The U.S. Census starts its official count today, January 21, in Toksook Bay, Alaska. Since 1960, the first census year after Alaska became a state, the census has started in Alaska.
With 80% of Alaska communities not on the road system, and with many villages without extensive internet service, the census starts early in Alaska. Getting around remote Alaska is much easier when the ground is frozen. Also, it is much more difficult to count people, after many residents of Bush Alaska head out to their fish camps.
Thus the mid-winter start to the counting in Alaska.
I have a friend who was assigned to Toksook Bay as she works for the Census Bureau this season. I hope she has a wonderful experience. The first person interviewed by the Census is always a village elder. That first village varies, with the Alaska Federation of Natives deciding which village will be initially enumerated.
Toksook Bay is a coastal village on the Bering Sea.
This will be the 24th Census taken in the United States, with the first taking place in 1790. The majority of the country will see census forms start to show up in March.
When I sent in the film from the Billy-Clack, I had one roll of 120 black & white film that I could not remember when I had shot it. Somehow, a roll of film had been forgotten in a pack pocket during one of my travels. It sat around for a bit more, as I waited to get some more 120 used up.
The roll does have some history to it, and it has been a while. It’s from the last time The Rover was down in the Lower 48. Probably right after I swapped out the motor, because there are a few shots of San Antonio.
There was also a shot of some young punk, riding alongside me in the Land Rover, taking a picture of himself as he stuck out his tongue at the camera. He also took this shot of the Rover dash, probably scared at how fast we were moving.
I must have been concentrating on traffic, because I do not remember him sticking his tongue out at me or the camera.
Camera: Agfa Clack (not the Billy-Clack); Film: Kodak 120 TMax 100; Photographer: Minnesota “Moose” Matthew
We spent the morning in the Gulf of Alaska, just outside Resurrection Bay. The fishing was good, but not great. The jelly fish were thick, due to the warmer than normal water temperatures. When I say thick, I mean thick. Every time the lure was brought up, the line, bait & lure were coated in jelly fish snot. It was a mess. By noon, we were covered in the gooey stuff, and the side of the boat would need a thorough cleaning from the endless flicking.
In the afternoon, my companions tried to fish from shore, while I hiked about, camera in hand. There was no sign of cohos in the bay and I had no interest in catching any pink salmon. As a resident, I fully admit to being a salmon snob.
Two local pre-teen boys rode up to the creek mouth on their bicycles, and promptly snagged a pink a piece. There was a fair amount of grumbling from the people who had been at it for a while. The boys came bounding up from the creek with their haul, the youngest commenting that he couldn’t ride home with more than one salmon, when I asked why they had already stopped fishing. He rode off carrying his catch. The older boy had a better system: He hooked the pink salmon over the handlebar through the gills and peddled off with the fish nearly touching the ground.
All I could think of as I watched them peddle away was, “What an incredible place to grow up in.” They had life by the tail.
An evening walk, with friends, through Pioneer Park. It was smokey, but at least the flowers were perky, if the walkers were not.
Fairbanks temps are going to hit 90F again on Tuesday, with a solid 88 degrees for the following day. The Shovel Creek Fire has gone over 12,000 acres, with 15% containment. It was so smokey on Sunday, that there was no air support for the firefighters due to the fact that the pilots could not see anything on the ground to dump water and/or retardant.
Some relief could be coming into the area on Thursday, with a possibility of rain, and a drop in temps back to 80. Thunderstorms are said to be part of the equation, but lightning is something no one in the Interior wants to see right now.
I took a road trip a while back to Flagstaff from Minneapolis with a good friend of mine. He is, in fact, one of the two official sponsors of Circle-To-Circle. These photos are from that road trip.
Smaller cliff dwelling in Canyon de Chelly
I had to hunt in the archives for the original post, and was surprised to find out that this trip was back in 2014. I was amused to see that my camera battery had died on the digital, and I was forced to bring out the film camera. So here we are, over four years later, bringing CtoC up to date.
Larger cliff dwelling in Canyon de Chelly
I absolutely love driving and camping across the American Southwest, and this trip was mostly a two-lane adventure. I think part of the desert appeal is that I’ve lived in the north country all of my life. The arid environment is so different. In Alaska, I’m rarely further than 25 feet from water in any one direction. For me, the West is very much an alien world.
Visiting Canyon de Chelly, both of us travelers, were hit by the bug to get into that national monument’s back country, but neither one of us has been back. Yet. Now that bug is crawling again.
Meteor crater near Winslow, Arizona
I put in the photo from Meteor Crater, partly because it was from the same trip, and partly because I think the black & white film does a better job of relating just how desolate that country is.
