Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Our Greatest Frontier

By Mark W. Danielson

I love Alaska. Over twice the size of Texas, it’s by far our greatest frontier. Everything is different there. Accessibility. Climate. Auroras. Most of all, attitude. Certainly, its remoteness contributes to that. Being a half a continent away makes it difficult for Washington to enforce their rules. And since most locations are only accessible by air, even the FAA has a milder policy toward Alaskan pilots.

Perhaps the thing I like most about Alaska is the Anchorage newspaper, which brims with local news. And why shouldn’t it? Who cares about events in other states? Its proximity warrants attention to Russian events, but immigration on the southern US borders carries little interest. To understand what I’m saying, I thought I’d share a few examples of actual headlines from the Anchorage Daily News.

Mountain Bikers Fend Off Grizzly Attack Near Hope. Now, this is an interesting headline because in most states, a “grizzly attack” would mean someone got knifed in a dark alley, in which case they might be closer to death than Hope. This biker’s problems began when he came across a grizzly bear with cubs. Like most moms, bears will stop at nothing to protect their young. In spite of being pounced on and bitten, this biker managed to fend off the bear with determination and bear spray, which I presume is standard equipment, comparable to carrying an American Express Card in LA.

Poor Run Shuts Down Nushagak King Fishery. Don’t you just love these Alaskan names? Actually, Nushagak is a river, and the king salmon have been so over-fished that the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game ended all king salmon fishing – even on catch-and-release. How about that? Alaska has a proactive state agency. What a concept.

Bear Grabs Bunny; Owner Gives Chase. Hey, I’m not making this up! The story goes: “A black bear snatched up a partially paralyzed pet rabbit from the owner’s yard and the rabbit’s owner gave chase. But she couldn’t rescue her bunny, named George, from the teeth of the bear.” Is this person nuts? My thought was God was calling this bunny home and the bear was his messenger. Kind of a win-win situation. And for some reason, the bear ignored the bunny owner’s cries to, “Stop! Stop! Give me him!” Now, if I were to write that into a story, no one would ever publish my work again.

Landing Jetliner’s Wing Hits Passenger Bridge. Okay, here’s one for the exaggeration-with-little-content category. “The United Airlines 757 struck a passenger bridge [meaning the off-loading bridge that extends from the terminal] after landing in Anchorage.” Please . . . It’s not like this 757 struck the Bay Bridge while attempting to land in Oakland. Amazingly, “Those on board were able to safely exit the plane.” Duh. The plane wasn’t going more than five miles per hour when it hit. Good old sensationalism at its best. Keep that in mind when you write. It may initially draw the reader in, but ultimately it will backfire.

Commercial Fishermen Report Strong Returns of Bristol Bay Sockeye. In keeping with the newspaper’s sensationalist policy, this article was posted on the back page while the one about the Nushagak fishery closing down was on the front page. Interesting, isn’t it?

So, there you go. One day’s worth of local news direct from Anchorage, only delayed by a few weeks. You can learn a lot from papers like this, like how locals interact, and what they are engaged in. If you’re writing about a particular location, newspapers can be a good source of understanding. It’s also interesting to note Alaska’s wilderness connection. The news may offer a different perspective from the ones on travel agency videos. The bottom line is know what you’re writing about before you ever touch the keyboard. If you don’t, it can bite like a bear.


Jaden Terrell said...

Mark, this is of especially high interest to me, since my fifth Jared McKean book takes place in Alaska. I'll have to subscribe to some of these local papers. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I read the Anchorage Daily News online at I've read all the stories Mark mentioned.

I started reading it because I have so many relatives in Alaska, but keep reading it because it's so interesting.

On the political gossip side, there's an ADN column called Alaska Ear. On the social chitchat side, there are several Anchorage people on Facebook.

I've been to Juneau and Anchorage so I can identify. Haven't been out in the boonies though. The cities are wild enough for me. (:

Pat Browning

Mark W. Danielson said...

Beth, Pat, I don't know of any other place that reports news like they do in Alaska. It doesn't matter what town it is, the reports are always interesting and entertaining.

As far as remote sites go, I often look at potential last-ditch emergency landing sites in northern Alaska, China and Russia thinking to myself, yeah, I could probably survive a crash landing in this tundra, but then what? Chances are slim anyone would get to us before we perished from the elements. I'll let you imagination take over from there:)

Jean Henry Mead said...

I loved my midnight flight to Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Eskimo Olympics a decade ago. Most interesting was he town of North Pole with its Santa Clause workshop a few miles out of Fairbanks. Everyone there was so friendly!

Mark W. Danielson said...

Jean, the interesting thing about people is the smaller and more difficult the location where they reside, the friendlier they tend to be. I suspect it's because with fewer distractions, friends and neighbors become more important. They also tend to look after each other more. Alaska definitely fits this category.