My friend once toured Alaska in a small plane. When my daughter moved to Anchorage in 2015, this friend told her, “You’re going to the only place that isn’t beautiful!”
Nothing in Alaska is ugly, of course. Anchorage looks conceivable, which in turn seems pedestrian compared to the impossible beauty of the rest of the state. The city is situated in a basin surrounded by mountains and the sea. It’s shockingly new, because it was all leveled by the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. But it’s graceful.
What Alaska is, is different. I chatted with a very peaceable man last night, a pastor in a Nazarene Church outside of Anchorage. “I’d like to see when the Lower 48 comes up here to enforce gun control,” he laughed. Guns are woven into Alaska culture, and the people are scattered across an enormous body of land.
Fly from city to city in the United States and you’ll think that we’re a pretty homogenized group of people, we Americans. But get past the Big Box stores, and you’ll realize how diverse we still are. I live in a maritime village on the East Coast that is popular with tourists. Seward, AK, is about the same size and occupies a similar economic niche. The two towns are vastly different in character.
Our perceptions from mass media are almost always wrong. Wasilla, AK, got intense media scrutiny in 2008. I’d read about it, and seen pictures of it. But I was greatly surprised by its real presence. It’s an American suburb that looks like it could be attached to Dallas or Boston as easily as Anchorage. Yet the Wasilla hockey team raises money by having a gun show at the high school.
My pastor friend and his adult son had been out hunting caribou last weekend. No, they didn’t get anything, but “even if I don’t get a caribou, I had such a good season fishing it doesn’t matter,” the younger man told me. He’d gotten 24 salmon and two halibut. What they catch or shoot, they plan to eat.
If this shocks you, I’ll just note that it’s about a trillion times more humane than factory-raised chicken, and it’s far better for your health.
There are signs in bear country that read something to the effect that, if you are going to shoot, you’ve probably already lost. Although a grizzly bear can weigh 600 lbs., it can also cross a clearing in seconds. I don’t have the presence of mind to test my skill against that. Heck, I don’t have the skill to test against that.