Alaska: snow, DUIs, and memories of spring

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, for six years. It was an amazing experience, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I still follow the news from the state, and this week had two stories that brought back a flood of intense memories, good and bad.

– The Municipality of Anchorage recorded the most snow, ever, in a single season this week. For those of you who have not had snow on your lawn until May, you really will never understand what this story means. Let’s just say it was a big deal. As of April 7, there has been 133.6 inches this winter.

– Sadly, another drunk driver (driving a three-quarter ton pickup no less) murdered two more innocent persons and critically injured two others near Fairbanks (no date  given, but I believe it was this Easter weekend). In Alaska, DUI is not a felony. This story just tears at the heart, because such deaths are completely avoidable. In my two years studying public health at the University of Washington, not once did I study the issue of DUI, or come across the topic in any class-related project. I have urged faculty there consider the topic in health services courses offered.

So, with spring in the air, I dug up a few of my Alaska spring shots. I took these while running, climbing, and biking in the Turnagain Arm area, just south of Anchorage. Spring is a time of renewal up north. It was always welcomed when it arrived, even very late on most folks’ calendars.

Turnagain Arm, from the top of Bird Ridge, near Anchorage
Scene near Girdwood, Alaska
Spring hike in the Chugach, near Anchorage

A howl is definitely more than we “clever” humans think

On my Facebook page earlier this winter, I shared two video clips that were remarkable to me and remarkably similar. One showed a malamute howling lovingly next to a crying infant, and it stopped both its fussing and crying. Another showed a Siberian husky doing the same thing to a crying baby. I just saw a “Discovery News” YouTube piece attempting to explain away the significance of the inter-species activity and give less value to the meaning of the howl.

I have experienced howling up close in Alaska, by both sled dog mutts in the hundreds and wolves that I came feet from touching. I know the howl very well. There is an intensity to the howl that I cannot fully explain. It’s a very soul-satisfying sound that speaks to something primal inside of me at least. Even though I was close to the wolf, I never felt threatened. The wolf was speaking to its pack (the wolf was actually trying to kill the two dogs I was with, not to harm me and my three running friends). Anyway, I think that dogs and humans have spent thousands of years together now, particularly in a very co-dependent evolutionary way in the Arctic, from Greenland to North America to Siberia to the Lapland/Sweden/Norway. There is a reason why the two species collaborated to survive this brutal climate together. It was mutually advantageous. One could not survive well without the other. That is very clear.

I believe there is something very deep taking place when these dogs howl in these two videos. It’s the howl of a dog taking care of the pack, and the most vulnerable member of the pack. I would also like to see evidence offering something that meaningfully rebuts that theory. And here’s one of my photos from Greenland of a sledge dog (what they call dogs there). I took it in 1998. I love Greenlandic dogs. Very wolflike critters, indeed.