Homo sapiens alaskana

Dear devoted reader,

During my first trip to visit my publisher in New York City, I was talking with one of the editors when, in passing, he said something about Alaska being somewhat exotic.

“Oh, I don’t know. Not really,” I said. “I mean we have our Wal-Marts and Targets and McDonalds.” We went on to talk about skiing and traveling. Then I mentioned we had just returned from our annual caribou hunting trip. We had traveled to what is called the “North Slope” near the Arctic Ocean and brought back several caribou.

“You hunted caribou?” he asked.

“Sure. It’s our meat for the year,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s kind of exotic.”

And I knew he was right. In most parts of America, people don’t go caribou hunting for their family vacation.

But here among other Alaskans, we are not exotic. We are actually kind of run-of-the-mill. We have neighbors who eat exclusively from the garden and the wild. They store their cabbages, beets, potatoes and other vegetables in a large root cellar. Salmon, moose, wild berries. That’s pretty much it. They also built their small log cabin with lumber they milled themselves off their land.

Up and down the road, you can also find big-screen TVs, hot tubs, and hybrid cars. And most of us straddle a kind of middle ground. Many of us raise gardens and farm animals, harvest wild berries, and fill our freezer with salmon. Alaskans who don’t hunt will rarely turn down a moose roast if one is offered, and like in Lake Wobegon, people are apt to find zucchinis at their doorstep when harvest comes.

We live too far out to have it delivered, but some Fridays as a treat we bring pizza home from town. We top it with caribou pepperoni and watch a movie from Netflix. Other nights, dinner might be moose steak, potatoes from our friend’s field, a salad from our garden, and homegrown rhubarb in a pie for dessert.

True, my husband runs a 50-mile trapline each winter in glacier country. And it’s also true that I once shot a black bear off our front porch and turned it into hot dogs. Our place is like many modern Alaskan “homesteads” – a nearly finished house, a stack of firewood to be split, a garden that gets munched by moose occasionally, and an incredible view of the mountains. But my kids also love macaroni and cheese and SpongeBob Squarepants DVDs. And I have a weakness for good espresso and the gourmet chocolates made at a local shop.

It’s a similar line I straddle when writing this blog. I hope to share some of what makes our home unique. But the journalist in me also wants to paint an accurate picture.

And I promise to tell you about the black bear on the porch.




8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Beeman Sommer
    May 16, 2011 @ 17:37:37

    “Exotic” is an interesting concept for sure–it all depends on where you’re standing. I used to associate exotic with only tropical, warm, and dark-skinned (since I’m from the north, cold, and light-skinned), but since traveling, have realized that I am considered exotic by others unlike me.

  2. Eowyn Ivey
    May 16, 2011 @ 19:35:39

    It is a funny realization, isn’t it? I first discovered Alaskans were considered different when my husband and I were in college in Washington State. Even there, our lifestyle was somewhat of a novelty. And at the same time, Manhattan is pretty exciting and exotic to me. You’re right — it is in the eye of the beholder.

  3. Sue Mathis
    May 17, 2011 @ 08:41:27

    I looked up the word exotic and part of the definition read, “From another part of the world; 2. Intriguingly unusual or different; …” I guess that sums up Alaska!

  4. Chickaloon Jenny
    May 18, 2011 @ 18:30:50

    I will supply the picture of the pesky black bear, with permission. That early morning call for neighborhood assistance is memorable!

    • Eowyn Ivey
      May 19, 2011 @ 17:30:27

      Oh dear. This could become a form of neighborhood blackmail. Will a bottle of wine buy you off? But I promise, I will share the story at some point. We might skip the photo of me in my nightgown, though.

  5. Mr. Baer
    May 19, 2011 @ 17:12:38

    Really, I am on pins and needles waiting for the black bear story. I really think a picture would be a fantastic addition. Where else but Chickaloon, Alaska, to be jarred out of my morning ritual of the daily paper and crossword puzzle to have to come and help dress out a black bear and that don’t mean putting a gown on that there critter! But all in all, it was just another typical day in the neighborhood.

    • Eowyn Ivey
      May 19, 2011 @ 17:26:19

      Mr. Baer — I’m telling you, you need to start a blog of your own. Great voice. Great stories. But you can leave my pictures out of it 🙂

  6. A Baer
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 06:18:08

    Don’t forget about the occasional slice of pie…

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