“Alaska” has never been as simple as a name. It is an icon, with a mythology that starts with Jack London’s tales of the Yukon and traces a vein through our culture like the gold that induced a swarming generation of prospectors to clamber over its every rock. From Robert Service’s “Songs of a Sourdough” to the Grizzly Man; from Dick Proenneke’s wilderness outpost to the 1150-mile cacophony of the Iditarod; from “the Slope” and Prudhoe Bay to Denali and Chris McCandless and the Devil’s Thumb and the Kenai Peninsula; Caribou and Reindeer to King Salmon and sleek Grayling; from Anchorage to Valdez, to Exxon Valdez: Alaska works a fantasy on the American mind. We seek it, we long for it. There is something missing—it’s in Alaska. Our cultural inheritance, our frontier instinct, somehow knows that the last blank space on the map is Alaska.
Not true, of course. Every inch of Seward’s Folly has been walked on and examined in minute detail for two things at least: Yellow Gold and “Black Gold.” Nevertheless, it retains the lightest population density of all the United States, 1.1 people per square mile. It also retains its mystique. The allure of wilderness there has never died. Since 1958 Alaska has flown the stars and stripes. But in spite of those 50 years, the other 49 states remain “outside.”
Heck of a writer, my homeboy Jim. Treat yourself to the whole thing.