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Monday, September 16, 2013

To the 49th State to establish CLA in her new home. I have mixed feelings about travel, perhaps because I have done a fair bit of it. I sometimes think that my whole life has been spent searching for a city that feels like home, or at least feels like a place where I'd happily live. I knew as soon as I got off the plane in Alaska that Anchorage was not that place, but Caroline seems to have taken to it like an otter sliding into a stream.

Downtown
Arctic Valley
When I told people we were going the usual response was to comment on how beautiful it would be, and, to be sure, as we rounded every corner A would exclaim over the vista. Anchorage is situated in a natural harbor, ringed on three sides with mountains that look like a diorama. It is a raw city, literally hacked out of nature, and still wild enough that a neighbor reported being chased by a moose when walking her dog in the park across the street during our stay. Yeah, there are bears too. The point of Anchorage is not the city: the city is there to provide a jumping off point for the Alaska that people move to Alaska for. The city proper is just about the ugliest city I've ever seen, but ten minutes from CLA's front door are mountains that mean it. Three weeks ago we hiked an Adirondack high peak; our first day hike of the trip was a near equivalent. 
Exit Glacier
This is, I think, the point of the place. The people who live in Alaska don't seem to define themselves by what they do for a living-- lots of them seem to work two or three jobs, or work seasonal gigs. They are chiefly Alaskans, and do Alaska things. They hike. They hunt-- Dall Sheep, to my way of thinking pretty exotic big game-- are coming into season. They fish. They berry pick. They spend as much of their lives outside as they possibly can. We went to breakfast our first morning at the Snow City Cafe downtown and found ourselves in the midst of a crowd of people in spandex and fleece, everyone looking like they commute in kayaks. Maybe they do. It seems unusual to find someone who is actually from Alaska-- and even more so to meet someone whose parents were born there, but that may be just Anchorage. Less rare were the sporty couples with toddlers wearing "Made in Alaska" hoodies. It seems to be a place that people go to because they are drawn to a particular lifestyle. When she was asked by locals why she was moving to Alaska CLA would reply, "For adventure," and it seemed to be the right answer. That's why they were there too.

Abandoned truck on state hiking trail
  They are there for something else, too. They are there to be left alone. Or maybe, they are there to do what they want to do. Nowadays we call it "libertarian", once it was called having an independent streak. The longer a person has lived out west (and Alaska is so far west that it is, in addition to being the westernmost state, also the state that is the farthest east) the more convinced they seem to be that rules and regulations are pretty much all unreasonable, and that they all, each and every one of them, know best and should be trusted to behave reasonably and responsibly. You see this in the tension between the proponents of the various extraction industries that are the foundation of the state's economy and the fisheries which likewise sustain the place, or in more mundane ways. Anchorage- and Alaska in general, has a big alcohol abuse problem.* One of the ways that the Greater Anchorage Area Borough addresses this is to put a red stripe on the drivers license of anyone convicted of DWI. Venders are barred from selling to persons whose license carries the red mark. I was curious about this, and asked an affable bartender how it worked in application and was treated to a five minute rant about how the law was an unreasonable intrusion on his discretion which made him an agent of the government against his will. It was an odd turn to an otherwise pleasant conversation which had mostly been about skiing and the outdoors, but the place is full of contradictions like that. 

*The supermarket keeps the Listerine and the vanilla extract under lock and key.  


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