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Keillor writes: "Nobody I talked to in Alaska began a sentence with 'I was reading an article the other day that said that ...' - everything they said was from their own experience. This is different from the world I live in, of people tuned in to media."

Cordova, Alaska. (photo: Rochelle Van Den Broek)
Cordova, Alaska. (photo: Rochelle Van Den Broek)


So I Was up in Alaska

By Garrison Keillor, The Washington Post

20 April 17

 

p to Alaska last week to visit old friends and relive fragrant memories of previous trips. Landing on a short uphill grass strip near a native village and later taking off on that strip and off the edge of a cliff. Fishing in a fjord near Juneau as a dark enormity rolled up from the deep, a humpback 30 feet off starboard. Encountering a moose while biking around Anchorage. Sitting in a friendly cafe in Sitka that felt like family. Hiking the Iditarod trail and seeing the body of a moose who broke through the ice of a lake and drowned. Going to the state fair in Palmer and mingling with Alaskans in a state of euphoria produced by sunlight.

It is a state that one remembers long afterward.

Last week I sat in a little cafe in Anchorage and got into conversations by the simple device of asking directions. In a state that offers so much solitude, people are happy to talk. I met a couple who’d lived for many years in the mountains east of there, raised two kids, got divorced and now live a few blocks apart in the city. “We’re still best friends,” she said cheerily, and he gave her a wan look. He is still in love with her, he said, and wants to get back together, and she isn’t interested. Instead of directions, you get a novella.

I met a Tlingit woman who gave me her unvarnished views on Alaska politics and an old trucker who hauled materials for the pipeline, and finally quit, fed up with the rules and regulations. His first truck was a White, a good truck, and he wound up driving a Peterbilt, which he hated. “Never buy a truck that is on the assembly line on Friday and they finish it on Monday,” he said. He was once fined $250 in Arizona for speeding; the highway patrol sent him a picture of his truck taken by a roadside camera on the desert that also recorded his speed, and he sent them a photo of $250 arranged on his kitchen table.

I was sitting in my hotel room in Anchorage on Wednesday morning, when someone yelled, “Open up! Open the door!” I opened the door. Two uniformed officers stood there. It wasn’t me they wanted. They were yelling at the door next to mine. One cop had a revolver drawn, aimed at the next door. Another cop yelled, “Open the door now! And keep your hands where we can see them!” Police can yell really loud and their diction is quite clear.

An officer with an assault rifle stepped into my room and said that they had a warrant out for a man next door and that the man had announced he had a gun. The officer opened the door to my balcony and suggested I go into the hall. So I stepped out, barefoot, without glasses, in jeans and a T-shirt. Seven officers stood in the hall, including a slight young female, and four of them had guns drawn, including her, and were focused on the door next to mine. They were on high alert. I slipped past the uniforms and none of them glanced at me. The one closest to the door yelled again, “Open the door! Now!”

I’m a civilian. I lead a casual jokey life. I mess around. I wouldn’t know how to bring that steady intensity to bear on a closed door. That’s just a fact. I can do panic; I don’t do high-focus readiness. If I am responsible for your security, you are in serious trouble.

They got their man. He surrendered and was handcuffed and I got a glimpse of him in the hall, a skinny guy with a hangdog expression, wanted for drug dealing. He had been dealing out of the hotel room. Whatever drugs he himself was on were not a kind that make you smarter.

Nobody I talked to in Alaska began a sentence with “I was reading an article the other day that said that . . . ” — everything they said was from their own experience. This is different from the world I live in, of people tuned in to media. I can say from my own experience that an armed man dealing drugs in the next room is a danger to me and that I maintain my casual jokey way of life thanks to public servants whose training enables them to bring highly focused attention to bear. That’s what I know.

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+46 # BobboMax 2017-04-20 09:44
Nobody I talked to in Alaska began a sentence with “I was reading an article the other day that said that . . . ”

That's a double edged sword. While it's important to know yourself, your life and your surroundings, it's also important to regularly get out of the bubble of your own experience and learn what others have learned from their experiences.
 
 
+2 # MendoChuck 2017-04-20 10:27
Well BobboMax on one level you are 100% correct. But on another level what if you do not plan on leaving your present "bubble?"
I do suppose events that would force you into another "bubble" could happen, but then again why be concerned about something that you really have no control over?
As for my self I do mentally prepare for the unknown but have no desire to actually venture into that unknown "bubble."
But I suppose you could say that I have done so just by writing this. In which case please pardon my blunder as I leave this realm never more to return . . . . Or as they say in the movies "Asta La Vista."
"Spelling?" . . . . .
"Smile, They are watching you!"
 
