I drove into Alaska and Anchorage on September 11, 2009. I was exhausted, and the birds were completely distraught, one with an injured face and the other with an injured wing. I listened to the AM radio (my iPod having been lost in Canada somewhere) on the way in, and they were talking about a Mardi Gras festival happening downtown, which I decided I was too tired to attend. Even if I hadn’t, I was stuck doing paperwork with the Weidner lady (we all remember how THAT went–or maybe you don’t, but I sure do–in a word, “poorly”). I had vowed to go this year, but then I found out about an Intro to Orienteering class, followed by an intro to contra dancing get-together, and I figured I could use the exercise better than I could use the cajun food. So, on the Mardi Gras thing, as I’m saying to a great number of things right now, “Maybe next year.”

Anyway, the prize I mentioned in the post title is for being First Visitor to Come See Us in Alaska, and the winner is my dad! Yay! Round of applause! (“First Visitor to Stay With Us” is still up for grabs, though–he stayed in a hotel. ;)) He snuck in just under the year mark! We’ll post pictures from his visit in the near future. I forgot to ask if I could repost his YouTube video, which is a slideshow of the pictures he took. (Spoiler: his camera’s cooler than ours.) The highlight of the trip–besides just getting to visit, in general–was a 5-hour wildlife cruise out of Seward. We saw an otter, some Dall’s porpoises, cormorants, puffins(!!), a coastal mountain goat, a black bear, a (freaky-looking) jellyfish, and Stellar’s sea lions (which were hilarious). No whales were out that day, but black bear and mountain goat sightings are really uncommon, so I think we won, on balance. Not only that, but it was the prettiest day we’ve had in WEEKS. We even got a little bit sunburned! A big bull moose also wandered across the road as we drove through campus, and I made a crumble out of some wild blueberries Dale had picked (off the side of a mountain!), so it seems like Dad got the full Alaska experience.

Dad correctly pointed out that I haven’t blogged much this summer. Dale’s posted pictures a couple of times, but we haven’t posted much commentary about them. Sorry about that. We’ve been busy doing summer things. I suspect, as autumn continues (and you should have no doubt: it’s here already, in Anchorage), we’ll find ourselves indoors and at a computer more often. I may go back to spring and summer events, to write about them and give you a better idea of what a first year in Alaska is like. Or I may just move on and blog about whatever’s happening at the time. We have a couple of cool things planned for the winter: we’re volunteering for a political candidate; we may throw a Halloween party; we’re going up to Fairbanks to visit Chena Hot Springs and watch the Northern Lights for our sixth dating anniversary, in February; I’m visiting Juneau, also in February, for the Alaska Library Association conference; and … actually, that’s it. We’ll get up to more stuff, though, I’m sure. I have a couple of projects, which may or may not get blog time.

Here are a couple of not-quite-exhaustive lists, for people who are into that kind of thing…

Things we successfully did, over the year (with an emphasis on summer): going on the wildlife/glacier cruise; visiting the Sea Life Center and getting an awesome photo of a puffin, with a mat decorated by Mr. Puffin Himself; visiting Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle; visiting the Renaissance Faire; giving a talk at Drinking Liberally (that was all Dale) and convincing them that Approval Voting is the best thing ever; seeing the ceremonial start of the Iditarod; attending a geocaching event or two; seeing a glacier up close; and going to the Star Wars exhibit at the Anchorage Museum.

Things we meant to do this year (mostly this summer) but never got around to: visiting Homer; visiting the Zoo, the Musk Ox Farm, and the Reindeer Farm; visiting Mat-Su glacier; attending the Highland Games; seeing the real start of the Iditarod; going flightseeing over Denali; going on the 11-hour Denali bus trip; taking part in the Pride Parade and Coronation; doing lots of geocaching; getting a drink at Silver Gulch (the farthest north brewery in North America); seeing the northern lights; getting back into homebrewing; hiking Flat Top; going to Unitarian church; visiting Cordova (and the sea bird festival!); visiting Valdez; going salmon fishing; eating moose; and finishing the Alaskan Highway (OK, that was mostly me). There’s more on this list that we’d like to do, but a lot of this was in our vague year-long plan and didn’t happen.

Now that it’s been almost a year (at least for me), I suspect people are going to start asking us if we plan to stay. The best answer I can give now is, “Well, we don’t plan to leave.” Which is true. Neither of us really feels ready to swear on a stack of holy books that “I love Alaska enough that I promise I will never ever leave,” having only been through one winter and one summer–and, in Dale’s case, not even a full winter. But neither do we feel like going anywhere just yet. It’s at least as good as Pittsburgh was in most respects: we’re happy; we have great friends; we have an apartment that works well for us; we can afford to live here on the salaries we make; we have stuff to keep us busy. It’s better in a couple of respects: the summer, even when it’s “a crappy summer,” is soooo much better; the winter is less depressingly grey; the public transit is more reliable in its timing; the people are possibly the tiniest bit friendlier, on average; parking is not as bad, for most things; there’s a theater pub (the exception to the parking rule); we have room for a garden in our back yard. It’s short a couple of things: we miss our east coast friends and the ability to visit family over a long weekend, rather than a long week; 5 months of winter is a lot; a few things are a little hard to get, up here; I miss fireflies and thunderstorms (but do I miss them enough to endure 90 degree weather again? maybe not). On balance, though, it seems to us that Anchorage compares pretty favorably with everywhere else we’ve lived. There’s a lot that’s wonderful about this state, and as I said above, we still have a lot of it left to see. The prevailing political wind is frustrating, to say the least, but we’ve found a few little enclaves of like-minded people to socialize with and to keep us sane… and that was the case in PA and VA, as well.

So I guess what I’m saying is, it’s been a good year. We’re looking forward to at least two more good years before we feel compelled to make a decision about staying in Anchorage or looking elsewhere. (In an academic job, you give as much notice as you can; I’d want to give a year. And there’s no way I’m putting together even a practice tenure file–due in the fourth year–only to move the following year. If we stay four years, we’re staying at least six. :)) But, for now, the probability that we’ll choose to stay seems high. Ask us again in six months, though, after our second winter. ;)