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Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Gene Adams recounting of his trip to the various cities of Alaska brought back some memories . . . some fairly pleasant, one very unpleasant.

It happens that one of my relatives was a pioneer in Alaska . . . specifically, neat the town at the foot of Denali, Talkeetna.

Talkeetna is the jump off point for those who wish to climb Mt. Denali. It also serves as an airstrip where people, including us, charter aircraft to fly around the summit of Denali and try to spot the Grizzlies (both of which we did).

One of my great (Norwegian) uncles helped settle Talkeetna. What amazed me is that his homestead was about 10 miles outside of town . . . and he walked to and from town. That in itself is a challenge, but he would often walk into town, pick up shingles for the roof of his house from the train station, and then walk back, carrying the shingles on his shoulder. He'd make repeated trips till all the shingles were back at his homestead.

His home was on a lovely lake, in beautiful country. What the tourist brochures don't tell you, however, is that to enjoy these beautiful lakes and rivers of Alaska you also have to contend with hordes of huge mosquitos, midges (also known as 'no-see-ums',) grizzly bears, wolves, and all kinds of flora and fauna that looks pretty but is difficult to traverse.

I doubt that most of us would be able to contend with the rough demands Alaska makes of its residents . . . particularly in the past, before ready access to cars, planes and other transportation was available. You kinda had to 'make-do,' and, often, that was really hard.

In Talkeetna, my former wife, Mary, and I, would stop at a combination bar/hotel. They had showers for, I think, fifty cents for 10 minutes or so. We went to the bar, had a glass of wine, while Mary went up to grab a shower. When she returned we relaxed a bit, enjoyed our wine, and eavesdropped. There were several women at the bar and the language they used would have made a sailor blush. Alaska is a rough country and has some rough characters living there. Seems like everyone grows a beard when they move to Alaska (including the women).

We had rented a motor home in Anchorage and, because there was heavy flooding to the south, headed north, through Denali and then to Fairbanks. We stopped at Wasilla because we had cousins living there. Yes, that Wasilla, home of the former Mayor, Sarah Palin. (Where have I heard that name before?)

We saw a female moose within about 15' of the car. Mary saw it first as I had my eyes on the road. She pointed it out to me and there it was, big as life itself.

We noticed beautiful mansions built of logs, Great, well manicured lawns. And then 1/2 mile away we'd see another log cabin, rough and tumble, tarpaper shack outbuildings, rusted out cars up on concrete blocks . . . there are no zoning laws in Alaska. You try to create zoning laws . . . and if you try to enforce them, you'd probably be shot on sight. Alaska is a country for independent thinkers and doers. A strange state.

We got into Fairbanks and saw some of the attractions. One morning I called my younger son, Ken, who was managing Dixon Lake for me at the time. As he answered the phone I could tell he was crying. "How you doin'?" I asked. "Terrible," he said.

Turns out one of his best friends, a frequent house guest of ours, had taken a job in, of all places, Fairbanks, Alaska. This kid was movie star handsome . . . leading man handsome. One of the nicest kids you'd ever want to know.

He went to work for one of the huge gold mines up there and on his first day on the job he was driving a truck and the side of the road gave way, rolling the truck, and killing him. First day on the job and he was killed.

Kenny had just learned about it a few minutes before we called to say hello. He was absoutely devastated.

Later, I tried to help his mom get legal representation to try and get some financial compensation for the loss of her son due to the negligence of the gold mining company.

Not a chance.

The Mining Companies of Alaska had gotten to the legislators and passed laws that covered their asses so heavily that it was next to impossible to sue them for negligence. I don't think the boy's mom got a nickle

We saw the Aurora Borealis several times, most clearly while on the plane ride home, shortly after take-off. We saw lots of beautiful country . . . but I would not want to live in Alaska.

I'm not even all that anxious to go back and revisit it.

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