About a month ago, a student of mine was happy to report she had taken her first buck of the season over the weekend. She bubbled with excitement.
She is far from the first student who has shared the success, nor the only female.
I took my first black bear in 2014. Upon hearing this, the editor in chief of the school newspaper quipped, “What took you so long, Lund? I shot mine when I was 10.” Hunting didn’t really stick, but she had experienced it and could still talk the talk.
Contrast that with a reflective essay one of my sophomore English students wrote a few years into my teaching career in California. She said what she loved most in her life was to hunt elk with her dad. But what mattered most was that her friends didn’t know. She was a cheerleader type, and for a cheerleader type to hunt, well, it didn’t fit the type.
I told her that if her friends were really her friends, they wouldn’t care. With an enrollment of 1,500 students it is more difficult to keep tabs on all the students you have after they leave your classroom, but I did ask her when I saw her as a senior what came of that whole elk hunting situation. She said she waited another year then told her friends. They thought it was cool.
It’s impossible to imagine what it’s like to be a kid these days. I worried distractions and algorithms would turn vulnerable students from promising, aspiring, creative kids into apathetic, validation-seeking, angry, uncompetitive adults. Then COVID-19 hit, and I worry more than ever. Everything can hinge on just one generation. For the better or the worse. What are kids going to want to share? What is going to get them excited? What is going to make them want to go brave the wild by themselves? Not in an ideological, naïve to reality Chris McCandless sort of way, but with confidence through experience.
Here, there’s plenty.
One of my favorite parts of living in Southeast Alaska, and Alaska in general, is the accessibility to reality and the willingness of so many to access it.
I love living in a town and teaching at a school in which anyone and everyone has a weekend story of everything from their first buck to an ocean plunge with a dozen friends at a local beach. What doesn’t matter in those moments are measures of comparison we are obsessed with. What matters is something was done with friends, family or even strangers.
It’s what the Meta folks are trying to, but never will, manipulate or replicate into extinction.
But I hope we don’t squander what we have. I hope that the medicinal qualities that come from an active outdoor lifestyle aren’t wasted. I hope that the togetherness ethos that Alaskans mostly share most of the time isn’t replaced by the stupid ways we subdivide ourselves based on technicalities, expectations or types.
It’s going to be another cold, dark winter. We know this. We’ve always known this. Some are easier than others and sometimes it feels like the weight of the last five teams up with the current one. But there will be opportunities to do things that are worth sharing. Communities in Southeast have a disproportionate amount of opportunities to gather and celebrate hunts, music, art, culture, heritage. To be excited and proud to share how we came through in 2021 and new things we’ll take up in 2022.
And to remember the importance of keeping the next generation involved.
• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.