Friday, April 21, 2023

Alyeska: A Special Part of Our Earth


Caribou photo by Brian Schmitt

by Barbara Brown

When I first moved to Alaska in 2007 I had visited here twice before, and I was in awe of the magnitude and majesty of this place. The name Alaska is derived from a native word: “Alyeska”, which means great land, and this state certainly is that.


    I live in the city of Palmer in the southcentral area of the state, about a 50 minute drive from Anchorage, the largest city. When I watch our local news and weather, the station is based in Anchorage, but the reports cover other areas of the state as well: North Slope, Interior, Southeast, Aleutian Chain, Western, Kenai Peninsula, and  Prince William Sound. I live in the area which is known as being “on the road system”, where a majority of the population lives. Once you get past Fairbanks in the interior there are no roads to get places except for the Haul Road, used by truckers to get supplies up to the oil fields in the north.


   My city has several very popular tourist destinations: the Reindeer Farm, where you can go in the pen and feed them, the Musk Ox Farm, where you can watch them being groomed for their incredibly soft qiviut fiber, Hatcher Pass, where you can hike, ski, and see the remains of the Independence Gold Mine, and the small town feel of the downtown area, full of shops and restaurants.


  Out my front window I have a wonderful view of Pioneer Peak which stands at 6,398 ft. and is part of the Chugach Range.  These mountains, along with the nearby Talkeetna Mountain Range, are not as high as the Rockies but are jagged and stark against the mostly flat plains surrounding them. The ever-changing light and shadows from clouds overhead means I will never get tired of watching them.  If you have never seen a mountain bathed in the pinkish, orangey glow of Alpenglow, you really need to come here to experience it.


   The Matanuska Valley, where Palmer is located, was carved out by the Matanuska Glacier. Like many of the glaciers in Alaska it has receded many miles back from where the town is, but it is readlily accessible by car, and you can go on guided tours across its surface. The Matanuska River flows from it through town, and it is a classic example of a braided river, full of glacial silt. The water at the height of the spring melt runoff time is a bluish gray color.


    The fertile soil in this valley means this area supports some of the largest agricultural fields of the whole state. Maybe you have heard of the giant cabbages that can grow up to 110 pounds, and other giant vegetable like 4 pound carrots and 5 pound kohlrabi. There is a whole section at the state fair (held in Palmer in late August through Labor Day) of giant veggies on display each year, so again, if you have never been to Alaska, maybe you want to come for that.  We even have Cabbage Fairies who wander around the fairgrounds in their cute green costumes spreading good cheer to young and old. 


   Our new Representative in D.C., Mary Peltola, is Alaska Native,  from the Kuskokwim River area in and around Bethel. She is passionate about protecting this great land.  She is aware that Alaska has mostly been a resource extraction state in its relatively short 63 years of statehood but she knows that there is much to be done to keep this boom and bust extractive economy from completing raping all the bountiful resources in this land. There are now collaborative approaches happening that are moving the state toward a regenerative economy. For a sample, listen to the latest episode of “A Matter of Degrees” podcast.  The episode delves into the decades-long fight to protect the Tongass National Forest in southeast AK. It features Marina Anderson, Deputy Director of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and President Richard  Chalyee  Peterson of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.


     In closing, I want to reiterate: Alaska is a great land, and its nickname The Last Frontier is well earned. I feel blessed to call this place home, and pray God will bless our efforts to care for this special part of our earth.

Barbara Brown is a member of PEC as well as the Presbytery of Yukon.  She was one of the planners and hosts for a glorious eco-trip to Alaska/ Yukon Presbytery in 2014 along with Curtis Karns, then Executive Presbytery of Yukon Presbytery.

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