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Alaska Myths Debunked

by Terrye

Growing up in the wilds of Alaska, most kids take fishing and hunting (often for subsistence) as a normal part of life.  It’s pretty common for little Timmy to miss the first week of school in the fall because moose season just opened and the family has to fill the freezer for the coming winter. Or, to catch the first run of kings (salmon) in the spring to feed the family until the fall hunting season begins. Who wouldn’t want to spend a beautiful spring day landing a couple of 25 pound salmon while a lovely rain drenches you to the bone instead of taking math and English tests?

Later when little Timmy gains an awareness of the world around him, he suddenly realizes that things in Alaska aren’t quite like the rest of the grand ole US of A. In fact, he learns that a lot of people are extremely curious about their northern neighbor, and I don’t mean Canada. In no time at all, he finds himself fielding a bevy of questions about the Last Frontier, aka Alaska. At first, the answers are truthful and meant to help the questioner understand more about life in Alaska. But, you can only answer the same old, boring questions a thousand times before you figure out; it’s a helluva lot more fun to compound their naïve knowledge of our beloved great land and keep the place to ourselves. Here are a few of my favorites that I have been confronted with as I gallivant around the ‘Lower 48′:

Do you really live in igloos?

My typical contemptuous answer:  Why yes, we really live in igloos because they are so efficient to heat in the winter and our summers are nonexistent. And, as we have no fashion sense, we build them without windows so we don’t have to worry about coordinating curtains with all the dead animal pelts lying about. We have snow 13 months out of the year and we have no interest in being able to lounge around in our underwear and watch NASCAR on the weekends.

The truth: Igloos never served as permanent housing for any culture residing in Alaska. They were used only as temporary shelters by the Inuit while they traveled. While I was in high school, attending winter survival training at Fort Richardson for my ROTC class, we did learn how to build a winter shelter. That’s about as close to an igloo as I’ve ever gotten.

Do you see Polar Bears?

Yes. In fact, my husband was out hunting for polar bears last year and came across an orphaned cub. He brought it home and now Fluffy guards the house while we’re out making a living filming yet another reality show about Alaska, flying bush planes, and panning for gold.

The truth: Other than at the Alaska Zoo, I have not seen a living, breathing Polar Bear roaming around. Several of my friends have run into them while working up on the North Slope. They are extremely dangerous and have a nasty habit of hunting humans. Curling up into a ball and playing dead doesn’t cut it with these guys; you’ve just become an appetizer until the arctic buffet opens at noon. A guy I worked with at the Army Corps of Engineers lost a brother-in-law to a polar bear attack in 1994.

Isn’t Alaska an island by Hawaii?

I love Rand-McNally maps. Yes, that explains why everyone thinks Alaska is covered with snow year round, yet we’re just a few miles away from that lovely tropical destination called Hawaii! How is that physically possible to have subarctic and tropical climates on the same longitude and latitude? Seriously, people.

When my first husband was stationed in San Diego, we stayed with some of his relatives on one of the Indian reservations. We had stopped off at the little gas station/food mart to pick up a couple of things. I was sitting in my truck waiting for him to come out when a guy walking in front of my truck looked down, stopped, looked at me, then at the front of the truck again, and then walked over to my open window.

“Does your truck float?” he asked, stupefied.

“I don’t think so, why?” I replied, leerily.

“Well, how did you get it over here from Alaska if it didn’t float over?”

“I drove it.”

“They have roads from Alaska?”

At this moment, my husband at the time came out and joined us. It was the only time I was ever relieved to see all 6 foot 1 inch of his hulking mass. We explained that the only reason Alaska shows up next to Hawaii on the maps is because the map makers were too lazy to make bigger maps to show the actual location of Alaska above Canada and to the east of Russia. I still don’t think he believed us.

Are you really from Alaska?

On occasion, I have had to produce some form of identification; purchasing Crown Royal or cold medication, but never together as it may cause drowsiness and incoherent blogging. As my Alaska Driver’s License doesn’t expire until next year and we can’t seem to stay in one place long enough to start roots, I have yet to switch over to a local ID. The usual question from the store clerk is “Wow, are you really from Alaska?” And my usual response is “No, but Wal-Mart was giving away an Alaska License with the purchase of a Klondike Bar.” Cue the stunned silence and crickets.

UPDATE: My Alaska license finally expired and I was forced to get a new license; the first time I ever had a non-Alaska one. I tried to convince hubby to fly me home so I could renew it, but he insisted it wasn’t cost effective. I thought he loved me more than that.

Does Everyone Get Around By Sled Dog?

Of course we do, Cheechako! It is oh so much cheaper to maintain a team of 14 dogs than, say, a Subaru! Why do you think we skip school to fish for salmon and hunt moose? It’s to feed all the dogs! And a little known fact; we bring the dogs into the igloo at night to keep us from freezing to death! And in our spare time, the State shuts down so we can mush the dogs in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race so the winner can win a year’s supply of dog food.

Does it really stay light 24 hours a day / Is it really dark all the time?

This question never fails to come up in the conversation in one form or another after someone finds out I grew up in Alaska. I always tell them that it is daylight 24 hours a day in the summer and dark 24 hours a day in the winter. We stay up for six month in the summer to hunt and fish and then sleep for six months because we are just plum worn out from all that outdoor activity. It amazes me that people actually believe me.

The truth is: In Anchorage, the shortest day of the year (usually around January 21st), the sun comes up around 10am and then sets around 2pm. On the longest day of the year, June 21st, day lasts about 19 hours. Plenty of time to put in an 8 hour day at work, hit the river for a couple of hours of fishing before heading down to the Park Strip for the all night Summer Equinox Party hosted by the Municipality of Anchorage. (The Delany Park Strip was the main airfield in Anchorage until it was replaced by Merrill Field and repurposed as a park with a Centennial Rose Garden, tennis courts, softball fields, a playground with an antique locomotive engine, and a veteran’s memorial.)

Aren’t there Penguins in Alaska?

Of course there are penguins in Alaska! Why should Antarctica get all the notoriety? We imported them from their native habitats in Madagascar and taught them not to be sardonic.

Do you have any questions about Alaska? I promise to give you an answer, but it may or may not be sarcastic. Most likely, sarcastic.

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