Monday, January 10, 2011

Memoir Notes on Alaska

Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.  These words were uttered by Lew Wallace, the governor of Territorial New Mexico in 1878, and the author of Ben Hur.  From my experience living in the north for over thirty years, I concur the same holds true for Alaska.
            People yearn to test themselves here, push the envelope, create something unique.  The drive to realize an unborn creation, whether it be a new business, a new way of thinking, or an “unclassified” way to solve a problem runs deep.  Many folks have learned to rely on their own resourcefulness rather than run to the “experts” for advice.  In other words, most of us simply don’t follow implicit directions.
            Take the “Snowbank Drive-In Movie,” for example. Watch a movie on a snowbank?  In Valdez, the Chamber of Commerce organized a movie night where the flick was shown on a gigantic pile of snow.  For $2 a car, folks piled into a parking lot, and watched “Back to the Beach” while the local radio station broadcast the sound track.  Pretty crazy.  And how about the dog and kitty cookies made from left over chum salmon, successfully distributed to animal lovers nationwide?  Just another wild entrepreneur’s dream come true. 
The typical Alaskan doesn’t need his idea to be proven to work elsewhere.  He just tries it and finds out.  One guy in the village of Pt. Hope hauled the fuselage from a downed cargo plane onto his land and built it as an addition to his house.  I call it the “airplane house.”  By transforming the cockpit into a fully operational entertainment arcade, he had kids coming and going, playing an assortment of pinball machines and video games; a meeting place for some good clean fun while making a little money on the side.
Much of this creative resourcefulness can be attributed to necessity.  I've seen plenty of pack rats who throw nothing away, and their yards are littered with rusted hot water heaters, snow machine parts, bikes and trikes and wood piles, old iron weathervanes, tires, and just about anything you can think of (a sink from an airplane?) weathering under tarps of all shapes and sizes.  Let’s see, we should be able to fashion a solar green house out of these scraps, I mean…treasures.  Or maybe just weld pieces together into a sculpture to decorate the front yard.
Or we can blame the Alaskan’s creative resourcefulness on the landscape.  After all, the landscape doesn’t simply request, but demands one’s attention.  The miles and miles of exquisite raw open country crack open a space inside us that stimulates the creative juices.  Alaska is so grand, so magnificent, so overwhelming that it intoxicates the imagination and forces one to create.  Makes an artist out of an accountant.  
In a land so vast and wide, people have room to reinvent themselves.  Dreams are pursued in a matter-of-fact way.  People don’t ask why, rather, why not?  Why traverse the 700 mile long Alaska Range by bicycle, slogging through bog and brush, muscling over boulders and glacial ice?  Why not? Why chip ice off glaciers and sell it by the bagful to purists half way around the globe?  Why not?  The reasons aren’t too complicated.  Nothing’s impossible; anything is do-able if you set your mind to it and don’t stray too badly on your calculations. 
            So they say it failed in Boise.  The idea just didn’t stick in Boston.  But this is Alaska, where dreams come true.  Joseph Campbell once said, “follow your bliss”, and I suppose this can be done no matter where you live.  But the chemistry has to be just right and in this neck of the woods, more often than not, it is.  Click on  alaskamagazine.com for stories about the Great Land.  See you next Monday.





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