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August 18, 2006 - When it Rains in Alaska

One of my most lasting memories of my first visit to Alaska was the view out the window of a van as I was heading back to Anchorage to leave. It was September, and late in the afternoon, and we were driving south near the intersection of the Parks Highway and the Glenn Highway. The weather was rainy, and there really wasn't much to see in terms of scenery, because of all the clouds and fog. [This area is actually quite scenic, with views of the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains.] At the time, the roads here were two lane roads with at-grade intersections. Today the road is expressway, with interstate highway-style interchanges.

What was memorable was the crossing of the Knik River. The river originates at the Knik Glacier, 20 or 30 miles east of where it crosses under the road. Like all glacial rivers, the silt load is tremendous, and the water is as opaque as chocolate milk. The water was grey, the sky was grey, and the boundary between the two was almost invisible, as if the sky and water and fog melted together into a single impenetrable blob. This probably sounds unappealing, but for a kid from the east coast, where glacial rivers are something you read about in a book, this was a fascinating experience and strangely beautiful scene.

It is raining today here in Anchorage, and Alaskans far and wide are complaining about the weather. But I think if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that most of us are really rather spoiled. We do get our rainy days, especially at this time of year, but a weekend is a weekend, and we'll all still probably go fishing, or visit our cabin, or go four-wheeling, or whatever our weekend plans are. If we catch that monster silver salmon, we'll quickly forget that it was raining. If we sit in our cabin and finish that mystery novel we've been meaning to read, the weekend will be a success. And as we drive down the road, and see trailer after trailer of muddy four-wheelers heading back home on Sunday afternoon, you won't hear their owners complaining about the rain, but rather the fun they had splashing through all the puddles and mud.

Alaska in the summer is about being outdoors. When it rains, we complain, but when it is sunny and 75, we complain that we have to put on sun screen and that it is too hot.

I guess there isn't a perfect Alaskan day... but on a scale from one to ten, almost all of them are a nine.


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