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A Dangerous Undertaking, Defining Alaska State Pride

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Protecting the privacy of the home, is “consonant with the character of life in Alaska. Our territory and now state has traditionally been the home of people who prize their individuality and who have chosen to settle or to continue living here in order to achieve a measure of control over their own lifestyles which is now virtually unattainable in many of our sister states.” – opinion written by Chief Justice Jay Rabinowitz in the 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision to allow residents to possess a small amount of marijuana for personal use.
A question of Alaska pride came up the other day. To begin with there was a post on Facebook from Weather.com about the snowiest places in America. It’s been noted on this blog before, and here is the proof: Valdez, Alaska, is the snowiest city in the United States, beating second place by more than 90 inches a year.
I shared it on my own Facebook page and that led to several comments one of which came from another former resident who said she missed the people but not the snow. I suggested she would probably admit to a sort of perverse pride in having lived there and she admitted she did, but still preferred where she lives now which involves a lot less snow shoveling.
Later in the day I was chatting with another person from snow country and the subject turned to my recent surgery. I mentioned that I had a nice new scar on the side of my neck. She said it would probably shrink to almost nothing and my response was, “darn, we Alaskans are proud of our scars.”
That got a laugh and then the conversation turned to what sorts of things people take pride in. She said she saw the term often on the Home and Garden TV network where people often mention being house proud. Then she asked what Alaskans are, state proud?
At first I said I didn’t see much sense in home pride. It’s kind of like somebody complimenting a shirt you are wearing. You didn’t make the shirt, all you did was buy it and what pride is there in that. Now, if those people at HGTV had built their own houses there was room for pride and it’s that kind of pride that Alaskans enjoy.
But actually defining that Alaska state pride doesn’t come easily. Probably everyone has a slightly different definition.
What I finally came up with is that Alaska pride comes in a broad general sense from endurance, enduring a life in a harsh northern climate and all that entails.
That can manifest itself in many different directions. Of course there is the romantic Bush life, wilderness survival and life off the grid but that barely serves to define Alaska any more when you consider more than half the state’s population lives in one urban/suburban region.
Pride here for many doesn’t so much involve a stack of firewood as it does managing life in an urban setting affected by that harsh environment: grizzly bears wandering through back yards, icy streets with considerable traffic, waiting for a bus at 20 below zero, shoveling four feet of snow from your driveway in Valdez. To many those matter almost as much as do climbing mountains, sailing icy seas, surviving on what can be hunted. Over all each person has a tale of enduring some sort of hardship just because we live in the North.
And when we hear how tough it is when a snowstorm Outside warrants massive media coverage, to a person we smile smugly and recall how we went though something much worse and it barely deserved mention. There is that pride.
Not that we don’t complain. Being someone fascinated by climate and weather, I always have to chuckle when even Alaska TV weather announcers apply their value judgments to weather conditions. A bad snowstorm approaching; a blizzard; a period of days when the temperature drops below zero. It’s big news when winter weather hits a northern city and it’s called bad. Or calling a warm spell in February good certainly doesn’t reflect the feelings of a dog musher or a skier or a snowmachiner. It is just weather and we deal with it. And oh how we complain, but to my mind, we are allowed. We know we can’t do anything about it and we manage our way through it and when it’s over we take some satisfaction, yes, even pride at having endured it. “Survived” might be word to apply there too, but survival to me at least means you got through something life-threatening and a winter snowstorm is so routine, “survival” doesn’t really apply. “Endure” does.
Even if a person has never shot a moose, or weathered a storm in the Bering Sea or lived in the Brooks Range over a winter with temperatures down to negative 70, everyone has experienced some discomfort and hardship from the climate. Maybe it is just attempting to navigate the icy Walmart parking lot during a Wasilla wind storm, or sliding into a ditch along the Glenn Highway in a snowstorm, taking an unexpected dive off a boat into cold water, trying to start a vehicle at 50 below in Fairbanks or, as mentioned, just waiting for a bus at 20 below zero. Who here hasn’t endured an airplane flight delayed by weather? And then there’s that winter darkness. We all endure winter darkness to varying degrees depending on latitude.
Most of us find a way to enjoy life here even when we complain, but that complaint is ours alone to make. It’s like the kid who constantly aggravated his brother but when someone else did, he was first to come to the defense. I can beat up my brother but no one else can.
Everyone endures some sort of hardship due to the Alaska climate and whether conscious of it or not, takes some pride in that experience and, too, the overall experience of living in Alaska over a period of time. And that to my mind is where Alaska pride comes from, at least in a universal way.
Right now the temperature is just about zero and I have to go out and split kindling so I can have a fire in the morning.
“Damn this weather,” he said as he smiled looking over the huge wood pile he had split and stacked earlier in the year. Alaska pride, indeed.

AN ADDITION:  One aspect missing from this was the humor Alaskans use to express that pride.  This came from my daughter and a coworker as they walked across the parking lot this morning with the temperature around zero.:
“Me: “OMG it’s cold.”
Co-Worker: “Why do we live here again?”
Me: “Because someone has to.”

 
Read more from Tim Jones at Alaska With Attitude.