Welcome relatives, friends and tourist! A little history lesson about our Great State!
Alaska is a very young state, born in 1959. We are still growing from the changes of the Russians hunting for furs and fishing, to the growth of the military during WWII, to the discovery of oil at Swanson River and on the North Slope.
Our culture and legacy has changed with people from every state in the union coming to seek their fortune in mining gold in the 1800s and 1967 to seek their fortune in black gold.
The discovery of oil brought yet another culture to mix with the Russian/Indian/Eskimo culture. Sadly people came to seek financial benefits and not to accept and embrace the culture and life they found. Seems their goal was to change to the generic version matching the “lower 48.” Our goals changed to the culture of money. Some families survived and some families did not. The long two to four, sometimes six-week stretches, of men working away from home in the oil patch, split families and the mothers and kids headed back home to the comforts of a familiar hometown and family.
Women on their own while the husband worked the long stretches on the North Slope or on the platforms in Cook Inlet, with small children in a harsh cold environment of the dark cold winter, while coping with coats, boots, hats, gloves and 12 foot snow banks, getting cars and trucks started ( or stuck) in 20 degree below weather, simply was too much for some of the women of the southern states.
Most of the oil families lived in trailers hastily put up by contractors who brought them from California. Trailers with hardly any insulation, not made for the harsh cold winters. Doors and windows froze shut; the bedding froze to the walls. (I know my kids and I were one of the many families living in the California style trailer house.)
This life style was too much for the mother and she simply gave up and went back to the comforts of home. Also not having fresh vegetables and fruits, eating fish, fish, fish, moose, moose, moose, not wanting or willing to learn a new way of life, especially a new diet and ordering all the clothes (and some food) through catalogs, was just what made for the already sad and lonely mother, return to her homeland.
On the other hand, the contrast of the long summer days, the beauty of the first robin in May looking for a worm-morsel in the new green grass, the fireweed, wild geraniums, Jacobs’s ladder, and the berry bushes blooming, and, oh yes, the excitement of fishing for the big one!
The visitors coming to fish for salmon and halibut, the picnics, potlucks, and late night bonfires, means getting together with your friends, new and old, most we have not seen all winter. Exchanging hugs and stories of the harsh times of winter make it seem so far away from the next cold season.
Happily some of us survived and learned to love Alaska by changing and adapting to the cultures, the abundant foods available and the way of life that the families you left behind will never understand.
Skip ahead from 1967 to 2013: The families that survived and the way of life of the oil patch has changed drastically from living in trailers with lean-tos in 1967, to nicely built homes near lakes and rivers and overlooking the beauty of Cook Inlet. The cities have grown and prospered with the paved streets and many businesses.
We have paved roads, where gravel and mud was the norm. And the trails into our houses are “borough (county) built” graveled roads, maintained in the wintertime by graders to keep the roads open for our children and grandchildren to get to the bus stop. Families, who migrate to Alaska today, have no idea the hardships of 40, 80,100 years ago.
Well, at our house, we are almost modern! We still have an outhouse (just in case the water freezes up). We have a generator that we use in case the winds in March take out the electric power. We still hunt for moose and fish for the big one. We can moose and fish in jars, but most have freezers and just simply freeze the game and fish.
My freezer in earlier times was a Blazo box setting in a high place, just in case dogs, coyotes, weasels and wolverines came by to help them selves. My first winter here in a little trailer, I placed my Blazo freezer box on top of the trailer roof, like I was told, feeling satisfied that I was protecting my winter supply of meat. One morning I spied a raven with a strip of bacon setting in a tree. Humm, I wondered, where did he get that? Next morning, when I went to the “freezer” to get bacon for breakfast, half the moose and fish had been pecked and pulled into shreds and MY bacon was gone!
The economy rises and falls with the price of oil and so does the price per pound of the fish caught commercially. The biggest employer in Alaska is the United States Government and the State of Alaska. We have many military bases, some combined in the past year or so. Next in line is oil related companies and then commercial fishing. Our schools are State of the Art and most rural communities and villages now have a school. In early years the small school age rural kids were sent to school in larger cities for their education.
Sadly the economy fails the young person just out of high school, who other than working in a cannery in the summer, has little opportunity to work within the state. Most jobs available require much experience. We have great colleges and the opportunity abounds once you receive your degree.
The mode of travel has upgraded from small one and twin-engine planes to the big jets, to the road transportation in my old Willys Jeeps and big 4-by-4 Army trucks from the early Army days. Those beat up cars and pickups with windshields and head lights broken and numerous dents and bumpers torn off has changed to the every modern car available. Most of the villages still rely of airplanes as the means of transportation. Local village transportation is usually by boat and in the winter, snow machine.
Bob and I may not be the most modern, but we are happy where we are at, snuggled in our small house that Bob built, on a beautiful lake not to far from Captain Cook State Park and fishing in the Swanson River.
Our visitors exclaim with much surprise. “Do you live here all winter long” and “it is so quiet and so pretty!” Life is good — we are happy.
May your have a wonderful visit to our beautiful state!