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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Place Where You Live: Anchorage, Alaska

Air Date: Week of

In her essay for Orion Magazine, Sasha Johnson writes, “We head to the backcountry in Hatcher Pass, find ways to make the winter last through summer’s short gasp.” (Photo: Sasha Johnson)

Living on Earth gives a voice to Orion Magazine’s longtime feature, “The Place Where You Live,” in which readers write about their favorite places. In this week’s edition, teacher Sasha Johnson shares her essay on living in Anchorage, Alaska, a place of bold, adventurous folks willing to endure hardship in chasing their dreams.


BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.

[MUSIC: Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes “Home” from Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes, Rough Trade Records, 2009]

BASCOMB: We head to Anchorage, Alaska now for another installment in the occasional Living on Earth/Orion Magazine series The Place Where You Live. Orion invites readers to submit essays to the magazine’s website to put places they care about on the map, and we give them a voice.

[MUSIC: Mary Youngblood “Within My Heart” from Beneath the Raven Moon, Silver Wave Records, 2002]

JOHNSON: My name is Sasha Johnson, and this is my essay called, “Anchorage, Alaska.”

Anchorage, Alaska. Home and point of departure. Nestled along a sloping peninsula between the mountains and the sea. Young, adventurous, bold. Addicted, drunken, old. Squeezing out the space between the Chugach and Cook Inlet, climbing up the hillside, stretching north and south. Digging and drilling and mining and tilling. Disorganized as driftwood. Sliced up and down by the highway, tucked into neighborhoods cockeyed and rent-choked. Sporting proud your homes on the heights overlooking the bore tide rolling in Turnagain Arm, eagles and geese flying low over Potter Marsh, with a view to Fire Island where the windmills eke out their promises. You bedeck your winter streets with gravel, coat them with ice and snow, groom them with snowplows and brush them clean for summer.

The “homegrown song” Sasha Johnson mentions in her essay was by local band Melissa Mitchell and the Sociables, in Hope, Alaska. (Photo: Sasha Johnson)

We live outside in all weathers, we hitchhike, we hold cardboard signs. We head to the backcountry and Hatcher Pass, find ways to make the winter last through summer’s short gasp. We roost with the ravens and run Native Corporations. We are mountaineers and mistresses, hobos and halibut fishermen. We dip-net for salmon and hunt oil on the North Slope, two weeks on, two weeks off. Bush pilots and line cooks, airmen and officers, bankers and railroaders, coal men and climbers.

We call you home, Anchorage, you beggar, trouble-maker, reckless one, dreamer. Heart of Alaska. Independent and willful but keen for community, just a big city spread with a small-town rumor. Let’s drive out to catch the festival. I’ll listen to your music again by anybody’s fire, barefoot, eyes closed, rocking the stage with homegrown song. Taste your salmon, smoked and grilled and salty on my tongue. Feel your cold bite in the morning. Catch the scent of sprucewood and birch, wet with dew.

I head over a sunset ridge and you disappear from view.

[MUSIC: Mary Youngblood “Within My Heart” from Beneath the Raven Moon, Silver Wave Records, 2002]

JOHNSON: I have lived in Anchorage for two years only. It’s new for me. But I’m 36 and it’s the first place that I ever felt like I could really call home. And I had that feeling immediately in the geography, in the landscape, the mountains, the rivers, the forests, and then in the people. The people felt like my people for the first time. Strange, eccentric, adventuresome people who were willing to risk, who loved the outdoors and were willing to fight for what they wanted, even if it isolated them from other people. I felt a kinship with those people.

I teach, but I also ski. And I know mountaineers and I’ve spent time with them. I wanted to be a bush pilot. And I’ve seen all of our homeless tramps and hobos on the street. So, these are familiar faces to me, these are people I’ve known and some of them are things I’ve done. Some of the references in this essay are experiences I’ve had. Some of them are people I’ve known and some of them are things I hope to do. I see Anchorage as a place of dreams for many people and some of these dreams are broken.

“Heart of Alaska. Independent and willful but keen for community; just a big city spread with a small town rumor," writes Sasha Johnson in her essay. (Photo: Sasha Johnson)

Everybody that I’ve met has a story and not all of them want to tell that story. There are many reasons why people come to Alaska and end up in Anchorage and you can feel the yearning in the stories of the people that you get to meet. You see poverty, you see wealth, you see people struggling daily all around you and you see success. Families, children. It’s a place where people struggle to make it and struggle to build a life. And it’s a beautiful place but it’s a place – you can feel the struggle.

[MUSIC: Mary Youngblood “Within My Heart” from Beneath the Raven Moon, Silver Wave Records, 2002]

CURWOOD: That’s Sasha Johnson on her new home in Anchorage, Alaska. You can find pictures and details about Orion Magazine and how to submit an essay about the place where you live, at our website, loe.org.



Sasha Johnson’s essay in Orion Magazine

Sasha Johnson’s Flickr account

More on the band Sasha mentions

The Place Where You Live essays in Orion Magazine


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