Growing up in Alaska during the latchkey generation was never short of amusement. It was a time before the internet had our parents convinced there was something nefarious lurking behind every bush. Also, it was before cell phones were common which meant there was virtually no evidence of our shenanigans. We ran barefoot through the woods and we were just as wild as the world in which we lived. Some experiences have seemed to strike a certain chord of similarity for most Alaskan born and raised.
Here are a few essential experiences we had growing up in Alaska.
1. A friendly neighborhood moose
Every Alaskan neighborhood seemed to have its own resident moose. The men would swear at them for eating the tree bark. The women would fawn over them from the windows. The kids would neurotically check over their shoulder en route to the bus stop, praying they wouldn’t end up like the neighbor’s dog that got trampled. But none of us could resist family holidays when grandparents allowed leaning out the door to feed them broccoli.
2. And hardcore anatomy lessons
Hunting and fishing quickly turned into a backwoods science lab with Professor Mom and Doctor Dad. We learned about the nervous system when the fish we thought was dead started flopping in the cooler and the circulatory system when our brother dunked a still-beating fish heart into the river. We were just glad the moose heads were too big for him to chase us with.
3. Extreme sledding
On wintry weekends and holiday breaks siblings and cousins would flock to hills for some gluttonous extreme sledding. While parents weren’t looking we’d pretend our sleds were snowboards and see how long we could survive standing while the others upped the ante by piling snow into makeshift jumps. Residential hills had one child at the bottom making snow angels instead of watching for cars since the contest was “Who Can Make it to the Woods” (inevitably on the other side of the road). Usually, everyone just went home with windburn. Although, if they were sledding at Service High School there was a much higher chance of broken limbs.
4. Stealing from the smokehouse
Going out to the Conex by the river that our family deemed “The Cabin” always meant adventure. It also meant a smokehouse full of salmon. The smell of that smoky sweetness made us beg to raid the trays. The inevitable answer of “It’s not ready” didn’t deter our attempts. We would be found hiding in some bushes licking our fingers and discussing “yummy sushi.”
5. Berry picking
Berries always taste best straight from the bush. People know that and the bears do, too. It was understandable to be scared when bear scat was found near your favorite picking site. It was also understandable when your friends nearly peed themselves because you freaked out thinking the neighbor dog in the said bush was the bear.
6. Snow diving
Deep in the woods, the Society of Neighborhood Kids would gather by a climbing tree where prying parental eyes couldn’t see. White powder was piled below a branch and the group would divide into those who were crazy enough to jump and those who sat back waiting to say “I-told-you-so.”
7. Pet fish
Catching a first fish is a common rite of passage. As is having your first pet. For some of us, they were one in the same. The dead dolly varden named Dolly Parton lived in the bottom drawer of the fridge until she got too smelly. When Mom said the fish went back to her family, I was pretty sure they didn’t live in the trash outside.
8. Combat fishing
As Willow Creek became a combat zone for fishing families, children salivated over the possibility of reeling in their own salmon for the freezer. Hours of dedication led to looks of horror when they realized the lure their parents had set for them was sans hook. Moms may have been justified after the incidents resulting in stitches but, in that moment, they were betrayers.
9. Exploring ruins
Exploring the woods wasn’t just a recreational activity; it was a way of life. Pairs of children would dodge Devil’s Club and fallen trees to explore condemned cabin, deep in the woods. Their hopes would be high for abandoned artifacts or possibly a clubhouse.