Very often a photo will stir memories and reflections.
I was looking recently at an old photo of my mom and I during a hike above Kenai Lake back in the early 1950s, and it prompted this thought: “A lot of things have changed in Alaska over the past 60 years; but then, a lot of things haven’t.”
The photo was taken from an old lodge above the lake called “Our Point of View Lodge.” Beyond us in the photo, at left, is a gravel point jutting out into the lake. At that location, today, is a boat landing and parking area for Quartz Creek campground, accessed by a small road that turns off the Sterling Highway north of Cooper Landing.
There are a few more cabins along the lake and the Cooper Landing community is more developed than it was in bygone days, but from a distance the lakeshore and surrounding mountains look essentially the same as it did back when my mom and I took that hike.
While the state’s transportation corridors and population centers such as Fairbanks, Anchorage and Wasilla reflect significant growth, much of Alaska has not changed in my lifetime.
Granted, when I first came to Alaska with my mom in 1946 when it was a territory, there were only about 70,000 people—about 10 percent of what we have today.
But some of the backcountry trails on the Kenai Peninsula that I hiked as a child are still there, albeit a little wider and more tromped down. One of the lakes I fished as a child – Golden Fin Lake at about Mile 12 of the Seward Highway– still has trout. Goats can still be spotted on the mountains behind (west) of Mt. Marathon, and if you look skyward there’s a good chance of seeing a soaring eagle.
The long-range vistas that I knew as a child—the mountains surrounding Seward’s Resurrection Bay—look the same as they did six decades ago. Perhaps some of the hanging glaciers tucked into those mountains are smaller than they used to be.
With spring and the melting of snow in the mountains, we children used to have fun identifying snow patches that occurred year after year.
One of the more prominent ones on Mt. Alice was the “pig with the hat flying off his head.” In the spring of 2017 I saw that very same snow patch.
The same applies more widely to areas in Chugach State Park and the rest of southcentral Alaska. Hike only a few miles from roads and highways and you’ll generally find yourself in the Alaska you knew many years ago. Perhaps you’ll hear a few more airplanes overhead than “back in the day.” But somehow, the sound of aircraft—both private and commercial—is something most of us have become accustomed to.
Drones? For me, not so much.
And for sure, there is one thing that’s remained constant: the friendliness of Alaska’s people.
Even with people arriving from far-flung areas over years, there has remained an inherent friendliness and helpfulness here that seem to be firmly embedded into our culture. People routinely stop on the road to lend a hand and pitch in during other emergency situations. Strangers think nothing of saying “hi” to each other and even carrying on conversations.
As 21st century citizens, we are certainly accustomed to change. But I hope that one aspect of Alaska living—our friendliness—never changes.
I also looked at an old photo of our Seward home in the 1940s and 1950s. By community standards we were probably “middle class,” but we certainly weren’t brimming with the amenities of today. We had radio instead of television; an oil stove for heat; a telephone “party line;” one bathroom; no garage because we didn’t have a car; a “wringer” washing machine and no dryer.
But for my sister and I, our family was much like families today. Schoolwork was important. Helping those less fortunate was expected. We ate our meals together when we could –because my dad often worked night shift on the docks.
I guess in the final analysis, maintaining peace of mind might depend upon a couple of things: 1) accepting changes that are inevitable; 2) seeking out those things that haven’t changed, and being thankful for them.
I used to tell people that I’d love to live in the wild west of the 1800s. But then there was this scene in a movie with a guy in a little prairie town getting his teeth pulled out by the blacksmith, because there was no dentist.
No thanks. Some change is definitely good.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and ECHO News team member who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired Birchwood ABC school teacher. To reach Frank, email: email@example.com