Let’s just tell it like it is: if it weren’t for our mothers, most of us wouldn’t have the first clue how to do this Alaskan thing. Heck, they deserve some kind of medal for managing to keep us all fed, dressed in the right garb for the right season and most importantly, defrosted. While not a comprehensive list, here are eight telltale signs you were raised by an Alaskan mom.
1. Getting drafted to help with the family garden after dinner was a normal summertime thing.
While not everywhere in the state is equally conducive to gardening, for those of us raised in places that are, summers were chock full of evenings hijacked by mom. With it practically being broad daylight until well after midnight, it’s easy to understand why and how after-dinner romps in the woods with neighborhood friends were the golden standard of summer.
Every few nights mom ambushed you — just at the tail end of dinner — with her infamous, “We’re going to weed the garden tonight.” This unhappy announcement meant that instead of hunting down imaginary pirates and unearthing invisible treasure chests, you’d be battling chickweed, lettuce-eating slugs, and the great Alaskan dread: hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes.
Any sort of protest or expressed aversion to gardening on your part fell on deaf parental ears. You learned early in the game that as soon as those words came out from mom’s mouth, your glorious Alaskan midnight sun evening was done for. The only option was to trudge to the garden, giant-sized can of mosquito spray in hand and wage an unwinnable war against the onslaught of wilderness encroaching upon mother’s prized garden.
2. You got schooled in the art of foraging at a young age.
And rightly so, as Alaska is a foragers heaven. There are nearly fifty different species of wild berries and this is by far the most common form of foraging. With such easy access, it’s also the one with some of our most vivid hunter-gatherer-growing-up-in-Alaska-activities-with-mom memories. However, there are also copious wild edible plants (ie. fern, yarrow, nettles, chickweed, dandelion, fireweed, devil’s club) and the “not for novices” mushrooms (ie. chanterelles, puffballs, morels). And even further off the forest floor, an ample selection of seaweeds (ie. sea lettuce, black seaweed, ribbon seaweed) from coastal areas.
Whether used to make dessert, to dry and preserve, turn into homemade medicines or bath products, Alaskan moms are in tune with nature and are acutely aware of the importance of teaching their children life skills that extend far beyond the walls of mainstream education.
3. You knew “Get dressed and get outside now!” meant business.
Alaskan moms are women of few words. While official research is still out on the matter, it’s not unreasonable to theorize that people who live in colder climates seriously economize on their words. Why wouldn’t they? It’s freaking cold. Who wants to articulate a paragraph when a single sentence of ten words or less will convey sufficient meaning?
As a child, you knew that when mom said, “Get dressed and get outside now!”, what she fully meant was: if you didn’t comply immediately by going to find your snowsuit, hat, gloves, boots, and every other piece of cold weather gear you needed to spend at least an hour playing outside (aka not becoming a human popsicle) in the frigid Alaskan winter, there would be trouble. As in, possible banishment to your room for the better part of an afternoon, grounding, and on the extreme end, no sleepovers with friends for at least a month.
Why? Because being cooped up inside for months on end with siblings to argue and bicker with is not Alaska mom’s idea of time well spent. And because there’s only so much screeching, shouting, and threats of tattling a person can listen to before they reach the edge of sanity — no matter how nice and kind a person they are on a normal day.
4. “Stop playing in the fire” or “Leave the fire alone” were nearly as common “Go clean your room” or “It’s time to get ready for bed.”
Fire is as much a part of the Alaskan life as hiking, fishing, and camping. Whether our year-round barbecues, backyard fire pits, campfires, indoor fireplaces/wood burning stoves, or annual springtime brush burning activities, we’re a state full of pyromaniacs. Alaskan moms are constantly reciting the dangers of the flames to their children. Yet, like the proverbial moth/flame scenario, we’re inexplicably drawn to the open flame and subsequently develop chronic cases of selective hearing.
Truth be known, Alaskan moms are no strangers to fire starting and don’t actually mind including their children in the process. They just aren’t fond of when dad abdicates his fire starter application duties and passes them on to the offspring — turning the children (that she works so hard a keeping alive) into miniature pyrotechnicians.
