If you follow me on any sort of social media, you know I’m from Alaska. I mention it not infrequently, saying things like:
- “Wait, August is summer in other places? #alaskan.”
- “There is a moose in my back yard and I am supposed to check on the chickens. Sigh, only in Alaska.”
- “Snowed eight inches but it’s cool, we can handle the snow – this is Alaska.”
- “Fresh blueberries from up on the mountain. Heck yes, Alaska.”
- “So cold. -35 with wind chill. Bah, Alaska.”
You get the idea. I’m proud of where I’m from – that my grandparents homesteaded and one of my parents was born here before Alaska was a state. That I have family history here, and actual history here, too.
Growing up, Alaskan history always seemed more real to me than the history of the United States. Alaska as a place was more real – I’d never gone out of state, after all. The rest of the world was this theoretical zone, something people fake on television, unreal and impossible.
What was real to me was Alaska. I grew up on the legends of Alaska — of Russian boat captains and haunted towers, Native Alaskan myths about what happens if you kill something and don’t make use of it. The story of whales that saved people, animals that gave up their lives for humans, fingers that became seals. Gold miners, hidden treasures, streams full of gold. The dangers of whistling under the northern lights.
And, too, the story of Balto, of Nome, of the Iditarod. I could hardly avoid it – I grew up in the city known for being the start of the race. Not the ceremonial start in Anchorage, but the restart, where the race really begins (well, most years, anyway).
It’s impossible to avoid the race entirely, living her, but I actively follow it. I track the tragedies, the scratches, the veteran racers and the upcoming champions. I track a family friend who has a dog kennel, someone my sister spent time as a dog handler for. I listen to my other sister swear that after she’s a veterinarian, she’s going to be an Iditarod volunteer vet on the trail, some day. For us, the Iditarod is a part of what it means to be Alaskan.
So yes, I got a little nutty over it every year. I watch the finish, livestreaming from the Iditarod Insider website. Tweet, and text, and obsess. And why wouldn’t I? Balto was one of the few movies I ever saw that touched up on a tradition that I understood. It was one of the few that, growing up, was real to me. Northern lights, snow storms, polar bears and geese and dogs that were part wolf all made a lot more sense than sunny beaches and shopping malls and walking home from school.
Anyway, thanks for bearing with me, for putting up with my enthusiasm once a week or so every year.