“I’ve lived in Alaska for ____ years.” Fill in the blank, the bigger the better. We’ve heard it often of late, especially as our rank and file have weighed in on the Palin candidacy.

I invoke it myself, because in Alaska, years-in-state offer street cred. Where else do residents talk about everyplace else as “Outside” and draw dubious lines of distinction between cheechakos and sourdoughs?

Dating back to 18th century Russians and going right up to present-day oil field workers who get the hell out of here at the end of their shifts, we’ve had more than our share of those who take and run. So sheer staying power means something. But how much?

We can make a good case that Alaska is more than just a state or even a place – it’s an experience. We’ve got more than our share of quirky independent types. Heck, we even have a political party that wants a re-do on the statehood vote. And most of us would agree that Outsiders who wheel in, muck things up and leave (are you listening, Truth Squad?) – they can go home anytime.

It’s all well and good to feel special, but at some point that crosses into arrogance. Denying Alaskan arrogance is a lot like denying that shrinking sea ice affects polar bears.

Starting with Jack London, transplanted authors have written deeply and well about the Alaska experience. Like London, not all of them did long shifts in the North, but they managed to pen eloquent, thought-provoking reflections anyhow.

Seat time doesn’t count much when it comes to real learning, and we should take care in assuming how much it counts in our state. What matters is that Alaskans think and care and act in ways that promote the good of all that’s genuine and worthwhile in this thing we call the “Alaska experience.”

2 thoughts on “HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN HERE?”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Interesting post, which inspired some memories! When I first arrived in Alaska in late 1994, I envied the people I met who could say they had been here ten years. (Wow, before the oil spill!) That seemed like a magical time span to me, and I couldn’t wait to be an old-timer. Now, I look back to those first years, and tenderly miss my hyperalertness to, and hyperappreciation for, everything Alaskan. On hikes, my heart beat faster (from fear of bears), my eyes and ears were always scanning for clues to my environment, I loved meeting people and hearing their great Alaska stories. I was open to just about anything. Only now do I realize what a treat that was, being a cheechako. I respect people who have lived here longer than I have, but I also treasure memories of my own youthful awe and inexperience.

  2. A great point. Awe and inexperience do go hand-in-hand. I love reading about Alaska in a way that makes me fall in love with this place all over again.

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