The Alaska Way
Published at: 49 Writers
I figured I had graduated from cheechako status when I could correctly pronounce Tuntutuliak and Kwigillingok, after visiting these places in Alaska, and when I could accurately pronounce Tlingit and Inupiaq. I’m not sure when a cheechako becomes a bona fide Alaskan. Maybe it’s after the first winter when a newcomer becomes “broke in.”
Alaska is the land of acronyms. I learned this when I worked for BLM, the Bureau of Land Management. (My employer was even an acronym). I spent the first year asking people what they meant by: PFD, ANWR, ANCSA, ANILCA, ADNR, ADF&G, FBX, and abbreviated names such as Mat-Su. Now they roll off my tongue like I’m an old pro.
Alaska is a complete paradigm shift from the Lower Forty-Eight. I learned a new set of rules: “When you float a river, don’t jump in for a swim. Stay off the mudflats, you’ll get stuck and drown when the tide rises. Don’t walk on glaciers; you’ll fall in a crevasse.” Then there is the old standby, “Don’t fix your windshield until after break-up.”
Some rules I learned from experience, such as don’t flip off an Alaskan driver or they’ll chase you home. My pursuer had an easy-rider-rifle-rack mounted in his truck. I panicked, raced home, and burst through the door, my screams levitating my husband off of the couch. The second time I flipped someone off, I thought they had followed me to work. They did. It was my boss. I didn’t get a good performance evaluation that spring. I finally decided to follow that rule. (It’s not good form to flip anyone off anywhere in the U.S. these days unless you have a death wish).