Protests, fringes, fanatics – and piercings? What’s happened to Alaska in the last few decades? This used to be a place folks moved to if they wanted to escape the mainstream of American life. We made REAL ice-cream, man! Not in a machine, but in a bowl in a tub of snow – spin, stir, spin, stir for more than an hour. No plug-in, fancy-schmancy ice-cream maker for us, tho Lehmann’s offered an acceptable step up with their hand-crank marvel.
Really, though; I am serious when I pose that question – what’s going on in Alaska? Protests against individual choice, whether it’s Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, fatty foods versus celery sticks, on the government dole vs working for the government (pretty much the same thing except one actually pads your bank account), and Park Rangers roughing up a backwoods local for minding his own business.
My friend crusades against unhealthy foods, and doesn’t hesitate to share her opinion on any number of topics she’s interested in. A lot of Alaskans – okay, okay, MOST Alaskans – have always enjoyed exhuberant freedom of speech in matters they wholeheartedly disagree on or support. But it’s changed. Now we have people who come here to escape the cookie-cutter, think-like-us mentality of the rest of the country, yet turn right around and condemn others for their choices. Nobody is faulting them for moving here, for escaping, but please – don’t bring that crap with you and start building walls here, where I live, in matters that are all about choice in the first place. It’s bad enough that Huffington Post has infiltrated the news, that Fox has plastered Alaska’s Villainess all over their channel, and that intolerance of many brands and flavors are accepted as off-hand commentary of little consequence. I’m opinionated, but I make the effort to form them from my original thought, after processing the weight of them, and I definitely do not ascribe to the mob mentality that seems to have become the norm on the internet.
Mining has been Alaska’s history, for Pete’s sake, since before statehood. It was the romance of Robert Service, and is now the stuff of ridicule on the Discovery Channel (or maybe it’s the Learning Channel?). Seems everyone has an opinion – they suck, they’re stupid, they’re jokes, they’re acting. I don’t particularly like the show, but I find it interesting that they’re sticking to it despite abject failures, breakdowns, roadblocks, threat of destitution, weather and absence from family – and continue to endeavor. I work in mining, know a fair bit about the process of it, and know a whole lot about the work of the thing. I respect the effort of these guys, corny as the show may be, and have gotten past the goatee, the drama, the hard-hat slapping comraderie of these men who knew next to nothing when they started. A century ago didn’t see a television crew filming a trek over the Chilkoot or riverboats making their way up shallow rivers, but the determination was there then, and these guys – for modern times such as these – have taken on the risk that will make or break them all. Why, then, are we so quick to disparage that effort? I’d like to think it’s not because it’s the coward’s cheer for the other guys’ failure.
Road rage. It happens in Alaska. People fight over it, get stabbed for their rudeness, die. Thievery is undisguised and in plain sight; if you leave your gifts at the mall wrapping table, you can come back and claim someone else’s bigger, better gifts as your own later – who’s to know? Does it matter what’s in the box, as long as it’s bigger and better than what you paid for? Score! And big corporations. They cheat, they really do! They think nothing of reducing their work force, the people who sweat and tire and keep coming back for more; reducing them to faceless payroll numbers to take advantage of, to replace when maintenance or salaries become too costly, for a cheaper version that will continue to turn the wheels of profit. I believe it’s because the people who make those decisions don’t have to face the people who are affected by them. If they did, it might become a similar kind of rage and someone might get the snot beat out of them or stabbed for their ruthless ways.
What has happened to small business? to barter and trade? Oh, speaking of that, a man heads to court for trading his frozen moose meat for split firewood – because you can’t trade in big game. What? Run that by me again? This is not a for-profit transaction – someone who was cold traded food with a hungry someone who had firewood. Another fellow sold a 30-year-old, moth-eaten sheep head mount at a garage sale, and is headed to court for – you guessed it – another big game violation. This? In Alaska? Are you serious? As a heart attack. We are policed in everything we do.
Time was we tolerated each other, the minor eccentricities, the desire to be left alone, the choice to live life as we pleased. We could live in town or in the bush, but we were all Alaskans and that meant something. We helped each other, we were understanding, caring, and giving. We allowed our neighbors to be different from us and they allowed us to be different from them. And here, now, we have people who accuse, point fingers, shout and call names for those qualities of uniqueness. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is any more than I care if your animals eat off your table. Your choice. I’m not living your life – I’m living MINE, and I’ll thank you very much for letting me be and not hampering my effort. Don’t tell me I’m not worth as much as the next person, or that my difference is not acceptable, or that my choices anger you. Turn around, go the other direction if you’re offended. Don’t stay.
Don’t come here and bring the same attitudes you left behind is a suggestion I hear a lot. I can only hope I’m a little more tolerant, a little more accepting of my neighbors’ life and choices. I hope I’m still Alaskan enough to live and let live, but it’s getting harder to escape the newcomers, those quick to judge and condemn. “Mainstream Alaska” is becoming very “Lower 48-ish.” I’m not liking it.
Escape is not too harsh a plan for what seems to be overtaking this place I once felt comfortable in moving between solitude and civilization. The gap is widening and the one is overtaking the other. It may be time to get while the getting is good, and the destination is still there.