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You Know You’re From Alaska When...

by Jennifer Gracey Aug 8, 2017


1. August rolls around and you start thinking about where you last saw your winter jacket.

Depending where in the state you are, Old Man Winter comes early and you’ll need to be prepared for them walk in the door “any day now.” In the far north, it’s not uncommon for first snows to hit by mid-August and when the blustery Arctic wind kicks up a fuss, things get real and cold pretty quick.

2. You talk about studs as though they were a type of apparel.

Practically speaking, they are— for a car as well as your feet. Between September and October, everyone in the state puts their vehicles through the bi-annual costume change and heads to their favorite shop for a change over and wheel balancing job. In winter and especially spring, we unashamedly attach a spiked galosh type contraption to our shoes. On icy days, we need to make it across parking lots without killing ourselves. How we survived winter before technology upped our cold weather game is a mystery. (Here’s to you ‘Year rounders, heated seats, and auto-start’!) By the way, does anyone still keep chains in the back end of their vehicles?

3. Someone saying, “The reds are running good up at…” causes the reward center of your brain to fire off all cylinders.

This response is imprinted upon the Alaskan from birth, if not before. Every sourdough knows this means, “Get there ASAP so you can walk away with a full quota and at least one good ‘bragging rights’ story.“ Participating in our designated annual ‘best fish on earth’ appreciation period is Alaska’s glorious reward to those who endure winter’s long, dark realities.

4. The words “…silver salmon derby” prompt you to immediately reply, “How big was it?”

Because in Alaska, the only thing that truly matters is how big the BIG fish was. As for the Seward Silver Salmon Derby, landing the biggest and baddest Silver in the sea also means landing the Alaskan aquatic version of a unicorn. The winner walks away tens of thousands of dollars richer and becomes the chief envy of every Alaskan angler until the next year’s Salmon King (or Queen) is enthroned.

5. “Termination dust” is a real thing and giving the daily play-by-play is a contextual necessity.

That powdered sugar sprinkling of snow on mountain tops signals the inevitable, yet harsh truth. Winter is coming and time to prepare is running short. Given that context, the dooms-day centric reference makes perfect sense. In fact, Alaska owned the whole “winter is coming” thing well before Game of Thrones appeared on the scene. We’re quite certain they got the whole concept from us in the first place. What can we say, it’s very much a ‘people of the north’ solidarity and point of a pride thing.

6. Dogs and sleds are as much a vital pairing as cheese and wine.

If we had an official state sport, dog sledding would be it. The original ‘extreme sport’ -birthed from necessity- represents the epitome of courage, resolve and grit that life in Alaska demands. Simply put, Alaska would not be Alaska as we know it were dog sledding was not a thing. And neither would the French be French if not for wine and cheese.

7. The same is true for banking, coffee and drive-throughs.

Practically speaking, who in their right mind wants to walk from parking area to shop during the bitter cold bowels of winter? While Alaskans may not have invented the drive-through, we’ve certainly taken it seriously. We’ve shamelessly developed next level ways of staying warm and comfortable in sub-zero temperatures. Especially when performing life’s most basic albeit, mundane tasks.

8. You know salmon does not equal salmon.

If you come across anyone telling you farmed, GMO salmon is just a good and healthy for you as wild Alaska salmon, run. Seriously, run for the hills immediately. Do not stop, do not look back. This is not an argument the non-Alaskan can ever hope of winning. Wild Alaska salmon is the only legit salmon.

9. You have a gigantic deep freeze and spend the summer stocking it up for winter (and the apocalypse.)

In that way, all Alaskan creatures be they human or otherwise are the same. We take winter seriously and spend an inordinate amount of time fixating on and getting ready for it. Whether fishing, berry-picking, hunting, or gardening, our common objective is to be prepared and ready for whatever comes our way.

10. You also spend the summer stocking up on firewood.

First off, chopping firewood is a fantastic way to hone one’s mountain man (or woman) image and who doesn’t need that? Optics aside, we never know when the grid will fail on account of a wild storm and leave us for days without heat and power. There is also the wilder breed of Alaskans who pursue off grid living as a matter of intention. Regardless of the ‘whys’ and ‘what fors’, chainsaws, axes, bow-saws and wedges are an integral part of every Alaskan summer.

