College Survival Guide: Why we live here

Jason Hersey/Sun Star Columnist
Oct. 29, 2013

With the grass turning brown, the frost on windshields and fishing season over, we are reminded of the inevitability of the next six months. I think if you live in Fairbanks you occasionally have to ask yourself: why do I endure the frozen toes and fingers for yet another dark winter?

It is a sort of love-hate relationship. Summer/winter, northern lights/incessant darkness, expansive terrain/have to drive everywhere–it is a place that truly embodies the good with the bad.

If you are new to Fairbanks, you are probably hearing horror stories of what the winter is like, along with some strong opinions to whether or not staying here is worth the trouble. Just remember that some of us who have been here for a long time are more jaded than others.

As October winds down, those that are still here, whether they want to be or not, are hunkering down for the winter. The snowbirds have mostly all gone and the sourdoughs are taking advantage of the late snows to finish some end of the season projects. In my ten years here, I don’t remember a Halloween when there wasn’t at least a few inches of snow and below zero temperatures—another victory for the Alaskans for Global Warming.

So what is it that draws us here? It isn’t the fashion statement of four layers of clothing and bunny boots. Nor is it plugging in and torturing your vehicle every morning hoping it will make it to town without the radiator exploding.

According the the U.S. Census Bureau, the Fairbanks North Star Borough houses 13.3 people per square mile. Being about 156 times larger than San Francisco County and its 17,179.1 people per square mile, the Borough can be a hermit’s paradise. Even the state of Maine, about four times the size of the North Star Borough, houses 43.1 people per square mile.

Fairbanks is a weird place though. A sort of sociological experiment where a person’s strangeness contributes to the norm and wild opinions and lifestyles are not hidden to society. Junk yards, cabins considered to be “substandard housing” by national standards, dogsled crossing, coal burning and smoking in the bars are all left to the whims of all those that are drawn to this rural appeal.

To add to the craziness nearly 6,000 active duty military as of 2011, and nearly 11,000 students enrolled at UAF add to the itinerant residency of the population. Then mixed with a majority of right-wing voters, some anti-abortion activists, young cabin-dwelling hipsters and hard-working hippies from the baby boom, Fairbanks sure is lively!

There may not be the best malls, night life, or public transportation, but the strange folk of Fairbanks usually stay here for a reason. And most that leave, eventually come back. To quote an anonymous lady’s bathroom stall writer, “Alaska doesn’t grow on you as much as it renders you unfit to live anywhere else.”

Maybe it is that Alaska boasts half the poverty rate of the national average. Or it’s the opportunity to stock your freezer with local food and game meat. Or maybe it is that “off the grid” mentality that believes we will have the highest survival rate of a complete government collapse.

Whatever the reason, just try to remind yourself of those things when you haven’t seen the sun for three weeks straight and the last time you sweated was some sauna party your buddy brought you to. The winter will drag on, but keep searching for the fun. It’s out there.

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2 Responses

  1. Courtney says:

    This was a great little article. I am from Illinois, but I long to go to Alaska. I have never been there, but I love nothing more than cold weather, snow, mountains, and the forests. I hate hot weather and summer! I hope one day to be able to go up there. Alaska is the place for me!

  2. Geneva says:

    I’ve been dreaming about living in remote Fairbanks, AK for over 20 years. I’m now in my early 40’s and have pretty much given up the dream of living in AK but visiting is #1 on my bucket list! I’m in rural Missouri so I’m sorta remote but not completely remote. I want to be off grid and am working on starting a homestead – all the things I had planned for my life in Alaska. So at least part of the dream continues! I did take a couple online courses via UAF and would love to take more when I have the time and money.

    Best of luck to all UAF students! Y’all picked the best school ever!!!!

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