IVP - Strangely Dim - I Don't Know Alaska

December 2, 2005

I Don't Know Alaska

Last month I went to Alaska for the first time; technically I've been there before, but only technically. My family crossed a bridge from Canada into a border town, Hyder, just to say we did and to load up on t-shirts.

So technically this was my second trip to Alaska, but my first chance to really see it. I flew in to Anchorage and was met by a friend of mine, who then drove me three hours to our destination, a retreat center outside of Soldotna, the home of Alaska's only Dairy Queen. I wouldn't expect an ice cream shop to be a big draw for people living in "nature's refrigerator," but I'm told that people in Anchorage will make a day of their trip to Dairy Queen. Of course, that day would by necessity involve a lot of driving.

That's OK though, because driving in Alaska is a pleasure. There are mountains and rivers and forests and lakes. There are bald eagles (which I saw) and bears (which I didn't). And oddly enough, though you may be a day's drive from the nearest Dairy Queen, you're never more than a few minutes away from a cup of espresso.

Alaskans refer to the contiguous United States as the "lower 48" and take mild, amused offense at the tendency of map-makers to locate Alaska, for the sake of convenience, off the southern coast of California. If you leave Alaska you're going "outside," which is funny, since during an Alaskan winter the last place you'd want to go is outside.

While in Alaska I ate halibut ("for the halibut"), moose (in a taco--go figure) and reindeer. I'm told that in all likelihood, because our retreat center was a state-registered charity, I probably ate roadkill. None of this seemed too world-shaking for the people I was with, but as an "outsider" I was pretty wigged out. It took a couple of high school girls to help me come to terms with the fact that I was in all probability eating Rudolf for breakfast: "Just call it caribou."

Alaska is as surreal as it is serene, because it has this mystique surrounding it. And the odd thing is that the mystique has to do with just how down-to-earth Alaskans are. People who are pragmatic, people who are neighborly, people who are not alarmed by the appearance of elk--people like that are uncommon to the lower 48. People like that are mysterious, quirky.

We spent the whole weekend talking about superheroes, which made me feel more at home, which I suppose makes me quirky too. Quirky enough, in fact, that one of my favorite jokes depends on Alaska for its punchline (it also depends on you reading it out loud, so don't post a comment until you've heard yourself repeat it):

Q: Did Tennessee what Arkansas?
A: I dunno. Alaska.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! That's brilliant!

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at December 2, 2005 12:16 PM Bookmark and Share


Ha! Al-ask-a..I finally got it after several readings! lol. Thanks for your postings and making me think and sometimes even fight a smile or two.

Roger in Houston

Comment by: Roger Feeback at December 14, 2005 1:42 PM

Thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. I got the joke out of a book when I was about five; I guess it stuck with me. Some other favorites (you might call this a "nerd alert"):

If there's too much Greece on the Turkey, Yugoslavia. (Dated, unfortunately, by the break up of the Eastern Bloc)

Kenya swim? If not, Uganda drown.

I'll be going to northern Wisconsin for another youth retreat in January--nobody does winter retreats in the Caribbean, for some unknowable reason. Then Indiana in March. If I keep it up I can serve as a consultant for my new favorite singer-songwriter, Sufjan Stevens, as he rolls out his fifty-state concept album project. Check it out at


"Come On, Feel the Illinoise" gets my vote for best album of 2005 and best album title of all time.

Comment by: dave at December 15, 2005 8:52 AM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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