Posted by: shannynmoore | June 22, 2009

What is Alaskan? What can’t you explain to tourist?

Tuesday, I will be a guest on Talk of Alaska with radio guru,  Steve Heimel and Peter Dunlap-Shohl, former cartoonist, Anchorage Daily News, and blogger.  Here’s the topic…

Talk of Alaska: What’s Alaskan?   Alaska depends on tourists, and most Alaskans are happy to help visitors enjoy our state. But some things are easier to explain than others – for instance those Blazo boxes, or waiting for the mail plane. Or the difference between a skiff and a boat. Can you think of more? Let’s hear what they are! “What’s Alaskan?” is the subject on the next Talk of Alaska. Audio Will Be Posted After the Show.

Any ideas? Thoughts? Musings? I’d love to get your thoughts and am looking forward to the lighter side of radio!

Oooh, do you have pictures?



  1. Juneau/Ketchikan/whatever sneakers, aka XtraTuffs. They just don’t get it that we need rain boots much of year down here…

    And that whole thing about sea level… You’d think we wouldn’t have to explain that, since so many of the arrive in ocean-going ships, but you know…they just don’t get that one either…

  2. One I get alot is how do you tolerate the sunlight in the summer?

  3. Alaska is land of seductive beauty.

    Where a cool breeze will caress you like the gentlest of lovers as the wondrous landscape steals away your very breath and causes your heart to beat in your chest like the frantic wings of a captive butterfly.

    Wow is it hot in here all of the sudden?

  4. It hits you your Alaskan when your’re at the Seattle airport, you pass all the other gates with well dressed people, people with laptops, tanned and sundress wearing people. Then you head to your gate. The gate to Alaska…and you look around at the dirty boots, the facial hair overgrowth and abundance of flannel, on men and women. You notice a distinct difference between the Alaska gates and the Los Angeles Gate.

    You start to feel pangs like maybe you forgot something at Trader Joes or IKEA…and wish you had more time. You think for a moment about moving…then you look around see your neighbors and friends. You take off your silly looking over sized sunglasses and realize your going home.

    • That’s actually beautiful Anji and oh so accurate.

  5. We had two summers of cruise ships in Cordova before they came to their senses and didn’t come back. My favorite comment was actually a complaint by a passenger just arrived from being ferried in from the ship. It was low tide, and the passenger was pissed about the steepness of the ramp from the floats. The harbor master asked how long they would be visiting, and hearing 5 hours, said “no problem, we’ll have it fixed by the time you get back”.

    • ROFLMBO!!!

  6. BTW, Blazo boxes and mail plane? That’s going way back. Umbrellas. Explain why we don’t own one. And why gore-tex just isn’t good enough.

    • You can remove this. Premature ejection.

  7. BTW, Blazo boxes and mail planes? That’s going way back. Coleman lantern mantles and the special funnel you needed to fill the damn things. Love the sound they made. Jiffy stoves. Canned milk (still my favorite for coffee).

    Umbrellas. Explain why we don’t own one, except for leaving to go outside. And why gore-tex just isn’t good enough.


  8. And rain coats are what you put on after you are soaked.

  9. The question I find harder to answer is when I travel Outside, and am asked about Sarah. Oh, where to begin?

  10. The reminder that Alaska is an activist state at it’s roots, not an obstructionist state. Also, the reality that we might be the last melting pot in the country, on top of being the last frontier.

  11. That’s something that I tell my internet friends Outside, as well. I think there’s a wonderful level of activism here. It gives me some hope.

  12. Blazo boxes! I can’t believe this is a topic. I have 5 of them and make them work in my house. I remember when they were used as kitchen cabinets. If you come across them for less than $20 at a garage sale – grab ’em!

  13. Dipnetting – Outsiders are stunned and amazed at dipnetting for salmon on the Kenai.

    TRASH v. “Stuff” – all of the junk piled everywhere around the outside of people’s houses in Alaska.

