Reality vs. Urban Myth in Social Alaska

Anybody who knows me knows I have been single a looooong time. Anyone who knows me knows how tired I am of it, also! But sometimes when you want something too badly, it continues to elude your grasp until you sit down and let it come to you. And sometimes it doesn’t! There are no guarantees.

Therefore, I would like to dispel for all time the myth of the single woman (especially me) moving to Alaska to “find her man”! Anyone who has lived here for any time at all knows that that notion is:

1) Ludicrous and insulting (helloooo? Feminine liberation? Ever heard of it? Look it up in Wikipedia.com…)

2) Entirely unsuited to the facts easily at hand, if one just *looks* and pays attention

3) A product of popular and imaginative television writers

Analyzing my experience so far, Interior Alaska is about as hard and expensive to live in as anywhere I’ve lived so far. It’s expensive to move here. It takes more than average effort from day to day to continue to live here. The trees are little and spindly; there are no oaks and hemlocks or walnuts to make timber; the soil is poor for growing, and breeding livestock has been usually and eventually unprofitable, whether it’s cattle, caribou or milk cows. No fruit trees, except a few apple trees, and that by taking advantage of a microclimate in a few areas in Fairbanks. To grow tomatoes, one needs a greenhouse. I’ve read several books about how the Yukon Kuskokwim area north of here has the best, fattest salmon in the state, but the rivers and land barely provide the people who live there adequate sustainability. They know this because they’ve lived there since time immemorial. The land has always been that way. The ground water is contaminated in a lot of places with arsenic from the not-so-careful gold mining practices of last century. Despite this, with determination, people continue to make productive lives here – they find ways to grow tomatoes and potatoes at organic farms – they make a small craft industry of the salmon, which are sold to the fanciest Seattle restaurants – they build an amazing feat of will and technology like the pipeline, which allows a lot more people to get groceries and clothes and internet service, and even DVDs and bass guitars. There are three musical instrument stores in Fairbanks, and some chain stores, even; and I’m sure there are a lot of folks that would happy to see those chains leave.

Because it takes so much effort to transport everything in, from groceries to houses and cars, and it must be built to a high standard to withstand the temperature range of 120 degrees or more, and it takes extra effort to maintain it, a huge amount of time, money and effort is spent on transportation, building and construction, and maintenance. I’ve met more than one guy (and girl!) that had a master’s or undergraduate degree in geology or economics or English, but left that to work in construction, carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, marine transportation or truck driving. The pay is excellent and the work is hard, but you can be your own boss, for good or ill, and there’s more than enough work to go around. Most guys I’ve met are either busy making money or busy losing it. πŸ˜€ There’s always something else to spend your hard earned money on; snowmachines, dog food and vet bills, ski equipment, fuel oil, a new water softener (as a friend of mine did 2 weeks ago – $2200! Ouch!), better triple-paned windows for your house, hunting excursions, that nice little retreat cabin out Tok way. Interior Alaska is a place of extremes. Extreme cold in winter, extreme warmth and light in summer, extreme possibilities, but also extreme darkness and depression. This whole area just seems to soak that energy up and feed it back with more and more opportunity. If you have the energy, chutzpah and the brain power, you can make quite a living for yourself here, and have a life unlike 98% of the rest of Americans. That’s pretty dang spiffy!

Doesn’t leave much time for dating or a social life, though. Maybe it’s because there’s some local knowledge I haven’t figured out yet, but I don’t see any difference between the difficulty of meeting guys here and other places I’ve lived. The possibility of meeting a guy here has been asked of me by friends (mostly lower 48 friends) more than a couple of times, though. (Is that why you want to move / moved there?”) While I must admit I thought of it, I think of it a lot, regardless of where I live. πŸ˜€ Not necessarily just when I considered moving here. Funny, but no one asked me that when I moved to Walla Walla. I wonder why? Thus, I must conclude, this Alaskan urban myth is a media construction. Not the type of construction one thinks of first in Fairbanks, but oh well. Or, perhaps, I still have that stink of “Outsider” on me. How long does that take to wear off? Depends on who you’re talking to, I think. Anyway, in announcing this, am I announcing that the king has no clothes? Could be – a lot of income is made by authors, hotels, contractors, et. al. in propping up Alaskan myth.

BUT, while walking home from the library today, I saw the whole Alaska Range from the UAF campus, clear and sharp and beautiful in a blue sky, for the first time in months. Chickadees and other birds are cheeping in the trees for the first time in months, adding to the endless raven squawks, quorks, clicks and imitation-but-all-too-real child noises that are always present. And, maybe not as pretty, huge irregular ten foot tall piles of reverse image oreo ice and snow chunks dominate every spare area from the recent plowing. Some kids playing on one at one of the intersections yelled and waved at me while I walked by, and I waved back. Pretty amazing.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Reality vs. Urban Myth in Social Alaska

  1. Miss Method

    Re: how long it takes Outsider status to wear off:
    0-10 years–Newcomer. It’s a learning curve.
    11-24 years–Elder in training. Entitled to make remarks starting with “back when I first came to Alaska …”
    25 years plus–Community elder. Politicians and other lesser mortals are required to listen closely to anything you say (whether they want to or not). Entitled to make remarks like “Well, I’ve only been here X [exceptionally large number of years], but it seems to me that ….”

  2. πŸ˜€ Thanks, that’s helpful! …24 1/2 to go!

  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation πŸ™‚ Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Thermodynamical.

  4. Yah – after re-reading it, I’m not sure what I was trying to say, exactly, either. I think I started out with one theme idea, and it morphed into this stream of consciousness thing. I think I was trying to explain to family and friends in FL how *different* things are here that long time Alaskans just go “well…*yeah*” at, and then give you a look like you’re Obviousman. (The superhero of Wiley’s “Non-sequitur” strip.) Well, thanks, though, Thermodynamical!
    -jen

  5. bg

    Not sure I like the Community Elder designee my many years in Alaska qualify me for. Makes me feel old.
    Anyway, maybe you have heard the saying “the odds are good but the goods are odd” in relation to men in Alaska. That is really all one needs to say about the situation. πŸ™‚ Good luck!

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