When I first started writing in earnest, I promised myself that someday I’d set a story in Alaska. Hubby Don, daughter Sue Ann and I lived in Fairbanks for sixteen years. Sue Ann still lives there, with hubby John and adorable Baby Faith.
Although I lived in Interior Alaska, when I began writing Unsafe Haven, I found myself locating my fictional village of Staamat in Southwest Alaska, one of the least-populated regions. Small villages, scattered along rivers like the Kuskokwim, have existed for generations by subsistence hunting, trapping and fishing. Some villages have electricity; others don’t. Necessities like indoor plumbing and actual roads can be the exception instead of the norm. In the summer, their residents travel by river, or from village to village on ‘roads’ that are little more than trails. In the winter, snowmobiles and dogsleds serve as transport. Bush planes either land on small, rough gravel runways, or right on the frozen rivers. Actually, bush planes land wherever they can!
I thought it might be fun to base my Thursday Thirteen on Alaska facts. Thirteen of them!
- Where DO the Roads go? Not very far, depending on where you live in Alaska. Even in a bigger city like Fairbanks, roads only go out so far and then stop. In one direction, you can drive to Chena Hot Springs (roughly sixty miles from Fairbanks) and then you drive no further. In another direction, you can drive to Deadhorse (about four hundred miles due north) but the road you have to travel on would probably turn your hair white, especially during the winter. And a four-hundred-mile-long road is a drop in the bucket when you consider how utterly immense Alaska is. In remote Alaska, around some of those aforementioned, small villages, you’d be lucky to see five miles of a rough road in any direction, before you run into a body of water, be it lake or river.
- Mosquitoes: The Unofficial “State Bird” of Alaska isn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill skeeter. These buggers are MEAN. And aggressively bloodthirsty. Although some cities spray for mosquitoes, it doesn’t seem to do a lot of good. A nice, seven-year cycle bumper crop of dragonflies are welcomed with open arms, because nothing can clear out a horde of skeeters faster than another horde of hungry dragonflies. You quickly learn to love dragonflies, I guarantee. Alaskan mosquitoes are fast, dive-bombing you the very instant you step outside. It’s impossible to out-jog them, too. Trust me, I’ve tried. They also laugh in the face of DEET.
- Penguins and Polar Bears: One lives in Alaska and the other, well… doesn’t. Penguins live almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere (Antarctica). Often, some well-meaning artist will paint them into an Alaskan setting, or write them into an Alaskan story, because you’d think they’d fit right in. I’m sure polar bears, who do live and thrive in Alaska, would love to see the penguin populate their turf. Polar bears are awfully cute when they’re cubs. And they grow up to be really, really deadly.
- No Fleas or Snakes! In keeping with the animal (and bug) theme: nary a flea is to be found in Alaska, so most vets will tell you. But you have to remember the pets – both dogs and cats – that come to Alaska with their human parents, either on vacation or in a permanent move, might have a traveler or two on their fur. It’s not much, but it was enough to keep our Rat Terrier Daisy Mae in Advantix, the entire time we lived there. As for snakes: Nope. As pets, sure. Out in the bush, ‘snaking’ over the tundra and through the waist-high fireweed? No worries!
- Speaking of Fireweed: For a weed, it’s darned pretty. Called ‘Fireweed’ for two reasons: because it’s often the first flora to grow back after a bush fire, and because of the color it turns in the fall, when the tops of the plant “cotton” out, a traditional harbinger of Arctic winter. It also makes delicious honey.
- Baseball at Midnight: The Goldpanners, a semi-pro team in Fairbanks, play some of their best games at midnight. Their annual Midnight Sun Game is played on the longest day of the year, when the sun shines down at 12:30 AM and the fans don’t go home until at least two in the morning. And boy, are those mosquitoes hungry, at two in the morning! If you go to a game, bring DEET. Or a pet dragonfly.
