Moving to Alaska was a very good move for my family and I in 1995. Leaving behind a life as a dairy and hog farmer in Wisconsin, and going back to the oil field again, was a very prosperous move for me personally. Farming today is a very difficult occupation, with constantly fluctuating prices and a never-ending rise in expenses. Despite working seven days a week, there is no overtime pay, paid holidays, retirement benefits, hospital insurance or vacations. We lived from paycheck to paycheck, just trying to survive and somehow keep ahead of the operating expenses.
I had a dream one night, and in that dream, I was supposed to move to get off the farm and move to Alaska. So that is what I did. We packed up our belongings in an F-600 truck with a van body on it, and bought an old motor home and headed towards the Alcan Highway with our 5 children and a friend by the name of Jim Ries who drove our truck.
The day before we left our farm home in Wisconsin, I fell in my garage while carrying a metal bolt bin. I punctured a hole in my lower left leg with the bottom corner of the bolt bin, and the weight of the half-full bin pushing my leg to the floor also caused it to break. The pain initially was excruciating, but since no one wants to see a grown man cry, I toughed it out the best I could.
Even though I never knew I had a broken leg until it showed up many months later on an X-ray, I did have some serious problems with it on our journey once we got into Canada. My whole lower leg and foot turned solid purple, including all of my toes. My leg swelled so badly it felt like it was going to bust open, and some days I spent most of the day with my foot up and packed in ice at the rear of the motor home. On other days I could drive all day with very little swelling, pain or discomfort.
Due to tire trouble (a wheel bearing going out), my daughter's dog running away, and a few other miner setbacks besides my broken leg, we finally arrived here in Alaska 14 days later. For us, being in the Last Frontier was a new beginning in a place we knew very little about. We were excited to begin our lives here, and learn all we could about one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Initially it was very difficult getting started, with finding work, getting my wife's veterinary license transferred, and buying a home. But we were determined to remain positive and stay focused until things got better. Slowly and surely, things turned around, and we have been very successful as a result of our decision to make the move. It has enabled us to provide a whole lot better lifestyle for our children and us, than farming did.
Yes, we have had some rough times here too. But overall, Alaska was a great move for us, and we take pride in the fact that we call Alaska our home. Remarkably, despite all that Alaska has to offer, there are still people who complain about living in Alaska, and appear like they are very unhappy here. I have found that both my wife and I get very defensive over negative comments about the place we have grown to love. In fact, at times it makes me as grumpy as a two-fish limit on a stocked lake, or seeing your children cooking pizza the day after Thanksgiving with a whole refrigerator full of leftovers!
I have personally never lived any place in my life, where I did not find any unhappy people. You see, some people are just plain going to be unhappy wherever they go, and others well, you can see their smile clear down the street. I have found that a few people are grumpy because of health problems, but for others, I think it is their hobby, or they are just plain good at it!
I often times ask people who complain of being bored, if they have ever been ice fishing, digging clams, or dip netting? Most of the unhappy or bored type of people I encounter have done very few things outdoors, or have no hobbies. You see, if you're going to truly love Alaska, you have to enjoy the things that Alaska has to offer. I know of one family with six children, who have never gone fishing in Alaska - despite loving to eat fish! Either they buy fish, or pick up fish here at my home.
Have you ever gone cross country snow-shoeing? (You thought I was going to say skiing didn't you?!) Ice fishing? Camping (safely) on the ice? Picking wild berries? Made fireweed honey? Picked wild mushrooms? Made your own bear sausage? Fleshed out a hide and got it tanned? How many of you have made new and wonderful friends by dropping off some fish, meat, or homemade jelly to the stranger down the street? Have you ever taken your children to the gym and played basketball or volleyball with them? Have you ever went to a high school game to support another child that isn't even your own? Have you ever volunteered to help out at one of our schools?
As you can see, the list goes on and on. If you have answered "no" to any of the questions above, than you have not been taking full advantage of what we have here to enjoy in Alaska. If you feel brave, and truly want to make a difference in someone else's life, consider being a foster parent. That alone could just be enough to keep you from being bored this winter. Alaska may not be the perfect place to live, but it is every bit as good as the best, and better than the rest! See you next week!
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