Part of being an Alaskan requires tolerance, selective observation, quasi-scientific data gathering or a bit of each. If the decision of residency came simply down to a matter of degrees Fahrenheit, Alaska would be the land of the most irrational folks in the United States. But comfort is relative. We, of course, know that while some might shake their heads at our cold, we shake our heads at their traffic and noise. There’s something really right about us, some deep-rooted optimism that allows us to stick it out, if not enjoy things here.
You can’t just put Alaska into a Venn diagram or make a list of the pros and cons. On some level, you just have to feel it. The U.S. News and World Report released its list of best places to live by attempting to plug things like “quality of life” and “desirability” into an equation. In 2019 Austin, Texas, earned the top spot despite not having fishing, hunting, hiking or an ocean. Boulder ranked No. 1 in 2020 (Anchorage was 107) and scored an 8.6 in desirability though the average commute time is 22.8 minutes, and it doesn’t have an ocean either. Some things you can’t put a number to, as rankings like that prove.
Until this week, I probably would have ranked February was one of my most optimistic months. It’s certainly not as fun as June, epic as July or August or as satisfying as September, but every time it comes around, it just feels good. Maybe it’s the fact that there is enough daylight to do something in the morning and in the afternoon.
My buddy and I were discussing the reputation of months at lunch Monday from our separate tables. He said October and February were the worst two months thanks to the weather. October is usually horrendous, but the hunting starts to get good so my attitude toward the month is not completely at the mercy of the weather. As for February, I was a little surprised. I feel that January is cold and dark and that February is the month that the weather takes a break to prepare for the grand finale of snowstorms in March. But since it is March, you don’t mind as much because the end of winter is near.
I thought I really liked February, but after some reflection, I decided I probably just liked that February came before March, more than I liked February itself.
My twenty Februaries in Alaska have taught me that it is the longest month, but with the fewest days, as if the shortness comes from cutting off two hours per day as we go, rather than two days at the end. My impatience, though rooted in optimism, makes February hang on forever. I am excited when it starts, but it just doesn’t seem to end.
March arrives by barge.
March is the package you track that gets stuck in Anchorage for three days, for no apparent reason.
Until March does arrive, it’s just you and your attitude. It’s almost here. But not really.
I will feel Every. Single. Day. Of February.
But I still like it.
These are the sort of feelings the sometimes defy logic and common sense. These are the things that keep people bouncing around to trendy new towns in the Lower 48 wondering how someone can stay in southeast Alaska with no more evidence than, “I dunno, I just like it.”
• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His podcast, “The Mediocre Alaskan,” is available on Spotify and Apple Music. He is, of course, on Instagram @alaskalund. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in the Empire twice a month.