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“Buck up, or stay in the truck.”

-Sarah Palin

Though I’ve never killed an animal and would choose tofu over steak any day, I do understand the culture of hunting here in Alaska. Last summer, my son-in-law, C, spent grueling hours “harvesting” moose and caribou in remote areas of the Interior so his family would have meat on the table for the rest of the year. He says it’s better this way, cheaper than buying meat at the local one-stop shopping store, and tastier. I believe him. C uses guns only when he hunts. The rest of the time they’re locked in a metal vault out of reach of my two little grandboys. Still, I hold my breath and look away whenever I pass the vault, which vaguely resembles an upright coffin. Guns mean death to me!

Which is why last weekend I was fairly freaked out at the 34th Annual Midnight Sun Festival. On the surface, this celebration of summer solstice was flooded with thousands of people working their way through carney rides and gadget vendors, including a booth offering marshmallow guns made of painted pvc piping that looked much like these.

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The streets of downtown Fairbanks were lined with food booths. There were corn dogs and gargantuan pretzels, spinach bread from Talkeetna and even Smokehouse BBQ hauled north from Anchorage. Several stages were set up and the music was good! Jazz, country, folk-funky, hip-hoppy, you name it. We danced. We mingled, We meandered.

Near the pedestrian/bicycle bridge that crosses the Chena River, I stopped to take a photo of a couple paddling kayaks in the opaque water, and another of a large family laughing their way downriver in a tiny raft. When I caught up with my daughter she was holding our 5-month-old grandbaby, g, and frowning. I kissed his cheek.

“What’s up?” I asked her.

“Did you see that, Mama?”

“Where? What was it?”

“Over there,” she pointed. “A guy with a gun was pulling two kids in a wagon and each one had a toy machine gun. It makes me sick!”

I looked, but couldn’t find the guy, the wagon, the armed kiddies. “Nope. They must’ve moved on. I’m glad I didn’t see them. I’m not ready for something like that.”

“You’ll never be ready, Mama,” she said, shaking her head, “but guns are everywhere here.”

I realized then that my daughter, though 28 years younger than I am, already knows much more about the effects of guns on people than I ever will. In her role as a surgeon, I’m sure she’s seen some horrors. I wanted to talk to her about what she’d experienced both inside the operating room and out related to guns, but we were supposed to be celebratng, so I held back.

Later, thoroughly overheated by the 89 degree sun, we bought some hum bao and drinks, and found a low wall on which to sit in the shade of several young aspens. Around us, mamas and papas pushed infants in strollers; toddlers dropped their drinks and searched the ground for interesting garbage and rocks; middle and high school kids shared cotton candy, whispered and giggled while Native Alaskan elders, toothless and beautiful, smiled as tourists with Nikons took photos of their “authentic” subjects.

Not hungry, I picked up my grandbaby and was playing “pony ride” on my knee with him when, just beyond us on a wooden bench, sat a guy with gun. A BIG GUN. In a holster. He was clean cut, like an off-duty soldier, and wore a baseball cap, a polo shirt, khaki shorts, wrap-around sunglasses and immaculate white runners. He was statue still, expressionless. Studying the crowd from behind those sunglasses? I felt a wave of nausea. My heart beat inside my chest like that Athabaskan moose skin drum I’d seen somewhere. Like a gun going off over and over? I imagined the worst. Holy God, was this guy going to shoot us like those poor souls in South Carolina?  What were our options?

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I handed g to my son-in-law, whipped out my camera and snapped several photos. I was scared that the guy would hear my camera click, turn around and shoot, but even so I took more pictures.  Which seems absurd now, but I guess my fear was momentarily trumped by the need to freeze what I witness regardless of cost. Then, I said something like, “There’s a guy with a huge gun right there. See him? Why does he have a gun around all these families? Why would anyone have a gun here? This is supposed to be a fun place!”

My daughter and son-in-law looked at me, nodded as if to say, yep, we get what you’re feeling but that’s the way it is here. We packed up and headed down a ramp toward an amphitheater where a sprinkler had been set up for kids to cool off. And while little r splashed and laughed, and baby g cooed as though life was all about delight, which it mostly is, I felt twitchy and kept scanning the bushes, the trees, the people, wondering who else was packing a pistol, and what the guy with the gun was up to. Was he headed this way right-this-very-second? 

