A connected world: Through the internet, iPhones, social networks, 24–hour cable news, humans are more connected than ever and constantly reminded of the world’s catastrophes. It sometimes makes it hard for us to count our many blessings. Conversely, we are also able to readily learn about the good deeds of others—tireless volunteers, dedicated teachers and nurses, social workers, firemen and women, police, members of the armed forces, among others, who are constant forces for good.
But under the weight of information about so many things over which we have no control, we might feel the urge to escape — to deeply channel our thoughts and lives and eventually, create our own realities. I’ll admit to doing this on my frequent forays into the Chugach Mountains. Alongside my family, my truth and reality lies there.
We all have refuges – work, sports, TV, books, internet, hobbies, travel, etc. But deep down, we know that we can’t bury our heads in the sand. We can’t disengage from the world and its problems.
What happens on the far side of the globe indirectly affects us all. Yet it’s frustrating, to say the least. Those elected to serve us in government aren’t always the ones we choose. Government seems out of touch, dysfunctional, gridlocked. It’s become much too controlled by special interests and big money.
On this Thanksgiving, we are mindful of many problems. The Middle East is in chaos; U.S. soldiers are dying in faraway places like Afghanistan; a wave of nationalism is creating social unrest and instability across Europe; nations are trying to deal with millions of Middle East migrants; a politically inexperienced new President will take the U.S. reins in January 2017; Alaska’s budget deficit is now about $4 billion and there seems to be no concrete plan on the horizon to deal with it.
Reasons to be thankful: But if we pull back and take a longer view, there are many things for which to be thankful. Despite its problems, America is still the greatest country in the world. Among all of the 50 states, Alaska remains unarguably, the best place to live. (As a lifetime resident, I am aware of my bias in this regard). And of all the communities in Alaska, Eagle River is one of the most desirable. We have access to a big city, Anchorage, with a symphony orchestra, two colleges, two modern hospitals, a museum, state–of–the–art library, excellent restaurants, and a strategically important military base (JBER). And on the other hand, we have Chugach State Park at our back door—495,000 acres of wilderness for us to recreate in and explore.
But getting to the nitty–gritty: we have each other. If we make a comment to a stranger at Jitters Coffee Shop or the post office, we’ll most often get a reply, along with a smile. If we’re broken down on the road we know someone will stop for us. When a clerk at the grocery store or the bank asks us how our day is going, we know they genuinely mean it. They listen for our answer.
When we’re out on a hiking trail and meet others, we see healthy, smiling faces. On top of Mt. Marathon in Seward each 4th of July, I witness the happiest people in the world, by the hundreds. It’s that way on Baldy or the Bird Ridge trail overlooking Turnagain Arm. In summer I see the beaming faces of children who have caught their first fish. On local playgrounds, or along Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, I’m heartened by children’s laughter.
I have dear friends who know me so well they can almost finish my sentences, and I theirs. I have kind and thoughtful neighbors who I know would lend a hand if we needed help. And I am thankful every day for the love I receive from my dear wife and my two children.
Married to a school teacher, I’ve learned how dedicated and hard–working educators are and how valuable, yet under appreciated, they are in society.
This column often dwells on Alaska’s wilds, but it’s people who really make our state and communities special. People who run Bean’s Café, the Claire House, Food Bank of Alaska, Rotary Club and Salvation Army, to name a few organizations. In my mind, they are stellar reasons to be extremely thankful on every day of the year.
Palpable energy: There is a vibrancy here in Alaska, a dynamism that defies words. It’s unshackled power. Whether you’re in Nome or Cantwell, Fairbanks or Sitka, Kodiak, Palmer, Cordova or Eagle River, you can feel it. It’s almost as if this vast land, this air, energizes us. It’s almost as if Alaska creates its own magnetic field.
That’s why we live here—despite vexing global problems, despite our national and state challenges. We’re thankful each day just to look outside our windows and see the mountains; to open up our doors and breathe the air; to greet a stranger and know that person will most often answer us with his or her own friendly greeting.
Some say you have to leave Alaska to learn how to love it. I have – from Texas to New York; From Frankfurt, Germany to Istanbul, Turkey; from Paris to Rome; London to Buenos Aires to Bogota. And through a lifetime here I’ve learned that people who leave Alaska invariably return.
Alaska does improve Norway. To me, this beautiful state and its people offer countless reasons to give thanks on every Thanksgiving.
Frank E. Baker is a member of The ECHO News team and a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.