An unexpectedly great part of my Alaskan gallivanting has been my visit to Fairbanks, so close to Anchorage but unbelievably different in climate. It made me want to go and go north, to the Yukon, to the Brooks Range, Kotzebue, the Red Dog Mine, Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, the Arctic Ocean, to the end of the earth. Several people suggested going South to Homer, which of course I'd love to do, but North in the winter seems right. I wanted to feel the cold of the interior. Fairbanks in winter was just spectacular, a place where climate controls lives in a way in no other place I've ever been. I wish I had scheduled more time there.
On the plane back from Fairbanks I sat next to a hard rock miner from Montana. In Stetson, ranch shirt, elaborate belt and jeans. We talked for a while about his job, the initial drilling to find parameters of an oil field, and I know I would be really into seeing what's what out on the North Slope. This guy has 30 days on, 12 hour days, then 2 weeks off. When he gets back, he goes out into the bush by himself, camping on his own for a few days and then goes home and spends the rest of his time off with his family. Like a lot of people I've talked to, he likes Alaska because it's "open." I feel that. Montana sounded as wide open as Alaska, but it's still "Outside."
Alaska is a place comprised of outsiders who call any other place "Outside" and while Alaskan Natives have lived here for thousands of years the 1nd or 2nd generation folks who live here will still get into pissing contests with each other about who's lived here longest, e.g. "Since '52" or "When we were still a territory." It's a place where most people are from "Outside," but there's not a license plate other than Alaska to be seen at all.
I can't thank Ben Huff enough for driving me to a few spots to see the pipeline.... the pipeline blows me away. As a structural achievement, as an important part of late 20th century American culture, as a resource, as a metaphor. I wonder how old you have to be in the contiguous 48 to be able to use and understand the one word description of the 800-mile-long Alyeska Trans Alaska Pipeline System; "pipeline." The pipeline was a big notch in a belt made of Alaska's offer of wealth for those willing to work, a different kind of prospecting.
Many, many people, literally almost everyone I've met, has told me that summer is so joyous that just the promise of it can get you through the winter, but I am 100% percent certain that winter was the right time to come.
Every place here is fascinating and beautiful, even the disturbing and generic Wasilla.