Sunday, June 22, 2008

Things People Ask Me About Alaska

Considering how far away New Mexico is from Alaska, it's probably to be expected that people, finding out we are from Alaska, have lots of questions. It turns out, though, that the same questions are asked over and over. Here are a few of them, and the answers we commonly give.

Do you miss living in Alaska?

Yes. And no. I spent 25 years there, 12 of which were my growing-up years. I lived there before it was a state. I have friends there who are like family. I was married there. My children were both born there. I had my first teaching job there. There's nowhere more beautiful that my hometown, Juneau, on a sunny day. The call of the wild is strong. I still call Alaska my home, and of course I do miss it.
On the other hand, our last five years in Juneau were hard on us. Dan struggled with the dark, cold, wet winters, more than I did. The cold caused his body to ache, and he got very tired of shoveling wet, heavy snow. Our family (with the exception of Tim) were all living in either Texas or New Mexico, which made being with them on holidays or special occasions difficult. Tim moved up to Juneau while we were there, but found the isolation and the weather depressing.

Yes, I miss Alaska, and hope to visit again. But we have no plans of returning there to live.

How cold is it, really, in Alaska?
I have a hard time answering this one. I don't think people realize how BIG Alaska is, and how different it can be from one part to another. We lived in Southeast Alaska (in the Panhandle, that runs alongside Canada). Southeast Alaska is composed of glaciers, fjords and islands covered with dense rainforest. Because we lived in the southern part of the state, and because of the warm ocean currents, we did not experience extremely low temperatures. I've seen winters that dipped to 20 below zero (usually out in the Mendenhall Valley, not in town), and other winters that hardly got below freezing. But, if you are talking about Alaska's interior, such as Fairbanks, the average winter temperature is about 12 below zero, and the record is 66 below. I'd call that cold!

Is it really dark all winter and light all summer in Alaska?
In Juneau, no. At the winter solstice, the sun rises in Juneau at 9:46 a.m. and sets at 4:07 p.m. But the sun never rises much above the horizon, making even the noontime sky seem like evening, like in this mid-day photo. At the summer solstice, the sun rises at 3:51 a.m. and sets at 10:09 p.m., but, again, even between sunset and sunrise, it's not very dark -- just a dim twilight -- because the sun does not dip far below the horizon.

To experience TRUE midnight sun (or no sun, in the winter) you must be at or above the Arctic Circle. About 1/3 of Alaska is above the Circle. Depending on how far above the Circle you are, the continuous day or night can range from one day, at the Circle; to six months at the North Pole. In Barrow, for example, the winter darkness is continuous, for 67 days.

Is it true that there are no roads into Alaska's capital?
Yes. Juneau is the capital, and it can only be accessed by water or air. In fact, most of Southeast Alaska is isolated in this same way. That is why the Alaska Marine Highway system is so important to the residents. These vessels are their road system. To get from Juneau to Haines or Skagway, for example, is a 6 to 7 hour trip. Here's a picture of one of the ferries, the Kennicott, which we took across the Gulf of Alaska to get onto the road leading to Fairbanks. (If I remember correctly, that was about a 48 hour trip.)

Those are the questions most people ask. I'm happy to answer them, and I encourage anyone thinking of visiting Alaska to do so. It's one of God's most amazing creations.

1 comment:

Betty said...

Now, Linda, if you could produce an abridged copy of this answer. it would be most helpful.

My only addition to this answer is "It was a wonderful place to raise our children!"