No native Alaskan are who they are today without some fundamental, and very Alaskan memories tucked in their back pocket. From your first pair of hip boots and polarized sunglasses, without doubt, these are seven memories you have growing up in Alaska.
1. Collecting copious amounts of things.
Be it rocks, fossils, driftwood, sticks for kindling, felled trees for firewood, berries, abandoned fishing gear such as hooks, sinkers, tangled nests of mono-filament line or occasional big-ticket items. If it could fit in a pocket or bucket you collected bits of Alaska everywhere you went.
2. Learning to use the firewood cutting tools.
You likely started off with a set of your very own kid-sized tools and moved up to the ‘real’ grown-up ones at an interval. First came saws — the bright orange handled bow saw and iconic carpenters saw. Followed by a small wood handled ax and wedge. The long-handled ax was next. After that, came the chainsaw and then the granddaddy of them all — the ‘dangerous’ homemade DIY wood splitter your dad built that sped up the process by ten zillion times.
3. Your first pair of hip boots.
Granted, these days, it’s more likely to be some form of high-tech neoprene bibbed chest waders but back in the day, it was rubber boots that went up to the tops of your thighs and attached to your belt with snap closure straps. The summer you were big enough for your first pair of hip boots (aka. the smallest adult size they sold in stores) was the bomb. You’d graduated from the fishing restrictions placed on childhood via standard rain boots and you were free. Free to go out into the ‘deep water’ of the river. And depending on location, you were even allowed to cross over to the other side at will sans parental chaperone.
4. Your first pair of polarized sunglasses.
This was, in some ways an even bigger deal than the hip boots. It meant you had officially entered the realm of “cool Alaskan” and got to function in the fishing sphere as part of the fully initiated Alaska Grown collective — at least where being down on the water was concerned. To this day, nothing beats trying on a pair of sunglasses and discovering by happy accident you can see ‘the fish’ in the little cardboard test-for-polarization-here display thingy.
5. Your first close encounter with an Alaskan bear.
Remember that time you were minding your business, fishing your heart out from the bank? You were trying your darndest to hook into that beautiful red just under your nose. Full of concentration and determination, you looked up and noticed a huge grizzly meandering straight towards you from upstream. Even today you’re still slightly traumatized by the whole encounter.
6. Clamming at low tide.
You ran around the beaches hunting for dimples and hollering, “I found one!”, loud enough to make an entire neighborhood believe you’d found a record-breaking gold nugget. You learned the delicate art of digging next to them and not on top of them. You dug like a crazy person as you raced to catch. And you showed everyone whether interested or not, how many clams were in your bucket. You even managed to convince your parents to let you keep one and take it home as a pet — which in its own weird way became an early lesson in Alaskan marine biology.
7. The glorious smell of campfire smoke.
Not something typically associated with the joyful memory of a place but, for Alaskans campfire smoke is the bee’s knees. The smell tells us summer is here. It tells us adventure is afoot. It tells us the long drive is over, we’ve set up camp and have — at long last — gotten to the part where we can sit back, relax, and enjoy the good stuff because tomorrow, it’s game on.