Legendary Chicago bluesman, Eddy Clearwater died today. He was 83. Born Edward Harrington in Macon, Mississippi, Eddy moved to Chicago in 1950, taking on the nickname “Guitar Eddy”. His agent suggested Clear Water, playing off of bluesman Muddy Waters. Eventually that morphed into Eddy Clearwater.
Clearwater perfected his own style of Blues, which he called “rock-a-blues”, a mixture of Blues, rock, rockabilly, country and gospel. His music career extended over six decades, and he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2016.
I first saw Eddy Clearwater live at a club in Des Moines called “Blues on Grand”. I tell you, it was one hell of a show. Of all the Blues acts I saw in Des Moines, I think Clearwater was my favorite. Eddy was such a showman, and I was mesmerized by his guitar play. Clearwater was self taught, and he played the guitar left-handed and upside down. My buddy who was at Blues on Grand with me said, “Watching him play is giving me a headache!” When Clearwater was on stage, he grabbed your attention, and didn’t let you go until he was done with you.
We sat close to the stage, although at BoG, no one sat very far from it. Just before a break, Clearwater called my buddy and I out from the stage. During the intermission, he came over to us and talked to us like we were old friends. Of course, he gave each of us a guitar pick. To this day, I still have mine; it’s fastened to the dash of my old Land Rover.
I will be starting my 24th year in Alaska on the first day of May. I drove up in a copper-colored ’74 Ford Bronco, with my yellow lab in the back of the truck, along with my camping gear, a box of books and my typewriter. I didn’t really have a plan, just a desire to check out the Last Frontier. Much to my father’s dismay, I fell in love with the state immediately. It isn’t a stretch to say, that I realized that I had found my way home, on that original first day of May.
There are Two Truths about Alaska that I learned very quickly upon my arrival, and they are diametrically opposed. That does not make either one, any less true.
Truth One is the definition of a sourdough: Someone who has soured on Alaska, but doesn’t have enough dough to get out. Truth Two, is that Alaska ruins you from being able to live anywhere else. I fall into the latter category. I’m not just an Alaskan, but an Interior Alaskan to boot. I had a buddy from Anchorage who came up to visit one summer, and stayed at my cabin near Fairbanks for a whole week. He lamented to mutual friends after the visit, that “Mike has ‘gone Fairbanks’ on us. He has gone over to the ‘Dark Side’.” I took it as a compliment, even though he did not mean it as one. It was true, I had gone all in on my life at the end of the road.
Alaska isn’t for everyone; it does take a certain personality to thrive here. I’ve known people who could not leave the state fast enough after their first winter. But I’ve also met many retired military members who served in Alaska, eventually transferring out, but returning to build a life here after their service was done. There is something about Alaska that burrows into your bones, and soaks into your soul. For those of us who choose to live here, Alaska becomes a part of us, and we take a little bit of the state with us everywhere we go.
The Alaska Range as seen from the University of Alaska campus in autumn
“When you first arrive in Alaska, you notice that even the towns on the road system maintain a rugged uniqueness. Alaska is still a destination that beckons the adventurer, the individualist, and the free spirit… Home to 15 species of whales, and healthy populations of caribou, grizzlies, and moose, plus one of the last remaining strongholds of wild salmon, Alaska is still a place to behold.” — Dave Atcheson, “Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond”
There is an ability here to immerse yourself in the natural world which is unique. Not because it can not be done elsewhere, but because there is still wilderness in Alaska. True wilderness. I do not know how long we will be able to hold onto that wilderness, but for now, we still have it, and it lies outside our back door.
On one or two occasions, I have been called a “free spirit”. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I do follow my own trail some of the time. Heading into Year 24, I’m as thrilled to be here today, as I ever have. We all have our roller coaster rides, and I’ve lived through my fair share. I’m excited to be returning to The Ridge full time, and that should happen this summer. There are several trips planned over the next several months that will allow me to explore additional areas of this amazing corner of our planet, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about that.
I state all of this with caution. I tend not to plan out too far, because that is when the universe decides to throw you a wicked curve ball. I send out hope to the fates, that they will allow me to think out as far as September, if only for a change of pace.
I’ve been up in Alaska for a while now, and I know that each day is a blessing. After some revisions, I hope to immerse myself in this natural wonder for a while longer yet. At some point, I realize that I may have to move on from here. All one can do is make the most out of life wherever you are. That holds true for everyone/everywhere.
I will be heading Outside shortly. It is time to travel, and I’m excited to be heading Out. Some new places to explore, and some old friends and family to visit. As much as I am looking forward to it, I know I will be just as excited to return to Alaska when the time comes. As much as I do love to travel, I am always anxious to get back home in the end. I’ve seen Alaska recently described as a drug, and I think that is as accurate a description as any.
Alaska is a drug, and I’m addicted to her, just like many other very special people.