Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pluses and Minuses of Living in Fairbanks

Per reader request. What's most different about Fairbanks as opposed to the San Francisco Bay Area is due to two distinct factors--the climate, and the small-town atmosphere. A third factor does not apply to all of Fairbanks, but to the living situation and the lifestyle that I have chosen, and that is the rural cabin life. So I'll address them separately.



* long, snowy winters

* lots of skiing

* warm, dry summers

* aurora viewing

* very little wind

* generally clear, beautiful skies with visually stunning atmospheric effects


* It is frequently butt-ass cold.

* long winter nights

* high cost of heating

* more time/money in car maintenance, switching tires back and forth, et cet.

* mosquitoes (is that a weather? I think it's a weather since they are all over the place, like air)

Small-town atmosphere:


* If your car ever breaks down or you ever need help, most strangers offer to help.

* If you need anything at all, you can find out by asking around.

* Men are both more chivalrous but also less chauvinistic toward women. Men do not hoot at me on the street, I've only been hit on in very respectful ways, and no-one bats an eye when I tell them I am a mechanical engineer. Seriously, I have gotten more "really... you are an engineer?"-type comments in the Silicon Valley than I have here, even among crusty old-time sourdoughs. Paradoxically, men are very willing to help women with "manly" chores. I wouldn't have to split wood or haul water or shovel my driveway if I didn't want to. My neighbors have all offered to lend me hydraulic wood splitters, shovel my driveway for me, etc, etc. I do these things anyway because I want to know that I can take care of myself, but I totally don't have to.


* No big city amenities. No ethnic restaurants (except for, surprisingly, really excellent Thai food on a par with San Francisco's). No world-class symphony, opera, theatre, etc. Although we have our local versions of all of these things.

Both plus and minus, and deserves its own category because it's pretty remarkable:

* Everyone knows everyone. It means you have an additional layer of safety, but it also means everyone is all up in everyone else's business. Fairbanks is unusually gossipy for a community of its size. At a population of about 100000 for the borough, it's not that small of a town, but the old-fashioned social network is unusually strong. You know the premise that everyone on earth is within six degrees of separation from one another? Well, everyone in the Interior of Alaska is within two, and everyone in the state is within three. I have to say, on the whole I feel more appreciative of this than annoyed with it.

Even funnier is that most people have just one winter coat that they wear for five months, and everyone associates you with your coat and can recognize you from a distance. "I saw you skiing southward on the Tanana the other day when I was driving by! Did you have a good ski? Be careful of the thin spot under that one cliff." Awesome.

Rural Life:


* Long, awesome hiking, backpacking, skiing, and trail running opportunities, and they are free, easily accessible, and require not more than an hour's planning. In California, you need a permit to camp overnight most places, and the numbers are generally limited and you need to book it at least several months in advance.

* Dogs are allowed almost everywhere, and while there is theoretically a statewide leash law, most folks don't mind well-behaved dogs running free. Mine run free. And I run free with them. We run like the wind, and it's awesome.


* No shower. I seriously couldn't care less if I never had a toilet for the rest of my life. But I really miss having a shower at home. But this is not even general to rural Alaskan life, as most of my neighbors have septic tanks and thus showers. I just don't have one myself.

* Being at the mercy of nature's elements. A friend of mine from California had planned to visit me last summer, and we were going to make a road trip up the Taylor Highway to Eagle, and then East into Dawson. I told him that the Taylor Highway was unreliable, and that we'd better have a backup plan in case we were foiled by weather. He gave me a virtual (via email) blank look. When, in California, is your road trip ever derailed by weather? Almost never, right? Put on your rain slicker, put on your snow chains, you're good. Here, the dirt highways can plumb wash out, and they often do, especially on the Taylor. Indeed, that trip became unfeasible. But the point is, there are things that you do. Not. Do. Going in spite of the weather, road conditions, etc, absolutely do not make you a Tough Alaskan and gain you respect. They make you an idiot and gain you mockery. People who do these things die, and other locals sneer at them. Folks in this small town are happy to host a spaghetti feed or a benefit auction to help the family of the kid with cancer, or the family whose house burned down. But the idiot who died due to his own idiocy gets no sympathy.

If you've planned a ski trip and the temperature plummets, you must swallow your disappointment and not go. If you've planned a canoe trip and the river overflows its banks, you don't get to go. End of story. Nature bats last, is not your Mother, and does not love you.

Okay; those are my lists. :) See, I rant because I love!

1 comment:

b said...

I totally agree about "Being at the mercy of nature's elements" in Seattle! As someone who enjoys hiking and being outside (as opposed to indoors like at the mall), I really really got fed up with Seattle after 5 years there! We'd make these plans and get all excited and then a storm would whoosh in and we'd spend the weekend sulking indoors. It was good for a little while, but definitely not somewhere I could live longer than I did!