I've heard this phrase three times now. From three different people. None were native Alaskans, but all three now call it home. Zach from Colorado uttered those words as we floated down the Gulkana River on the Fourth of July, sipping on Coors Light and eating home-smoked salmon for lunch. A day earlier, as a sat drinking beer and looking out over the Gakona River, Zach's housemate Tim had said the same thing. He'd moved up here from Minnesota years ago and never left. People fall under the spell of this place. I see parallels to my own experience in Tasmania, and I already know I'll have to come back to Alaska before too long. It's the last frontier. And from what I've heard, it's remained fairly unchanged for decades.
Alex, who grew up in Belarus before moving with his family to Cleveland, Ohio at age 12, spoke the magical four words as I released a pink salmon back into the creek on the Dyea flats yesterday. As I held the fish in my hands, I felt its overwhelming muscular strength — necessary for its astounding migration upriver. "They're running alright, look at 'em all down there." The salmon had only started running two days earlier. A fellow fisherman pointed out two big males from our viewpoint on the little wooden bridge. The pair were sitting in an eddy current, patiently biding their time before planning their next jaunt against the unending flow of the creek. "That one's probably almost too old. See that strip of red down his back, once that get's a little darker they won't taste real good anymore."
I love Alaska, man. When this phrase was uttered on all three occasions, I'm almost certain it was pre-empted by a sigh. It felt to me like a sigh of resignation. All three seemed resigned to the fact that they had fallen under the spell of an ancient land. A land where nature is king; of places and wide open spaces that will "eat you up if you're not careful". A land of beauty and brutality in equal measure. A land of people who know what it is to hunt for and process their own meat, fish for their own salmon and build their own housing. Alaska transcends borders or nation states. It exists somewhere in that void where words are unable to reach. It's a feeling you get. Beyond that I'm unsure.
And I can say, with a sigh of resignation, that I too love Alaska, man.