Maybe I should have stayed in the truck.

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18 thoughts on “I’m Not From Around Here

  1. Living in the NE it’s hard to understand the gun culture that pervades a good portion of the US. I know hunters; and enjoy fresh venison thanks to them. But beyond hunting, we don’t need access to guns. That I think would solve many of the problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OMG (Oh My Glock) what a sight to see, and experience. If I’d been there I would’ve tried to hold you back from taking the photos, with equal fear of the consequences of invading the guys privates. Thank Glock I wasn’t, the photo is a remarkable bulls-eye shot, and a stark reminder of the perils we could face every day, from seemingly innocent surroundings. Clearly r. was oblivious to his gooma’s anxiety. Nice glog sweetheart! ❤

    PS. Advice to Sarah P……Stay in the truck and shut the F-up!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I hate it. I was raised with the most responsible of hunters, and many in my family were whatever the equivalent of mounties in the USA is — and taught us all to be respectful of guns, they had strict rules, most were locked down tight but on the ranch the top two guns (rifle and shotgun) were loaded. My grandfather had me shoot one once when I was five because I wanted to and that was it for me. I didn’t like the smell, the feel, or the noise of it. I don’t want to live with open carry (though my grandfather with one leg slept with a loaded pistol and traveled with a gun but they were on a huge ranch) and boycott all stores who condone it.

    Scary prospect. I have my own wild Fairbanks stories — I think Alaska is a bit like being in a foreign country!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Margaret! Thanks for reading this post and for commenting. I am, as you can tell, horrified by the gun culture, too. It’s baffling to feel out of control in a country so often associated with freedom and safety. Please chant for us!

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      • It must be soo nerve wracking, to know people have guns I. Their homes let alone seeing people carrying them. Must say so many of us here think US gun laws are crazy. Who cares about the “fifth??? Amendment. We have low opinions of the attitude to security and guns. Must be hard to live with it all..

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Margaret, it’s the 2nd Ammendment, love, and yes it is nerve-wracking and hard to live with it all. We need to make some huge changes in what gun “rights” look like in the US, but, sadly, Alaska will probably be one of the last States to make progress in that department. Peace to you.

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  5. postcard(s) from the edge–the edge of paranoia and distraction–where violence lurks in every shadow–the tension bore down in my gut as i tentatively got absorbed in your play-by-play, enhanced by vivid descriptions of the dubious. What happens when the innocence of childhood gets stripped before its time–before it has become sufficiently nourished?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, I had a moment like that in Maine last summer. I was coming out of an ice cream shop and two people were getting out of black Toyota Land Cruiser. I saw the man first. He had a gun tucked into the back of his pants, not even in a holster. He put on his jacket before closing his car door, so that the gun was then concealed. I froze. Until I saw his wife get out of the car from the other side. I left immediately, but I figured a shooter wouldn’t take his wife with him…but that’s a leap of faith I was willing to take. I think I recall memorizing his license plate before I left just in case I’d need it later. Pretty cowardly of me, eh? There was a video of a comedian from Australia, I think his name was Jefferies that you should check out.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s interesting here in Ireland — the police (Garda) don’t even carry guns. Detectives do, but the every day Garda you run into on the street don’t. If the police don’t have guns, the criminals don’t need guns, and most things are resolved somewhat peacefully. The big problem in the USA is that we have a culture of violence. Everyone is so afraid of everyone else that having a gun seems like an imperative. You don’t have to look far to wonder why. On prime time television, you won’t hear swearing or see nudity, but you might see 1,000 people get shot during a single movie.

    I totally get the hunting aspect. Having grown up in rural Minnesota, that was a big part of our culture. But, the guns were kept locked away and no one carried them around except to hunt. I don’t understand the need to carry guns around like a badge of honor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It must be wonderful, Jolene, to be in a country where guns are not such a part of life. A few days ago here in the Ham a woman shot a man about 8 times because her boyfriend told her to kill him. The boyfriend would inherit around $2 million if the guy, his business partner, died. Holy crap, in our tranquil bayside town! Thanks for dropping by.

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  8. Amazing photo and a powerful account of a different type of culture – one that has been increasing steadily in the US. I’m glad to hear that you were all unharmed and shared some good memorable moments.

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