A thank-you letter to Alaskans

Voices of Alaska

I can’t decide whether I am the luckiest woman in Alaska or the luckiest person in America. I have just had the best 30 days anybody could have in any place ever. I have been home.

Home in Ketchikan where people know my family well. In Metlakatla where when the planes don’t fly and you just deal with it, or ask somebody to take you to the airport in Ketchikan in their boat and they don’t think twice about doing it. 

In Barrow when the sun is up so high in the sky at 11 p.m. that you feel like bedtime is a catnap in the afternoon sun. In Kaktovik, where you buzz the coastline looking for polar bears but the only one you see doesn’t move cause he’s so satiated from gorging on a ring seal that he ate for lunch (taken from a fish camp that we just visited) that he can’t move.  

Then down to Kodiak with the Coast Guard — everyday heroes who are there for Alaskans day in and day out. We flew out to the brown bear refuge on the island and stalked a stream to come upon a sow and her cub relaxing in the sun. We were the intruders in her world and kept a respectful distance. Kodiak is indeed the Emerald Isle. 

Cold Bay was the next outpost, made even more so since the only fuel source (the truck from Frosty Fuel) was out of commission. We flew out to a national security cutter in the Bering Sea and all I could think of was that these were the waters that my boys fish in. I was proud of them and afraid for them at the same time.

In Kenai I spent the day with 80 kids from military families and shared their delight as they caught humpies and silvers in the Kenai River. For many, it was their first fish ever. Verne and I flew out to Healy Lake for a celebration of life for a WWII vet and trapper who’s lived in the Interior since the 40s. A beautiful tribute to a wonderful man, complete with 21 gun salute, military flag ceremony and bowling balls shot from the cannon into the stratosphere. He would have loved it. The quiet at Healy Lake in the morning was amazing — your ears absolutely rang because the quiet was so intense.

Up in the Interior, Chena Hot Springs was yet another reminder to pay attention to science. Bernie Karl’s place is the land of possibilities and big ideas. Next year he will have bananas growing in his greenhouse! I felt like a Japanese monkey floating in the mist of the hot springs, alone on a Sunday morning before the crowds came to talk about geothermal, hydrogen and methane.

Back down in Kenai with Senator Ron Wyden, I ate graham crackers soaked in liquified natural gas to demonstrate how safe it is and then went offshore on an oil/gas platform in Cook Inlet to see where the stuff comes from.

Instead of going to Tampa for the convention, I went to the Yukon River where the air is clear and the people there are focused on energy and food. Pretty basic stuff. In Beaver, the tables were filled with food that people had brought to share. It was obvious that those who had the least brought the most to share. Stevens Village was equally small, with big ideas about governance. Tanana is proud of their innovation with biomass and how they have brought down energy costs and created jobs. Our pilot (the best I’ve ever flown with) flew at about 400 feet throughout the region following the Yukon as he navigated weather. What a way to see the country.

As August ended, I reflected on all the places and people I had visited during the month. I am truly overwhelmed by the generosity, the warmth and support that I find. I have never received so many hugs from total strangers who greet me like a sister. There are no adjectives to sufficiently describe a wilderness like Attu, Teshekpuk, the Yukon tributaries. My mind is full and my heart is happy. The only sadness I have is that in order to experience this amazing place I call home, I have to leave it. Before the Senate reconvenes, I’m off to a conference in Iceland and then it’s back to work here where people call me by my title rather than my first name and we exchange handshakes rather than hugs and talk politics rather than things that really matter, like family and food. I’m blessed in so many ways, but it’s times like this when I realize that I walk in several different worlds. Glad to have you all anchoring me to the world that really matters.

 

Lisa Murkowski represents Alaska in the U.S. Senate.

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