President Obama is making his first-ever trip beyond the military bases of Alaska next week. People are agog, either with angst that he’s coming at all or with anticipation that this president will somehow, somewhere, take a firmer stand on climate change and important issues regarding the planet’s Arctic regions. It’s an important visit, no doubt, and one that remains to a certain extent shrouded with uncertainty (it is the president, after all), but the White House has slowly begun releasing details of just how this three-day visit will all shake out.
*For those visiting or living in the greater Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska areas, you will certainly want to pay attention to news reports and updates from AKontheGO. The arrival of a person like President Obama is cause for much reorganizing in the downtown core, not to mention our major roadways. My message is thus: Be aware. Be respectful. Be flexible.*
What we know: The president will arrive on Monday, August 31, and is scheduled to speak at the Arctic Conference being held at the Hotel Captain Cook and other notable venues around town.
On September 1, President Obama will travel to Seward, 120 miles south of Anchorage, to “witness climate change firsthand,” which likely means Kenai Fjords National Park areas (Exit Glacier, Resurrection Bay, and the like).
September 2 finds the president in the small rural communities of Dillingham and Kotzebue on the western edges of our state. It is here that climate change appears to be taking a hard toll in the form of violent storms, vanishing shorelines, and changes to wildlife habitat. President Obama is scheduled to depart the state sometime on September 2.
Is it enough? Well, no, but most tourists don’t have time to see the entire state and its magical, mysterious qualities. But it is a start, and the world will be paying attention.
What we think the president should see and do: If AKontheGO were asked (and sadly, we weren’t), we had a ready list of outdoor-themed, Only-In-Alaska-Style activities that would underscore 1) the uniqueness of our state, 2) the mission we have to preserve our outside spaces for generations to come, and 3) we also think President Obama and the entire entourage should take a little down time, relax, stop, look, and listen for a while. That’s what we’d say.
1. Hike. While many places around the nation are used to sunny, hot summer days, Alaskans everywhere are scratching their heads and asking themselves “Just how long will this go on, anyway?” We’re not complaining, mind you, it’s just that some of us are asking when and where the proverbial other shoe will drop in the form of wildfires, drought, and mild winters with (shudder) little or no snow. President Obama should hike up North Face at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood and look across the valley to see all seven of those hanging glaciers, and wonder, “How long will they look like that?” And well, the trek up is quite a good workout too, Mr. President.
2. Pick berries. The berries were amazing this summer. Simply, joyously, amazing to see, taste, and preserve. But, President Obama, did you know they ripened almost a month ahead of schedule, especially in the normally-wet areas of Southeast Alaska (that would be the rainforest). True story. We did enjoy our family gatherings at places like Arctic Valley and Hatcher Pass, but gosh, is this the new normal? Pick yourself a mess of crowberries, take them to a village function, and see if you don’t agree after talking to the residents in attendance. Try a few varieties you may not be aware of, from highbush cranberries to those dark, round crowberries (or moss berries, depending upon where you live).
3. Watch wildlife. Alaska’s bears, moose, whales, mountain goats, sea otters, wolves, and myriad other creatures are more than a tourist attraction; they are our touchstones to nature. How could anyone possibly miss the meaning of a mama moose nuzzling her fast-growing calf, a mother bear teaching her cubs to fish in a salmon stream, or a humpback whale doing 360s? A message to you out-of-town media, by the way: Put down the camera now and then. You’re in Alaska. You GET to be here. Take advantage of it.
4. Stay up late. The heavens of our Arctic regions are as equally amazing, and no less mysterious than the terresterial forms. Aurora borealis displays have danced across the skies of Alaska for the past week, and are likely to continue while President Obama is here. What greater gift could we offer? Not much. I wonder if he’s really ever watched the northern lights from the bow of a boat, or from the top of a mountain? I’m in.
5. Get to know us. We’re pretty amazing, us Alaskans, and we have a lot to say regarding our state, its industry and people. For better or worse, you’ve made the decision to show up, and now, so are we. Mr. President, think about attending the “Rising Together” event on August 31, shortly after you arrive in town. Yes, yes, jet lag and schedules and all that. But we’ll understand.
6. Get to know our cultures. The Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage is a great way to wrap your head around the diverse Native groups who have resided in Alaska for centuries. Take a walk around the village sites, watch a dance performance, and sit down with an elder. That’s connecting.
P.S. Readers, it is my hope that any comments regarding this blog post are civil, respectful, and absent of any bad words. Thank you.