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This Alaskan Life

Pierogies and Alaskan mountains, do you really need anything else?

When You Call Alaska Home

Even if it’s 5,000 miles from where you first showed up on the planet

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HERE’S A SAYING IN ALASKA THAT

everyone here is running from something. Whether it’s the law, someone you used to like a whole lot more than you like now, or your own history, the saying holds true for a lot of people you meet on your travels through our state. I had occasion to return to Pennsylvania for a funeral recently (okay, I’m there now). Pennsylvania is so far back in my past that I hardly consider it to be part of my history. I don’t get back there except for “marryin’ and buryin’,” which is convenient because I can wear the same skirt to either. I decided to call some friends I hadn’t seen since ninth grade and they agreed that a beer was in order. I had a day to cross what I used to think of as a very large state and was surprised to see that Philadelphia to central PA was only a 3.5-hour trek, half the distance of Anchorage to Fairbanks. Well, it would have been 3.5 hours, had the highway not been closed for a fog-related pile-up of cars. In Alaska, when a highway is closed, you just have to wait it out. We have so few highways, they number 1-11, and if yours is impassible, there are no side roads to

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wind your way around to get to your destination. You sit, you wait, sometimes for eight or more hours, until the road reopens. If my friend Dave is in the car, you play games like drawing pictures of Jesus with a fishing pole in the state fishing regulations guide, and if you’re trying to remember the names of the seven dwarves and can only come up with six, his wife is a phone call away to provide a “lifeline.” You can do a lot of things, except go anywhere. In PA, I spent an hour crawling towards the exit the police were diverting us onto and was pleased to find that there were several options for getting around the closed road. I picked a route that looked right and spent the next two hours dodging horse-drawn open-fronted buggies, packed with stern looking Amish families, going wherever Amish families go on a beautiful afternoon. It was a sight that used to be normal to me but after 30 years away felt wilder than anything I experience in Alaska. After an evening with my friends and the comfort of having people give directions using landmarks that haven’t existed for decades, I stopped by the one grocery store in town. They sold pierogies

in the deli. If you don’t know what a pierogie is and you’re on the keto diet, do NOT google it. If you find out what they are you will seek them out, eat 50 of them, and then blame me for it. The pierogies almost got me—I considered packing up and leaving Alaska. Then I saw the “salmon” in the next case. It was the saddest color of pinkish orange I can ever remember seeing in a refrigerated case. It was farmed, clearly, and not something an Alaskan would even call salmon. The spell of the history, the familiarity, the pierogies, was broken by that sad package of shrink-wrapped fish. I will never leave Alaska. They say you can’t go home again, and there are caveats. You can go, but you can’t stay. You can’t even call it home any more. I’m sitting in the D Terminal at the Philadelphia airport. I’ve had cheesesteak. I’ve had pretzels. I’ve eaten from a bag of Utz potato chips. And I am so excited. I’m going home. To Alaska. Anchorage does have an Eastern European market, if Susan won’t make you any pierogies.

SUSAN DUNSMORE

BY SUSAN DUNSMORE

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M JULY/AUGUST 2019

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5/14/19 7:50 AM

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