Developing Alaska’s west coast

Once again I’ve been remiss in posting although I have a good excuse: I’ve been working like a dog in

All bundled up for trick-or-treating below 10 degrees.

All bundled up for trick-or-treating below 10 degrees.

recent weeks on my master’s project. It’s really a master’s thesis – all 165 or so pages of it – but it being a book manuscript more than a thesis statement, it made more sense to call it a project. I had much of it written but not most of it, meaning that in the past two weeks, I was tweaking parts of 15 chapters; doing factchecking and calling people in Tennessee and Florida to fill in the holes. Then I had to format it, insert a bibliography, download some stats from a Surveymonkey project I’d done on serpent handlers and then assemble it all which took a chunk of time.
Somewhere in there I had to be a mom and teach a class and take 2 other classes, so my plate’s been full. We will start with Halloween, where the temps were about 9 degrees. You have not lived until you have trick-or-treated in the snow. Fortunately two other moms (who were married to profs in my department) picked us up and took us to a rich part of town where EVERYONE comes to trick or treat (as it turned out) and thus Veeka in her pretty little Cinderella getup over a snow suit, was plodding through the snow from house to house with the other kids. The cold did get to her so she and I spent a lot of time in the car drinking hot chocolate. She still got a pretty good haul insofar as how much candy she got (and I helped her eat).

What we left for trick-or-treaters

What we left for trick-or-treaters

In the Life-in-Fairbanks category, I’m trying to learn about the local seafood. Was in Safeway a week ago where I saw crab for sale. Asked where it was from and was told: Argentina. Argentina?? Well, they said, a lot of the best stuff goes to Seattle. I’ve been trying prawns (not bad) and since we’re up here might as well buy wild salmon instead of farmed. At the beginning of the month, the coho was in stock. I was told to show up in about a week when the sockeye come in. The farmed stuff was good for Tennessee, but here? Not so much. As to where the sockeye comes from, who knows? Anyway, just bought some of that yesterday so we will eat it tomorrow.
I finally found someone who sells spruce tips and spruce tip syrup, a must-buy for my new cookbook from the Yukon. Found someone else who sells “moosetard;” that is spicy mustards that you mix with cream cheese. We’re trying out the “alder smoked” but they also have something called “bear sauce.” Hmmmm.

This grouchy dog stuck in a car parked on campus did not want his photo taken

This grouchy dog stuck in a car parked on campus did not want his photo taken.

Another odd phenomenon I’ve had to get use to here is Dogs in the Car. Yes, people bring their dogs to the university, then park their cars and leave the dogs there inside all day. When someone did this outside my apartment, I called the campus police, only to be told that yes, it’s legal. Why don’t folks leave Fido at home?
During my stay here, I’ve gotten more and more interested in what they call ‘northern studies” or the study of the circumpolar north. I’ve long been interested in places like Antarctica and Greenland and Iceland. This past Wednesday, the campus hosted a woman called Alice Rogoff, the publisher of the Alaska Dispatch. Now there used to be the Anchorage Times and the Anchorage Daily News. The Times eventually folded. The Dispatch started as a web site, then this past year bought out the Daily News and renamed it the Dispatch so now it’s a web site and a print product. I heard that Alice was visiting the campus but there were no plans for her to drop by my building and talk with budding journalists. So I contacted a few people and got her to drop by and speak to us.

I am now officially an Alaska resident. Got the driver's license Nov. 4 - Election Day and a great time to visit the DMV. No lines.

I am now officially an Alaska resident. Got the driver’s license Nov. 4 – Election Day and a great time to visit the DMV. No lines.

“There’s so much need for good journalism in Alaska,” she told us after explaining why she’d rather hire journalists from Alaska universities but they’re not turning them out fast enough. “There aren’t kids with good enough credentials,” she added. Why? Because there isn’t a culture of journalism in junior high and high schools. The kids in my class were nodding at that one. One piped up to say that so much of Alaska is small villages where everyone has to get along and no one wants to confront. “There is a culture here of not questioning authority,” Alice said and of course being a reporter means constantly questioning authority. Plus, Alaskans will stand up for each other when questioned by outsiders from the lower 48, as they deeply feel that Those Below do not understand what it is like in the land of the last frontier. Having moved to numerous states to pursue a journalism career, I say give the newcomers obits to write and an assigned reading list for a few months until they get the hang of the local zeitgeist. I mean, you always get the same routine everywhere you move; that as a non-local, you simply can’t understand what life is like in (pick one): the South, the inter-mountain west, New England, whatever. A good reporter who listens will soak up the local mentality quickly. Anyway, we were talking in my class about how  a newspaper in one high school got cut because it made the students too curious and administrators thought they were asking too many questions. Not only that, but the University of Alaska just announced this week that it’s $14 million in the hole and one of the programs they’re looking at cutting is ….the journalism department! Well…that and many other programs but the problem here is low enrollment. Apparently there was a baby bust 12-15 years ago and those kids are the ones who are not present in large numbers in college.

