Living in Alaska

Downtown Fairbanks. This is downtown, guys. SO CHILL.

I get to live in the best place in the world. Having grown up in the military, I got to experience a pretty significant chunk of the country and I can say with absolute certainty that Fairbanks Alaska is my all-time, no-runner-up-necessary, hands-down favorite. I will live here the rest of my life and scatter my ashes in its wind.

Alaska is glorious. It’s the biggest state by far, nearly a fifth of the US’ total area, but is home to about one five-hundredth of the US population (over half of which is concentrated in one town). Most of that area is wilderness and we’re fiercely proud of it. Alaska is home to seventeen of the country’s twenty tallest mountain peaks. We have over a hundred thousand glaciers. This place is giant, gorgeous, and you don’t have to deal with nearly as many pesky humans here. People are chill. Schedules are relaxed. Traffic is practically nonexistent. (Unless you live in Anchorage. Anchorage is basically a suburb of some Lower 48 town and doesn’t particularly count as Alaskan. *sticks tongue out at Mary*)

I got an interesting email last year from an ex-relative’s mother asking for some setting notes on living in Fairbanks Alaska. She was writing a story but hadn’t been able to visit, and wanted to make sure she got the light/dark thing right. I sent her an email and made a note to myself to do some setting notes on Alaska for the blog. So if you ever write an Alaskan story, here you go! (Free tip: come visit if you can manage it! You won’t be sorry!)

Population: Fairbanks Alaska is the largest town in the Interior, and the second largest in the state, with a population of a little over 30,000. This is a great, huge metropolis by Alaska standards, where most settlements have fewer than a thousand people. Fairbanks has most of the amenities you would expect in any American town, just less of them. There is one movie theater and three McDonalds’. We got a Walmart a few years ago and that was a pretty big deal. There’s at least one Taco Bell. So you can expect most of the same stuff you would see in a bigger town in the Lower 48, just less of it.

Light and dark: Fairbanks exists at an extreme latitude, and so the seasonal shifting of the earth’s orientation toward the sun is much more pronounced here. Therefore, the sun stays up nearly all summer, tapers down to equinox in the spring, and then wanes to hardly any presence in the winter. (Less so down in the southern parts of the state, but bonkers up on the north coast. In summer, the sun doesn’t set at all for over two months in Utqiaġvik, the northernmost town in the US.) Winter is dark nearly all the time. If you have a job or attend school during the day, odds are you will go weeks or months without ever seeing daylight. The converse is true of summer. Since most of us sleep at night, we can go most of summer without seeing the sun go down.

Cold: Yeah, it gets pretty cold here. Fairbanks is in the state’s interior so it can actually get pretty toasty in the summers too- sometimes into the 90’s, which is utterly miserable since nobody has air conditioning. Winters are extreme by Lower 48 standards, but have actually gotten a lot milder over the last few years. (Global warming is real, y’all. And it sucks. Ride your bikes and curb your plastic use. My glaciers thank you. *climbs off soapbox*) While years ago, it was very typical to spend most of winter at -20°F /-30°C with a cold snap or two of -40°F/°C, we’ve lately seen winters of -10°F/-25°C with two or three weeks at -20°F /-30°C. I haven’t seen it reach -50°F/-45°C in a decade. And while that sounds like a good thing on the surface, it’s not because of reasons I don’t have the space to get into here. Feel free to hit me up in the comments if you have questions. I love to rant.

Wildlife: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been unable to get my kids to school because we have moose hanging around in our yard. Critters are everywhere in Alaska. I constantly have foxes and ravens trying to get at my chickens and we get the occasional neighborhood warning of bears or, more rarely, wolves. Animals here are large, scrappy, and they go wherever the heck they want. It’s not as big a deal as it sounds like, though. Like more southerly people who have to deal with the small and venomous crawling into their shoes (*shudders*), you just get used to a set of precautions while living alongside wildlife. Fairbanks, especially where I live on the hills outside of town, lives in close quarters with nature. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just have to accept that animals that would happily stomp me flat or eat me get right of way during the stroll to school.

Tourists: I know this might not be true of everyone, but I can’t recall ever being annoyed with the tourists here. Honestly, I kind of adore them. They’re always so happy to be here and want to talk with locals and have loads of questions. Tourists are fun and nice, and I enjoy chatting with them about where they’re from and what they’ve seen so far. I regularly invite them to my house for dinner. (Just had another one last night!) My kids and I always wave at passing tour buses, which have never tried to run me over on my bike. (High praise–I cannot say that for any other kind of vehicle on the road.) Sometimes you playfully mess with tourists. (Naw, if my car freezes up, I just saddle up the family caribou to go to work. Oh, but you have to be careful because if you take a deep breath when it’s really cold, your lungs will freeze.) But you usually let them know you’re kidding before they leave. And you do occasionally find yourself in the weird position of protecting tourists from themselves. (No, no, no, ma’am, you do not want to get close to the bear cub for a picture. Yes, sir, that thousand pound moose is an herbivore, but it will certainly still kill you.) But all in all, I like the tourists just fine. Even if they do ask about the currency exchange rate between Alaskan money and American money. ❤

PS- Did you enjoy this? Then go read CM Schofield’s brilliant Living By the Sea. And watch out for the seagulls!

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