 
+14 # Time Traveller 2017-04-20 10:29
Yes and no... I lived alone for a year in West Virginia in '77, with no TV, phone, or computer. Only one radio station made it through the mountains, luckily a National Public Radio station.

After two weeks, my dreams became very vivid, after two months I could actively steer and color them and navigate within them. In the mornings I sat at a typewriter and filled a box with philosophical musings and stories of profound life lessons learned via my dreaming right brain.

Later reading modern philosophers, I found that we were on the same page... merely through vivid dreaming. For about 4 years after that, I was a walking "radar dish," able to partially psychoanalyse entire families merely from photographs, etc.

I would recommend an extended period of aloneness about every 5 or 6 years for anyone's mental health.
 
 
+7 # pietheyn07 2017-04-20 18:47
TT: your 2nd paragraph parallels my dreaming experiences as a single-handed sailor, 12 years in the South and Western Pacific. When in isolation, one's mind tends to expand beyond the potential mental clutter by our post-modern world. Trying to make sense of being suspended in infinity is a luxury not afforded to many,
 
 
+13 # oakes721 2017-04-20 11:12
.
Direct Experience, like Direct Current (DC voltage) runs through the core whereas Alternating Current (AC voltage) rides over the surface. The alternate back-and-forth mode of communication might be the safer route, though one's thoughts may be intermingled with those of others ~ or interrupted by them.
.
I watched an old cowboy movie once, where the heroes rode horses all across the rough and varied terrain. Every utterance was carefully calculated to sound tough and 'cool' with an accompanying orchestra to emphasize just how cool they really were. What I noticed was that they were simply men sitting in saddles which were on the horses whose four legs were instantly navigating the rough and ragged terrains over which they had to keep a full gallop ~ with riders on their backs!
.
The horses were the heroes because theirs was the direct link to the Earth's surface over which they had to negotiate instant decisions based on their own real experiences.
.
Modern medias and politics promote such second-hand experience. A camera cannot soak in the immensity of nature (though I'm sure that someone somewhere is working right now on how to simulate smells to add to the artificial experiences).
.
Money is the middleman whose foot is always in the door. Try and impress an animal with just how cool you are. Be a writer. Read Nature.
.
.
 
 
+2 # elkingo 2017-04-20 11:19
Whoa Garry! "Fragrant memories" and "dark enormity" is it then???!!! These irrevocably brand you as a poet yourself. (That is a distinctive brain chemistry.) So I am virtually certain you have written poems of your own. So cough 'em up!

In the ongoing definitional quest about terrorism, I am terrified of seeing anybody with a loaded gun, including the cops, if not the cops more than anybody. So the guy in the next room with a "piece" scares the shit out of me.(I've been there.) But the drug dealing scares me not a fig. The law should leave its hands off what an individual puts into his or her body - with the exceptions of course of children, and anybody in a drugged state doing what he shouldn't - eg. drunk driving.

Anything that Norman Mailer, Wm.Buckley and Your's Truly agree on I hope would be taken seriously.

But great article, Mr. Poet on how we all walk around with uh,"mediated souls".
 
 
+15 # Mtguide 2017-04-20 13:10
I have also heard a story about a man who was caught speeding on photo radar, and responded to the citation with a photo of a check for the amount of the fine. To which, in this instance, the Police ALSO replied in a similar witty manner: they sent the speeder a photo of a pari of handcuffs.

He paid the fine.
 
 
+5 # elizabethblock 2017-04-20 14:06
Then there's the old story of the man charged for enjoying the smell of a hot dog (he didn't have money to pay for it) and who paid the bill with the sound of a coin hitting the table.
 
 
+3 # Wise woman 2017-04-20 21:22
John Denver once wrote and recorded a song about going up to Alaska - up to the land of the midnight Sun where the whale and the polar bear run. Good song. Leaves me feeling much happier than some drug dealer with a gun and silly cop stories. Perhaps it's that all day Sun countered with all day night that makes these folks who they are.
 
 
+1 # ahollman 2017-04-22 20:02
Having one's own experiences (happens directly to you) and sharing in the experiences of others (through telling, reading, tweeting, video, etc.) are not mutually exclusive. One can have both, and one need not travel to Alaska to do so.

That said, I hope to get up to Alaska some day. Iceland's also on my list.
 

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