Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Outsider

I grew up in Alaska during the middle of the last century (my, doesn't that sound distinguished?) before it was transformed from a territory to the 49th state, and when its residents referred to the continental U.S. as "Outside." Residents of the warmer U.S. were known as "Outsiders," a term that was often prefaced with "those damn." They were, to those who had just recently escaped "Outside"themselves, a lesser life form, those pitiful creatures who chose to live away from "God's country" because they lacked the cojones to survive there. Many "real Alaskans" ranked them just slightly below newcomers or "cheechakos" and slightly above "Natives," the indigenous population or the true Alaskans ( who in the 1950s received little recognition for being the owners of the land that "real Alaskans" claimed as their own.)
I always knew I was not a "real Alaskan," and yearned to live somewhere else--somewhere warmer where people understood the value of being well-dressed and lived on something other than moose meat and potatoes. "Outside" seemed a good place to start.
But I was shaped by the attitudes of my time and place. "Outsiders" were well and good in their place but once they reached Alaska? Well, it's not for nothing that the best-selling bumpersticker in the 49th state was for years "We don't give a damn how they do it outside."
One of the few things Alaskan that I feel a remnant of local chauvinism for is the Last Great Race, the Iditarod, when mushers race over 1000 miles to Nome at the coldest time of the Alaskan year. I grew up with sled dogs and the men (yes, in those days they were only men) who mushed them. This is where the Alaskan Natives were undisputed kings, and I cheered on George Attla until the day he hung up his mukluks. It was difficult for me to shift allegiance to non-Native Alaskans, but when Outsider Doc Lombard began to race in Alaska, I began to root for any Alaskan resident who could beat him.
This year I work in Seattle's Gold Rush Museum's gift shop, where window displays are my responsibility and at the moment are filled with all things Iditarod. This is the first year that a woman from Washington state has entered the race, and I've been tracking her progress and cheering her on.
Today as I checked standings, I realized that the two front-runners were both Alaskan residents and that I was supporting a dogmushing carpetbagger. And suddenly I realized that at last I had become one of Them--I'm an Outsider.

5 comments:

Kim said...

Oh, there is another great book brewing ... I can feel it! Kim

Alison said...

Okay, okay, I rooted for an Alaskan! But I also have an old Prinz Brau beer tshirt (remember that beer?) that says .. We don't give a damn how they do it outside. I always wondered if that is why they went bankrupt. Maybe they should have given a damn. I have been thinking about this topic myself recently - it's a good book brewing (I agree with Kim) - and you will write it well.

Janet Brown said...

You both knew before I did--when I started working on an opener for the next one, it turned out Alaskan.

Eugene Latt said...

Cheers ,Janet.You are working on a new book.Cheers...

Janet Brown said...

Thanks, Eugene--hope you are too!