When most people hear "Alaska" they think of polar bears, Eskimos and lots and lots of snow. (And they're not too far off on that last one!) Alaska is the largest state in the US measuring at 570,374 square miles and it's one of the least populated state in the Us with a population at about 677,000. It's also the state with the most rural area since most of Alaska is either not populated or reachable by road.
As you can see from this road map, there's only two roads into and out of Alaska and we are still not connected to the lower 48 by a railroad. This means we get all of our supplies in either by boat or highway. Last year one of the roads washed out coming into Alaska and the stores were down to the bare bones after just three days. This has actually become a huge issue with both the state officials and civilians creating stockpiles and new regulations to keep a greater amount of food in the state due to being so dependent upon those supply lines. Alaska does have a large farming community in Kenai, the Matsu Valley and in the Tanana Valley and Delta area but it's not anywhere near enough to support the entire state. (Many of the people who do homestead out "off the grid" do a pretty amazing job of living a sustainable lifestyle.)
Since so little of the State is connected by road or railroad airplanes, boats and snow machines/dog mushing in the winter is the main mode of transportation to and from the villages. Driving during the winter is always challenging since we end up with hideous condition, everything from freezing rain, blizzards, black ice, it just goes on. Everyone switches the tires out on their cars in the fall time to wider tires with serious treads and "studs." (Studs are small pieces of metal spikes in the tires that helps with traction.) It use to surprise me when I'd go down to the lower states during the winter and people had no idea what snow tires were. Up here most people use snow chains only on the big rigs, school buses and the work trucks. Since the driving conditions can be so dangerous in the winter and with temperatures in some parts of the state dropping to -75 below zero, people are pretty quick to help out stranded cars.
Alaskans have many challenges to deal with thanks to the extreme weather and these past few weeks we've been dealing with the joys of "break up" a term coined to describe the ice breaking up on the rivers and snow melting off. There's several large rivers in Alaska with many communities that use these rivers as lifelines, however, come breakup season, these rivers are more of a danger than anything. Huge ice jams cause flooding, I talked a few posts back about the village where my siblings attend school is now completely under water with all or the residents evacuated.
This is the Galena Airport and aside from the river, is the only way into the village. Airplanes are the horses of Alaska and at the end of the day, are the only really reliable type of transportation during all seasons, through out the entire state. While Alaska does have metropolitan area such as Anchorage, the Soldotna/Homer/Kenia area, Matsu Valley and Fairbanks, the rest of the residents of the state either live in villages such as Galena, or completely off the grid.
Due to airplanes being such a necessity, Alaska holds a large spot in aviation history. With the rugged conditions and flying in colder temperatures than ever before, Alaska pilots were a huge force in perfecting navigation equipment and customizing and improving airplanes to fly in the harsh weather.
As you can see, with many people living in village, most of the state's food shipped up and with the main mode of transportation being airplanes, many people have to hunt and fish to supplement their food. Food prices are bad enough in the larger cities of Fairbanks and Anchorage and once you get out there, milk rises to as high as $12 a gallon and lettuce going for $8 a head. It's hard to feed a family with prices like that so hunting and fishing really is essential to many people. I know it seems frivolous to other folks, but if we didn't hunt, many people would starve. I know my family has had moments when that moose was the only thing keeping us going so it's a huge deal to us. The current discussion about gun control does worry many people up here because guns really are our lifelines and tools. No one has a problem with background checks and those are enforced quite strongly up here, but talk about rifles being taken away does worry people because they have such a huge impact on our lives.
Fish, it's what's for dinner! My family, along with many other Alaskan families take advantage of the salmon runs during the summer to stock up our freezers. We flay out the fish after we catch them and while we do freeze about half of the fish, we smoke and can the rest of it. It's the same with the moose and caribou meat, we butcher it into roasts and meal size portions and then the small bits we can. (Canned meat is amazing and it really good for stews.) We dip net when we fish most of the time, it's basically a big net that we dip in the water and wait for a fish to swim in. It sounds easy but fish avoid me like the plague when I dip net, I'm much better with a rod.
Alaska has rough edges other than the unpredictable weather and the crazy transportation. There is a huge problem with domestic assault and suicide in the state. The rates of rape in Alaska are 2.5 times high than the rest of the US with 1 in every four women being sexually assaulted. (This number raises even higher in the villages with 3 out of every 4 women being assaulted.) The rates of domestic assault child abuse and suicide is painfully higher than anywhere else in the US. The current administration is working to help victims and change all of this but the progress is really slow. With so much of the state being so remote, its very difficult for officers to get to villages to collect evidence and make arrests and many times, village peace officers will do nothing about a rape. Thus the poor victim has to continually face her attacker every day within the small communities. Right now the whole battle feels really hopeless and it's going to take more of a change of our culture than longer prison sentences to change this. Sadly we have the same problem with the mental health issues, there's just not many resources in the state and that contributes quite a bit to the high rates of assaults and rapes.
Since almost everyone asks at some point in time, lets talk about everyone's favorite Alaskan. (Heh, for once, this has nothing to do with Palin!) Yeah, Jewel. Not loved up here, that's for sure. She sure talks the big game about her life "on the homestead" (in Homer!) now that she's married a cowboy, but she's a pretty big fraud as well and most people really dislike her up here. She's always been very fake and has really talked a lot of smack about Alaska in the past and canceled a concert up here years and years ago in favor of something else. No one forgot about it and after a few interviews where she was horrible about people up here, she earned a huge amount of dislike. In the past few years since she married that cowboy she's tried to talk like she's such a tough Alaska chick but it's pretty telling that she never visits. (Most likely because people are still pissed at her.)
Heh, this post sure turned into a gossip session! I suppose that's bound to happen at some point, pretty much everyone does know everyone up here, it's quite a small state for as large as it is land wise. I think I'm a little pooped out with all of that, I did try to do a quick overview for this post but if there's anything you have a question about, please let me know. And a big thank you to Keit because without her encouragement I would have just faded into the background and "forgotten" about the Ak posts. I think I'm going to have to call it a night though, I've reread this a few times now and my eyes are starting to cross! (Although I'm sure there's rampant errors. My apologies, I'll try to reread this in the morning and catch them.)