Personal Alaska 2

What's a sourdough, anyway?

July 11, 2017 
To distinguish between newcomers and old-timers in Alaska we have two words. A cheechako is a newcomer and a sourdough is an old-timer. Apparently there is no middle ground. Definitions of those two categories vary as evidenced but the facebook string above. It's worth going there and following the comments, the whole episode is pretty funny. Quite a way down you will find my own comment in which is said "after years of storytelling (both listening and telling) I have come to the conclusion that a sourdough is someone who's been here a year longer than you have.
Here's how I came up with that definition. Years ago I was standing in line at a Post Office behind two old-timers, obviously sourdoughs. The conversation I overheard was fascinating. These guys had been in just about every gold camp in Alaska over the years, often at different times but in the same ones together occasionally, though they had never met.

As these conversations go, the conversation eventually evolved to the question, "How long you been in Alaska?"
The answer spoken with some pride came out at "31 years."
And the response? "Oh just a cheechako, huh?"
"So how long you been here?"
And with bigger pride: "33 years."
At which time I decided upon my definition. A sourdough is a guy who's been here a year longer than you.
Having passed 40 years in the state a couple of years ago I felt I had reached sourdough status, but I know several people who have been here longer than that. I did draw the line one day though, when a guy at a job I did for a while asked me if I was born here. He had, so thought he had one up on me until I figured out he was 28 years old and I had been here 38 years. Even counting time in the womb, I had been here longer than he had.
Along with the sourdough/cheechako differential there's another aspect of life here to be aware of as well. No matter what you do, someone has done it better, hiked farther, climbed higher, sailed more water, had a harder time doing it and came back from closer to the precipice than you have. It is the way of the country.
Incidentally by all appearances the woman who put up the facebook post has been here at least a year longer than I have. She and I both attained a 100% score on the attached quiz. I would however give whoever wrote the quiz a lower grade for calling us Alaska natives. You see, a sourdough would never call himself or herself a native. That word is reserved for the First People, the only true Native Alaskans.

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May 20, 2011
I had lunch yesterday with a longtime friend. As we thought back through our lives it turns out we have known each other for a generation.

We first met at the East Pole; she and others own a cabin just across the main trail maybe a little less than half a mile away. That’s within chainsaw hearing distance. When I first went out there to build, my plan was to live in a tent until I could move in. They graciously let me live in their cabin while I built and believe me that was a wonderful offer given that I was building in winter and just staying alive in a tent might have been more adventure than I was up for.

We stayed friends over the years and each time a book of mine was published, I made sure to give them a copy. I also shared some of the stories, particularly the ones about the Bush, that have never been published.

She lives Outside now and was visiting family in Alaska and found time for us to get together for a lunch and a bit of a drive around the country.

The conversation was mostly a mix of memories and current situations, very pleasant. She had asked me to bring a couple of books and when I gave them to her she asked me to sign them for a young person in her life. That person was her great-granddaughter, the daughter of someone who was running around in the woods as a little kid back in those days when we all shared a lot of time together. I distinctly remember one time towing her and my son as they rode in a sled behind my snowmachine.

(A brief aside: One night I was invited to their place for dinner. In order to “bring something” I made one of those Jell-O no-bake pies. As I headed down the hill later, cradling my bear protection shotgun in the crook of one arm balancing a flashlight and the pie in two hands, stumbling over tree roots here and there, a realization made me laugh out loud {If a man alone in the woods laughs out loud, does it really make a sound?}. It hit me as totally ludicrous that there I was this rough and tough Bush Alaskan running around in the woods with guns and knives, but being ever so careful not to lose the peaches off the top of my Jell-O cheesecake pie as I did.)

Back to the present: So, I signed these two books for my friend’s daughter’s granddaughter and as I was doing that she told me that she and her daughter and her son (who helped with building the cabin a day or two here and there) had kept my books over the years in special places, like where you collect precious memories. That moment made all the writing worthwhile. I have never had a best seller so obviously the writing is for some other reasons.

My friend had just given me one of those reasons. When she said it, I felt this wave of emotion kind of flow through me, one of those tingles you get now and then. For the moment it felt like it had all been worth it just to know that friends had found a creation of mine was worth saving as something special.

THE PHOTO: Taken by this friend. I looked and don’t have any pictures of her or her family. It is 1987 or ’88. The other fellow in the picture is another friend who lived out there, too. I have no idea why I was packing heat to cook a dinner for us.

