The way we live now (in Alaska)

We have been here for 3 weeks now.  I love it here.  I love the isolation, the quiet (except for the occasional singing of the dogs across the street).  It is beautiful in an austere way.  Peaceful.  I spend my days painting.  I am using this time to get ready for a show I have in Bellingham this fall.  I want new work for it.  Manley is a good place to do this, because life here is so simple.  There is little housework in this tiny house and no gardening since we won’t be here in the summer.  I don’t have the distraction of the internet.

Though I have a lot to do, Jerry is restless.  He has no project just now, so he rakes leaves and chops wood.  We both listen to the radio and read.  We are still studying geology, watching another Teaching Company course about plate tectonics.  We finished Annals of the Former World and have started on a book about extinction catastrophes.  So far the writing in this book is rather ponderous.  We look at rocks with a magnifying glass.

We still have friends here who gave us a wonderful dinner last Sunday night.  There was king salmon that they caught last summer and local berries that they pick and freeze.  The berries are served with the dinner, partially thawed.  They are so good.

This Friday we made a trip to Fairbanks for groceries and a few other necessities and decided to stay 2 nights.  We started out in a steady rain in the morning. It was a difficult drive, with fog and limited visibility most of the way.  There are still patches of dirty snow along the road.  The only wildlife we saw were a few rabbits, losing their winter white to summer tan and gray.

I think there are more ravens than usual this year.  We stopped at the dump with our garbage and the ravens flapped around, eyeing us indignantly and making all sorts of raucous calls.  There is a lot of stuff in the dump this year: old cars and trucks, washing machines, microwave ovens, broken bicycles and sofas.  All this stuff is peppered with bullet holes.  A painted sign, “No Shooting” is at the entrance to the dump, but there is nobody to enforce it.  Jerry and I wonder why anyone would enjoy shooting a washing machine.

The drive lasted about 4 hours and when we got to Fairbanks we shopped with grim determination until about 4 in the afternoon.  Then it was time for self indulgence and treats.

I had planned to go to something I heard advertised on the PBS radio station — there was music at the university and a play, The Time of your Life, put on by a local theater group.  We drank some wine and decided to go out to dinner.  We went to the Pump House.

The Pump House is by the Chena River.  It was a working pump house at one time.  Its purpose was to pump water uphill through a pipe to a ditch that provided water to gold dredges.  Jerry thinks it shut down in the mid 60’s.  You can’t take water out of the Chena River like that now because of environmental concerns.  There is still a commercial gold mine around here (called Fort Knox) which hires a few hundred people and is quite successful.  Fort Knox is an underground mine.  There is little commercial placer or dredge mining (open pit mining) now in Alaska except for small operations which are mostly based on pie in the sky optimism.

The Pump House aspires to a degree of sophistication.  People visiting the university are taken there. It has bits of old mining equipment scattered around the restaurant along with other “vintage” decorations, like old gas pumps, salvaged business signs and photos of Fairbanks in the mining days.  At the entrance there is a glass case containing an enormous snarling stuffed
grizzly bear.  The big muddy parking lot was full, mostly with pick-up trucks.

The food was actually not bad.  I had fresh halibut with a spinach sauce.  We drank more wine and talked — about the past, about Manley, about the rest of this trip.  We became mellow and affectionate.  We thought that if we went back to the motel, took the dogs for a walk and watched our geology DVD we would be ready for bed.  We postponed further amusement.

Our motel, The Golden North, is minimal, but clean and cheap. The couple who owns the motel has been there for years, and they know people in Manley.  Jerry chatted with the lady who checked us in about old acquaintance. It is in a dying part of town (actually, most of Fairbanks looks this way).  Our room looks out on a muddy alley and lot that stores rows of unsold snow machines.  A short way down the street is a strip joint that has a huge SHOW GIRLS sign over the Lonely Lady Bar.

The Lonely Lady

The Lonely Lady

There are a few lonely pick-up trucks in the large parking lot.  Further on is the Castle, a restaurant and night club that has been closed since I have been coming to Fairbanks.  Its architecture is fanciful and its roofs are painted a painfully poisonous green, the lower windows are boarded up and there is a big for sale sign on it.  Jerry says it used to be THE place to go, and that he had, in his youth, taken dates there.

