Alaska Shorts: Excerpt from "A Storm out of Paradise," by Howard Weaver

Howard Weaver
The story of my
long love affair with Alaska and the heartbreak that ended it is easy to
retrace. For 23 years I chronicled my every turn in the pages of newspapers, in
public, for everyone to see.

I explored
those pages again recently while researching a book about those years and the
Alaska Newspaper War that occupied me through most of them. Hindsight naturally
brought clarity I didn’t enjoy at the time and — most importantly —
perspective. What first saw light as isolated, individual articles and
observations revealed a clear pattern when viewed from the ridge line looking

Almost all
those writings were composed in haste, written on deadline and left to drift
away uncollected, but I see now that they were more than fragments. Each small
piece was a tile in a larger mosaic that now comes into view.

My memoir
itself doesn’t tell that story plainly. Write
Hard, Die Free
is mainly the tale of a quest for good journalism
against imposing odds and as such looks at Alaska through a particular lens. It
deals mostly with what I called “dispatches from the barrooms and battlefields”
of the newspaper war, naturally a more institutional than personal view.

Now I find that
I have something more to offer, thanks to the perspective of time and distance.
Though I rarely recognized it as these events unfolded I now see a consistent
theme woven through the narrative.

It’s a love

I was born in
love with Alaska, a frontier baby born to an idealistic young couple working to
build a new life far away from the Great Depression, from Texas, and from World
War II. Their fortunes would ebb and flow over time — often ebbing, it is true
— but their fundamental optimism and affection for Alaska never faltered. I
drank in their ideals and affection with my mother’s milk, I suppose. I can’t
recall a time when I didn’t share them.

Not long after
he returned from war in the South Pacific to the dry land cotton fields of
north Texas, my father and his young wife loaded a few belongings in a GMC
pickup and drove north toward their future.

Like many in
their generation they had been shaped by depression and war, toughened by a
lifetime scratching at the cotton crops they hoed by walking through dusty
fields and harvested by hand-picking bolls by the sackful. Despite that — or
perhaps because of it, I suppose — they were idealists, optimists not content
with waiting for a better world but ready to start building it for themselves.

They were not
afraid when they pointed the navy blue pickup truck northward, drove to the end
of the road and found a town called Anchorage, Alaska.

Though its
population had boomed with wartime expansion and the opening of the
Alaska-Canada Highway, Anchorage was then a small town nonetheless, isolated
and remote. As I heard them say a thousand times over the years, to them it
seemed the Promised Land.

My father had
no trouble translating the lessons learned in his hardscrabble Texas childhood
to his adult concerns in Alaska.

In arguments
about the Vietnam War, which he opposed, I often heard him say, “This is a war
between the landlords and the tenants, and we’re on the wrong side.” Later I
heard him talking with a neighbor who cautioned that a trifling tax the state
was then proposing on oil production would “drive the oil companies out of
Alaska.” As I recall my father snorted in reply: “The goddamned Alaska National
Guard couldn’t run them out of here now.”

My father, a carpenter,
smelled like sweat and cigarette smoke; my mother worked as a bookkeeper at a
lumber yard and smelled of Evening in Paris. As it turned out, their
aspirations and expectations were rather different, but they were united in
their desire to create a better, fairer society for the sons they expected to
prosper as they never did. Their ambition did not come to pass in their
lifetimes, but lives in me to this day.

No doubt I had
been an integral part of my parents’ footloose aspirations — a chubby blond
first-born baby carried from Providence Hospital in 1950 to the young couple’s
unfinished Muldoon homesite. On that cold but snowless October day their hopes
and expectations were still high. I spent most of a lifetime in Alaska fighting
to advance the dream they had chased northward.

“We spend most
of our adulthoods trying to grasp the meanings of our parents’ lives,” Philip
Lopate once said. “How we shape and answer those questions largely turns us
into who we are.”

Howard Weaver
was born in Anchorage, attended public schools there and worked in Alaska until
he was 45. He tried construction, dishwashing and commercial fishing before
settling into his lifetime work as a journalist. He worked at the Anchorage
Daily News from 1967 – 1995, including 12 years as the editor, and worked on
both the paper’s Pulitzer Prize series. He details his time in the Alaska
Newspaper War in the memoir Write Hard, Die Free.
This excerpt is from an essay that comprises the essence of a work in
progress that seeks to understand changes in Alaska culture and character from
the pioneering days of his birth until the oil-financed society of today. His
conclusions are his opinion, but the facts are accurate and the events
described here happened. To read the rest of the essay, download a free copy of
the Alaska Sampler 2014.
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3 thoughts on “Alaska Shorts: Excerpt from "A Storm out of Paradise," by Howard Weaver”

  1. Beautiful prose, hand-stitched from the heart. Have enjoyed reading Howard for 35 years (well, give or take a few years of newspaper competition).

    Drex Heikes

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