A Grin at the End: Northwest passage – Strange things are done in the midnight sun

July 2022 Posted in Opinion / Columnists

carl sampson

Just got back from Alaska. I hadn’t been in the Great White North for 27 years, and I was anxious to see how things had changed.

As it turned out, not much.

Alaska was, is and continues to be a whole different ball game. Not only is the weather unlike anything you’ll ever find in the Lower 48 – 35 below zero is part of a “warm” winter – but it has plenty of snow. We were there in the middle of June, and you could still see huge piles of snow along the roads. Last winter, Fairbanks got something like ten feet of the white stuff.

The people are different, too. Joe Vogler, who years ago was a legend in the movement to help Alaska secede from the union, once famously said that he believed in only three things – “gold, real estate and Caterpillar equipment.”

During our recent stay in Alaska, most conversations revolved around those three things.

No one talked much about politics, other than dismissively. After all, where you have gold, real estate and Caterpillar equipment, you really
don’t need politicians. They just get
in the way.

During our time in Fairbanks, I visited some of my old stomping grounds. The University of Alaska – a.k.a. the Harvard of the North – was one stop. It’s one of only a few universities with its own rocket launchpads, which are used to study the aurora borealis. It also has a musk ox farm and a great view of the Alaska Range.

I also paid a visit to the log cabin I lived in during 1976. It’s seen better days — one of the walls has caved in — but the mosquito population was healthy.

We made a mandatory pilgrimage to Denali National Park, where we hiked one of the trails. Ironically, we didn’t see any wildlife until we got in the car and took a drive. We saw a grizzly bear, a caribou and four moose – without getting out of the car. So much for hiking.

The night we arrived was the Midnight Sun 10-kilometer race. It started at 11 p.m. in the broad daylight and was unlike any race I had ever seen. Next to where we were standing was an “aid” station for the runners, but instead of handing out cups of water or sports drinks, they handed out cans of beer, which runners consumed without even breaking stride.

Across the street, a bluegrass band played. The only time the music was interrupted was when some guy apparently wanted the band to stop. After all, it was nearly midnight. He was invited to — I’m paraphrasing here – “get lost.”

We also witnessed a fist fight at a grocery store. A guy was trying to steal a couple of containers of ice cream and the manager was convincing him otherwise. This led to fisticuffs, with the manager winning on points. The cops were called, and the miscreant was escorted to jail.

Robert Service once wrote that “there are strange things done in the midnight sun.” It was true in 1907 when it was published, and it’s true today.

And frankly, I’m looking forward to going back, maybe in another 27 years.

Carl Sampson is a freelance writer and editor. He lived in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Wrangell and Juneau, Alaska, for a total of 20 years.

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