The Castle

The Castle

Saturday we shopped till we dropped and were too tired for further entertainment.  On Sunday we started for home in much improved weather.  Just outside of Fairbanks we passed a large sign that read:  CANADA MY ASS, ITS ALASKA’S GAS.  That’s about a proposed gas pipeline to go through Canada.

The following explanation of the gas situation is courtesy of Jerry:  There’s a lot of natural gas now in the Prudhoe Bay area. The gas is separated from the extracted oil and re-injected into the ground and stored there until a market and a means of shipping is developed.  This has been going on for years.  There are 2 possible ways of shipping it: either by a pipeline through Alaska and Canada to the lower 48, or a pipeline to a port in Alaska (perhaps Seward or Valdez), where it would be liquefied and shipped by a tanker.  In the latter case the main market would be Asia, at least at first, because there is no port on the west coast capable of handling gas tankers.  If the pipe goes through Canada the market would be the US.  The opposition to the Canada pipeline apparently stems from the fact that a fee would have to be paid to Canada to transport the oil across its territory.

The trip home was beautiful, and near Manley we saw a black bear.  It was small and cute.  I like seeing bears from the inside of a car.  It ran across the road and in the woods it stood up and looked at us, a small black figure surrounded by tall white birches.  I fumbled with the camera and missed a good picture.

view from the highway

view from the highway

from the road to Manley

from the road to Manley

How glad we were to get back to our comfortable clean tidy house.  I felt a flood of affection for it.  Later we walked up the trail back of the house through the pristine, clean white birch woods.  No bears.

This morning while I was painting (a triptych of chickens) I looked out the window and there, right in my front yard, were a cow moose and a yearling calf, calmly munching new grass.  This time I got the camera in time.

Mother and calf moose

Mother and calf moose

It is getting warmer, though last night the temperature went down to 28.  That suits me since I already have a few mosquito bites.  Frost will kill the ones that have hatched. The highs go up to 60.  We have 2 more weeks here, but we may leave a few days early and go on a jaunt in the camper to Denali and Talkeetna.   I need to see more of Alaska.

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10 Responses to The way we live now (in Alaska)

  1. Hattie says:

    It’s wonderful to read about all this. Someone who has a point of view similar to my own, perhaps. It’s like being there myself.

  2. dale says:

    I was wondering about the mosquitos :-)

    There’s a fair amount of controversy down here in Oregon about whether we want to build gas ports and pipe gas from here. At this point I feel like investing in fossil fuels is throwing good money after bad. The more gently we hit the end of that rope the better.

  3. Tabor says:

    I live near a LPG off-loading facility in the ocean and it has brought jobs and helped the local economy…but its growth also brought controversy. Alaska is certainly hauntingly beautiful and a land only for the strong of heart and mind.

  4. wisewebwoman says:

    I feel like I’m there with you Anne, you describe your surroundings so well.
    Like Dale, I feel it is ongoing madness to keep our hopes set on fossil fuels and alarmingly, we are 20 years behind in developing affordable alternatives.
    XO
    WWQ

  5. Friko says:

    This is fascinating tale about a fascinating world; a world which is totally alien to people living on this funny little island with its low skies, its small and limited views and its picture postcard towns (some of them round here, anyway).
    Your world sounds vast and unending. I love it that your are studying and learning and living, all at the same time.

    it makes me want to join you.

  6. Patricia says:

    You made me nostalgic for Fairbanks! How do you do that??

  7. Darlene says:

    Your blog is the only way I will get to see Alaska now. Thanks for the great photos and explanation of your world. How cool to look out your front window and see a moose with her calf. Great shot.

    If you are able to visit my blog I have an award for you today. I realize that you don’t post them on your blog, but I find your blog so fascinating that I just had to mention it.

  8. Mage B says:

    I just have to ask, why do you stay such a short period of time there. I think I would stay longer.

    On the coast, the first few ships are arriving and caucophony reigns. I have a friend in Skagway who is just setting up her shop for the season. Life is not pastoral there. Oh, do stay longer.

  9. Taina says:

    Wonderful story! I feel like I have a sense of the places you write about as told through your eye. Great eye for detail; an enjoyable read. I too was dumbfounded: why on earth would anyone want to shoot at old washing machines and other dumped garbage?

  10. Amazing. You make me long for the isolation you describe — and I’m a city person.

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