  14. Blazo boxes, 80-87, cabinets, Blazo Cans! roofing shingles, same as Coleman fuel cans (far more better than propane) boats, generic, anything that can be lifted onto a Ship, skiff (or jitney) is a boat, small, usually flat bottomed, dory-like, (30 degree sides) Lots of places have and pour money into bridges that don’t go anywhere, we have bridges and pour $ into them that don’t even start anywhere (Knik Bridge) duct tape, blue tarps, Spenard, Spenard divorce, etc etc

  15. It is hard to explain to outsiders why people live in Whittier year-round.

    My favorite anecdote on dealing with an outsider is from when I was harbormaster in Whittier. It was summer, and my wife was in NYC going to summer school at Columbia.

    We had a small king crab pot in Poe Bay. Even though I’m somewhat allergic to King crab, I’d go out and pick and re-bait the pot, while my wife was gone. Sometimes I’d give the crab away.

    I caught two really large males, re-baited the pot and headed back into town. I pulled up to the fuel dock to fill my kicker cans. A small tour boat was tied up to the dock.

    A very over-dressed woman in her 30s came up to me, looking at the crab, that were upside down in the bottom of the skiff. She looked like she’d been dressed from a Niemann-Marcus show room, and talked high-class Texan, too.

    She asked, “Is that there Alaskan King crab?”

    “Yes, ma’am, it is”

    “Did you catch ’em?”

    “Yes, I did.”

    “What’re you going to do with ’em?”

    “I’m going to cook them and feed them to my cat.”

    She looked at me for about 25 seconds, horrified. “You should be shot.”

    • BTW, It was greatly appreciated when you were the Harbor Master of Whittier. As a member of the lowly commercial fleet, you always made room in the over-crowded harbor for us.

  16. No offense, Phil, but it’s still hard for this fellow PWS res. to understand year-round living in Whittier 🙂 I met a young fellow who was born and raised there and has never lived anywhere but the Begich towers. And you did leave, right?

  17. Why is it more difficult to explain Subsistence to Alaskans than it is to visitors? Visitors I have come across have less difficulty “getting it” than many Alaskans.

  18. How about combat gardening??? Water tubes, cloche frames, solar collectors, black plastic sheeting, no wait, CLEAR plastic sheeting, milk jogs with the bottoms cut off, raised beds, black bricks, any tidbit to extract a pico-degree increase in soil temperature. Want to start a fist fight among the blue hairs? Just mention how you use black plastic sheeting on your soil surface within ear shot of the local garden club.

    On a more wistful note, I moved here in 1991 from Cali and what I relished was how TOLERANT Alaskans were. I was working as an environmentalist amidst the mining world and was amazed at how people mixed across genres. Young, old, red, blue, and how we could argue and debate, yet share a beer at the end of the day. I loved sport-ranting with the miners and laughed at the list of names they had for “people like me.” This was such a refreshing change from Cali where you were either in or out, and if you “cavorted with the enemy,” you were OUT for sure. What has happened to us…..

  19. Blueberries….fresh off the bush,
    wild raspberries, high bush cranberries.

    Crossing off ‘state’ on forms asking where you were born
    then writing in Territorial.

    Square tires, solid car/truck seats.

    Three sided logs for cabins.
    Red squirrels stealing fiberglass insulation.

    Aurora on clear cold nights.

    Listening to the wonderful chorus of dog teams howling.

    Freezer on the pourch

    Snowshoeing with my Black Labrador

    Wondering why talk of Alaska gives a phone number for Anchorage locals, when this is a program for Alaskans.

    Telling time by Gold Rush, Before World War II, Before Statehood, Before the EarthQuake,
    Before the Pipeline…


  20. My favorite tattoo on a man in Cordova:

    The Xtra Tuff label on his chin

    • Typo. The Xtra Tuff label tattoo was on his SHIN.

  21. Years back in Cordova. Alot of us had no elec. So in the summer we would ask friends with freezers if we could put our king in there for winter. Then come winter would say Oh will have to unpack the freezer to find the fish… they would most likly hand me a moose roast and say wait till spring!.

