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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Last Thoughts on the Last Frontier


We always imagined some day taking a cruise to Alaska. This was no cruise; we were not tourists for a day. Five weeks is a great way to experience a place. With the surrounding wildlife, Sitka is not the same from one day to the next. Come and leave on a rainy day, and never see the amazing colors in the sun. Come and leave on a sunny day and miss the clouds coming down from the sky and hiding the mountains. Be looking in the wrong direction and miss the breaching whale or the hungry sea lion. Stop to read an educational sign in a national park and miss seeing a bear crossing the path around the bend.

The name of the state comes from the Aleut word alaxsxaq, meaning "the mainland" or more literally, "the object towards which the action of the sea is directed". Alaska covers the same area as seven midwestern states combined. We saw only a tiny portion of the state's wonders, and all of it was coastland. What the interior offers we can only imagine.

Sitka and the southeast panhandle is the warmest and wettest part of Alaska. The coldest recorded temperature in Sitka was zero, making it much warmer than Chicago in winter. And while Chicago's temperatures fluctuated between the fifties and the nineties, with lots of humidity, the temperature in Sitka hovered just above and below the sixties, with a mix of rain and sun.

In our mind, Alaska represents not only a beautiful place, but also a way of life, a sense of self-reliance. Subsistence hunting and gathering remains a way of life for many. When we moved from the suburbs out to the country, we noticed that people seemed friendlier. When we arrived in Alaska, we felt that people seemed even more friendlier than in the country. And people showed more pride and ownership in their city and their state than those in the country or suburbs.

In many ways, the state is still the last frontier. Fifty years ago, Alaska joined the American Union. Most people understand it is the northernmost state, but it also extends further west than Hawaii, as well as (technically) further east than Maine. In many ways, it will never be conquered or tamed. But even if one doesn't have a pick axe, or a rifle, Alaska is still open to being experienced and enjoyed and appreciated for its raw beauty.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this amazing trip possible. And Alaska, thank you. We hope to meet you again.

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