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North to Alaska

May 14th, 2007 · No Comments

It’s such an epic journey for so many that I think it’s permanently stuck that way in the collective unconcious.

I remember, as a kid, riding the schoolbus in Fairbanks. When I ran out of books to read I would press my face against the window and make up stories about the people who lived in the houses. In Alaska, we have interesting houses. Cordwood houses and domes and mismatched additions. The most interesting houses always had an old bus out back, painted in psychedelic flowers or modest earth tones or pastels, and “NORTH TO ALASKA” would always be painted on the back. I loved those buses.

The first time I drove back to Alaska I had two people with me who had never been there before. Observing what a huge thing it was for them made me wonder about my parents and how they had made their ways to Alaska.

This is what I remember of my dad’s story, from years and years ago when he told me. He was dodging the draft, or the possibility of the draft, or he had been before he started for Alaska. These details run together, you know. He had been living with a woman in a tree in California. Between them they only had one pair of pants, and they lived on fruit that they took from the orchards or other things they could take from the trash. When they needed money they would sell some of the stolen fruit in town, but because there was only one pair of pants only one of them could go. For whatever reason, that situation ended and my dad took the pair of pants and hitchiked up through Canada. He built a raft and was floating down the Yukon river, when his raft fell apart right in front of a village and this old man named Tommy fished him outta the river and gave him a beer. Tommy showed him how to live and trap and make homebrew, and he settled down there.

My mom was this idealistic slightly bohemian girl who put herself through college waitressing and shoeing horses. When she finished her masters in special ed she started looking for jobs and was offered one as the itinerant special ed teacher in the villages (meaning she’d spend a week or two per year in each village testing sped kids and making sure their paperwork was right and they were getting what they should be getting). She’d just come to the end of a relationship with a guy and decided Alaska sounded good. Her family and friends told her she would freeze to death, starve, or be eaten by a bear, but she told them people lived up there just fine and she’d just do it however they did. So she got on a plane to Alaska. When she arrived in the village she waited at the airport (like most of them, just an airstrip and a tiny building that never had anyone in it) for hours for the principal who’d said he would come to get her. Finally she lugged all her stuff over to the school and found him. He took her to the cabin that was set aside for teachers, public health nurses, and other official visitors. She opened the door to a bunch of drunken men passed out in their own piss and vomit. One of them stirred, looked up at her. “Woman. I’m hungry. Cook.”

That was how my mother and father both came to be in the same village in Alaska.

The first time I drove home to Alaska it was in a bus that I lived in with my then-girlfriend. Her driving scared me, and she wouldn’t let me drive. I spent most of the trip in the back of the bus trying to distract myself from our high speed on the little twisty mountain roads and picking things up as they fell from the shelves above me. I told myself that she wasn’t this way before and that as soon as she settled into bus living she’d return to her previous sunnier disposition, and I buried my nose in books.

This time it’s just me and my dog in a little van. We’re about two hours south of the Canada border. Having some possible brake trouble. I’m pretty sure it’s just a pebble. Maybe. But to get to the jack I’d hafta take my whole bookshelf out (I know, serious design error). So I’m somewhere between ignoring it and waiting in this town until the shops open tomorrow.

Tags: The day-to-day of it all · Uncategorized

0 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hobostripper/Amazing Woman « The Apostate // Sep 15, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    […] go on, I will sound like I’ve fallen in love. Instead, I’ll just share a paragraph from North to Alaska that had me laughing out loud: This is what I remember of my dad’s story, from years and years […]

  • 2 CarGuy // Jan 24, 2008 at 8:30 am


    I remember the Bus, the living quarters, the cutting plywood at 1:00 am. Still have the pictures of you and the crew somewhere. I am glad you figured out how to prime that diesel bus of yours….


  • 3 Karl // May 5, 2008 at 2:03 am

    What a small world. I’m making plans to move into my truck to embark upon my own adventures. I too am from the hills outside of Fairbanks where the school bus drives past the domes and mismatched additions and old parked buses with painted flowers on. Maybe something in the water makes us want to wander. Or better yet, something in the people that choose to grow their families there. Best wishes in your traveling.

  • 4 Sequoia // Nov 10, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    I dunno why, but everytime I read this story I love it a little more.

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