All of a sudden, electric blue lights have popped up around campus.

All of a sudden, electric blue lights have popped up around campus.

More on Alice Rogoff: I learned that she graduated from Conn College (my mother’s alma mater), then got an MBA at Harvard, worked for Office of Management and Budget under the Carter Administration for two years, then for the Washington Post where she helped create the national weekly edition. She got married moved here in 2002 where she learned how to be a pilot (which is good if you want to get around this state), bought a home in Anchorage, became majority owner of the Dispatch in 2008; bought AND in April for $34 million.
It must be nice to have so much money but one must say in her behalf that she’s tried to do good things with it. Her big cause is developing Alaska’s western coastline as a second Panama canal because it’s going to become that, she told us (and an audience later that day) whether we want it to or not. The Russians already have 13 icebreakers (the US has one functioning icebreaker and none on the drawing board) and they’ll need them all, with all these polar routes opening up. The Northwest Passage across northern Canada is a reality and the Russians are sending stuff across their part of the Arctic as well.
She has all sorts of ideas, such as wanting to develop Alaska’s 2,000-mile coastline in the Bering Sea, not to mention another 1,000 miles on the Arctic (northern) coast. She asked us what the East Coast (of the USA) would look like without a port and we agreed it’d be bad. Well, Alaska has NO deepwater ports to be found along its western edge, she said, because people tend to cross off that region, thinking it all belongs to the Natives anyway. In a few decades if not sooner, tons of ships will be sailing up the Alaskan coast and to date, there is no plan for increased patrols by the US Coast Guard, no plans to make Nome or Port Clarence places for these ships to dock – we need a development plan for that entire coast, she said, along with an east-west highway that cuts across the state from Fairbanks to, say, Nome, Unalakleet, Kotzebue, etc. (These are places I barely knew about 3 months ago). I will say that when I arrived here, I found it odd there were so few highways across Alaska and there not being an east-west one (which would at least unite all corners of the state) was a real shame. This would be a highway that would roughly follow the Iditarod trail.
But the Bering Sea is America’s future and definitely Alaska’s future as the world looks to the North because of global warming and other trends. (The north, for one thing, is where water is). As you can imagine, the area is hardly Florida beach front in terms of weather but hey, Florida’s going to be flooded in a few decades by melting sea ice, so Alaska will be the next California, right? One thing Rogoff has done is help found a non-profit called Arctic Circle, which has annual meetings in Reykjavik (note to self: get an all-expenses-paid assignment to cover that). It’s been fascinating seeing the role Iceland has been taking. It hosted the Arctic Circle last year and this year, conveniently in October which is a low tourism month for them and – along with other Arctic venues such as the Arctic Council-  now it’s a must-attend. The Russians are there, Greenpeace is there, even China is elbowing its way in.

Here's my car plugged into one of those outlets so my engine will start. This week I finally broke down and bought specialty tires to handle the ice and - voilà - my car is no longer sliding sideways down the hills.

Here’s my car plugged into one of those outlets so my engine will start. This week I finally broke down and bought specialty tires to handle the ice and – voilà – my car is no longer sliding sideways down the hills.

Back to Alaska: “The shipping is growing faster than anyone thought it’d be,” Alice told us. “Where is the Alaskan investment in the future Panama Canal in our back yard? No villages have seasonal docks nor harbor masters. We are out of sight, out of mind.” At this recent conference in Reykjavik,  she met folks from Singapore who would build a coastal port tomorrow if Alaska would allow it. (Note: the present port of Singapore handles some 471 million tons of cargo a year. Could Nome be far behind?). Well, it’d be nice if UAF could become an uber-center for U.S. Arctic policy but right now things seem to not be going in that direction. Someone said at Alice Rogoff’s evening event that the US Coast Guard has been ordered not to talk with its Russian counterparts in that all contact must go through the State Department, which sounds inane in that State is 6,000 miles away. And so, lots of things to ponder and read about. Am definitely not bored here.