There is something intensely gratifying in having your days begin with a cup of coffee next to a wood stove that is quietly radiating a soothing calmness into your soul. It's a quiet time of reflection, introspection, and contentment as the sun lightens the stunning vistas across the valley. The uniqueness and the quietness of Alaska is utterly breathtaking. And it is those qualities that bring me to fall in love with the state over and over again.
We sailed into Alaska on June 20, 2005 arriving in Ketchikan at 1530 local time. The Dixon Entrance crossing had been uneventful; relatively calm with only some leftover north-westerly swell from the low pressure system that had earlier swept through the area. Little did we know then that we were standing at the doorstep of a lover that would woo our hearts for years to come.
It's easy to understand why we would become so captivated by Alaska. With 34,000 miles of shoreline (some are now estimating that with more accurate GPS mapping the total is closer to 44,000 miles), it's easy to become lost in a world where only you and beauty exist. The entire state records a population of less than 700,000 people - and almost half of those live in Anchorage, the largest city situated at the head of Cook Inlet. This is for a state that covers almost 600,000 square miles - almost three times the size of Texas, or one-fifth the size of the contiguous United States. In other words, there's a lot of open country with very few people.
It would only be natural that such a unique state would foster a different slant on what life looks like. You can find many examples of where value is measured by what you can do for yourself - necessarily so. It is estimated that there are six times as many pilots per capita as anywhere else in the United States and 16 times as many airplanes. That equates to roughly one pilot with aircraft for every 61 Alaskans. Dog teams are still actively a part of the winter landscape - and not only during the Iditarod festivities. Denali National Park uses the only sled dogs in the United States to patrol a national park during the winter months, logging an average of 3000 miles every year since 1921. Dutch Harbor is home to an enormous fishing industry where the next largest, Louisiana, is a very distant second with one quarter of its volume for seafood landings. In 1991 Dutch Harbor offloaded "in excess" of 731.9 million pounds of seafood - and Unisea, one of four large processors on the island, is capable of processing over 130,000 lbs of seafood per hour at it's peak capacity.
The statistics simply continue to baffle the mind.
More than 3,500 bald eagles gather every fall along the Chilkat River near Haines to feast on salmon. Over 20 million shorebirds pass through the Copper River Delta near Cordova every spring. The rufus humingbird finds Alaska its destination on its 2000 mile migration every year. Warblers travel over 6000 miles to arrive in Alaska from the jungles of South America. Pacific golden plovers arrive from Hawaii and Polynesia, and Arctic terns that have been observed wintering in the Antarctic regularly nest in the Alaskan arctic, an annual 20,000 mile round trip. The state also records almost one million caribou, thousands of muskox, and hundreds of thousands of bear, moose and deer. It has recorded three of the largest top ten earthquakes in the world, two of which were in the top three. It has over forty active volcanoes. Over 5000 glaciers. Three million lakes over 20 acres in size. And when the sun rises in Barrow on May 10th of every year, it won't set again for nearly three months.
It's no wonder the views continue to swell my heart and soul every morning. Sometimes it seems too much to take in.
My only regret is that Canada didn't have a spare 7.2 million kicking around on March 30, 1867.
statistics taken from http://sled.alaska.edu/akfaq/aksuper.html, http://www.unisea.com/seafood_production.htm, http://www.naturephotographers.net/articles0106/bt0106-1.html