1. You never say the words “Aurora Borealis.”
But you do mention the Northern Lights in two specific situations:
First, in response to the scientifically accurate yet orally laborious “Aurora Borealis” by retorting, “Oh, you mean the Northern Lights?” (Alaskan for, “Ain’t from here, are ya?”)
And second, when saying “I was out on Northern Lights,” which indicates that you visited (or drove by) the store that makes every outdoorsy, granola, sock-clad, Birkenstock-wearing Alaskan heart swoon: REI.
2. You have mixed feelings about “bunny boots.”
“Bunny boots” conjure up all sorts of warm fuzzy hops down Nostalgia Lane. You have a sort of love-hate relationship with those winter boots with the bulbous toes, white outer rubber, and funky side air valves.
Originally a military thing (they’re officially called “extreme cold vapor barrier boots”), you hijacked your first pair from your dad. You wore them to tromp around the house as a wee thing, and then later to begrudgingly trek from house to woodpile in -30°F weather once you got old enough to be sent outside for firewood.
3. Your family owns a lot of vehicles and their accompanying accessories.
At least seven of the following are counted among your assets (friends’ and neighbors’ belongings included): a trailer(s), a camper, a motorhome, a 3-wheeler, a 4-wheeler, a 5th wheel, a snow machine, a snowblower, a bobcat, a 2-door truck, a 4-door truck, an SUV, a minivan, a 4WD, a 2WD, a bus, an airplane, a boat, a dinghy, a canoe, a Zodiac, a kayak, a mountain bike, a bike rack, a ski rack, a boat rack, and a dog sled.
And that’s just the starter kit.
4. You know what Fur Rondy is.
And you look forward to it all winter. The annual winter festival has roots in the 1930s and was designed to help encourage Alaskans like yourself to soldier on until spring.
This is the time of year you don your fur garments (handmade by Alaska Natives or David Green Master Furrier) to attend the Miners & Trappers Ball at the Egan in downtown Anchorage. You visit snow sculptures and freeze your toes off watching fireworks atop the Penny’s parking garage. You observe the parade curbside in sub-zero temperatures as your fingers and nose become ice pops, and vow “never again,” even though you come back every year. You wonder if there’ll be enough snow for the Iditarod, and (if you can produce facial hair), you try for Mr. Fur Face.
5. Raccoon eyes are a status symbol.
Cabin fever (aka spring ski season) meant that you conned your folks into letting you skip school. Then you hit the slopes at Alyeska, Arctic Valley, Hatcher’s Pass, or headed to a cabin via snow machine.
Afterwards, you returned to your classroom with the ever-so-envied “raccoon eye” tan, signaling 1) that you played hooky and your parents knew, 2) you are awesome, and 3) the cast, brace, or stitches you earned doing some crazy stunt just exponentially upped your awesomeness. All hail the raccoon-eyed snow warrior!
6. The word “vacation” only means Hawaii or Mexico.
You love Alaska, but you also love your vacations “outside.” Especially because vacations mean you’re Hawaii- or Mexico-bound to get some sun. You thought raccoon eyes were a status symbol? Try coming back to school with a real tan.
7. You have at least one good bear story.
You love it when people from the “lower 48” come up. You chaperone them while camping, hiking, and fishing. You visit the Alaska Zoo, contemplate the bear enclosures, and nonchalantly say, “I remember that one time when I was three feet from this big ‘ole grizzly and suddenly…”
Then, at Fred Myers, you plunk a box or two of Wild Alaska Smoked Salmon, a sampler box of Alaska Wild Berry Products jam, and a copy each of Alaska Bear Tales and More Alaska Bear Tales into their shopping cart as departure gifts. Your guests leave on a long flight home, pondering Alaskan courage in the furry face of death.
8. There were lots of weapons in your home.
You need weapons like your vehicles need gasoline. Growing up, you learned about guns, knives, bear spray, and bows and arrows. You received one (or several) of these as a gift, and your parents taught you to use them out back. You didn’t always make the smartest decisions regarding the aim of these “tools” as a youngster, but you were raised with a healthy understanding of their purpose.
You grew up overhearing your parents’ bear stories, you watched news reports on bear attacks (but you cheered for Binky when he got that lady’s shoe), and you read a few bear-attack books. You’re down with having weapons in your home, and anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t Alaskan.
9. You can easily identify which river anglers are tourists and which are locals.
For the outdoor enthusiast, Alaska is hallowed ground. You get it. It’s pristine, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and you can’t help feeling smug about being Alaskan. Especially when it comes to tourists on the rivers you’ve been frequenting since before you were born. Oh yes! You were down there in your mom’s belly just hanging out while she relished her last opportunities to fish in peace without a little human lamenting every 36.2 seconds, “Mommy, help. I’m stuck / tangled.”
You know that bobbers on the line are ONLY for kids. You know that Alaskan salmon won’t typically bite the hook. You never use bait. You’ve perfected your own “hook ‘em in the mouth” technique, and added your own special brand of finesse over the years. You never consider doing anything with the scarlet salmon beyond catch and release. Salmon fishing without polarized sunglasses is only an option if you fell in earlier in the day and lost them. You make your own lures for keeping track of your hook in combat fishing zones. You catch your limit when there “aren’t any” fish in the river, and you wisely carry some kind of weapon (NOT a bell) in case you run into a bear or the bear runs into you.
10. You started fishing before you could talk.
You rode on your mom or dad’s back in a baby backpack from fishing hole to fishing hole, getting “ate up” by mosquitoes. Your parents bought you a kid-sized pole and taught you to cast when you started walking. They would cast your line, magically get a fish on, give you the pole, grab a camera, then “help” you reel in the first catches of your angling career.
Starting with minnows, lake trout, dolly varden, grayling, and of course, stock trout at the Great Alaska Sportsman Show kiddy pool, you worked your way up the fish chain to snagging “big old red” salmon before ultimately mastering the skills you possess today.
11. You’re a food snob.
Maybe not a foodie in the traditional sense, but you have standards. You know fish. And by fish, you specifically mean wild Alaskan sockeye, silver, king salmon, and halibut. Hearing that today’s catch of the day is “fresh pink salmon” or “farm raised” anything is an incorrigible insult to your tender Alaskan soul. The same goes for crab. Alaska King Crab — those three words begin and end all discussions about crab.
When comrades mention Saturday Market’s “salmon quesadillas,” you immediately salivate. Conversations about moose teeth inspire dreams of gourmet pizza. And come Alaska State Fair time, you know that visiting the Indian Valley Meats booth for a spicy Reindeer Polish Sausage Dog and the Pristine Products counter for fresh Prince William Sound Oysters are non-negotiables.