The fortunate and perhaps intended byproduct of this perpetual back and forth with Alaskan moms and their children over fire safety standards is that: we develop a healthy confidence in both fire construction and the finer, albeit more elementary life skill of “how not to die” while so doing.
5. She taught you to spot wildlife.
Of all the things we learn from our Alaskan moms, this is perhaps the most important thing that turned us from children into full-fledged Alaskans.
While dad is excellent at wildlife spotting and also well equipped to teach this critical Alaskan skill, it’s mom the kids generally spend the most time with. And it’s the Alaskan mom who is ready to shift into “mama bear” mode in an instant when a potential threat to her young appears. Hyper tuned in to her surroundings, nine times out of ten, mom is the first one pointing and announcing the arrival of the Alaskan animal of the hour.
This most often manifests itself in early summer evening hours when she’s outside gardening and the kids are happily playing in the yard. Practically every Alaskan kid has a story of mom speeding around the corner of the house like her pants were on fire and urgently whispering “There’s a moose. Guys, there’s a moose.” And then, lining everyone up Seal Team 6 style against the side of the house only to have each of you take turns peeking around the corner at the mama moose with her baby. Both of whom happen to be a few feet away and quite happily munching on something she “just planted” in her garden.
6. She was your food processing line manager and educated you on the importance of preservation for the long haul.
It’s no secret the Alaska life requires at least some advance preparation and survival skills training to navigate successfully. Considering the Alaska mom is up against more challenges than most regarding keeping her little humans alive, she’s known for pulling out all the stops in her arsenal. Among them include educating the children on the proper formation of a food processing production line.
This happens most frequently after a particularly prosperous blueberry picking excursion, a bountiful harvest of homegrown strawberries and rhubarb, upon return from a fishing trip, or when dad comes home from his latest hunting expedition.
She taught you how to use the vacuum sealer. She educated you on the finer points of employing a food dehydrator. She taught you how to make and can jam using a recipe she inherited from her mom or grandma. And if your family was particularly deep into food preservation Alaska-style, she taught you everything you need to know about how to smoke and then store (according to the family recipe) the granddaddy of all Alaskan long haul preserves — salmon.
7. She is the reason you only wear wool socks.
Slightly intertwined with the days you got kicked out of the house as a kid and banished to the backyard to play in the dead of winter, Alaska mom is obsessed with proper footwear.
As a kid, you used to moan and lament over how scratchy they were. As an adult, you came to see the light in that — not only are wool socks far warmer than most synthetic offerings out there, they are way more economical as they last longer and come from a sustainable and renewable resource. Not only that but, you’ve come to realize that her knitting hobby wasn’t as useless an endeavor as you initially presumed. Especially these days when “handmade” is all the rage.
For those of us who haven’t inherited the knitting gene, we find ourselves sneering at and immediately discounting the idea of purchasing any sock (for any season or reason) that does not have at least 20% wool listed on the contents label. Listening carefully enough, we even hear our mother’s voice in our heads while shopping, “They’re no good. They aren’t made of wool. Better to keep looking.”
8. You’re too familiar with, “I’m gonna leave you in a snowbank somewhere…”
In Alaska, we’re raised on the concept that getting from point A to point B should take a good long while, and we’re accustomed to measuring travel times in terms of hours and days rather than miles or minutes. That said, Alaskan moms are troopers. As an adult, imagining a full day out, several hours in the car with a full load of any kids and a month’s worth of shopping…most of us think, “can we just not and say we did?”
When mom came out with the snow bank threat and depending on her tone of voice when she said it — you got jolted into a different reality. Sometimes it was light-hearted, full of humor and the perfect response to over the top goofiness. Others… well, you know now that you were extremely lucky she didn’t actually dump you off for the polar bears to eat. Which is a thing in and of itself — as a kid, you had no idea the polar bears only lived in certain places and fell for that hollow threat hook, line, and sinker.