anchorage | fairbanks
the same border crossing
I’d always had this dream of coming back to Alaska. Even my first year of law school, I remember buying a SportsField magazine-- and I’m not into hunting and fishing. I don’t oppose it, it just doesn’t interest me. But they had this big two-part series on Alaska. And I saved it up until I got done with my first set of final exams, my first year of law school. So I always had that dream. So we left Pine River, Minnesota-- at the time I was married, I had a daughter who was eighteen months old-- and we got a U-Haul, put a little station wagon on the back, and towed that. Drove from Pine River, through Grand Forks; I had to stop at Grand Forks Air Force Base because they were gonna give me travel money, which was three thousand bucks cash. That was just so I could get gas and lodging on the way north. we went through Portal, North Dakota, which is on the North Dakota-Canada border... which was the same border crossing I’d gone through when I was three and a half with my dad and mom. Just one of those little ironies of life, cause my dad had pictures of that.
PNEUMONIA in Fairbanks
I moved here from Minnesota, but I wouldn't say I'm originally from there! ... In April of 1961, my older brother and my dad and mom and I drove up the Alaska Highway, which was 1200 miles of gravel in those days, and lived near Fairbanks and [my dad] went to work. It ended up lasting six months, for reasons I won’t go into; it was supposed to be two years. But, I was three and a half at the time and surprisingly enough I have very distinct memories of that time. ... One of my early memories was being on my mom’s lap on the front seat of the car, and it was night, and I was wrapped in an old blanket, you know. I remember looking out and seeing the moon, and we were driving somewhere. And this was all very unusual, because my dad was one of the early safety pioneers; he actually installed rear seat belts at that time. American Motors was the leader in safety, and having front seat lap belts as factory-installed was huge. And so he bolted seat belts into the back for my brother and I, and we had to be seat belted. So being on her lap in the front like that: very unusual. And I ask her later, years later, "I have this memory," I said, "What was going on?" She said, "Ohhh, you had pneumonia. We were in Fairbanks, you had pneumonia and we were taking you to the emergency room in the middle of the night." ... See for me, that’s not a negative memory, it’s just an unusual thing that stuck in my mind. ... Years later, going into the military, I tried to get my shot records. And we found out they’d disappeared in the 1967 flood in Fairbanks.
"I came to Alaska because I wanted adventure in my life. I wanted to see the Great North as an adult, and see if it was as unique as I remembered it. And it was. ...Everywhere is unique and fascinating; it has its own beauty, its own story, its own history. That makes Alaska, Alaska."
choosing to stay in the great land
It was the Permanent Fund [oil revenue dividend]. No, I’m just kidding! But yeah, it just continued to be-- it never gets old. And nothing against the Midwest, but you know? The ground is mostly flat there; I’ve lived in North Dakota with no trees, and Minnesota with lots of trees--I kind of like the trees over not trees--but, even by the time I was done with high school, it felt kind of old and normal to me. Alaska--from year to year--it never reached that point. It always stayed unique and interesting. And I’m in the mountains almost every week, running and/or hiking, and it never gets old! Even on the same trail, it doesn’t get old. It’s just always fascinating and unique to me, and I’m still discovering places small and large. And I think my personality’s kind of that way: I like a lot of variety; I like new experiences; and I travel outside the state. But when I do travel, I often think, "How many people get to say, 'Yeah, I’m leaving this exotic place, but I’m not going back to Minnesota. I’m going back to Alaska, this unique and exotic place that is on everybody’s bucket list, you know, that people want to come and visit.' And yeah, a lot of people think that it consists of cold, dark, and Sarah Palin. I’ve given up trying to educate people on that. You know what? We don’t want too many people here.