A book is born, a voyage completed

July 2, 2011
I just finished editing a book by a friend of mine. About a year or so ago there were a couple of posts on here titled Conversations with Patricia. She is the author. I wasn’t asked to do the full-blown edit, just look for Alaska references to make sure they are correct and because she lived in Alaska for several years, there weren’t very many. Very pleasant and funny reading, it is satire about the Governor Interrupted under the working title: “Alaska by Heart: Recipes for Independence, by Sarah Pagan."

That’s all I will say about it at this point; you will have to find it and read it when it comes out in the near future. Final edit has been sent to the publisher so it won’t be too long.

Other than that it’s been a slow summer with a lot of recent overcast skies but not much rain, just threatening without fulfillment. For excitement there was one of the neighbor’s cats playing with a vole in the driveway the other day. How they do tease those little guys. I seem to recall reading there are no mice native to Alaska, just voles and shrews. Watching the vole reminded me of a conversation around a campfire so many years ago. As we sat there we could see voles scurrying around a huge rotten tree stump. It wasn’t long before someone called the stump Volehalla, which of course led to several other vole puns and the thought of a book similar to the “Book of Terns.” We were going to call it “High Voltage.” Some of the suggestions were Voletaire, voleuptuous, voleume. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

That was also the night of my first and only cruise paddling a kayak. The folks I was with were staying in a tipi they had erected on an island. I had anchored my boat offshore and had ridden to the beach in someone’s skiff. After a night when numerous beers had been consumed and even more vole puns offered, people began to tire and head off to bed, including the ones who owned the skiff I rode to shore in. So the consensus was to pack me into one of the tipi dwellers’ kayaks and set me on my way toward my boat. Despite my objections, and after only the briefest of training sessions, I found myself floating away from the beach out onto an ocean, paddle in hand and operating a type of boat I had never even been in before. And, of course, life jacket? I don't need no stinking life jacket! I truly don’t recall how I managed to get to my boat and even less about how I got from that low-to-the-water kayak and over the gunwale of my boat which would have necessitated standing up in that less than stable watercraft.

 Sometimes you have to wonder how you survived your adventures to live this long. Also how such a common occurrence as a cat playing with a vole can trigger such vivid memories. At this moment I can almost feel the heat from that campfire and the tickle of various bugs landing on my skin. Funny no chill of fear though, which probably should have been the strongest feeling of that night. But then, what’s the fun of doing something if you know how?


August 18, 2011
For the most part aging has been one more adventure in life. Though not totally embraced, it is not being fought either, more like learning as I go and dealing with what changes come up. Some aspects are accepted and some even comforting while others take some conscious adjustment. (I have finally accepted I will never be the heavyweight champion of the world). Other aspects can be very upsetting. One of those is the growing number of people in your life who die. It’s only natural, we are all growing older and a logical extension of that thought is of course we are crowding the end and some of us are going to drop off before others. Working in the news business can make this part of aging extremely upsetting. Three times in the past couple of years I have been editing a story and all of a sudden the name of someone I knew jumped out at me, killed before his time. It happened this week. It is an old joke that we check the obituaries every day and if we’re not in them it’s all good.
It's not all good. Not too long ago, three people I knew showed up in the obituaries within about a week. It reached a point where I avoided editing or reading them any more because I didn’t want surprises like that. Better to go on in the blithe ignorance of believing everyone in your life is still going strong.
Sunday night such a name jumped off the page at me. It was a story about a small airplane crash near McGrath in west central Alaska. A Cessna 207 went down in bad weather and two people were killed. One was a long-time teacher in the Village of Anvik, the other was the pilot, one Ernest Chase. Realization took a moment. Then I realized. No one calls him Ernest.
I had dinner at Ernie Chase’s home in Grayling in 1979. The invitation was a courtesy because he had invited an old friend, the fellow who was flying me along the Iditarod Trail, and I suppose he felt obligated to include me. I remember a very vibrant man never at a loss for words and wanting to make sure I did well in my writing by his brother Ken who was in the race. The meal, as I recall moose was on the menu, and the conversation were a welcome respite from the pockets of Corn Nuts and beef jerky I had been surviving on. After the dinner we said our good nights and I went off to sleep in the light of the main room in the Grayling community hall. We weren’t allowed into the back room because the body of a village elder was there awaiting transport.
We flew out the next morning. I only saw Ernie one more time and I cannot recall the occasion just that it was a surprise and a quick passing in which we only recognized each other and exchanged hellos. Not exactly close friends, but someone you are aware is in the world somewhere and that is somehow mildly comforting. Only now he is not out there in the world somewhere and that is the world’s loss.
Last night a story came up about another small airplane down with two people from Cordova, a town where I know people and have good friends, missing and presumed dead. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the story for fear I would recognize their names.

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Interesting quotations

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeare on Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve