There’s no shortage of “only in Alaska.” But besides the most obvious national headlines, such as the midnight sun and electrifying northern lights, Justin and I have been capturing photos of things we’ve only seen or experienced in the last great frontier. I’m sure as our years here accumulate, we’ll have much more to report.
But let’s start with sled dogs! Even though I am not really a dog person, how could you not fall in love with those piercing white & blue eyes and fat tongues hanging out of the crease of their mouth? And even though we never got to go dog sledding this winter as we had hoped, we see sled dogs quite often—either yielding to them on trails or just seeing them in people’s yards.
Besides seeing sled dogs around the neighborhood, the next observation is that Alaskas DO NOT throw anything away. Mainly because, where’s it gonna go? Most homes have their very own “junkyard,” including piled up cars (employees often abandon cars at the end of the summer season in Healy!). Maybe someday these items will be hauled away … but probably not. Second of all, you just never know when you’ll need that extra refrigerator. Things are used and reused and repurposed until the very end. Alaska is the final resting place for so many things, which does not do well for my husband’s tendency to collect and hoard. Houses have additions through the years with all sorts of materials and lovingly titled “More-On.” Pronounced just like “moron,” there’s just always plans to add “more on” and the project is never quite done.
Bars in Alaska—or really any small town—are quirky (quaint?), to say the least. I actually think Healy’s Totem Inn (the local bar) is fairly normal, but we’ve been in a few other Alaska bars that have a lot of flavor … You’ve heard of the uneven male-to-female ratio in Alaska, but if I were single, I think the last place I’d look for my mate would be a bar.
The Alaska Railroad, whose main line runs 470 miles through the state and operates year round (although is currently closed due to the virus), has a number of “whistle stops.” According to some dictionarys, a “whistle stop” means “a small unimportant town on a railroad.” Healy is a “whistle stop.” This could seem offensive, but it just means the railroad operator brakes only when there’s someone to pick up or drop off rather than using scheduled stops. Healy actually used to have a station and be more of a railroad hub in the 1960/70s before the Parks Highway provided road access to the town. I don’t know why I am so enamored by “whistle stops,” but I just can’t imagine waiting in a snowstorm for the train to come by. We thought about taking a winter railroad ride before the virus struck, but that will be saved for a different time. Better wear bright clothing to stand out against the snow and get picked up!
Without any national sports teams (dog sledding is Alaska’s state sport), there are all sorts of fun events throughout the year, like the World Ice Art Championships we attended in March. One of our faves so far has been the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, an annual summer event whose competitions mimic ancestral hunting and survival techniques. For example, the blanket toss is a spring celebration after a successful whale harvest for the Inuit, with the blanket usually made of old whaling skin. Kind of like a trampoline, but human-powered by 40-50 volunteers. At the Olympics, judges are looking at highest height and best style in the air to pick a winner. On the other hand, the greased pole walk tests balance, like what’s needed for crossing frozen lakes and rock-hopping across rivers. Whoever walks the farthest down the greased log without falling off is the winner. Look up the site to see some of the other fascinating events!
So, that’s it for now. Like I said, I am certain we can have a Part 2 of this post at some point.