109


Ice Child uses more of a somber tone and created a picture to me that told a story of Haines viewing the image of a child and wondering about the life that he or she may have led, and also the sad construction that the child is now just another body in the ground (Haines, Poetry Foundation).  This is the story that I interpreted from the Ice Child, and I also wanted to find images that could be similar to what I think Haines may have viewed.  When looking at them I did begin to wonder what their lives were like, and how they may have grown up in the Alaskan wilderness.   I could never compare my childhood to theirs, but would want to experience someday what a normal life may have been like to them.


http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg2/id/6518/rec/35

Caldwell, Suzanna. “Friends recall the many sides of John Haines, former Alaska poet laureate.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.  03 March. 2011.  http://www.newsminer.com/view/full_story/12161168/article-Friends-recall-the-many-sides-of-John-Haines—former-Alaska-poet-laureate?.

Haines, John.   “Ice Child.”  Poetry Foundation. University of Washington Press. 1999. < http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177380#poem>.

Haines, John. “The Way We Live.” The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 208. Print.

Proenneke, Richard and Keith, Sam.  “The Birth of a Cabin” from “One Man’s Wilderness.”  The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present. Ed. Mergler, Wayne. Portland: Alaska Northwest Books, 1996. 220. Print


Landscapes

When thinking about landscape, there might be questions of how each person relates to it.  It’s a natural resource as we pull what we need to live from it including resources for building homes, wells for water, and using the animals from the region for food.  The landscape can also be a resource as to describing who we are and where we came from.  I’ve lived in Alaska, California, Wisconsin, and Texas.  I know the moment of knowing when I am truly home when I get that swell in my chest and a rush of adrenaline when I first see that familiar landscape of towering mountains, clear rivers, and lush forests made up of primarily coniferous trees.  It happens every time I get to come back to the west coast and Alaska.  The view of the landscape initiates my first reaction of being home.  Had I been raised perhaps in the Midwest or southern states, I’m sure I would have a different reaction.  Perhaps I would have preferred more open landscapes and rolling hills.  But, all I see in the Midwest is flat, flat, flat!  Oh yes, and cornfields.  Alaska has shown to be a resource for oil, hunting, fishing, and traveling by boat, airplane, sled dogs, or snow shoe!  What pulls so many travelers and settlers to it though would probably initially be the landscape.  Ask anyone who has lived there or traveled there, and the beauty of the landscape will most likely be one of the first things they describe. 

In the early 1900’s, traveling to Alaska wasn’t an easy task.  Margaret E. Murie’s memoir Two in the Far North describes her journey to Fairbanks, Alaska as a child in which she and her family traveled by steam boats on the Yukon river and the Tanana river in order to reach Fairbanks.  The descriptions of the Yukon and Tanana brought back my own memories of the rivers.  Murie describes the Yukon as a large, wide river that stretches across the state of Alaska, and the Tanana as swift, carrying masses of silt with long sandbars that could hinder the steamers from reaching their destinations if not navigated properly.  The description of the Tanana brought back my own memories of going on riverboat tours with my grandpa on the Tanana and Chena rivers in Fairbanks.  Just as described by Murie, the riverboats navigated down shallow waters and traveled through sandy riverbeds.  Today, the riverboats are a resource for tourism, and to teach and remind those of the history of Fairbanks and the use of the steamboat. 

While Margaret Murie described Alaska’s rivers as a means of travel, other authors have described the landscape of Alaska by the thoughts and feelings that are invoked in them when viewing the scenery.  The autobiography My Way Was North by Frank Dufresne describes a moment in how he was taken at the sight of the Alaskan landscape.  The reader can gather how much he was in awe by the portrayal of the immense landscape stretching for miles, creeks and riverbeds winding and bending through the land, the abundance and colors of the plants and wildflowers, and the array of wildlife living within the landscape.  Dufresne’s feelings of seeing the Alaskan landscape are similar to what I have felt when coming back to Alaska and seeing the landscape again.  It’s the feeling of belonging and being home.