- Sunrise, Sunset: It’s often said, by folks who’ve never lived in Alaska, that there are months of nothing but sun, and then months of nothing but dark. While parts of this theory might be somewhat accurate in Barrow, above the Arctic Circle, Interior Alaska gains and loses minutes of the day the same as any other place in the world. They just do it faster, that’s all. Days lengthen toward June, shorten after June. Longest daylight in Fairbanks at the height of summer: roughly twenty-two hours. Shortest daylight in Fairbanks at the height of winter: roughly three hours. Sleeping with the sun hitting you right in the face: priceless. You learn to treasure those nights.
- Aurora Borealis: Has to be seen to be believed. Until you’ve seen it in a northernmost region such as Alaska, you haven’t seen it. You only think you have. The colder and blacker the night, the better. Some of the most gorgeous Aurora displays I ever saw occurred at temperatures far below zero.
- Which brings us to: Weather Extremes. Alaska’s got ‘em. Where else in the world can you swelter in eighty-degree summer and freeze to death at forty below in the winter? Winter brings the dreaded ice fog: thicker than normal fog, you can almost feel it against your face. It hurts to breathe it in. It is, in effect, frozen air, or at least frozen whatever-happens-to-be-in-the-air. Nasty stuff. If you can survive the dead of winter, your reward will be the wonder of a short, but fabulously wonderful summer. Flowers blooming, Farmer’s markets selling locally-grown veggies and fruit. Heat and sweat and swimming at the lake. Boating on the Chena. Ahhhh.
- Life in the Bush: Not easy, but for those hardy enough to give it a try, very rewarding. You'll find tiny cabins, some of them miles from the most rudimentary roads and without plumbing or electricity, and their owners come to town maybe twice a year and load up on supplies. Sourdoughs, true Alaskans in every sense of the word, who eke out a living with a lot of fortitude and inventiveness.
- Glaciers: Once you’ve seen one, up close, you’ll never forget it. Immense, beautiful, dangerous. They shift and move and grow and breathe. Their depths are pure blue, they rumble like thunder when they break and crash, and if you drop a piece of a glacier into water, it crackles in a fascinating way. Planes land on them, boats keep a respectable distance from them, and I don’t know anyone who isn’t awestruck by them.
- Igloos: Yes, they still exist and are still popular as a temporary shelter. They’re often constructed for use as a hunting and/or fishing base. They can easily last for most of a good, hard winter as long as care is taken when heating the interior with a fire or a kerosene lamp. Snow is one of the best insulators in the world. Just ask a polar bear.
- The Last Frontier: I firmly believe everyone should see Alaska at least once in their lives. Put it on your “Bucket List.” Whether you visit in the summer or in the winter, you’ll never forget it. More than twice as large as Texas and with less than a million residents statewide, Alaska is so hugely majestic, so diversely beautiful, so uniquely unique.
I hope you enjoyed this peek into our forty-ninth state!
My second novel, Unsafe Haven, takes place in Alaska and is currently in the submission process.
My website: http://char.chaffin.com
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- About the Author
- Posts in the Past
Char Chaffin started reading romance, science fiction and horror at a very young age. Her love of books is directly responsible for her overflowing bookcases, and the bounty stored on her new Kindle threatens to eclipse her entire paper collection. Char currently writes mainstream and contemporary romance filled with family, rich characters and engaging plots. For her, it all comes back to the love.
Char began her writing odyssey as a poet, crafting Victorian-style poetry, then went on to writing short stories. She found her niche when she began writing longer and longer short stories, until she wrote her first novel. It might never see the light of day, but writing it taught her a lot. Over the years she worked a variety of jobs, from farm hand to costume designer to fiscal accountant, before deciding a writing career was her true focus.
A native New Yorker, Char lives Upstate on a sixty-acre farm with husband Don, rat terrier Daisy Mae and two barn cats who constantly slack off on the job of keeping the barn free of varmints. The Chaffin extended family is scattered all over the United States and Alaska.
When sheâ€™s not pounding away at her keyboard or burying her nose in books and Kindle, she tends a huge vegetable garden and helps Don maintain a sixty-acre farm.