Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Going To Seed" (Fireweed)

   The stately and picturesque Fireweed is one of the beautiful and ubiquitous flowers of Fairbanks, second only to the Forget-Me-Not in iconic symbolism of the boreal forest and the tundra. Especially what with the billions of acres burned across Alaska this particular year and given the plant's propensity at proliferating in the smoking wreckage of the land. From Arctic Science Journeys: "...each fireweed is a living, blooming chronometer of summer, brilliantly marking the season's progress." Yeah, so in other words it's basically a harbinger of doom to some of us locals.

    On a side note this panel in particular is one of the handful of recent postings over on the Book of Faces that for some reason went "viral" (within the context of a very small, thickly forested corner of the world): I calculated based on the rate of sharing - given the privacy settings of most folks, only a quarter of the initial shares had friends lists open to public viewing - 25k people potentially saw it within the first 24-hours of uploading. After the weekend shares grew (the only kind of shares I'll ever have) to the 500 mark, with over 75k potential pairs of eyeballs viewing it (again, that's approximately only a quarter of the audience) so coupled with publication in the print media + here on the blog, one could extrapolate a statistical rate conceivably eclipsing the half-million mark. Which is all very cool, heady stuff while sitting in an outhouse by a cabin in the wooods in the middle of Alaska, but in reality the only audience I deliberately stay conscious of, or one could say cater to, is an extremely limited subset of a regional base that will "get it." Perhaps even more important is having the Significant Otter + a disinterested cat as an editorial review committee... the first round of objective feedback is a humbling perspective - "keepin' it real."
   But in keeping with the theme of going to seed, it's a little lesson in how things we create sometimes ripple out and begin to touch others way out on the periphery in ways that you'll just never really know. There's a sort of centering that takes place with such awareness, between the opposing extremes of complete and total isolation and that of relative popularity, like an acrobat on a highwire that tips first one way and than the other in order to find a personal balance. As a metaphor it's not all that different than facing down the barrel of another impending winter: you can go from despair to freaking out and losing it, but in the end it's a matter of soldiering on regardless.


  1. In some ways, I think of Northern New England as "Alaska Lite." The people of Quebec smile indulgently at this conceit, but I stress the word "lite." New England attracted a ton of dreamers in the 1980s who had made their killing in one of the lucrative industries of the time and bought their little piece of heaven in the north woods.

    Then winter came. The realities of the climate, coupled with the economy that climate enforces, weeded out nearly all of the immigrants who had brought powerful fantasies with them. Because they came in waves, the tide came up in surges, but it drained in the course of a couple of years. No accident that the recession began in New England a year or two before the rest of the country felt the ravages of foolish, short-sighted economic policies that had been unleashed on us starting in 1981.

    We get more daylight in the winter, but less in the summer, than in Classic Alaska. It's all relative, however. To people from gentler climes than this one, the unrelenting grayness, naked trees, and long nights that face us for half the year are too high a price. We who remain here are stubborn, or perhaps delusional. We scorn the outsiders who can only stand it when it's as pretty as a post card. We know what we will be if we weaken and become seasonal residents. Your friends will be glad to see you, but things will be different. You no longer share the struggle.

    If I visited Alaska I would keep quiet, stay out of the way, and then vanish. The only other choice would be to move in and take 12 months of it. Then I'd have to take another 12 to prove I could take it or leave it. Where would it end? And, frankly, the all-or-nothing light and darkness experience just seems too...bipolar.

    1. Wow - that's better written than most of my posts... thank you.
      Somewhere I put up a cartoon of when migrating to Maine from here and thinking the crusty sourdough could go toe-to-toe with any salty New Englander with regards to enduring a cold, hostile clime... right up until the first wind came in and cut me to the bone & I whimpered like a lost dog. HA. So yup - it sure is relative... excepting the proclivity of our species to complain about weather wherever we are, regardless of the place there will be extremes to test us (as my residencies from the snows of Buffalo to the swamps of Savannah attest).
      And you definitely have something there about the economic influence when it comes to communities out on the edge... thin ice as it were. When there's such a tenuous grasp on existence it doesn't take much to lose one's grip: financially or emotionally. And environments tends to mirror, if not amplify, latent sensitivities... which again, can often manifest themselves in behavior such as holing up, inside + out.

    2. Thanks, man. I am woefully sporadic with the drawing, but I write all the time. I always was a verbose little fella.

      When the economy was booming, the environment took a pounding from development pressure. An ecosystem has a certain carrying capacity. The same is true of an economy. When the money poured in, people poured in to get a piece of it. When they left, a lot of it left with them. Most of that boom was based on building. Some projects stopped before completion and just rotted where they stood.

      The fundamentals of the economy change in response to faraway influences: the timber and paper industries used to own most of the North Country. They dumped their holdings in the 1990s. The mills closed. Now resource extraction is still a big chunk, but in smaller chunks, going to different places. And of course tourist processing has always been an industry here, facilitated by the nearby population centers in Boston, urban New England, New York, even down to the Middle Atlantic. But that depends on a middle class with money and time to travel here.

      Once the fossil fuels run out and we revert to early 19th Century energy sources, water powered mills might come back and lift New England once again.