January is the coldest month in Alaska (maybe it's the coldest month everywhere in the northern hemisphere, who knows?) but by the time the month is over it's hard to remember why I live here. I have to keep thinking of the good things about living in Alaska--and repeating them over and over. I can make it to May . . . I can make it to May . . . I can make it . . .
It's easy to focus on the cold, the darkness, the mosquitoes, the nasty smell during spring Break-up season, the way some retailers extort extra money for shipping things up here when it costs them no extra to ship, the lack of wireless service for iphones, I could go on and on. But I'm going to be Captain Positive and give you 13--shoot, make that 14!--reasons why Alaska is a great place to live.
1. Constant summer daylight. Yes, it's dark by 4 pm right now but come June we'll be pasty but we'll be cheering because it's bright all night long. Well it gets a little dusky around 2 am but with the bright white glow reflecting off our skin we can easily see well enough to play all night long. Though having grown up here and knowing nothing else but daylit summers when I left the state for college it was the strangest sensation to live somewhere that was both warm AND dark at the same time. Very odd.
2. Isolation. This could be thought of as a downer if you have family or friends Outside but our isolation keeps a lot of the problems plaguing places like California from reaching us--1500 miles of Canada is our buffer zone. Immigration just isn't the hot-button issue it is in Texas. Drugs, gangs, it's not like we don't have them but a lot of urban troubles take longer to get up here. Or maybe it's just our temperatures. I've always thought a criminal would have to be pretty hard-core to be out looking for trouble at 20 below.
3. Our governor. Now this is funny because I actually didn't vote for her but our Republican rookie executive is making quite a stir. What other state's governor makes the pages of Vogue? But beyond her face she's doing what most people consider a to be a great job so far. Her approval rating is through the roof--it's like Bush's. But in reverse. And the things she's getting done help to make up for the rat's nest of corruption among state legislators that the FBI's been uncovering bit by bit. Nasty business, very discouraging. What was I saying about the problems of the Lower 48 taking a while to reach us? Apparently bribery has no problem getting up here.
4. Strong economy. Speaking of politics, the Alaskan economy seems to be escaping so many of the troubles down south. Of course it's because oil is king here but with plans for a natural gas pipeline in the works the general feeling about the future is hopeful and positive. Keep driving those SUVs people! We'll keep you flowing in gas for years to come. A clean environment is highly overrated anyway.
5. Economic incentives. You've seen The Simpson's Movie, right? The part where Homer drives to Alaska and the guy at the border hands him a thousand dollars? The whole theater here busted up because though it's slightly twisted from the truth (the oil companies don't pay anyone like that) but only slightly (the state does). It's called the Permanent Fund Dividend and it was created back in the 1970s when the state put together a huge fund for investing extra oil revenues. Though there's a steady reserve of cash a portion of the fund is invested in the stock market and pays dividends to each resident of Alaska which fluctuates from year to year--according to how the stock market performs--and has been usually around a thousand dollars. It really helps to make up for that six months of winter thing. Really. Besides every man, woman and child receiving a yearly PFD we also have no state income tax and Anchorage doesn't even have sales tax (though some Alaskan communities do). Yes, they pay us to live here and I'm completely okay with that.
6. No creepy crawlies. Yes we have mosquitoes but we don't have snakes or any other reptiles. No scorpions and no poisonous spiders. Yup, you read that right--no yucky spiders. We have daddy longlegs (which aren't really spiders by the way) and little garden spiders but nothing hairy or scary. There have been reports of a spider called the "brown recluse" but it's pretty rare--as in "reports of it's existence are greatly exaggerated". Likewise no cockroaches or rats. I've heard reports of some places in Anchorage having cockroaches but I've never known anyone to see one and I've heard they're only in the scariest, dirtiest apartments which gives me some amount of comfort. A bit.
7. Fresh salmon. No nasty creatures here but plenty of salmon--as much as you'd care to eat. In fact, people go dip netting around the last week of July (I'll have to do a post on that sometime) where they'll catch 20 or 30 or more salmon and fill the freezers for the winter. If you like fishing down south and hate having places being "fished out" then Alaska might be the place for you--grayling, trout, dolly vardens, pike, salmon, halibut, cod, it's here and it's abundant. Hope you like seafood. I even saw someone catch a salmon shark down in Seward one time . . . though I doubt they ate it.
8. Great restaurants. Speaking of eating, Anchorage has amazingly good restaurants. For a city of 280,000 (I think at last count) you can get a great meal here--though it may cost you a bit. Andrew has associates that come up from Houston, Louisiana and the east coast who will comment on how good the restaurants are and I tend to take it for granted until I leave the state and go out to grab a bite to eat. Yes, Anchorage has good vittles--must be all the moose meat. Kidding. Kind of.
Besides good food we also have a fair amount of cultural experiences, again considering our size. Opera, symphony, dance, Native Alaskan arts, there's a good selection of excellent activities here though we're no New York City of course.
9. Skiing. And if we're talking great winter activities you can't forget the skiing. Cross-country and downhill. Until I left for college I never considered that there was any other kind of skiing beyond these two and it cracked me up when I said that I loved skiing and people asked "Water or snow?" D'uh. Snow! Is there any other kind? (Don't answer).
There are two little resorts in Anchorage and then there's Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, 30 minutes south of Anchorage. I've skied Colorado and Utah and the snow there is great but there's nothing like skiing Alaska. The conditions change in a moment and the snow can go from powder to cardboard icy in a weekend if you're not careful. Sound unappealing? Not at all! Risking death is just part of the fun! With over 700 inches of snow at the summit and about 600 mid-mountain, it has a 2500-foot vertical rise and you can basically ski right down to sea level. A black diamond run at Alyeska is a serious black diamond and learning to ski there prepares you for pretty much anything. Oh how I love to ski.
10. Good schools. Not much to say here except teachers are generally well-paid and the schools are good. Homeschooling is a popular alternative however and there is strong support for people who choose that option. The schools aren't perfect of course, what educational system is? But I've been pleased with the high quality of teachers my children have enjoyed over the years. Oh and we don't have HMOs here either.
11. Great tasting water. Yup, Anchorage's water was voted the best tasting tap water in the country. We get our water from Eklutna Lake north of Anchorage which is a glacier-fed lake. So unless the glacier disappears we're guaranteed amazing water forever. Take that Phoenix.
12. Low risk of skin cancer. Remember that "pasty skin" comment in number 1? Well it's not all bad either--because we're not aimed as directly at the sun as some places the risk of skin damage by harmful rays is less. I may be pasty but I'm wrinkle-free. Well nearly.
13. Hibernation. You know there's something to be said for long, cold, dark winters. Come October I can break camp, retreat to the hills and hibernate for the next six months. I don't have to pull weeds, mow my grass, wash my car or feel guilty that I'm not out jogging. I can sit inside by the fire, pull out my laptop and type till the caribou come home.
14. A straight shot to Hawaii. Best thing about living in Alaska? Being able to escape easily. We may not do road trips here but when spring break hits the entire population of Anchorage moves to Maui. Five and a half hours, four hundred dollars and you too can be scrunching sand between your toes when the winters are too much to bear. I'm really okay with that.
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