Photo courtesy Peninsula Clarion                                The author in his natural state — a newsroom.

Photo courtesy Peninsula Clarion The author in his natural state — a newsroom.

Out of the Office: What Makes an Alaskan?

Here’s a philosophical question for the readers out there —what qualifies someone as being “Alaskan”?

Is it strictly a matter of time spent living here, or are there certain experiences that need to be had? Are you Alaskan upon receiving your first PFD check? Are you Alaskan after your 10th time getting stuck in the snow? Are you Alaskan after you’ve shot your first moose, or after you’ve hit one with your car?

A few months ago I celebrated my first full year of living in this wild and wonderful state – my “Alaska-versary,” if you will. With only a year under my belt, I’m sure most people would still consider me a Cheechako at this point (according to Urban Dictionary, the Cheechako cutoff is 25 years, which seems a little harsh to me).

I’ll admit that I’ve got a lot of things I still need to check off my Alaska bucket list. I haven’t gone ice fishing, haven’t shot (or hit) a moose, and have still only seen a small fraction of all the natural beauty that the state has to offer. Perhaps most importantly, my arrival was poorly timed in the sense that I’ll have to wait another whole year until I get that sweet, sweet oil money.

That being said, I’ve already had my fair share of Alaskan experiences, and I like to think that I’ve come a long way from the Florida boy who had never even seen snow before, let alone had to dig his car out of it.

I approached my first Alaska winter with a mix of curiosity and naivety. The first time I drove through Nikiski after a big snowfall, my jaw dropped at the sight. The serene stillness of a world buried by the elements was hypnotizing. The first time the temperature dropped below zero I stepped outside and thought, “Hah! this isn’t so bad.”

I was actually so comfortable in the cold weather that I started to believe my winter experience would be a breeze.

And then I was blindsided by the darkness.

I had no idea how much we fragile humans depend on sunlight to keep us going. After a couple weeks of going to work and coming home in total darkness, constantly missing that tiny window of light that would occur each day, I started to feel like one of those little toy plants that dance when you put them in sunlight. My battery was drained, and I could barely bring myself to get out of bed.

Luckily for me, my cousin Ameye – who is a true Alaskan by any measure – noticed me struggling one day and pushed me to start taking Vitamin D supplements. I’ve always been skeptical about supplements and medications in general, but after a couple of days with that extra Vitamin D in my system I felt like a brand new man. Seriously, that stuff should be state-mandated for the winter months. I don’t know how people make it through otherwise.

Since I spent most of my first winter just learning how to survive, I didn’t give myself the chance to experience all the fun activities that allow Alaskans to thrive. But hey, that’s what this winter is for.

I’ll be cutting down my first Christmas tree on Friday, an experience that will no doubt be chronicled in my next column. My friends are determined to have me build a snowman and take part in a snowball fight, and I’m sure they won’t disappoint. With the famous Tsalteshi Trails practically in my backyard, I’d be a fool not to take up cross-country skiing as well.

Hopefully by the time the peninsula thaws out next spring, I’ll be a few percentage points closer to being a real Alaskan. This year I was counting the days until the first snow, which tells me that, while I may not be an Alaskan yet, I’m certainly not a Floridian anymore.

Out of the Office is an outdoors and lifestyle column written by reporters from the Peninsula Clarion and Homer News.

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