What Has Happened to Where I Live?



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.

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4 thoughts on “What Has Happened to Where I Live?

  1. Hi Rene- Some of the things you discussed have been eating at me for awhile now. I’m old fashioned enought to believe that when you leave God out of the picture, as the US seems to be doing more and more, then He honors that request. It’s the old law of sewing and reaping. You can’t plant pineapples and expect to reap strawberries. A certain amount of the lower 48 I don’t object to. I like that we have paved roads. Increasingly though Hoonah is becoming a vacation home type place. I’m afraid that one day the attitude will change to that of the east coast where the yacht owners don’t want to have to see those nasty commercial boats so they’ve passed laws to displace them from the very places that they established years ago. As much as I don’t want to, I guess I’m going to have to start attending the public meetings and make my voice heard. Otherwise Carnival, Princess and a few of the other big tourist companies will control the whole town and I won’t be allowed to make a living anymore.

    • You’re on the right path, Tom. Alaskans used to be very vocal in their protest against these types of things, but since pipeline days and the resultant largesse, we’ve become lax where vigilance used to be the order of the day. Alaska used to be a destination, the place where one could begin anew, build a fresh life, a different existence. We sold out. We got fat on the Permanent Fund Dividend, started spending more time in our Lazyboy recliners and less time forging ahead. What snuck up on us here in Alaska was what had already overtaken the rest of the U.S., and now we’re almost no better off than they were back in the day. Certainly we want to prevent being swept up on the train to destruction, the final stop America is headed if she doesn’t pay more than attention to the direction she’s taken. But soap box aside, places like Hoonah don’t have to take that track. There are still trails and byways, lost lakes and hidden valleys. It truly does take people like you, Jan, me and others to protest and take a stand against the commerce that would take over where real life is going on. Tourism is a bane on this state; I hate it. It took a while for it to reveal how destructive it is to a beautiful place like Alaska, but some of us could see what was coming. It’s here because – and I’ll say this with great conviction – we’ve turned personal responsibility over to the government, to the schools, the corporations. We continue to pass laws through fanatacism, laziness, and failure to pay mind to what goes on around us. I hope we don’t get what we deserve. I hope our consciences are pricked by the many offenses around us, and we finally, once again, begin to take charge of what Alaska, and America, should be.

Thanks for reading; feedback welcome.

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