Saturday, July 9, 2011

Observations on Alaska

Since showing up here in The Last Frontier, I've compiled a list of quirks and oddities that I've noticed while being out-and-about, and it's time to share them with the world.

If it isn't local (and not much of it is), it's marginal and pretty expensive. As you can imagine, shipping veggies up to 61 degrees North takes away a bit of freshness.

However, if it is local, it's huge. Really, look it up. The veggies grown up here go nuts because of the immense amount of daylight.

The Dollar Menu.
Not a dollar; it's $1.50. Like many things up here, they're just a bit more expensive. Not enough to break the bank (if you're not buying too much), but just enough to be annoying. This is, however, offset my the fact that there are almost no taxes on consumables.

For example, it the tag says $11.99, the register also says $11.99, and that's what you pay. Kind of nice, but still...

Lots of daylight. You knew this...but did you really think about it? I don't have a bedside lamp, I have a window. When I go to bed at 11:30/12 and want to read a few pages, it's still pretty easy. Also, my roommate and I have been longboarding quite a bit and there's a great hill to ride just a block away.

At 10:30/11, when there's no traffic and dry weather, it's a great time to grab the boards and have a skate. It might be hard to get to sleep when the sun is still shining bright, but it's definitely worth the trade-off: of being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want.

Monster trucks.
Lots of monster trucks. Turns out AK is a great place to tear up the wilderness with some 4x4 action. The modifications that make your standard F-150 into a mud-guzzling machine can be very well justified when your state is bigger than most countries and has the backcountry infrastructure on-par with most South American nations. However, the line between necessity and vanity gets pretty blurry, especially here on the paved streets of Anchorage.

Burn it like you stole it, but the pump will eat your debit card for breakfast. Put items 2 and 4 together and you've got a good idea about how Alaskans feel about petrol. Confused? Me too. A gallon goes for $3.9-$4 in town, and can be over $7/gal in the backcountry, despite the fact that AK has the nation's largest reserve of crude up in the North Slope. The tragedy here is that there are no refineries up here (they pump and export crude and import gasoline/diesel).

This lack of facility is also the issue with glass recycling.

What's recycling? It's a thing of the future up here. There are no municipal recycling collection systems, so if you want to be green, you've got to drive all over hell to feel good about putting the right plastic in the right bin. Add to that the fact that there is no glass recycling and you've got a good idea of how behind-the-times AK is on the reuse. Kind of sad.

7: Alaska is actually a country.
It has the size, economy, and unique culture that would justify a sovereign nation in any other context, but apparently it's still part of the US on paper. In practice, from what I've seen around town and the greater state, as well as what I observe at work, this place is it's own country.

For example, while the NPS parks in other states might add up to hundreds or a few thousand acres, NPS AK manages MILLIONS. Oftentimes in a single park! (Denali, Wrangel St. Elias, Gates of the Arctic, Lake Clark, and Katmai National Parks are ALL over 4 million acres each).

Yep, we're right on the northern edge of the Ring of Fire here, and sometimes the ground moves. Just the other week there was a 5.2 shake dozens of miles away, but I felt it pretty clearly in my box on the 4th floor (no damage or injury).

The official car of AK. Even the taxis; these things are everywhere.

The solstice.
I haven't met any practicing Pagans up here, but with such seasonal extremes in the amount of daylight, people make a pretty big deal of the solstices up here (and to a lesser extent the equinoxes).

Panning for gold.
You knew it was part of AK history, but did you know it is still part of AK present?
This dialogue is not uncommon:
"Hey, what are you up to this weekend?"
"Oh, a little grilling if the weather's good, and I was thinking about driving up to the Talkeetnas and trying out the pan for a little bit."

For real, I've seen 'em out there. It's quaint and interesting on the one hand, while pretty quirky and unique to AK on the other. I don't really know how to take this one, but there it is.

Business casual.
I have yet to see a suit walking around downtown.
Even my boss wears sandals at work on nice days, and I'm not sure that ties even exist up here. As far as I can tell, someone extracted my mental conception of what a comfortable and confident society would dress like and applied it to Alaska.

Plant maturity.
This one is for the landscape architects and plant-nerds out there. The mountain habitat in which many of the local vegetation resides is pretty awesome for plant identification. Towards the beginning/middle of the growing season, when many annuals and perennials are starting to get their bloom-on at low altitude, the whole life-span of maturity can be observed as one climbs higher into the mountains and foothills.

For example, think of many prairie species that are hard to identify as they're just starting to push through the dirt. Now imagine that you're observing this in an alpine meadow, and as you walk down-slope you can observe how the plant will look as it grows through the season, and down in the warm climes of sea-level, many of that same species are in bloom (and vice-versa).

In essence, you can see the stages of most of a season's growth (and what the species look like at each stage) in a single day, if you're willing to walk a bit. If this as possible in my plant ID class, it would've been HUGE.

I expect that this list will expand as the summer goes on, but these are the basics.

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