Dispatch: Chugach (chew-gatch)

April 14, 2006

by Aaron Selbig

The Anchorage International Airport has recently been re-named after Ted Stevens, our beloved senior Senator who's been bringin' home the bacon since about 1803. It's under heavy construction. As I guide my rusty Oldsmobile through a maze of toppled pylons and half-erected signposts, I reflect on Ted's career and the beautiful woman I've just sent off to Fairbanks.

Senator Stevens, who is not yet dead, managed to get an airport named after himself by, among other things, convincing animals that oil-drilling is in their best interests. It's even rumored that he personally saw to it that all caribou who agreed to mug for a photo next to the pipeline were handsomely compensated with fresh blueberries and junkets to Hawaii. Jane, my beautiful Fairbanksian, commented just yesterday on an oil company ad she'd seen (and this is no shit) which depicted two caribou standing at the edge of a pool of oil, inquisitively sniffing it as if to say, "Hey, you know this stuff is pretty neat . . . dig those tripped-out swirling colors". But it's all a sell, isn't it? I'm not sold on the prostitution of Alaska's natural resources and Jane's not sold on Anchorage. I pay my buck-fifty for parking and try to get me and the Oldsmobile the hell away from Ted Stevens and his airport. Soft pink clouds hover over the Chugach Mountains, heralding the efforts of a February sunrise. I turn left toward downtown, overcome with the melancholy associated with seeing off good friends and getting back to normal.

She flew down for the weekend to see me and to ski. Or was it the other way around? At any rate, ski we did. The forty-mile drive down to the alpine town of Girdwood and the Alyeska Resort is a winding two-lane highway which hugs the furthest reaches of the Pacific Ocean's fingertips. It is a road impressive equally for its forbidding geography and its proximity to urban Anchorage, which stops abruptly here and is quickly forgotten.. Tides are swift and dangerous and the icy Chugach loom all around. I pop Radiohead into the tape player and sneak looks at Jane. She's watching a group of ice-climbers make their way slowly straight up a cliff on our left side. Crazy exhilaration. "That Jane, she has quite a head", I muse, "there's a strange feline process in there and if I squint like this . . . her hair looks like raven feathers".

The Olds winds its way around a corner and we pass by a group of four or five Dall sheep at the base of a mountain. Rare it is to see even one so this group must be some kind of harbinger totem. They do come back to me hours later on a ski lift when I'm tired and frustrated with my inability to cut sharp turns in deep, tracked powder. I lament this problem to Jane, alternately blaming my aging equipment and my own focus, when she and a chorus of four or five Dall sheep say to me, "Let it go . . . ".

Simple philosophies ring in my ears as I guide the car north toward a skyline shared by mountains and office buildings. I live alone in a small apartment above a bookstore and playhouse in downtown Anchorage. It's an old building, named after a near-forgotten territorial governor and still showing scars from a powerful earthquake that hit here in '64. "Jane's in the air now . . . getting back to normal . . . ", I mutter to myself as I search for a place to park on busy Fifth Avenue. I find one close to my building, get out, and laugh out loud. Normal, indeed.

Alaska, like nearly every place else in the Empire, has had its history and culture compressed and watered down into an easy-to-digest paste for tourists. Perhaps no place in the state better illustrates this better than downtown Anchorage. Proud traditions like mushing and cultural iconography like Grizzly bears and Native art have been mutated, bastardized into stuffed toys priced to sell in innumerable downtown shops. Inside, there are moose poop candies, Iditarod flannel boxers, and those cute little "Last Frontier" license plates available in 'Aaron', 'Zachary', and everything in between. A local journalist once astutely coined the word "Alaskrap" for the truckloads of such shit that is cheaply made and shoveled out to the hoards of tourists who mill about here in the summertime. But then, Alaska does belong to the Empire and the Empire was built on the buying and selling of things. And if we're going to prostitute ourselves, I suppose tourists make gentler johns than oil companies.

I make my way up to my apartment, pull off my boots, and pause to admire the view. The large window in my living room faces East, toward the Holiday Inn and the mall parking garage. Between these, off in the distance, the snowy Chugach mountains reflect a brilliant white. It's going to be a clear day.

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One Response to “Dispatch: Chugach (chew-gatch)”

  1. Bitchass Niggalips Says:

    Who wuz dat jurno’ist dat coined Alaskrap?


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