Meeting Alaskans, especially in Fairbanks, is like seeing a board on top of two stumps and realizing it is technically a table. A lacquered finish does not a table make. Alaskans, like stumps, seem markedly uninterested in first-world frills, possibly because access to such frills is difficult and possibly because they are too cool for frill-school.
Smart phone ownership, for example, is especially low, (probably because they keep dropping them in the snow, which I’ve already seen 4 times) many people are not particularly computer-savvy or interested in being so, and they are unlikely to be up to date on whatever television program is presently being billed as “binge-worthy”.
I always sort of assumed this lack of participation of Alaskan in “cultural norms*” was just rooted in an extreme desire to constantly go fishing, picking berries, or distrusting the government. Alaskans spend lots of time distrusting the government. I fancied the average Alaskan (in Fairbanks, the interior, anyway) as having a sort of distaste for such time-wasters, because their souls were burning bright from the coals of the natural world. They were too hardy and pure of spirit to take part an any activity that would serve as a reduction of their primal state.
To be clear, there is a lot that I don’t know about Alaska. I’d say there is like 99% that I don’t know about Alaska, and what I do know is only a tiny subset; the northern interior. Who the hell knows what that flashy big city Anchorage is all about (pretty sure all Alaskans loath it, including some people that occupy it) or any of the coastal villages, the wretched north, the Pan-handle, the Aleutians, or any other region? It’s twice as big as Texas in here. That’s a lot of Alaska. But I will say this with the feeling of a strongly educated guess: Many Alaskans don’t waste their time on such endeavors because they would literally die if they were checking their phones like the rest of us.
The Troll of Winter
Life in the arctic, especially in winter, is kind of like the climactic battle in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In the battle of Helm’s Deep, which constitutes like half of the movie and not so much of the book, a bunch of unshaven, already-weary humans suit up to defend the final stronghold in the region from impending doom. All you really want to do, puny human, is just chill out in your home, listen to lute-music, and maybe try some of that hobbit-weed you’ve been hearing so much about. But then you hear a distant drumming, and the heavy plodding of a wall of boots moving toward you. This army of trolls and orcs begins to lay siege to your house and your sanity. And they don’t just sort of come and go, or pester you but then eventually recede by their own volition. Once they arrive at your door, your only option is just to fight them off long enough that their ranks dwindle and they are forced into hiding for another year until Lord Sauron builds a bunch more and they try again. Lord Sauron is SO annoying.
Am I making sense here? Lord Sauron is winter, the opposing army are arctic conditions in winter, and that hobbit-weed is straight up Marijuana.
And probably the first few years, you’re kinda like “Oh, this is a fun challenge, and I am a strong king/queen” or whatever. You might enjoy readying the axe to fend off your adversaries. You might be a Gimli for a bit. But by your 40 or 50th onslaught from these stupid trolls, you probably drag your heels a lot more and kind of secretly want to just leave the drawbridge down so they can destroy your castle and just be done with it. They’re going to win someday, right?
Because that’s the thing. The best that a person can hope for, it seems, is to JUST keep up with the strain put on them by winter. There is no building of new turrets, no parliamentary meetings to extend voting rights to non-kings, or putting spoilers on the king’s chariot. There is only a constant and vain attempt to patch the wall’s many holes that keep springing up.
This, to me, is the core of the Arctic experience. People see the winter coming and they say, “Ahh, it’ll probably be fine.” But it is never fine. It’s not like the snow falls and then it warms up a bit, and then maybe it snows some more or maybe it doesn’t. Once the snow falls in Sept/Oct, the care-free summer is over, and the sun dies and winter begins to creep around your home, looking for ways to sneak in and devour your children. Starting a car becomes a herculean task, and they must be plugged-in because the fluids will freeze inside. Trivial tasks like shopping involve a complex dance of layering up, car preparation, and cautious driving. Driveways and steps must be plowed and salted. If your house is even partially heated by wood, one has to factor in the time to cut, stack, and stoke a fire. Systems have to be placed and maintained in the event of extreme cold.
Basically, nobody is watching Celebrity Apprentice because in the winter because especially for people who live outside a major city (I.E. Fairbanks) are occupied with staying alive. Then, one imagines, by the time the summer comes around, they are so starved for the sun that off they go into the fields and forests until September shows up again.
If this all sounds hyperbolic, then you’ve clearly been living in Alaska too long and have lost your sense of perspective on what life is like in the lower 48. In the lower 48, there are far fewer trolls. I suppose there are some in Michigan, and maybe the East Coast? I don’t really know. Certainly there are no trolls in the west.
Of course, this Alaskan life is appealing for a lot of people, and unappealing for others. Sometimes it seems to be both. The dark season can be a time where the immediate pressures of living can and do make life so straightforward that it probably makes existential questions and anxiety pretty irrelevant. It’s easy to imagine how the hardy Alaskan looks down upon the urbanite who is concerned with whether or not his couch has the right “energy” for his living room or how his dog’s haircut might be affecting his mood. There is something nice about being anchored to your biological groundings by always having to stoke the fire, collect and haul the water, and keep an eye on the Dark Lord is up to.