  22. It’s always good to hear your voice, Shannyn
    and to see that you keep that vitally important
    sense of humor alive along with your more
    serious work.

    I’m old and have been in Ak longer than you,

  23. The following happened to friends in Sitka:
    1) One woman asked, in all seriousness, “When do you turn on the Northern Lights?”
    2) A lady wanted to know where to buy a very small wooden totem pole to take home. She could only find small plastic totems. Why wooden? Because she wanted to plant it and grow her own large totem. After all, she didn’t have much room in her suitcase for a large one!
    3)There were often complaints about the need to ‘repair’ steep ramps to/from the docks. One gentleman was thrilled and amazed to find that it had been done so quickly; the city staff was much deemed very efficient.

    I was never asked anything more exciting than the ‘Exchange Rate’ and the cost of postage to the United States.

  24. First, I’ve lived in Alaska for 29 years.
    A few years ago there was a great article in the Anchorage Press entitled, “Welcome to Alaska, Now Go Home”. The writer did a great job of discussing the paradox of tourists and how we want their $$$, but tire of their questions, etc.
    What’s even more tiresome is visiting the Lesser 48 and answering all the inane questions from friends, family, and strangers who see your AK license plate.

  25. OOPS! 2 words left out above: …the city staff was much appreciated and deemed very efficient.

    BTW, how do you explain tides and the importance of tide charts? Even those who know there are tides don’t seem to get it.

  26. Oh yeah, and the tourist who was LIVID and took it out on the Cruise West bus driver about who in the heck did we think we were flying an American flag at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center? The bus driver told him to take it up with the U.S. Forest Service Ranger inside!

  27. loved your comments today. we spend much time in Homer too, have a cottage in Old Town. I’m now subscribing to your RSS. Do you talk about the politics of Homer? my favorite was last week, with guests from Michigan with us, trying to buy some halibut @ Safeway, only frozen, was told to go fish for it, paid $15 a pd @ coal point on the spit, amazing when it’s only $ 10 @ costco in Anchorage…. Met a guy selling Scallops on Bypass, he got them from Costco, drove to Homer to sell them, crazy….

  28. Cardboard boxes held together with duct tape for luggage.
    “Alaskan Samsonite”

  29. Road named Stoney Lonesome.

    • And Yellow Snow Lane, in Fairbanks…..

  30. Dear Shannyn

    Being Alaskan is living in a state that was the first to give women the right to vote.

    Congress gave that power to the Alaska Legislature when it approved the law creating the Territory of Alaska, signed by President Taft on Aug. 24, 1912.

    When the First Territorial Legislature met, its first act was to unanimously approve a bill to allow women to vote.

    Alaska was also the first territory/state that gave Native Americans the right to vote. While there were a number of discriminatory caveats that were used as qualifiers. Alaska was still the first.

    This state has a historic history of being blue.
    The only thing red about it are our collective faces for having to be identified with Sar-ass Pain-in

  31. In Seattle: You smell like you’re from Alaska. (really?) Yeah, like woodsmoke and wet wool. (proud of that!)

  32. Meeting someone at a party and realizing you’d never met before, but you’d used their cabin through a friend, or a friend of a friend. Or, meeting someone on a plane and realizing they’d been staying at YOUR cabin, through a friend or a friend of a friend.

  33. From wikipedia:

    The first territorial legislature of the Wyoming Territory granted women suffrage in 1869.[27] In the following year, the Utah Territory followed suit. However, in 1887, the United States Congress disenfranchised Utah women with the Edmunds–Tucker Act. In 1890, Wyoming was admitted to the Union as the first state that allowed women to vote. In 1893, voters of Colorado made that state the second of the woman suffrage states and the first state where the men voted to give women the right to vote.[28] In 1895, Utah adopted a constitution restoring the right of woman suffrage.

  34. Outhouse 60 below,
    wood lot
    dog lot
    hauling water
    being 170 mile drive from fresh milk

    But my favorite to watch tourists deal with Eskimo or Indian Ice Cream.

  35. Being born in the Territory, leaving in 1959, and still thinking of myself as an Alaskan.

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