As we head into the holiday season, I’m acutely aware this will be my last in Alaska. Generally, I deflect holiday invites in favor of quiet time at home. And this year will be no different. At Thanksgiving, my sister comes to town and cooks turkey we eat for a month. Because of her work schedule, this traditional meal rarely happens on the traditional fourth Thursday of November. I buy the turkey then keep it frozen outside on my balcony until she can get here to cook it.  Thinking about my balcony as a make-shift freezer causes my mind to wander and to reflect on other things I’ll miss about Alaska when I head out to Supersize my LIFE. Here are just a few:

  1. It’s Alaska! I don’t get mild reactions when I tell others where I live.  It’s, “Oh, wow!” or “Alaska is on my bucket list!” Not unfounded reactions. Not by a long shot.  In many ways, Alaska lives up the hype. It is a place unlike any other. I have heard it said that people who come to Alaska are likely running away from something else or they come because they can’t make it elsewhere. That, I think, is part of its myth. That part hasn’t been true of the people I’ve met. At least not 98% of them. The story of how a person came to Alaska, more than any other, is she or he or they came up for vacation / school / temporary short-term work and never left. I think of the reason people live in Alaska as a love story rather than the story of runaways, misfits and miscreants. And I think it’s closer to the truth.
  2. Okay, I’m not a fisherwoman. But other people are and, in all the years I’ve lived in Alaska, I’ve never not had fish (salmon and halibut) in my freezer.  It’s been gifted to me by friends, neighbors and co-workers. And I have a lot of it to eat between now and the time I hit the road.

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    A halibut catch from a chartered boat in Seward, Alaska. July 2002.

  3. It was easily five years before my reaction to the long summer days wasn’t one of awe and surprise. The awe continues. Before I came here more than 23 years ago, I knew there was a lot of light during the summer but nothing prepared me for the reality.  Can you imagine driving at midnight without headlights? Going to bed and waking up bathed in light? A long hike after work? And, consider this, in Anchorage we are in the southern part of the state. Go to Barrow and the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon for 82 days. I wrote about my trip to Barrow HERE. I’m definitely going to miss the awe and excitement I feel as days grow long.
  4. Aside from the mosquitos (which most joke are Alaska’s state bird because of how big they can get), Alaska’s cold climate is not livable for icky bugs and snakes. The worst I’ve ever run into out on a walk or hike (aside from the close call with a bear once) is a spider web. To my knowledge Alaska doesn’t have bugs or snakes or other creepy crawlers that bite and kill a person. This will be a big change when I travel to warmer climates.

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    Sticky. Gross if you walk through it face-first. But at least it won’t kill you.

  5. I always thought Alaska was beautiful. But I never got a sense of Alaska as vast and big until my Dad came to visit the first time. We drove down the Turnagain Arm, arguably the most beautiful drive in Alaska, when my Dad commented that 1) he couldn’t get over feeling he was in a foreign country and 2) he had no idea how big Alaska was. He said it again and again. Now, by big, he wasn’t talking about acreage. He meant the size of the mountains we were driving through. We both grew up in Wyoming. Wyoming has mountains. Wyoming knows big. Can you say Rocky Mountains? Yellowstone National Park? Still when I saw Alaska through his eyes, for the first time I felt it too. It made me appreciate it even more.
  6. Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. Before I lived here, I hadn’t even heard of the Solstice. But in Alaska, Solstice has near-holiday status, particularly in the summer. There are fun, festivals, sales, picnics and parties, both community and private. I like the way the word sounds and what it means so much, I even named my dog for it and her made-up birthday is June 21.

    Solstice, October 2007. A few weeks after she was adopted and named.

  7. Alaska is one of seven states with no income tax. No way not to love that.
  8. The PFD. Every October Alaska residents get a deposit into their bank accounts. It comes from invested income generated from our resource-rich state. I will definitely miss the income boost each fall.
  9. Moose are a regular occurrence in Alaska, even in Anchorage with its population of 300,000. Summer and winter. You pass them on a walk. You find they’ve eaten the heads of flowers in your yard in summer and bark off your trees in winter. They treat your Halloween jack-o-lantern display like a dessert buffet. A legitimate reason for being late to work is a moose in the yard preventing you from getting out the front door safely. In other words, we see them a lot. So why is seeing a moose on my list? It actually isn’t. What I love is that, despite the frequency of sightings, people still love a good moose.  They slow or stop in cars. They stand on their porch to photograph one overnighting in their yard. There is something about this simple act of awe that I find utterly endearing.  It fills my heart when humanity stops to appreciate nature.
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A young moose in search of new tree buds in spring. Yep, I stopped to take pictures.

It almost goes without saying that I’ll miss the great friends I’ve made in Alaska. I’ll miss the Book Club I’ve been part of for more than 15 years, the Writing Group I started a decade ago and the professional relationships. Though we all share a geography that is Alaska, this one has nothing to with Alaska itself. No matter where I lived, I’d miss the people so it doesn’t make the list.

Now that I’ve shared a few (and by no means all) of the things I’ll miss about Alaska, I admit there is an equally long list of things I won’t miss about Alaska. Come back to next month’s Listicle and I’ll tell you all about those.

If you left your home state or home country, what would you miss most?

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