Photo: Amanda Wayne/Shutterstock

10 Things Only People Who Have Visited Alaska Will Understand

by Lindsey Parkinson Jul 8, 2016

1. The sheer joy of a ripe berry patch.

The list of things that don’t grow well here is quite large but berries are not one of them — lingonberry, cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, cloudberry, and crowberry. I love them all. There’s nothing like exploring the great outdoors and stumbling upon a large patch of berries ready to enjoy.

2. The clouds.

I don’t know what it is about living in Fairbanks but man do I love cloud watching around here. Watching the thunder storms roll in during the summer and getting visual representations of cold-stratified air during the winter. With little to no wind and not much sunlight, cold air settles in the valleys around interior Alaska. Steam rising from power plants or low fog will hit a temperature barrier while rising and just start flowing sideways.

3. How easy it is to lose track of time.

In the summer, the sun is nearly always above the horizon while during the winter it’s often below. Except for what feels like quite brief periods in the spring or fall it’s good to have a watch to tell you when it’s time to sleep. Is it 4pm or 10pm? Who knows!

4. On that note: The sun is not as reliable for navigation.

If you’re familiar with the sun patterns and the seasons here, you won’t have any problems, but for those of us who grew up where the sun rises in the east and sets in the west — every day — then things get a little tricky.

5. The size.

Alaska is huge, almost three times the size of Texas yet we have less than 1 million people in the whole state. A few larger towns and cities are linked together via our limited road system but many more are strewn across the landscape only accessible by plane or boat.

6. But distance is relative.

Because, as mentioned above, cities and towns tend to be small and far apart a 15-minute daily commute is long while a six-hour drive from Fairbanks to Anchorage for the weekend is no big deal.

7. There is a freakish amount of meat on a moose.

Weighing up to 1200 pounds it can take a small team of people several days to harvest all the meat off a moose. Not to mention getting it to a place where it can be properly done in the first place — hauling moose carcass onto a boat, ATV, or truck is not always an easy endeavor. I personally just like to sign up for the Alaska State Troopers roadkill list. If a game animal is killed the next person on their volunteer list is called, on down the list until someone makes the commitment to go out. That can take a while as the free meat reward may mean driving 50 miles down the highway at 2am when it’s -30 degrees.

8. The need to know every shower in your part of town.

This isn’t entirely applicable to short-term visitors but anyone staying longer than a few weeks may be familiar with our dry-cabin lifestyle in interior Alaska. Piping water to distant houses through soil regularly freezing and thawing is prohibitively expensive. Instead, many people including my husband and me fill up jugs every week or two, set them on a shelf above the sink and use those jugs for drinking and cooking. Anything beyond that, like laundry, and showers takes place at work, on campus, a friend’s house in town with running water, some person’s house you’re taking care of over the weekend, the laundromat with a shower in the back, that truck stop in Fox, or any other watering hole you’ve discovered. Plus, you’ll just get used to people looking a little greasier than the norm elsewhere.

9. The business opportunities.

Innovations, and people who want to stick around long enough to make them happen, take a while to reach Alaska, so many niches remain open. There is little to no commercial composting, far greater demand for local food and produce than current farmers can grow, lack of much ethnic food beyond Thai (at least in Fairbanks). If you can’t tell I’m a big food fan but we also need disruption in technology and transportation. Delta Junction, only an hour from Fairbanks, doesn’t have the bandwidth available to allow more people than already are online to connect to the internet.

10. Green up.

Our term for when “Spring has sprung”. Three days in a row of 50-degree temperatures, generally late April, tells birch trees the time has come. Within a week buds on their bare branches will swell until one day the leaves burst forth and trees leaf out in a frenzy attempting to gather every last drop of sunshine before the freezing fall temperature return in September. A birch forest will go from grey to brilliant green over the course of three days. You can actually see the changes every few hours — absolutely amazing after a long winter.

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