Great Alaskan Adventure: Part Five

21 07 2011

The next day, Day 13, was July 3, so it was time to head back south.  Since we didn’t have far to our next stop, we spent the morning catching a few more sights in Fairbanks.  Brian and I took a walk around Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, seeing lots of sand hill cranes and many other birds that had us wishing we knew what we were seeing.  I lucked up on the bleached bones of a moose (Brian will tell you it was bad luck) beside the field and scored some more mementos destined for my legendary closet at school.

Moose crime scene

We then went to Pioneer Park in downtown Fairbanks, a free but somewhat dated park which nonetheless was interesting with museums, a train ride, and history explained throughout.  We forked over $8 each to experience -40 temperatures in a freezer; I could hardly stand for five minutes what residents are faced with all during their long winter.-40

Our plans were to spend the Fourth of July in Nenana, a chance to experience a small-town celebration of our nation’s birth.  Of all our states, Alaska probably has the least reason to celebrate being part of the United States.  Discovered by the Russians in the mid-1700s as a great source of beaver and seal pelts, they systematically used and abused the natives and the land’s resources.  When Secretary of State William Seward acquired Alaska from Russia in 1867, people jeered at “Seward’s Icebox,” although the discovery of oil changed many people’s opinion of its worth.  Since Alaska became our 48thstate in 1959, we have built an enormous pipeline to drain this resource through pristine wilderness at great risk.

The pipeline near Fairbanks

Oil spills have coated countless plants and animals along the coastline, while oil money has lined the pockets of a few.  True, each Alaskan resident receives about $1,000 each year as a consolation prize, but many would argue that this does little to help the people of the state.  And few remember that during World War II, natives of the Aleutian Islands were taken from their homes and put in internment camps for up to three years, “protection” that cost them their way of life and culture.  As with many native cultures throughout the United States, western civilization brought with it the death of many of their beliefs and traditions, with poverty and substance abuse taking their place.  So I was curious to see how Independence Day would play out in Nenana.  Turns out Nenana is the proverbial small native town with a big heart.

We started the day with a free “Pancake Feed” for the community put on by a local restaurant.  We were told the parade would start around 10:00, but the hour came and went with no signs of a parade.  The townsfolk were busy, however, setting out chairs from the community center to line the street.  Around about 11:00, or maybe 11:30, a fair number of people had gathered, and patriotic music filled the air, played from a loudspeaker outside the dry goods store.  Finally, here came the parade.  Marching down Main Street came a Native American elder holding a flag.   The solitary float came next, on which was seated ten or so senior citizens.  Behind it was a bus with a few more seniors and a Siberian husky on board.  The next vehicle was truly a unique addition to any parade: a large lift platform on wheels (smaller versions of which you might see in large warehouse stores being used to change lightbulbs).  The final entry in the parade was a family of three, with Mom walking a dog on a leash, a girl wearing a red and white dress with blue jeans underneath, and a boy on a bike with his hair spiked into a mohawk, which was, of course, painted red, white, and blue.

Independence Day Parade in Nenana

In five minutes, the parade we had waited for two hours for was over, but the festivities were just beginning.  Ropes were spread out about 50 feet apart across the road, and a woman with a microphone advised, “Children age three and under, line up for a race.”  The next part of her message kept the age groups coming as she worked her way up through adult and then sack races and three-legged races: “First place a dollar, second place fifty cents, and everyone else gets a quarter.”  This became her mantra before each race and succeeded in enticing a full line of participants each time.  I overheard one Athabascan mother excitedly calling a relative to let them know that her daughter had come in second and won fifty cents.  Money motivates!

[Despite the alliterative allure of the last statement, I really believe it is Recognition that motivates.  Fifty cents won’t even buy a soda.]

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3 responses

21 07 2011
Kathryn Fenner

I’ll take my chances in the deep freeze today!

More vicarious vacay! Yay!

21 07 2011
eberteach

-40 is sounding real good today! You know, I actually had to explain “heat index” to an Alaskan!

14 07 2014
Mark

Alaska was the 49th state

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