11. Your garage also serves as a small scale automotive repair shop.

This totally ties in with the Alaskan ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality. For all the vehicles we own, we also need to maintain them. Enter, the Alaskan garage. The only thing most of us are missing is a ‘beast size’ professional mechanic’s hydraulic lift. What can we say? Big toys, big tools. Such is the way of it.

12. Your summertime ‘eau de cologne” is fish, campfire or a unique blend of both.

If this needs explaining, you’re clearly not from Alaska.

13. “Bug spray” will never refer to “the stuff one uses to exterminate insects inside the house.”

The fullness of this is best communicated in a word, ‘mosquito.’

14. “Spruce bark beetles.” Is a perfectly legitimate answer to “What happened to…?”

Specifically, when discussing Alaskan flora and fauna, whilst on hikes, in a campground or out inspecting one’s property. Dead and sickly Alaskan spruce trees are often the skeletal remains of an infestation of our teeny, hole boring, quarter inch long, statewide plague.

15. Construction season and summer mean the same thing.

The logic here is rock solid. An Alaskan road trip sans long stretches of road work is a rare thing. It’s our collective favorite “love to hate” contention point. We are thankful for the jobs and assurance that roads will be way better for winter driving. But, oh how we loathe driving at a snail’s pace behind the “follow me” truck and over freshly laid asphalt.

16. “Dry” and “fire” followed by “ban” are the most crushing words ever.

To the Alaskan, summer is synonymous with a campfire and when at home, the back yard fire-pit. When the powers that be are led to declare a ban on all fires, our hearts sink en mass. Listen hard enough and it’s likely you’ll hear our mournful song, “But what about the s’mores and hotdogs?”

17. Mud puddle, means “body of water obstructing one’s way.”

With a significant portion of Alaska classified as tundra and the rest of it filled with mountains, hills and valleys, the ‘water gathers at the lowest point’ theory is easily proved. Mysteriously, those lowest points seem to occupy a considerable amount of space on roads, parking lots, bike trails and driveways. In fact, come spring, most driveways morph into small lakes. Where as city streets are known to manifest mud puddles large enough to swallow small car. This ‘mud puddles the size of Lake Superior’ situation, much to our chagrin, explains why Alaskan vehicles are rarely clean. It is also further illustrates why Alaskans have such a thing for hip and chest high waders. Standard rain boots simply don’t cut it.

18. You rely on your sense of smell to predict the weather.

An Alaskan will always be the first in a group to say, “It smells like snow.” It’s one of our superpowers. We’re pretty sure we were born with it.

19. You’re more interested in what the wild animals are doing outside your window than the people you’re talking with.

Doesn’t matter where in the world the Alaskan is, he or she will always be fascinated with the local wildlife. Be it a moose straddling your sprinkler, a fox in an English garden or a Japanese deer sunbathing in Miyajima. Connecting with nature is deeply woven into the Alaskan DNA and we couldn’t escape it if we tried.

20. The room goes quiet and confusion replaces smiles when you tell people where you’re from.

And you shake your head on the inside knowing they are all trying to visualize exactly where on the map, Alaska is. Once the mental placement occurs, those confused looks transform to recognition and then amazement. The next step is to start placing bets with yourself about what the first question will be. “Canada, right?” “Woah! How cold is it right now?” “Have you ever seen the aurora?” “Do you know Sarah Palin?” All top of the list contenders, it’s a crap shoot which question will tumble out first.

21. Epic disasters aren’t an occasional, once in a blue moon thing.

Alaska wrote the A to Z book on disasters. Avalanche. Bear attack. Boating accident. Drowning. Earthquake. Extreme temperatures. Fire. Flood. Frost bite. Frozen pipes. Hypothermia. Landslide. Moose incident. Mudslide. Roof collapse. Snowstorm. Tsunami. Thunder & Lightening. Volcano. Windstorm. You name it, we’ve probably got it and we experience some combination of the above regularly. The good part is, Alaskans are well prepared, on average, to deal with crises situations when they arise. When facing the apocalypse as a daily thing, one tends to loose all fear of it and gets on with the business of sorting out the mess that much faster.

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