Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Big, Cold, Isolated Alaska Our Largest State, Thinly Populated with Gutsy People, Is Stunningly Beautiful

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Big, Cold, Isolated Alaska Our Largest State, Thinly Populated with Gutsy People, Is Stunningly Beautiful

Article excerpt

Alaska is different, yet as American as apple pie or salmon fillets.

My wife, daughter Holly and I just returned from a trip there. The boat wanted an outrageous $35 a day for Wi-Fi so we had a break from that, and, in general, from the boorish, boring fare that life in America in 2017 tends to dish out.

Alaska is stunningly beautiful, with snow-capped mountains, green forests, glaciers and little towns tucked between the sea and the hills. The tour advertised animals, but they were sparse. The bears wisely all took cover the four hours we spent looking for them with a tour guide on an island advertised to be chock full of them. (Surely they couldn't have seen any of my columns.)

The only thing wrong with Alaska, if you can stand isolation, is the cold. We had not one drop of rain during our time there, but the snow allegedly starts in October at the latest and continues usually until May. The glaciers are calving (cracking off) steadily, although no one we met seemed alarmed about climate change. They probably don't talk about it so as not to scare tourists or troglodyte voters from the lower 48.

The people of Alaska are a hearty mix, in order of arrival, of Aleuts, Eskimos (Inuit and Yupik peoples), Indians (mostly Tlingits), Russians, white Americans, Chinese and retired U.S. military. There are only 741,000 of them and half live in Anchorage, the largest city, not the capital Juneau. Alaska is the largest state in area, although that figure is deceptive since most of Alaska is essentially uninhabitable because of cold, ice, snow and mountains.

The state's economy is largely extractive. Resources include oil and gas, trees, fish and, in the past mostly, gold. Famous gold rushes were the Klondike and Nome. Sgt. Preston of the Yukon and his faithful dog King - "On, King. On you huskies" - were actually in Canada.

A big political scrap in Alaska now is whether its legislature has the right to tap into funds from the sale of resources that are supposed to provide an annual check to each Alaska resident. Its politicians, surprise, surprise, think it's all right to divert those funds to make up for budget deficits. Many Alaska residents, also not surprisingly, think that the dispute will ultimately go to the Supreme Court, which they hope will rule against the legislature. I'll duck the question of who is right, begging ignorance of all facets of the issue.

The state, in the Union since 1959, has problems. One is infrastructure. Most of its towns are not linked by all-weather roads, difficult to construct because of the climate, and many of the rivers, streams and fjords freeze over much of the year. Seaplanes are common. Young Alaskans can get a pilot's license before they can get a driver's license. …

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