“On an island off the coast of Alaska,” she described. “It’s about the size of Manhattan.”
“And how many people live there?”
That flummoxed me. How could I relate to a state where there are more mountains than skyscrapers, more rivers than restaurants?
I think it was the field trips that started to win me over. We traveled as a group to a stream in a huge park within Anchorage, and I got to see salmon spawning, their final act before they expired. I witnessed the underwater dance of a female after she had let loose her roe, coaxing a male to cover the eggs with a mist of milt.
In the small towns of Alaska, playing an instrument, telling a good story or joke, writing and reading work aloud, are all survival skills that are more valued and cultivated than in many urban or suburban circles. The students in Alaska also have life experience to burn.
Much to my surprise, I’ve come to love Alaska. I look forward all year to the twelve-day residency that the students, faculty, and staff spend together in Anchorage, with its camaraderie, intense discussions of literature, memorable readings, and late-night outings to the Blue Fox bar. This program is that rarest of creatures, a true literary community. And I’ve even come to welcome those meals when the menu features reindeer jambalaya.